from Middle Men: Stories by Jim Gavin
S&S – 2-13
As my son would say, “seriously?” This collection is dominating my life right now, and I picked it up almost by accident at a trade show, so, yeah, seriously.
The first, “Play the Man” is about a rag-tag batch of high school basketball players on a team run by a coach that can’t get his shit together. The voice here is hip and wild, kind of electric, like always being hungry without ever knowing what it is you want to eat.
Our hero is obsessed with playing basketball, just better than everyone else. Pat Linehan has just been transferred into the program from a cross-town rival and he’s just a bit bitter about it. Pat’s parents are less than driven, and this kind of low expectations home life gives us a glimpse into the mind of a boy that wants more, but just can’t get it. Pat is served Costco lasagna for dinner and works on his dribble with his father, who is sometimes so drunk that he can’t shoot straight. Pat’s mother makes him work at K-Mart and the other kids he knows make fun of him by pretending his some rich kid. Pat doesn’t want to end up like Len Bias who overdosed on drugs the moment he got his NBA ticket. I grew up in Rhode Island and remember that event like it was yesterday.
There are lots of little details here that develop into an overall character; why does his mother only buy five-dollars worth of gas at a time, and how come Pat puts his face in this neighbors pool each morning. The separation between complacent adults and eager teenagers is palpable, unremarkable, and each is living in a different world, even if they occupy the same house. The overreaching goal here is for the showdown between Pat’s old school and his new one, even if it’s no contest. Along the way we get to see just how much a milkshake will cost the coach and how dreams of greatness are easily squashed.