JUNE 12, 2018
THIS IS PART VI of LARB’s serialization of Seth Greenland’s forthcoming novel The Hazards of Good Fortune. Greenland’s novel follows Jay Gladstone from his basketball-loving youth to his life as a real estate developer, civic leader, philanthropist, and NBA team owner, and then to it all spiraling out of control.
A film and TV writer, playwright, and author of four previous novels, Greenland was the original host of The LARB Radio Hour and serves on LARB’s board of directors. The Hazards of Good Fortune will be published in book form by Europa Editions on August 21, 2018.
To start with installment one, click here.
It was late afternoon and as Jay’s legs pumped on the elliptical machine in the executive gym, he could not stop thinking about the lunch with Dag. His trainer had left five minutes earlier and he was alone. A cable news financial show flickered on the television monitor above him, but he ignored it as his mind ranged back to his youth. How could anyone, much less one of his players, insinuate that his attitudes about race were in any way questionable? When it came to the position occupied by “people of color” (a label he believed would eventually be as out of date as “colored,” but nonetheless employed because if others accepted it who was he to rock the boat?) in America, Jay held that no white person was more sensitive, kindhearted, and benevolent than he.
The summer Louis Armstrong’s horn sounded its last blue note and the south tower of the World Trade Center pierced the clouds above Manhattan to become the tallest building on the planet, sixteen-year-old Harold Jay Gladstone got dunked on at a basketball camp in the Catskill Mountains. It was 1971 and to the greater world what happened on that sweltering afternoon had no larger meaning, but Jay learned a painful lesson that remained with him for the rest of his life: However much an individual might believe himself to be at the zenith of his power, capability, and influence, he is always one small slip away from ruin.
A skinny white kid from the broad-lawned New York suburbs, land of golf and tennis, dry martinis, private swimming pools, European vacations, elite colleges, and psychoanalysis, Jay was devoted to all things “Negro,” a label still acceptable then. Understand: He wasn’t a clown about it. He had too much deeply held respect to approach the subject from that angle. Jay didn’t dress black and didn’t make the embarrassing mistake of so many white boys that tried to mimic the speech, the walk, the innumerable signifiers of blackness, but was entranced by the remarkable culture conjured by African-Americans in all its rowdy proliferation.
On a typical Saturday, he rode his ten-speed bicycle from his home in Scarsdale—a town where the minority population consisted of a three-foot-tall ceramic lawn jockey standing sentinel in front of a neighbor’s center hall Colonial—to the nearby and far more diverse city of White Plains where he bought a ticket at the Palace Theater on Main Street to absorb the lessons of Shaft, get a slice and a soda at Nicky’s Pizzeria, purchase the Black Panther Party newspaper from an intimidating street vendor, and then pedal back to his family’s five-bedroom house, where he slouched on his bed beneath a five-foot-high poster of Jimi Hendrix immolating a Fender Stratocaster, and eagerly devoured the fevered accounts of violent inner city life. Three years earlier he’d been the only kid in his eighth-grade class to read Eldridge Cleaver’s memoir.
“You should look at this,” Jay said to Claudie one day after school, offering her his worn copy of Soul On Ice. They were standing outside his bedroom door and he had to raise his voice to be heard over the whirr of the Electrolux vacuum cleaner. A black woman from Georgia, Claudie had been working for the Gladstones for as long as Jay could remember. Ancient and blue haired, she fixed him with a quizzical stare. Jay offered her the book but she shook her head. The boy was puzzled. The possibility that the housekeeper might be perplexed by the son of her wealthy employers purveying the literature of revolution while she tried to clean the upstairs hallway eluded him completely.
The stultifying traditions that surrounded him, the world of his parents and grandparents, the round of brain-numbing Seders, High Holy Days services that droned on for hours, and bar mitzvahs where his schoolmates in madras jackets, pressed slacks, and loafers (boys), paisley or polka dot dresses and Courreges boots (girls), awkwardly Watusied around the dance floor to anemic bands that played deracinated versions of current AM radio hits, held none of the outlaw brio he craved. That resided in Harlem, a place known to Jay only through the finger-snapping novels of Chester Himes, an author to whom he had been alerted by a sympathetic librarian.
What Jay lived for—more than his tattered Chester Himes paperbacks, Soul Train, and seeing the Supremes in the flesh on a family trip to Expo 67 in Montreal—was basketball, specifically the New York Knicks. A year earlier they had won their first NBA title and the liquid way the team played the game, the seamless passing, cutting, and shooting in which they engaged with the heedless swing of the jazz cats his father savored, was the Platonic ideal of what sport was meant to represent. It would not be an exaggeration to say Jay Gladstone worshipped them. On winter nights, he reverently listened to Marv Albert’s Brighton Beach boom on WNBC emanating from the transistor radio nestled next to his pillow intoning names of deities like Frazier, Bradley, and Reed, and he would envision himself on the court at Madison Square Garden running with his heroes. “Gladstone from the corner . . . ” he imagined the famous sportscaster declaim. Then: “Yes!”
The previous April he had taken the Metro-North train into the city, devoured a sub at Blimpie for dinner, and furtively purchased a ticket from a scalper outside the Garden, where he attended game seven of the Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series when the Knicks squared off against Earl Monroe and the Baltimore Bullets. From his perch in the nosebleed seats young Jay hollered himself hoarse, throat in tatters as he willed the Knicks to victory and a place in the NBA Finals. The transformation he underwent that night, the sense of abandonment, of release, of beatitude was no less profound for him than what the Baal Shem Tov, about whom he had learned in Sunday school, experienced during his mystic visions three centuries earlier in the forests of Poland.
A shard of history and it belonged to him.
And Jay played the game, oh, how he played the game. It wasn’t that he was particularly talented, although he harbored a fantasy that he could achieve a certain level of competence, but his devotion to improvement knew no bounds. There was a backboard mounted on the garage, and it was there that Jay worked on his skills in the morning, after school, and on weekends. His sister rebounded the ball and passed it to him so he could shoot without breaking his rhythm. Days were measured in jump shots, layups, and free throws, dribbling drills where the ball went behind his back and through his legs, all of which were put to use in an endless round of playground pickup games.
Jay started playing organized ball in the fourth grade, played on the freshman team, and then on the junior varsity. In the autumn of 1971 the varsity squad loomed. While not quite elite, he was talented, and scrappy enough to play at the next level so his ascension to the empyrean realm—letter jackets, cheerleaders, and the approbation of the entire community that crammed into the gym on game days (his adolescent mind swam at the richness of this vision)—was a near given.
For a year, desperate to improve his jumping ability, Jay had been plodding around with weights laced to his ankles.
