Barack Obama Plays Dirty


It was in the men’s locker room at the East Bank club in Chicago that the guy with the big ears asked me the question.

I had no business being in that locker room. If W-2 forms had to be flashed to get into this East Bank Club today, I might be able to sneak in while security collapsed laughing. But that would be my only chance. Back then in the early nineties, when I recognized the guy but couldn’t remember the name, I thought he was some kind of lowest on the food chain politician like a state representative or something. Back then I could have afforded the membership. But I never would have done it. Give me the YMCA any day. Way above spandex heaven. The East Bank Club had two coat rooms. One just for fur coats. The only reason I was in the building is that the software company where I worked had reserved a room for an executive team meeting. And the only reason I was in the locker room was that I snuck in after the meeting. Figured this might be my only chance to sweat with Chicago’s elite.

So I was sitting on the bench after a workout when this tall skinny guy says to me, “Hey! You know where the gym is?”

And when I answered, “Man, I don’t know where anything is here,” the guy smiled. Now, when I say he smiled, that really doesn’t even begin to describe what happened. This guy had a smile that could fire the sun. So he smiled and said, “Hey don’t worry about that! My first time here too. I got this new job and I know a few guys, just a little friendly game of hoops. You can come if you want.”

The smile was so bright I almost said yes. But somehow the fact that he was taller, younger, undoubtedly richer and MUCH better looking took hold. That and the fact that I really didn’t play basketball. So I said “Sorry! But I’m sure if you walk for a mile or so you’ll find it.”

And he says to me, “Well, take it easy!” Then he padded off into the carpeted climate controlled distance and I finished getting dressed.

I got my bag packed up and realized I wasn’t really sure how to get out of the place either. The facility is larger than many small towns. So I went through this door and I found myself on a balcony type thing overlooking a basketball court where Mr. Big Ears and a bunch of other guys where hard charging, full throttle going at a very serious game of basketball. There was a Ref. Whistles. The whole deal. And remember, these were the Michael Jordan years, so basketball meant something big in Chicago. Everyone was a basketball fan. So I put down my bag and decided to watch for a minute. First impression was that there were two kinds of guys on the court. Rich guys who spent a lot of time at the gym and rich guys who thought they could play without putting in that time.

But Mister Big Ears was different. Everything about him was different.

The other guys on the court were playing basketball. Huffing and sweating and charging and talking trash. Not Mr. Big Ears. Oh he moved. He wasn’t winded at all. But while the other guys were all playing basketball, it was almost as if Mister Big Ears was playing chess.

His eyes drew my complete attention. I watched him watch the court, and it was as if he knew everybody’s moves, all the trajectories, everything everybody was about to do before they even did it. The guy oozed strategy like everyone else sweated. Like Jordon in a way. The guy had this ethereal sense of floating. You watched him and it was almost as if he wasn’t there. Like he was 5 steps ahead of the game waiting for everyone else to catch up.

Until his team started losing. That’s when everything changed.

He missed a pass. Somebody yelled “Barry!” And I saw a focus I hadn’t seen before.

And that was when the ref swallowed his whistle.

Maybe you’ve heard that before? Swallowing his whistle? It means, well it means a few things. But one of them is that the players now own the game. There are no rules.

And that’s when this Big ears guy turned it on. At first it was hard to see. The elbows to the opposing team came so quick, you really weren’t sure you saw them All you saw was his opposition grabbing themselves in pain.

Then there were the feints. Big Ears would charge —remember, there is no ref anymore—and totally fool the bumbling opponent. Even make him look kind of stupid.

The feints built into a rhythm. Big Ears team had pulled out ahead. The speed of the game cranked up yet another notch.

Then the blood.

I don’t know how big ears drew blood. I never really saw it. Another guy had come on to their team. A talker. He kept up a patter. Talked so loud, so hard it was as if his talk was a weapon in itself. Big ears team started laughing. Because the other guys had nothing. They had nothing and it showed. Meanwhile this James guy, bald guy with glasses? He kept talking,

All the while Big Ears was dodging and feinting and slipping in elbows so fast that I am still not sure, till this day, what I saw. It happened that fast.

All I know is that when the game was over, Big Ears team had won. That guy who was so good with the talking came over and put his arm around Big Ears. Both of them laughing.

But the strangest thing of all? The part I still don’t understand? I was up in this balcony or grandstand or whatever. I thought no one could see me. I was the one watching. No one knew I was there.

But as Big Ears walked off the court? He looked up at me. Straight at me. Eye to eye. And he smiled and waved.

One Response to “Barack Obama Plays Dirty”

  1. Paul Haider Says:

    Roger, let’s hope that President Obama has terminated his membership to the East Bank Club so that the conservative media and GOP won’t be able to accuse him of being a liberal elitist; they are the same people who are hoping that average Americans won’t read the book What’s the Matter With Kansas? by Thomas Frank. If only President Obama was as competitive with Congress as he is on the basketball court, but he is a compromising gentleman…in a compromising position. By the way, it was two years ago that I convinced Jeanne to cancel her East Bank membership. For the record, I still don’t want to be a part of any club that would include me as one of its members.
    Paul Haider, Chicago

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