A journal of narrative writing.
Riding the Bench

I was adept at guzzling quart bottles of Colt .45. Before the era of the 40 oz. Some called them G.I. Q's—I thought it was military but meant Great Imperial Quart. Perhaps you knew that, or perhaps you never rode the bench. Rode implies skill, as in rode a horse. I sat far from the coach, close to the door. Somebody claimed a hole in the janitor's closet exposed the girl's locker room. I never found it. But with time on my hands, or in close proximity to my hands, it was something to imagine. Like who designed that jolting buzzer for substitutions or timeouts or one-and-one situations. I wanted a one-on-one situation. On the bench I had a clear shot at the cheerleaders cross court. I wanted them on my side, sticking their cute little butts in my face. I deserved to ride the bench with an attitude like that. They gave me number 51. Never accept 51. Quit first. Or try to trade down. The referee's hand signaled a foul on me: 5 fingers, then 1. I fouled as often as possible during my 67 seconds, my 51 seconds. My mop-up role. I got saddle sores, and just plain sore, so I began guzzling Colt before games and burping in the face of Dick Randall the 11th man. I was 12th. Dick was disgusted, but why tell the coach? Then he'd be the last guy. I'd like to say I played better drunk, but I rarely played, at all. Dock Ellis claimed he pitched a no-hitter on acid. I trotted that out in my defense as I trotted onto the court. I got 85 cents an hour at Dairy Queen for mopping up, but it was closed for winter. I stayed on the team to avoid taking gym class where I got my ass kicked by larger boys who did not play basketball. The gym ceiling lights were covered by cages but no one ever threw the ball that high. I often tried before practice. Like that imaginary hole in the janitor's closet. I was a good mopper upper, wringing that mop to beat the band, the pep band. They were all stoned anyway. Tooting and honking at cheerleaders. I was always fresh for after-game parties. Malt Liquor's stronger than beer. You might know that. If you've ever ridden a colt before. I never threw a no-hitter. I never even got to pitch. I was number 51 in every sport. I warmed the bench, not really riding it, though if riding were involved, I would've said Whoa, boy! Or heel, boy! I was 15, my number in reverse. I was aging that fast, not even working up a sweat. What was I doing down on that bench? From this distance, all I can tell is that the boy needed a haircut and decent sneakers. He needed to shout "Throw me the damn ball!" I should've at least been the 11th man. The cheerleaders bought my ice cream cones. I was master of the DQ Swirl. The coach, the boss, the driver's ed. instructor, conspired against me. It was all in my head. And nothing was in my head. I slept through algebra—15/51. 45—and spent earth science looking at Connie Melkus's ass in the seat in front of me. She wore hip-huggers. I wore 51. I was neither great nor imperial. I never saddled up the palomino. I was riding the jackass express into the quicksand of bad grades and miscellaneous misdemeanors. Put me in, Coach, I should've said. I scored one point the whole season. That point is this: