Of Basketballs and Sod
A semi-factual, totally not self-incriminating story
I pulled this one from among my short humor stories, loosely based on real events. I’ll likely post more in the future. Enjoy!
Of Basketballs and Sod
“Plastic lids and mixing bowls go on the top shelf.” my wife said. “If you put them on the bottom shelf, the heating coil could melt them.”
“Oh?” I said. “Who’d have thought that loading a dishwasher was such an art?”
“Well, it would probably do ok, I just don’t like to risk it.” She said, gathering her effects.
“I see,” I said. “You’d think the manufacturer would print things like that somewhere in bold, perhaps in giant print on the inside wall of the dishwasher.”
We’d never owned a dishwasher before, and I was led to believe you could just load things into it, you know, like dishes and the like.
“You know,” I said, kissing my wife goodbye. “These manufacturers could avoid a lot of misunderstandings if they’d name these appliances things like, ‘Selective Kinds of Dishes Washer’. That might make more people read the manual to see which kinds.”
“I’ll be back when I’m done getting groceries.” My wife said. “Oh, and don’t forget to put in the detergent.”
“It’s poor communication, I tell ya!” I said as she got in the car. “Poor communication!”
I have been involved in a number of misunderstandings in my life based on poor communication.
When I was around twelve or so, my brother, Brian and I watched an old movie about a basketball player named Pete Marovich. “Pistol Pete” they called him.
It wasn’t long before we both took an interest in basketball. We never had before, perhaps because our gene pool had no such thing as “height” in it, yet all of sudden, we wanted to be “Pistol Pete.”
It wasn’t long after that that my dad found an old basketball rim on the curb somewhere across town. In New Jersey towns in those days, you could find a lot of good stuff that way. Now everyone has CraigsList, the digital equivalent of “the curb.”
My dad then purchased a 4 by 4 treated wooden post and we installed our very own basketball hoop in our backyard. I was surprised at this because a grassy backyard was hard to come by in New Jersey, and my dad had worked to maintain ours. Yet he seemed ok with us playing basketball there. It was a special treat indeed.
We learned very quickly that there are several challenges with having a basketball hoop on a postage-stamp-sized, grassy backyard, in New Jersey. The uneven surfaces under the grass would act like minute deflectors so that whenever you would try to dribble the ball, instead of it coming straight back up to your hand, it would veer off in random directions that one could never predict. Instead of looking like young basketball players like Pistol Pete, we erratically slapped around in the air trying to catch up with the ball. You’d be making a great play toward the hoop and the ball would suddenly decide to launch off behind you over the neighbor lady’s fence.
That was the other logistical problem- Mary. The neighbor lady, Mary, was three-hundred-twenty-seven years old. Or so it seemed. Had she ever liked kids, Mary had since lived long enough to get over it. She made no attempts to shield her disdain for our family. She probably thought we were in cahoots with demons.
Mary “camped out” just inside the back window of her house, lying in wait for the moment we came within an inch of the fence between our yard and hers. If we even made a furtive gesture toward hopping the fence, Mary would knock on the window so aggressively it’s a wonder she never broke it. Following the knock, and with alarming predictability, Mary would emerge from around the far side of her house in her night-gown, glowering at us. Oh, if looks could kill… and I’m certain she wished they had.
Ever the problem solvers, we got the idea that we would once and for all prevent the ball from bouncing over the fence. We erected two tall poles at either end of the fence and tied a large, blue tarp straight across on our side of the fence. Now, whenever the ball bounced toward the fence, it would catch harmlessly in the tarp and roll back down into our yard.
One thing we hadn’t accounted for is simply how ridiculous this giant, blue tarp looked in the neighborhood. In our town in New Jersey, everyone lived on city blocks, so all of the back yards lined up next to each other. A person could sit on their back porch and look across most of the backyards on the block. On some blocks, you could see almost to the end. However, on our block, the continuity of one's view was now completed obstructed, with a large, unwieldy, pulsating, blue wall. On especially windy days, the tarp would inflate to one direction like a full, square-rigged sail and then suddenly, with the change in wind direction, invert in the other direction with a loud, “THHHWAAAAP!!” My dad would greet neighbors around the block. They’d nod or give a wave with a little effort as humanly possible, and then turn away muttering under their breath. Something had to be done.
One day, it came to me. The perfect solution would require a little bit of work, but it would make it so we could take down the tarp and still not have to worry about the ball bouncing over the fence.
“Dad! I can fix the basketball court!”, I said, bounding into the kitchen.
“What?!” He said, standing and wiping coffee from his shirt. Dads nerves always seemed somewhat frayed, perhaps from all the stress of lousy neighbors.
I made my way over to him, dodging the drips of coffee that were falling from the ceiling (How’d coffee get up there?).
“I can fix the basketball court,” I said. “All I need is a shovel, and I can flatten out the bumps!”
“Yeah, ok,” Dad said, still concentrating on wringing out the front of his shirt.
I immediately went to work, grabbed the shovel and a bucket, and marched for the backyard. In my mind, I envisioned that I could use the shovel to smash down some of the little bumps, and perhaps remove the larger ones and haul them away in the bucket.
Immediately, realized that this was going to take more drastic measures. Upon closer inspection, the whole surface beneath lawn was a myriad of bumps, lumps, and dips. It was worse than I thought. Clearly, the only solution was to use the shovel the mark out a border, cut down about five or six inches, and remove all of the turf within the border. Without the grass in the way, I could for sure level the dirt. I could even use a string tied between two stakes like the professional’s use and a measure down from it to get it all perfectly flat.
Despite feeling overwhelmed at how long it might take, and how hot it was outside, I set to work. ‘No more blue tarp!” I thought to myself. No more would I allow our property to be the laughingstock of the neighborhood. No more would we have to deal with the curmudgeonly wrath of Mary.
Several hours later, as I was working, I heard the screen door unlatch. I looked up to see my dad coming out onto the back deck. I wasn’t worried at all. After all, I had permission to “fix the basketball court.”
Exhaustedly, I staked the shovel down into the turf of our backyard and placed my foot upon it in triumph. My dad looked up to see me perched atop the turf that was now neatly arranged in a large heap in the back corner of the yard. I placed my foot upon it like Edmund Hillary atop Everest. I waved my hand out across the now barren, other-worldly surface, beckoning my Dad to behold the labor of my hands.
His face turned all red and he immediately turned around and went back in the house, almost taking the screen door with him. It was more serious than I thought. The neighbors must have really been getting to him for him to not even like being outside anymore like that. I guess it’s important to make sure before you live somewhere that you’ll have good neighbors.
“Poor communication,” I muttered to myself as I slid the top shelf into the dishwasher, plastic mixing bowls neatly in place at a safe distance from the heating element.
I closed the dishwasher door and was about to hit “Start” when I realized I’d forgotten the dish detergent. It seemed pretty clear that the detergent was supposed to go in that tiny, flip-open compartment on the inside of the door.
For a moment, I wondered where my wife might keep the dish detergent.
“Ah!” I said, snapping my fingers. “That must be it right next to the sink.”
“D-I-S-H S-O-A-P” it read. “Says ‘Dish’ right on it”, I said to myself. “And soap cleans things,” I thought.
What else could they mean?