“Watch this,” Jay commanded his sister one humid afternoon when the two of them were in the driveway of their large, Tudor-style home. They were playing with a basketball made from rubber. Gym shorts and gray T-shirts soaked with perspiration. The gardener had been there in the morning and the air was awash with the sweet smell of freshly cut grass. Jay turned on a nearby hose and wet the ball. Then he stretched his fingers over the rubber surface and palmed it. Bebe’s eyes widened. She asked how he did it. This was not a skill typically found in the repertoire of an average-sized suburban teenager. To his sibling it seemed like magic. Jay couldn’t palm a regulation leather ball, but if the ball was rubber, and it was wet, he could now get it to stay on his hand—secret knowledge gleaned after a recent rainfall when he astonished himself by picking it up off the ground without putting his hand under it. It felt supernatural.
Humid air filled his lungs as he inhaled deeply and focused his eyes on the rim looming ten feet over the asphalt. Five running steps and he leapt toward the basket, elevated, and—was his entire wrist over the rim?—threw down a one-handed dunk. Bebe screamed. They slapped moist palms.
Jay grinned and with practiced aplomb said, “Damn right.”
Bebe asked if that was the first time he had ever dunked it.
“Been practicing. Last week I did it with a baseball. Then yesterday I dunked a cantaloupe.”
She wondered, “Does Mom know you were playing with fruit?”
Their mother, raised by European immigrants, had a phobia about wasting food.
“I ate it.”
Jay Gladstone was still fifteen (his birthday was in early August). A scrawny kid, short for a basketball player, and he had dunked. It didn’t matter that the ball was rubber, not the regulation leather, or that he had slicked it down so the surface would stick to his hand. He dunked the ball. The long months of tramping around with weights strapped to his lower extremities had worked. Jay had transformed himself into that most exalted category of basketball players, a category rarely breached by white people—he was a leaper. There were stories he heard of New York City playground legends like Herman “The Helicopter” Knowings and Earl Manigault, men that could pluck a silver dollar from the top of a backboard. He did not expect to achieve those dizzying heights, had no hope that he would ever tomahawk (two-handed) dunk, the ultimate agreed-upon sign of basketball machismo. But he swelled with a pride he had not felt since he flawlessly read from the Torah on the day of his bar mitzvah.
When it was time to get a summer job after his sophomore year in high school, Jay was adamant that he didn’t want to commute into the city to work at Gladstone Properties. His father, to his surprise, took this in stride. “As long as you earn some money,” he said, “you can dig ditches.” Bingo Gladstone was gregarious, the kind of man who would strike up conversations with strangers, and one morning when he and Jay stood in line at Bagel Haven to pick up lox and a dozen onion bialys for Sunday brunch he said to the owner, “Hey, my number one needs a summer job. You think he’d be a good bagel maker?” For three dollars and twenty-five cents an hour Jay was enlisted to show up at Bagel Haven before dawn five days a week and assist in baking the cornucopia of bagels, bialys, and twists offered at the shop. He didn’t mind the work. After studying as hard as he did during the school year it was a welcome relief to do something less intellectually taxing, even if he had to be awake before the birds began to chirp. And he earned enough money that by the end of August he was able to pay his own way to Walt Frazier’s basketball camp. Jay esteemed the entire New York Knicks roster but Walt “Clyde” Frazier was his personal idol. Consummate smooth operator, sine qua non of gliding, sliding precision, a sinuous and mellow tenor saxophone solo sprung to vivid life, Clyde Frazier was the athletic godhead to which Jay prostrated.
It was there at the camp that he found himself on an outdoor court surrounded by over a hundred teenaged boys (and Clyde, for god sakes! Clyde was watching!), crouched at the top of the key, guarding the best player on the opposing squad, with five seconds left in the championship game and his team up by one point.
Dave Bailey was a seventeen-year-old black kid, six foot three and explosive. He was a star at Mount Vernon High School, and the buzz in the camp was that at least three Division I college programs were recruiting him. Jay had switched on to Bailey because the teammate who was guarding him had been flattened by a pick. Dave Bailey sized Jay up as if he were eyeing a succulent morsel and faked left. When Jay didn’t go for it, Bailey drove right with Jay stuck to his hip. Then the taller player bounded toward the basket. As he reared his arm to dunk, Jay, suffused with pride in having altered the ability of his body to perform feats heretofore impossible, secure in the belief that he could against all expectations stymie his high-flying opponent, and pulsing with adrenaline, leaped and extended his arm to block the shot. He met the ball five inches over the rim—higher than he had ever jumped, he was airborne!—where the force of Bailey’s arm rocketed Jay’s hand into the iron. The ball went through the rim and the screams emitted by the crowd, the festive sideline dancing to celebrate the burn inflicted, the mayhem unleashed by Bailey’s ability to rule, all combined to make Jay ignore the throbbing in his hand where X-rays would later reveal a hairline fracture.
Dave Bailey? That kid looked as if he had dropped a quarter in the soda machine and a can of Coke appeared. What were you expecting? his eyes seemed to say. The impassive reaction to his splendid feat reflected a self-assurance the white suburban victim could only begin to imagine.
When Jay retreated to the nearby woods to escape the consoling words of his teammates, all of whom secretly thrilled it hadn’t happened to them, he tried to believe the tears he could no longer hold back were from the pain he felt and not the humiliation.
“Good try, son,” Clyde had said to him.
Clyde had said! In a voice like velvet! To him!
But despite this personal interaction with his hero, the hidden meaning of Good try’s pat on the back was the inescapable punch in the nose of You failed.
Jay was devastated. He managed to choke out a response but the scrambled manner in which the words tumbled off his tongue led the Knick divinity to nod and smile sympathetically before turning his attention to another camper. Jay never forgot that when he tried to talk to Clyde Frazier he had sounded like an idiot. That night he lay awake in his bunk endlessly replaying what had happened and concluded consciously what he had been unwilling to admit. He had no business being on the court with a player as talented as Dave Bailey, and his entire infatuation with black culture struck him for the first time as a little silly. Black culture had dunked on him and Jay realized he would have to evolve into a better version of what he already was, and not try to be something else.
When he climbed off the elliptical machine after forty-five minutes, twilight inked Manhattan and Bebe was riding a stationary bicycle. He hadn’t noticed her arrival. They greeted each other and Jay asked if she had plans this evening.
“Big date,” she said. “It’s why I’m in the gym.”
She told Jay that it was someone she met at a benefit, the first deputy director of the International Monetary Fund. As it happened, Jay was acquainted with him.
“We had an interesting conversation about Africa,” he said. “Don’t embarrass the family.”
Bebe smiled and increased the resistance on the bike. She had been married and divorced twice—once to a bankruptcy lawyer and once to a political consultant active in Democratic politics—and had no children. Her marriages had foundered because Bebe Gladstone was accustomed to getting her way. The only man she would defer to was her brother. Being single did not concern her, and she viewed dating like a sport, something to do in order to keep in shape.
“Did you talk to Franklin?”
“I did,” Jay said.
He paused before answering and Bebe’s expression darkened. “He was puffing on one of his cigars and he blew a lot of smoke.”
