Saturday, January 30, 2010

louie and lance

At the start of my senior year in a suburban high school there was a buzz about a kid who had just transferred in from the city. According to the word, the kid could play. He was a junior and we heard he had been the 6th man at George Washington high school. When we played pick up with the kid for the first time, he looked pretty good. Not spectacular, but he was only a junior and could shoot and move the ball fairly well. I'll change his name for this blog and call him Paul Smyth. The peculiar spelling of the name matches a peculiar spelling of his real name.

Paul Smyth and I became friendly. My girlfriend thought he was cute and so we introduced him to a friend of hers. The four of us went out a few times. I liked the guy. He told us he also had been a shortstop for his high school team. Shortstop is typically the best defensive player on a team and whatever he said he batted was impressive. I enjoyed listening to his exploits in the city, but enjoyed more than anything his tales of the adventures of his two older brothers Louie and Lance. The brothers were out at UCLA, drove volkswagens, and were generally cool guys. The kind of big brothers that it must have been a gas to have. When Paul told me that the brothers came in for Thanksgiving and how they cavorted that weekend, I was impressed with the class and his family.

Paul was a benchwarmer on the varsity as a junior, but the team was stacked with talent. In a game that eliminated the team from the Nassau County tournament, Paul came in at the end and made some very nifty steals. He would, it seemed, be a star the next year. Sometime around February of 67 Paul invited me to his home which was a mile or so away from my own. We sat in the finished playroom and cackled about this and that. His younger sister came down to say hi and then skipped back the stairs, and then his dad joined us in the room and we talked sports for a short while. I asked if Louie and Lance had played much ball in high school. When I said that it was as if the air was sucked out of the room. Paul got quiet, and his dad's shoulders sagged and the smile that had been on his face drooped away. Paul waved at me as if he didn't want to talk about Louie and Lance right then, and his dad commented that he should get going and leave us alone. Then he sadly walked up the short staircase to the living room. I asked Smyth what was up, and he just waved me away.

I couldn't get it out of my head so when I saw Paul in the school the next week I asked him what was up with Louie and Lance. Quickly he said, "They died." They'd been in an accident in their volkswagen and perished. I was aghast and he waved it away and started speaking about something else. I let it go not being able to imagine the loss involved.

During my freshman year in college I came back to the high school to watch the first game of the year. I'd not made the varsity in high school, but I was playing for the freshman team at Albany. Paul was the captain of the high school team and I was hoping to see him star. I've never seen a worse performance by a high school player. He was just terrible. Beyond nervous. I could not believe it.

I went back to college and was in the locker room before a game. The sports information director had passed around a program which listed us all and our high schools. A teammate scanned the list and shouted out to me. He didn't know I'd gone to Plainview. He asked if I knew his high school crony who'd moved to Plainview in the summer of 1966. Friend's name was Smyth. I told my teammate that I sure knew Paul Smyth. My teammate went on to talk about how the two of them had hung out together living in the same apartment building since they'd been toddlers.

I didn't know how to break it to him about Paul's brothers. Eventually, I just said somberly, "Did you hear about Louie and Lance?"

My teammate made a face and said, "Who?"

"Did you hear about Louie and Lance?"

"Who's Louie and Lance?"

"Louie and Lance. His older brothers. They perished in an automobile accident. How well can you know Smyth if you did not know about Louie and Lance?"

My teammate looked at me with a stoneface. "Paul Smyth has no brothers. He just has a sister."

"We talking about the same Paul Smyth. Smith with a Y?"

"Paul Smyth, with a Y. Yes. I grew up with him, he has no brothers."

"The guy who was sixth man for George Washington. Shortstop for the baseball team."

My teammate was incredulous and began to laugh "Sixth man on the basketball team? He was the equipment manager. He was okay but could never make that team. Shortstop on the baseball team? He was the third base coach."

I stood there half dressed in the locker room completely stunned. After a spell I began thinking through some of the Louie and Lance stories and realized there were holes in them that I had not seen before.

I think we all create illusions and may replace reality with what we would like to believe. It is extreme, of course,when you create siblings and a history that is inconsistent with reality. In the Madness of March I write about the need to identify what is real and separate it from constructions of reality that we have either composed or adopted on the basis of what we have heard or read.

When we don't separate illusions from reality, the blow is considerable when these unrelated entities collide. I am not sure if Paul Smyth ever became aware of the difference between his life and what he had constructed as his life. Years later I bumped into him at the high school track. His year as a high school player had been a bust when the creation he had established about himself and reality had collided on the court. Nevertheless he told me that he was now averaging double digits for some obscure college I'd never heard of.

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