One day in October, I went in search of Gilbert. His studio is across from a big barn-like building with a sign on the side of it that says “Gymnase Japy.” I remember thinking, “they must do gymnastics in there.”
As luck would have it, Gymnase Japy is now about 100 meters from my front door. It’s a beautiful old building with a sky-lit roof, glass backboards, wooden floorboards, and elevated bleachers. Probably the nicest gym I’ve been in since that time Chris Kirt and I slipped into Cameron Indoor.
A few weeks ago, I walked over and inquired about hoops. I had what is probably the longest French conversation I have had to date, and left with the vague notion I could show up on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday from 8-10pm, and possibly get into a game. But for all I knew, the attendant was one word from hypnotizing me. At any rate, I relayed this information to Matt and the decision was made to case the joint.
We rang the bell, strolled past the security desk like we knew what we were doing, dressed out, and started shooting around. Matt struck up a conversation which opened with, “Bonjour.” The response was direct: You must pay to play in the gym, you need insurance, more French rules, and blah blah blah. We were blackballed. Minutes later, a 4-on-4 full court game broke out with us standing on the sidelines. As you may have heard, basketball in its purest form is 5-on-5.
About then, a man walked up and asked us if we wanted to run with him in the next game. We accepted, and he chaperoned us past the French resistance. Which – like WWII – was weak due to the presence of cheese-eating surrender monkeys. [Ed. Note: I’m kidding. Je t’iame.]
The game itself was like 1950s hoops without the three-man weave. A peculiar proliferance of the set shot. Two-three zone defense. International lane and three-point line. Lots of passing. Inbounds from the baseline. No free throws. No contact.
On three separate occasions, I hit a shot in the lane which hit the rim, then the backboard, and ultimately dribbled in. Each time, a member of the other team shook his head in disgust, rolled his eyes, and said, “oooh la la la la la la.” Later, one of my teammates lucked one in, rolled his eyes, shrugged his shoulders, and then apologized to the other team as the ball was going through the net. I guess it’s like that unwritten rule in table tennis where you demure after the ball dribbles over the top of net, rendering it unreturnable. At home we call it “shooter’s roll.”
At one point I stole the ball, and caught the tip of an opponent’s ring finger as I swiped. About three seconds later, I heard “faute!” as I was leading a well-formed 3-on-2 fast break – and weighing the odds of a successful fake-behind-the-back-pass and opposite-hand finish. This late call wreaked of hurt French feelings – the bitter aftertaste of being ripped by a ’Merican.
A few minutes later, I made a guy eat the ball. Stuffed him – again catching the lesser half of one finger. When I didn’t call a foul on myself, he looked at me like I had just raped his sister. I held my hands up in confusion and said “um, faute?” Oui. Foul. Where I come from, finger calls wear name tags and hand is part of the ball. No myth.
Then I hit my only three-point attempt of the game, even though I wasn’t even close to squared up to the basket. A lucky shot.
The worst player on the floor (regrettably, a teammate) would not stop bitching that there wasn’t enough passing going on in the game. Especially after missed shots, he would make the “passing” motion with his hands and then shake his head at one of us in disgust. This went on for about 20 minutes. At one point, I heard him say, something like “le basket c’est une joue à cinq-a-cinq.,” and I’m thinking “where was that sentiment when I was watching you play quatre-a-quatre?
So, after I missed my second two-foot face-up jumper in the lane within a short span, I was sad. In a league of higher repute, another pass I would not have seen. Then Mssr. Passhole again made the “pass” motion at me and grimaced.
Passhole: [“Pass the ball” mimicry]
Show Pony: Pass? Off a two-footer in the lane?
Passhole: [talking some French blah blah]
Show Pony: Fuck off.
The game halts.
Passhole: [Facing mostly away from me.] You say ‘fuck?’ I don’t say ‘fuck’! Oh no. [Finger wagging à la Dikembe Mutombo] I no say fuck...
Apparently, that’s a deal-breaker in France – though it’s mostly par for the course in Texas.
I passed Passhole the ball a lot after that, to see if he could put his monnai where his bouche was. Trop mal. Like myself, he missed short jumpers, blew layup after layup, dropped passes, and – to top it off – wantonly threw the ball to no one, out of bounds. At this point, he was incensed – with himself. After the game, I told him, “I’m sorry about all that.” He said he was sorry too, and a peace accord was signed. Then another guy confided in me that he thought Passhole was really just “angry at himself on the inside.” I clutched the hem of his shorts and cried like a baby. Not really.
There was a kickboxing class going on at the same time as all this action. One of the dudes looked exactly like Crispin Glover and I found it most amusing.