“Franklin’s the king of the metaphor,” Bebe said, pumping away on the stationary bike.
“All I can say is I hope there’s nothing to it.”
“But you think there might be.”
“He’s complicated. I’ll leave it at that.”
“All will be revealed.”
In the locker room Jay grabbed a clean towel from a freshly laundered and folded stack. The thought loop in his head rewound and he wondered whether he should have told the Dave Bailey story to Dag. It would have been a sign of humility. Boris was changing into workout clothes and they coordinated a time for the drive back to Westchester. While he was showering, it occurred to him that if he told Dag what had happened in the summer of 1971, the player might think that everything Jay had done in the world of basketball since then was built on revenge. You never knew how someone would react. Better to not have mentioned it.
Traffic was light when Boris steered the Mercedes over the Third Avenue Bridge and on to the Major Deegan Expressway. Jay had been looking for ways to further empower his young cousin—he had begun to view Boris as something of a surrogate son—and on the ride back to Bedford considered sharing his concerns about Franklin. But to communicate his suspicions might poison Boris’s opinion and Jay, being a fair-minded man, did not want to risk that in the event they proved unfounded. He still wanted to believe that Franklin, while problematic, was not that devious.
In the six months since they had entered the socially sanctioned, sadomasochistic rite known as marriage counseling, Christine Lupo and her husband Dominic had gone on over ten “dates” with each other. It was their therapist’s idea and intended to reignite the absent spark in their nearly twenty-year relationship. These evenings invariably began in fragile stasis, as if both wife and husband were wary of doing or saying the wrong thing, but by the time they had consumed cocktails and a bottle of Pino Grigio, embers flickered, and they usually managed a moment or two of intimacy. This had not happened tonight.
They were at Castaldi’s, a red sauce Italian restaurant in Harrison. Christine ordered the veal marsala. She consumed her usual vodka martini with an olive and a twist and was nursing a second glass of wine. The place was half full, local couples, soft conversations. The Lupos had been there for over an hour, and the district attorney had not yet broached the subject of her husband’s transgressions. It would be easy to describe this behavior as sadistic, but sadism was not her motivation. As he droned on about his week, what was new at the office, an upcoming business trip to Europe intended to explore the possibility of importing a particular cheese he had recently discovered at a food convention he had allegedly attended the previous week, she tried to observe him with the objectivity of an anthropologist.
In his late forties with a lean face, Dominic Lupo’s features had improved with age. His long nose was straight, and his lips curled slightly upward, so his resting expression appeared to be a smile. His hair was streaked with gray and had begun to recede, but that only seemed to heighten the acuity in his dark, lying eyes, the ones that concealed a sordid, hidden life that was about to be his undoing. Thrice weekly workouts at a Manhattan gym—she wondered if that was where he met the whore with whom he was betraying their marital vows—enabled him to retain his youthful physique. The tailored jacket he wore hung loosely over an open-collared oxford shirt that left the soft declivity in his neck just above his breastbone exposed. He gestured with his fingers as he spoke, pianist’s fingers. That Dominic played some piano and could sing a little—Did he sing to the tramp? Lying in bed after the two of them had sex, did the cheating sonofabitch sing?—were qualities that Christine was drawn to when they first met. She remembered the long-ago night when, after several glasses of wine, he had sung an Abba song to her, “Dancing Queen,” made up lyrics for the one he wanted to impress—See that girl, watch that scene, her name’s Christine, she’s my dancing queen. The thought that her husband might have been serenading another woman was making Christine nauseous.
He wore a diamond-encrusted gold wedding band, and she looked at it as he twirled the remains of his linguine al vongole. The man I’ve spent most of my adult life with, she thought as the veal marsala repeated and she covered her mouth, is blathering as if this were just another evening out; as if the two of us will have one like it next week and the week after. As if we’ll finish dinner, have coffee, drive home, go to bed, then wake up and repeat the whole charade. How was it that I missed this sadly predictable midlife meltdown of my husband’s? And why did I decide to confront him in a restaurant where I feel myself becoming ill? Yes, of course, the kids, the kids, always the kids, who do not need to overhear our marriage fragment while they try to do their homework. But I can’t possibly drag this out any longer, let it go on another day, wake up next to him and pretend I have no idea what he has done to me, to our children, to our lives.
Her husband’s lips were moving but, for the last minute, Christine had not heard a word. Now she focused her attention on what he was saying.
“This cheese we’re going to import is like no artisanal cheese I’ve ever tasted.” Cheese! Their world was ending, and Dominic was yammering about cheese! “A cross between Reggiano and manchego, pungent but not too, and the cheese maker creates this earthy flavor with only six months of aging.” He stabbed a clam and stuck it in his mouth.
“Pungent but not too?” She said this in a way designed to see if he was paying attention to her. The remark meant to be banal.
“Exactly,” he said, and confirmed her suspicion.
The waiter appeared at the table, and Christine requested a club soda. She indicated that he should clear her plate, but Dominic asked for more of the restaurant’s “delicious rustic bread” so he could dip it in the broth which, he always told her, everyone knew was the best part of the meal. The waiter, an elfin man in his seventies with a crooner’s head of dyed black hair, smiled wearily and retreated to the kitchen. She would inform Dominic what he could do with that delicious rustic bread.
“I’ll bring some of the cheese home tomorrow,” Dominic said, resuming where he had left off. She could tell he thought the evening had gone far better than anticipated.
He looked at her quizzically. “Why not? I think you’ll like it.”
Her briefcase rested on the floor. She reached down and removed a file that she placed on the table.
“What’s this?” her husband said. “Vacation pictures?”
“Open it,” she said, not smiling at his feeble joke.
He glanced at the contents. Dominic might have been obtuse but he was not stupid, and almost instantly the situation was clear. Several seconds elapsed before he spoke. She tasted the repeating veal marsala again, wondered where the waiter was with the club soda.
Finally, Dominic cleared his throat, swallowed, and said, “You had me followed?”
“You look at what’s in that folder, and the first thing that comes out of your mouth is to ask me if I had you followed? Yes, I had you followed. Obviously. Is there anything else you’d like to say?”
The concentrated aggression his wife displayed neutered him. She watched him attempt to force disparate thoughts to cohere into something he could sell. Shock at having been exposed quickly gave way to irritation over having to deal with it, which yielded to shame about the whole situation. He nervously played with his wineglass.
She waited for him to say something.
Finally, he managed, “What do you want to do?”
She had decided it was imperative that he move out but unexpectedly found his discomfort energizing and wanted to prolong it before getting into logistics. To Christine’s surprise, her husband brought his thumb and forefinger to the bridge of his nose, closed his eyes—those deceitful eyes—and pursed his lips. Apparently believing himself to be in sufficient control of the maelstrom within, he rested his chin on his fist, opened his eyes, and appeared to examine some breadcrumbs on the white tablecloth. Then he choked back a sob and gazed at the ceiling.
