By Robert Feinstein
It wasthe last night of the seventh grade basketball tournament and Harry Levine still hadn’t been given a chance to play in it. Oh, he was on the class team all right. It was a rule that any boy who wanted to be on it was accepted. But this was an era with a vastly different social consciousness and there was a clear stratification of the sexes. No girls were allowed on the basketball team, while the volleyball competition was strictly reserved for girls.
At four foot ten, it was assumed that Harry wasn’t much of a basketball player. And maybe that assumption was correct, as nobody could ever recall him sinking a basket in gym class. With eager anticipation, he showed up every Thursday, promptly at seven-thirty. And then he would watch the games while benched on the sidelines, forlornly hoping that he would be sent in. Who got to play was the decision of Jay Golem, the team’s captain, who at five foot nine was the tallest kid in the entire grade.
It wasn’t that Jay had anything against Harry. True, they were not really friends, but they were friendly enough with each other. It was just that Jay liked to win … and win real big. The guy hated to lose at anything.
With ten minutes to go before the game ended, Mr. Tolkan, the teacher who was the referee, blew his whistle, indicating a timeout. He motioned Jay to approach him and what ensued was a rather heated conversation.
“Look,” said Mr. Tolkan. “The game and tournament are in the bag. You can’t possibly lose, no matter what happens. You are already thirty points ahead. You are slaughtering them. He goes in now and he’s replacing you. I should have done this two weeks ago.”
And so it was. Harry played aggressively, during those brief, triumphant moments. He continued to wave his hands, while quickly running. The kid was all over the court, although he never did get the opportunity to try to throw the ball through the hoop.
And as Mr. Tolkan assured, Jay and Harry’s team emerged victorious. As winners of the tournament, each team member was given a bronze medal. Harry got one too, but sadly, there weren’t enough for basketball. Instead, he was bestowed with a volleyball medal. He used a nail file to try to make its embossed volleyball net look more like one for basketball. It was a fruitless attempt. Ultimately, he tossed this token of his shame and sadness into a garbage can.
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Thirty years passed, and by then Harry had long given up basketball, but discovered that he was a fairly good bowler. He and Jay had not seen each other since their junior high school days, but there was nevertheless instant mutual recognition at this chance encounter. It seems that they were both standing in line, waiting to be served at Shatzkin’s Knishes, over in Brighton Beach. They shook hands, smiled, and engaged in small talk. Harry learned that Jay was an accountant, and that he hadn’t moved away from the old neighborhood. Jay found out that Harry was a podiatrist, and lived with his family just two blocks away from Shatzkin’s.
But all the while as they talked, they looked at each other quizzically. They both were astonished. Harry had grown and now was a six footer. Jay hadn’t. He was still five foot nine.