This display of emotion was not what Christine had expected. Like the trial lawyer she had been, she played this scene out in her mind, imagined the various permutations until she had some idea how it would unfold. Hostility and a request for a divorce, perhaps, apology and a plea, maybe, but not this, not tears. Not weeping at Castaldi’s over his linguini al vongole. Dominic was still looking at the ceiling—at a light fixture? For an angel? He seemed as breakable as one of the clamshells littering the ceramic bowl in front of him. She had the urge to reach out and take his soft hand.
Dominic glanced guiltily at his wife, whose eyes looked like volcanoes.
“What can I say?” he managed, voice rough with suppressed feeling.
“That’s the best you can do?”
He paused and looked away as she awaited his next foray.
Pitiably, he said, “I’ll do whatever you want.” Then: “I love you.”
“I love you?” Christine had not expected to hear that. What kind of a gullible dupe did he think she was? Certainly not the kind who would fall for a gambit so transparent.
“I need you to hear that what you’ve inflicted—” Here her voice gave out. Until now she had been completely in charge. Christine had let him talk about the cheese while she waited like a sniper. But now that the real conversation had begun, it was hard to stick to the dialogue she had so laboriously composed. After a wordless interval during which she willed her intestines to behave, she finally managed to say, “This is the worst day in my entire life.” The sadness that started to arise shoved aside the well-cultivated fury, catching her off guard.
. . . worst day in my entire life.
That delicate petal floated between the couple, husband not daring to utter a word, wife unsure what to say next.
“You live for twenty years with someone,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper, “and you want to believe them.”
“And you want to believe in their decency, you know?”
“Yes, I do.”
“And just when I need to be able to trust you the most—”
Christine sensed the waiter standing next to her, but when she looked up, she did not see the waiter. What she saw was a bearded toffee-skinned black man in his forties, dressed in a knee-length gray cotton robe buttoned to his neck. At least it appeared to be buttoned to his neck. She couldn’t see his neck due to the voluminous nature of the beard that had colonized much of his upper chest. On his head, a white skullcap.
“Christine Lupo?” he asked. The accent was distinctly American. The district attorney, due to her frequent appearances on television, was accustomed to being approached by constituents in public. The man turned to Dominic. “Please forgive the intrusion.” His voice was brandy-smooth if his timing was not.
Too flummoxed to respond, and still fighting a welter of feelings, Dominic sat blinking, a frog on a lily pad. But the man did not appear to be dangerous, and Christine secretly welcomed his presence since it temporarily delivered her from continuing to experience the emotional pain that had so recently flared. Since she would appreciate this man’s vote in the race for governor, along with that of any other black person he knew who might want to vote for her, she said, “You are—?”
“Imam Ibrahim Muhammad,” he said as if he was someone she should know. The name did not ring a bell. “The leader of the mosque the martyr John Eagle attended.”
Ah, he was someone, more specifically the same someone who had been calling the office nonstop for the past twenty-four hours trying to arrange a meeting with the district attorney, who was not a fan of the word imam. It reminded her of ayatollah, a word she, like many who had lived through the seizure of the American embassy in Teheran, positively loathed. What did imam, in its unutterable foreignness, even mean? Father? Head Man? And what about his use of the remarkably loaded word “martyr”? That designation could not in this context possibly presage anything encouraging. Muhammad pulled a chair from a vacant table and sat down. Reflexively, Christine looked around for Sean Purcell, her savior in these situations, and remembered he had taken the night off.
“Excuse me, sir,” Dominic said, having regained the ability to speak.
“It’s all right,” his wife said.
“Again, please forgive the intrusion,” the imam said. Despite his polite manner, the apology sounded like a threat. He would make them listen.
At this point, the elderly waiter returned with a glass of club soda and the basket of the rustic bread. He looked quizzically at Dominic, presumably the one running things. When Dominic did not say anything, the waiter placed the bread on the table and turned to the imam.
“Will the gentleman be eating?”
“The gentleman will just be here for a minute,” Ibrahim Muhammad replied in a slightly bemused tone. The waiter nodded and departed.
The district attorney had recently read an article on the Internet where she learned that an entire one fourth of the Earth’s population were adherents of the Muslim faith. To her, this was not welcome news. She was not outwardly prejudiced against Muslims but was highly aware that they were the primary actors in a huge percentage of the conflicts in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Further, if these Muslims weren’t killing non-Muslims, they were murdering each other at an ever-increasing clip. A massacre in Nigeria one day, a suicide bombing in Iraq the next, all of the violence melted together into a miasma of horror. There were so many of them, and their birth rate was so astronomical that none of the killings would ever make a dent. Not that the District Attorney of Westchester County thought any killing was a good idea—she didn’t. But no government official seemed to know how to deal with this state of affairs, and it made her nervous that the number of Muslims in America was burgeoning, however incrementally.
Until this evening, the DA had been unaware that the shooting victim was Muslim. Her relief at being given a break from the poignant effusions of her adulterous spouse was tempered by the realization that she would now have to get rid of this meddlesome cleric without making a scene. What was it with men? Did they think they could do anything they wanted? Several other diners stole glances in their direction. She took a sip of her club soda.
“I know why you’re here,” Christine said. “We have channels in our office, and you need to go through them.”
“I was not getting satisfaction that way.”
“You followed her to the restaurant?” Dominic asked, ever the vigilant spouse.
“And I debated whether or not to go in,” the imam replied. “I’ve been standing outside for an hour and a half. I followed you here from work.”
“You were stalking her,” Dominic said. “There are laws against that.”
Ignoring him, the imam continued, “I nearly interrupted you when you walked into the restaurant, but I had second thoughts and decided to wait for you outside. Then it occurred to me that if I accosted you in the parking lot someone might shoot me.” Here he paused, and the tiniest sardonic smile flickered on his lips, “and then another man would have to talk to you on my behalf. I’m sure you can see the problem.”
“You should get the hell out.” Dominic’s intensity surprised both his wife and her visitor. “Maybe I should throw you out.”
“I said I’d handle it,” the district attorney reminded her husband.
“Your impatience is understandable,” the imam said to Dominic. “Once again, I apologize for the untimely intrusion.”
Christine was pleased that this man was polite and did not seem to be the type who sent suicide bombers hurtling through barricades.
She asked, “Who are you, exactly?”
“I am the imam at the Lower Westchester Muslim Society. We serve members of the ummah who live in the area and build bridges with our neighbors of other faiths in accordance with the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad.”
“Nice speech,” Dominic said. His wife ignored him.
“Tell me, what exactly does ‘imam’ mean?”
“An imam is a worship leader of Sunni Muslims.”
“Proceed,” she said, taking another sip of club soda. “You have two minutes.”
Ibrahim Muhammad inched his chair closer to the table. Christine noticed he smelled pleasantly of nutmeg and Ivory soap.
“John Eagle was a recent convert to Islam,” the imam told her. “He showed up at the mosque one day as a young seeker and requested instruction. I talked to him and recommended some books, and he began to learn how to pray. His life had not gone well. He was lost.”
“Is this going anywhere?” Dominic wanted to know. His wife leveled him with a look.
“Inshallah,” the imam replied evenly. “God willing. John Eagle was using drugs, and it appeared that he was not mentally stable. I don’t know what happened with the officer. I know there were witnesses, and hopefully, those people will tell the truth, you will bring that truth to the grand jury, and they will act by that truth. I am here merely as the representative of a poor man who is unable to advocate for himself. He was without money, and without luck, but he was not without friends. More friends than you probably realize.”
More friends? What, exactly, did that mean? Certainly not that the dead man had “friends” in the sense of ones with whom he went bowling but, rather, those with whom he made common cause. Was the imam threatening some mass civil action in the event the situation did not go his way? How many “friends” could some unemployed, mentally unstable victim of police violence have anyway? Other than the imam, who Christine supposed might want to use the current situation to make a name for himself as an activist.
While she considered this, the imam stood up and thanked the Lupos for their time.
“G’bye,” Dominic said, not looking at him.
“I wanted you to hear about this man personally,” the Iman said. He bowed his head slightly, then departed, gray tunic swishing around his knees.
The district attorney watched as Ibrahim Muhammad navigated through the tables and out the door. In his evident sincerity and high moral purpose, both of which appealed to her sense of fair play, she had infinitely more admiration for this clergyman than she did for her wayward spouse.
“That was weird,” Dominic said as if their evening had been going well up to the imam’s arrival. He caught his wife’s eye and smiled, trying to create a mutual appreciation, a disillusioned but bighearted acceptance of the fruitcakes in this nutty world, the kind of shared experience husbands and wives in long marriages will reflect on early in the morning or before going to sleep, something we’ll laugh about in the future, remember the night when the Muslim interrupted our dinner at the Italian restaurant, ha-ha-ha.
“Can you believe that guy’s nerve?”
“I want you to move out of the house,” Christine said.
Two hours later, her husband relocated to the guest room, the DA sat in bed propped on pillows, unable to sleep, laptop open, in search of distraction from her marital woes. She researched the price of her house on Zillow, since it would surely be a factor in the divorce, purchased a mystery novel from Amazon, then checked tomorrow’s headlines. The media reported that Russell Plesko had been placed on desk duty, and the office of the district attorney was continuing their investigation. The situation perplexed Christine, who felt besieged from all sides. What of the imam’s request? She understood and believed herself sympathetic to the grievances of the black community. They were valid, and her office needed to address them systematically. And Muslims were certainly entitled to equal protection under the law. However, Plesko, as far as she knew, had not done anything wrong. It was a question of gauging who she wanted standing behind her on the campaign trail, angry activists or first responders. The imam had not helped his case by cornering her in a restaurant. But she loathed that hostile cop who represented Plesko’s union.
She wondered who this meddling imam was so she googled him. Originally from Florida, Ibrahim Muhammad’s name at birth was Dwayne Sykes. A former U.S. Marine who had done jail time for armed robbery and drug dealing, he had several wives and at least ten children. According to an article in the Orlando Sentinel, the U.S. government recruited him to infiltrate radical Muslim organizations but the official relationship terminated when he assaulted his handler. She wondered what the former Dwayne Sykes would have done if Dominic had followed through on his threat to escort him out of the restaurant. The dark part of her, the part that the nuns had made her ashamed of, almost wished she had seen it.
The flight to Los Angeles on the private jet that Trey chartered passed with the alacrity of a geological epoch. It felt to Dag like he was checking the time on his phone every five minutes. Church was not happy when his star player called to tell him an urgent family matter would cause him to miss practice. Dag couldn’t worry about that now. The team’s next game was three days away, and a win would make Church forget today’s absence.
Dag looked around the plane. How long was this flight supposed to take? Already, it felt like they’d been flying for twenty-four hours. He rechecked his phone. They’d left New Jersey an hour ago. He and his brother were the only passengers. The pilot, co-pilot, and stewardess, for whom proximity to fame was nothing special, kept to themselves. Trey played games on his laptop while Dag contemplated his phone call with Little Dag.
It had gone like this:
“What’s up, little man? Everything okay?”
“Uncle Moochie’s visiting Mommy.”
Uncle Moochie? Was this what Little Dag had been told to call Moochie Collins, Dag’s former teammate when both of them had played for the Milwaukee Bucks?
“What’s he doing there?”
“I don’t like him.”
“She’s in her room.”
It was late morning in Los Angeles. Dag did not want to ask if Moochie had spent the night. There was an unwritten rule in the league that teammates (and once a teammate, always a teammate, the bond everlasting) stayed away from each other’s exes. Under no circumstances was this credo to be violated.
Dag told his son he loved him and would see him soon. Then he told Trey they were going to Los Angeles.
“What are you gonna tell Church?”
“I got a family emergency,” Dag said. There were two things he intended to accomplish in Los Angeles. The incursion of an ex-teammate into his former domain, and his intensely jealous reaction, made him realize that he wanted to make one last-ditch attempt to save his marriage.
He also planned to “bring the ruckus” to Moochie Collins.
For a man of his athletic prowess, professional accomplishment, and celebrity, Dag Maxwell was unusually circumspect. Early in his career, he had released a rap album and, while his rhymes had not risen to the level of art, he had written them himself. Dag had aspirations, a soulful yearning to express what lay within him through means other than slick passing and jump shooting and this urge set him apart from the Darwinian wins and losses world of professional basketball. He had few delusions regarding his musical ability—that he would never be an ace rapper was not surprising—but he found comfort in working his thoughts out in rhyme and recognized the value of having an outlet for his querulous emotions.
He passed the flight trying to corral his feelings into verses on his phone but found it challenging because he was unsure exactly what these feelings were. He thought Brittany was in the past, that the smoking ruins of their relationship were now in the capable hands of lawyers and accountants, and he was primed to reap the rewards of the single life. But his reaction to this new information surprised him almost as much as the information itself.
Dag could not yet see that his last conversation with Jamal intensified his response. Moochie Collins sleeping with his wife—Brittany remained his spouse until the divorce became final—was of a piece with his not being able to swing an endorsement deal with a major carmaker or wring the maximum allowable contract out of Jay Gladstone. It was a sign of disrespect, and he could not abide it. And not just disrespect from Dag’s former teammate, who deserved to die, but also from Brittany, who should have known better than to let Moochie Collins soil her family’s nest. How could she have done that? Did she not know that Dag still loved her—in a way that was problematic, to be sure, but was nonetheless enduring? As the plane passed over the California desert, Dag, after much internal back-and-forth, concluded that he should have told her this. He hoped it was not too late.
The other part of his conversation with Jamal that contributed to his presence on the chartered jet was the unspoken suggestion that his career was on the downward slope and the end, if not exactly near, was on the horizon. Basketball mortality, once only a vague concept, was beginning to assume unmistakable form.
Through the process of his divorce, Dag twisted himself like a pipe cleaner to arrive at the apparently false conclusion that his love for Brittany was a memory. Now it felt like he could no longer maintain this charade. She was the mother of his children. Eventually, his life would cease to be an endless chain of gyms, restaurants, hotel rooms, and clubs. He would want a home again, with a family. The idea that his mistake had been one of timing tormented him.
Brittany Terry was a cheerleader for the Los Angeles Clippers when she caught the eye of D’Angelo Maxwell at a preseason game. Wary of his intentions, she told him, “I’m no hoochie.” She was studying for a business degree at Cal State Northridge and, in her second season as a cheerleader, was wise to the romantic wiles of NBA athletes. Further, the league frowned on players becoming romantically involved with cheerleaders for the simple reason that, legally, these were office romances and could just as easily wind up in marriage or court (unfortunately for Dag, his and Brittany’s liaison checked both boxes). But Dag was in love and pursued her with phone calls, gifts, and finally, an invitation to be his date for All-Star Weekend, the annual three-day orgy of celebration the league throws for itself where players of Dag’s stature get treated like 17th-century French aristocrats. She capitulated.
Celebrity is an aphrodisiac, and when combined with great wealth it produces otherwise unimaginable results. Women threw themselves at Dag with alarming regularity, cocktail napkins with phone numbers proliferated in his pockets, straight-up propositions in hotel lobbies were an everyday occurrence. But Brittany was different from the usual groupies who crowded his neon life. The daughter of a dentist and a teacher, Brittany had been raised in San Diego, the oldest of three children. An honor student in high school, she planned to get a corporate job after college, then start her own business. Her parents were not thrilled when she brought Dag home and let their daughter know. But Dag charmed them, they relented, and Brittany’s life plan shifted. If he were forty when they’d met, he probably never would have cheated.
“You ever see an eclipse?”
Dag looked over at Trey, irritated. “What are you talking about?”
Trey showed Dag his phone. “Article says there’s going to be a solar eclipse in a few days. Have you ever seen one?”
“Naw, man. You?”
“I want to,” Trey said. Dag was happy to listen to his brother talk about astronomy. Right now, any distraction was welcome. “Moon passes over the sun during the day, and the world gets dark.”
“Why you want to see that?” Dag asked. “Can’t you just wait ’til nighttime?” He was joking, starting to relax a little.
“Point is, it’s nighttime in the daytime,” Trey said. “Shows everything don’t always have to be the same old same old.”
Dag laughed. It was moments like this that he liked having his brother around.
Trey arranged for a rented Porsche to be waiting for them at Van Nuys Airport and just after seven in the evening they were headed south in light traffic on the 405 Freeway, Trey at the wheel. Anyone going nightclubbing would still be home, particularly if it were before her children’s bedtime. Trey took the Sunset exit and pointed the Porsche toward Bel Air.
When the Maxwells purchased the luxurious house on St. Cloud Drive with its landscaped grounds and sweeping view of Los Angeles from the towers of downtown all the way to Catalina Island, the idea was that this was where they would raise their family, a place to celebrate birthdays, graduations, and one day, weddings. As the car wended through the densely wooded roads of the posh enclave, Dag felt the sense of plans unfulfilled.
They slowed down and came to a stop in front of a contemporary wood and glass home nestled into the verdant landscape. There were several luxury cars parked in front of the house. Dag hesitated before getting out.
“You want me to come in with you?”
“Don’t want you cappin’ no one,” Dag said.
Trey rolled his eyes. What kind of ghetto fool did his brother take him for?
Dag had never wanted a fire pit. They reminded him of the flaming garbage cans the winos in his neighborhood would gather around in the winter to warm their hands but it was important to Brittany, so he relented. Now, ten men and women (he recognized most of them as Brittany’s crew and their boyfriends), surrounded the fire pit on the patio. They held glasses of sangria and were listening to his wife hold forth. Moochie Collins, that disloyal motherfucker, was sitting next to her with his hand on her knee. As for that knee—wrapped in a skintight lemon yellow catsuit, cinched at the waist by a wide calfskin belt. The father of her children would’ve been far happier if, at that moment, she had been dressed like a Mormon sister-wife.
Dag was barely able to contain his emotions. He stood in the kitchen with Trey, peering out the window looking for a camera crew. He knew his wife was shooting the next season of Hoop Ladies and wanted to make sure no one was filming this party. His plan was to chase Moochie off the premises as a prelude to reconciliation with Brittany. He had already disabled the security cameras (it was a matter of flipping a switch on a panel near the front door), so there would be no record of what was about to happen. He assumed his kids were upstairs with their nanny. He would say hello to them when he was done handling his business.
Dag said, “Anyone starts taking pictures with their phone—”
“Ain’t gonna have a phone,” Trey assured him.
The guests registered a mixture of surprise and alarm when they saw Dag striding toward the fire pit, except for Moochie Collins, who could not hide his considerable panic.
“Why are you here?” Brittany said, trying to keep her voice from shaking. The anger Dag had quelled during the ruminative phase of his trip to Los Angeles had come roaring back. He was not yelling or gesticulating, but the coiled rage he emanated, combined with his size, rendered him terrifying.
Dag ignored Brittany’s question. To Moochie, he said:
“What the fuck are you doing at my house?”
Trey hovered about ten feet behind Dag. As usual, no one acknowledged his presence. Behind the revelers, the pool glistened in the early evening, the lights of the city a twinkling star field in the distance.
“This isn’t your house anymore, D’Angelo,” Brittany said.
Moochie rose uneasily from his chair. In his late thirties, he was a light-skinned black man. Six foot two, about a hundred and eighty pounds, a piece of kindling next to Dag.
“What up, D?” Moochie said.
The nervousness of his rival’s ersatz smile gave Dag pause. He thought of the two years Moochie was his teammate, how much he had liked him. But Moochie had violated the unwritten laws of the social system where superstars like Dag ruled, and must be made to pay for this unforgivable sin. But how to address the transgression? Certainly not by cursing him out. Dag had just chartered a jet and flown three thousand miles. There was an audience, and it included his wife, whose respect he craved. The predetermined roles of the two men in this drama gave it a nearly Calvinist quality. Everyone present knew Moochie had cuckolded Dag. The circumstances required Dag to act. He had to be resolute, to perform the part, not only of the aggrieved husband but of the basketball star. He had to vanquish Moochie. To trail feebly away, having done nothing other than talk smack, was unacceptable. They would laugh at him. For someone like D’Angelo Maxwell, the only condition more ignominious than defeat was being the object of laughter. Being laughed at was the ultimate affront. A man raised fatherless and poor, his entire life a twilight struggle to avoid that fate.
Zeus felt the eyes of the mortals. They were waiting. Looking at Moochie now, the man trying not to quake, Dag did not want to lay a beating on him. But he knew he had to.
“What up, Mooch?”
“Have a sangria,” Moochie said.
The casual temerity of the suggestion with its We’re-all-adults-here implication gave Dag the excuse he required. Without another word, he sprang like an uncaged cheetah and loped around the fire pit toward Moochie.
Brittany screamed for him to stop but Dag was deaf to her agonized shouts. The men in the circle, all of whom were civilians, uneasily rose to their feet but no one had the slightest intention of actually doing anything to protect their fellow party guest. The women, except for Brittany, did not move. Several of them believed Moochie was about to get the whupping he deserved.
Because Dag had blocked access to the house, Moochie sprinted toward the yard, which led to the sight of Dag chasing him around the pool. One of the female guests, a black woman in maroon leggings and a baggy ecru sweater, true to Dag’s prediction, aimed her phone at the action and began recording it. She was caught completely by surprise when Trey snatched the device from her hand and flung it in the water where it made a small splash before sinking to the bottom. He told the woman he’d buy her a new one and she cursed him before angrily turning her attention back to what was transpiring on the lawn.
Moochie had circumnavigated the pool and was sprinting back toward the house with Dag in pursuit. At the patio grill, mounted in custom-built brick housing and the place where Dag had cooked hamburgers for his children, Moochie picked up a two-foot-long cooking fork and brandished it at Dag.
“Back off, man,” Moochie said, more request than demand. “Let’s talk about this like men.”
Dag’s response to this suggestion was to grab a deck chair and smash it over Moochie’s head. This assault sent him sprawling to the flagstone patio. As he scrambled to his feet, Dag set upon him. The universe shrank to this brawl with Moochie Collins. His wife’s betrayal, the refusal of Jay Gladstone to meet his demands, his fear and rage at the toll age was taking, all of this found concentrated form in Dag’s fists.
The first punch caught Moochie on the chin and sent him reeling although he managed to stay on his feet. He attempted to back away but Dag connected again with another blow, and this one landed Moochie flat on his back.
“All right, Dag, that’s enough,” he said, rubbing his bruised chin.
Dag was breathing heavily. He looked over and saw his brother standing next to him. Trey indicated that he agreed with Moochie. No more violence tonight. Dag had made his point.
“That’s some weak-ass shit, Moochie,” Dag said.
“Whatever,” Moochie said. He propped himself up on an elbow and spit bloody saliva on to the slate patio.
“You happy now, D’Angelo?” Brittany asked, glaring at her husband. “Is this how you want your kids to behave?” She turned to Trey, who tried to remain impassive in the face of his sister-in-law’s contempt. “And you let him act like this? You’re useless, Trey. Damn errand boy.”
Although being called an errand boy cut him to the quick, Trey did not respond. He knew this was Dag’s show.
Moochie had used this lull to get to his feet. He backed away from Dag, moving toward the house.
“Get the fuck outta here, Moochie,” Dag said, massaging the back of his sore right hand with the palm of his left.
Brittany said, “Don’t you throw my guest out, D’Angelo.”
Moochie mumbled something about having to be somewhere and stole away crossing paths with another one of the guests, a white man in his thirties wearing jeans and a blazer, who had just emerged from the house. He told Brittany the police were on their way. When Moochie heard this, he turned toward Dag.
“I’m not gonna press charges, Dag. Let’s keep this between us.”
Dag only stared at him. Moochie retreated.
“The police, Dag,” Brittany said. “This is what you want?” She thanked the man who had alerted them, then turned her attention back to her husband. “They’re going to want to talk to you.”
Dag asked Brittany if he could have a word in private. Her girlfriend who had attempted to film the action yelled that she should not go in the house with him, but Dag had never laid a hand on Brittany, and she knew he would not touch her.
They stood in the living room overlooking the yard. He told her that while he had thought the marriage was over, he was wrong and that his feelings for her overwhelmed him. Could she possibly consider reconciling?
“Only person you’re thinking about is you.”
“That ain’t right,” Dag said.
“You’re always talking about ‘my brand this’ and ‘my brand that’ but what you did to Moochie? That was some homeboy bullshit.”
“Motherfucker deserved it.”
“Look around, Dag. Does this seem like the hood to you?”
Dag knew his former Bel Air home did not resemble the hood. He worked as hard as he did so his surroundings would reflect his self-image. The condescension wounded him. While Brittany saw his obvious emotional distress, he sensed she felt sympathy but not love. It was over between them. She could no longer trust him. She told him that his arrival in her life had diverted her from a well-considered path and she now intended to resume where she had left off.
“On some janky reality show?”
“Call it what you want, D’Angelo, but I’ve got my own life going on. Because of that ‘janky reality show’ I’m working on a fashion line, a cosmetics line, and a beauty book. And if you thought you were going to change my mind by beating up Moochie, that shows how little you know me.”
“I know who you are,” he declared, a forlorn attempt to convey what he thought was his love and regret.
“And I know who you are.” Her response was unsentimental. “I don’t want to be married to you anymore, okay?”
“I’m not feeling it.”
In that instant, Dag realized it was over. The woman in front of him was someone to whom he was physically attracted and who, for the rest of his life, would be the mother of his children. He would take care of her as long as she fulfilled that role. But whatever spark had existed between them was extinguished, and he knew it. Moochie had animated a vestigial feeling in Dag, and he had confused shame with love. Why had he come to Los Angeles? Dag wasn’t sure other than it was not because he loved Brittany. He was flailing, but since it was a sensation he had not previously experienced, he did not recognize it.
She told him he should fly back to the east coast after he talked to the police, then she returned to her guests. Dag’s hand had started to throb. Rooted in what had been his living room, he gazed around. There had been pictures of him and Brittany all over, but none were in evidence, only family photos of her and the kids. He felt a lump in his throat but willed it away. His anger had dissipated, and he went upstairs to visit his children. The two younger ones were asleep, but Little Dag was overjoyed to see his father. When Dag hugged his son, he noted the boy’s Portland Trailblazers pajamas—the Blazers were Moochie’s most recent team—and realized they must have been a gift from the man sleeping with his wife. This only deepened his sadness. Dag got down on the floor and built Duplo structures with his son until the police arrived.
There were four of them, three men and a woman, and to a person, they were daunted by the presence of D’Angelo Maxwell. Dag welcomed them to the house and told them that some friendly tussling had gotten out of hand and an excitable guest had overreacted, a version of events Trey was happy to corroborate. The police conducted private interviews with Dag, Brittany, Trey, and the guests, including the man who had called them (he reported a donnybrook had occurred and Moochie Collins grievously injured). But since the alleged victim had left the premises and did not appear to be interested in pressing charges, the quartet of cops departed, all of them shaking Dag’s hand on the way out.
Dag kissed his sleeping children, said goodbye to Little Dag, who was still awake, and told him he would return as soon as the season ended. Then he and Trey drove to Van Nuys Airport for the flight back to New Jersey.
Stretched out in his seat with a bag of ice on his hand, Dag reflected on what had occurred. Months earlier Brittany made it clear that she was ending their marriage so why did he react with such passion if he already knew it was over? As the plane cruised eastward over the Rocky Mountains, Dag began to understand that the only reason he had flown to California was to avoid looking like a fool.
THE ACE, W.A.C.E. AM
NEW YORK SPORTS TALK RADIO
WITH SAL D’AMICO AND THE SPORTSCHICK
SAL: What possesses a man like Dag Maxwell to charter a private jet, fly to Los Angeles, and kick the crap out of Moochie Collins?
SPORTSCHICK: Doesn’t he know his team’s in a dogfight, trying to make the playoffs?
SAL: Apparently, it doesn’t matter to him.
SPORTSCHICK: Yeah, it matters. I mean, come on, he’s a professional.
SAL: This was unprofessional.
SPORTSCHICK: Not to mention what he’s done to his brand. He’s always talking about his brand. You ever notice that?
SAL: Honestly, I don’t know how much brand damage he inflicted. I don’t need to remind you that Kobe Bryant survived a rape trial.
SPORTSCHICK: Then don’t remind me.
SAL: What I want to know is this: How does he expect ownership to say, ‘Hey, you’re our guy, you’re the face of the franchise,’ if he acts like a knucklehead?
SPORTSCHICK: Total knucklehead.
SAL: But here’s the thing—he’s not a knucklehead.
SPORTSCHICK: Come on, Sal. How is he not a knucklehead?
SAL: Guy’s never done anything like this in his life. Ever. He’s a solid citizen.
SPORTSCHICK: Hey, Lee Harvey Oswald never shot anyone before he killed Kennedy.
SAL: You’re comparing D’Angelo Maxwell to the guy who killed the president?
SPORTSCHICK: To make a point, Sal. Say a guy does one dumb thing, but that thing is so freaking stupid that it defines him. Oswald didn’t have to shoot anyone else, did he?
SAL: Not as far as we know.
SPORTSCHICK: One act.
SAL: A single act.
SPORTSCHICK: And he was defined by that single act.
SAL: Your analogy is bananas.
SPORTSCHICK: What if Dag injured himself?
SAL: What if he can’t play?
SAL: Epic failure. But no one’s saying he injured himself. The media’s not reporting that and the story’s all over the media. No one’s reporting he went to the hospital.
SPORTSCHICK: They can keep that stuff under the radar.
SAL: But what if he did? Say he can’t play? The team misses out on the playoffs because Dag flew to LA so he could lay a beat-down on Moochie Collins?
SPORTSCHICK: You think Moochie regrets hooking up with Dag’s wife?
SAL: You seen Hoop Ladies? She’s smokin’ hot. She’s jalapeno hot. She’s hot like magma.
SPORTSCHICK: I get it, Sal. You find her mysteriously attractive. That’s not what I’m asking.
SAL: Is he regretting it? Yeah, jeez, would you want to be on the receiving end of a Dag punch? Guy’s biceps look like bricks.
SPORTSCHICK: Gladstone and Church Scott, what do they do?
SAL: Suspend him for a couple of games, at the very least.
SPORTSCHICK: And the league?
SAL: You know he’s gonna get fined. The commissioner’s gonna stick his hand in Dag’s wallet and pull out a few hundred grand.
SPORTSCHICK: He can afford it.
SAL: But he’s a superstar, so maybe they do nothing.
SPORTSCHICK: Those guys have their own rules.
SAL: Here’s my question: Dag wants to be LeBron, but does he have the goods to get there? I say no.
SPORTSCHICK: Then he’d better win a couple of championships.
SAL: Does he stay with the team? Does he take a pay cut and join a contender?
SPORTSCHICK: Let’s go to the phones.
SAL: Caller one, you’re on the air.
CALLER #1: Yeah, Brad from Livingston. Love the show.
SPORTSCHICK: What do you think about Dag?
CALLER #1: Trade him, he’s a bum. Guy’s three times the size of Moochie Collins. He’s never won anything, he’ll never win anything, he’s a loser.
SAL: So, Brad, you’re a big Dag Maxwell fan?
CALLER #1: Hahaha, yeah.
SPORTSCHICK: Here’s the thing, Brad. His value’s never been lower. No one knows if he’s injured or not. Wrong time to trade him.
CALLER #1: Guy’s over the hill.
SAL: What do you do for a living, Brad?
BRAD: I manage a fast food franchise.
SAL: Lotta pressure, right? Lunch, dinner, cars lined up at the drive-thru.
BRAD: I handle it pretty well.
SAL: Let me tell you something, Brad. Dag Maxwell is carrying an entire professional sports franchise.
CALLER #1: For more than twenty million a year.
SAL: Don’t take this the wrong way—he’s not supervising pimply-faced kids making French fries. Point is, he was brought to New Jersey to be the savior of a business valued at nearly a billion dollars. The franchise was not able to surround him with the best talent, but every night he goes out there in front of eighteen thousand people with all of their expectations and what does he do? He does his job.
CALLER #1: He’s lazy.
SAL: He’s not lazy, Brad! You don’t average nearly nine rebounds a game if you’re lazy. So he puts up his twenty-three points and grabs his nine rebounds nightly. The fans are on his back; the press is on his back. You know what that kind of pressure is like, Brad? It’s a hell of a lot worse than when the drive-thru window gets backed up during the dinner rush, and you’re running low on ketchup. Do you have any idea what it’s like to be a professional athlete in the New York media market? So maybe he’s a little frustrated, and maybe he takes that frustration out on Moochie Collins’s chin. I don’t know, I wasn’t there. But when guys like you call and tell me D’Angelo Maxwell is a bum, I’m gonna tell you—you need your head examined.
CALLER #1: It’s his job!
SAL: I get that it’s his job, but these guys are human beings.
SPORTSCHICK: You’re a very sensitive flower today, Sal. Brad, you brought out something new in Sal.
SAL: Hey, I’m not saying they shouldn’t trade him. Let’s just make an effort to understand.
CALLER #1: I do, Sal. He’s still a lazy bum. Gladstone should run him out of town.
SAL: Here’s the problem with that, Brad. Gladstone can’t run Dag out of town. No one pays to see Jay Gladstone play basketball. They pay to see the Dag Maxwells of the world, okay?
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events,
real people, or real locales are used fictitiously.
Copyright © 2018 by Seth Greenland
First Publication 2018 by Europa Editions
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction
in whole or in part in any form.
Seth Greenland is the author of five novels. His latest, The Hazards of Good Fortune (Europa Editions), will be published in 2018. His play Jungle Rot won the Kennedy Center/American Express Fund For New American Plays Award and the American Theater Critics Association Award. He was a writer-producer on the Emmy-nominated HBO series Big Love.