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Fiction #31
(published March 15, 2001)
Scenes from Being Bill Walton
by Jim Ruland

There's an imaginary tunnel-cave system behind the backboard.
—Bill Walton explaining an NBA rule change


Plush chairs, acres of carpet, Diebenkorn light pouring through the wide windows. The atmosphere in the VIP lounge is so relaxed— so "chill" as Bill would say/is thinking— you can scarcely believe you're at the airport. The wet bar beckons, Glenlivet on the rocks, but Bill taps contentedly at an e-mail to his publicist, gaudy rings flashing in the slanting sunlight. The concierge informs you that you may board now. Bill thanks the man. He is sincerely sincere in his thanks. He saves his work. Do you really want to quit. Yes, you really want to quit. You paid $200 bucks for this? Bo-or-ing.

You (your youness intact, no longer clouded by basketball and broadcasting) are unceremoniously dumped into the locker room showers at Helix High School in La Mesa, California, surrounded by naked boys. Your arrival registers no surprise. They have seen this sort of thing before. Custodian Jake McGrew hands you a towel and calls a cab on his cell phone. Although the experience has not transformed you in any meaningful way, you begin to mentally recalibrate your schedule to accommodate another session being Bill.



The first thing you notice is the smell, that horrible, horrible smell. You recognize it instantly: patchouli. The severely tapering walls are fashioned from faux animal hides. You are inside a tee-pee. You are lifting weights before a mirror. Bill grunts a lot. He looks like Bugs Bunny on steroids. The Grateful Dead's "Box of Rain" warbles from hidden speakers. The Grateful Dead? Seriously? Although this knowledge provides an unexpected intersection between Bill's life and your own, making your presence here seem a trifle less invasive, it embarrasses you that you are not embarrassed more. You think with fondness of Sarah, your girlfriend in college, the one who gave you your tie-dye memories. You recall an acid trip in Oakland during Chinese New Year when you made love in the bed of a stranger's pick-up truck for what seemed like hours and no one hassled you, no one said a word. The memory creates a not-unpleasant ache. Bill is getting aroused. It occurs to you that Bill is stoned out of his gourd. You wish he would stop posing in front of the mirror like that, or at least put on a shirt. Does he do this a lot, you wonder?

Same shower, same locker room, only this time you have an erection to conceal. A feisty back-up point guard with stage-two acne snaps his towel at you and it only takes a second for the rest of the squad to follow his lead. They are so predictably dumb, these boys. You run like hell. You can feel the sting through your wet jeans. You complain to Jake about it while you towel off, but he wants no part of it, even going so far as to arch his eyebrows, feigning surprise that you actually expect him to care about your problems.



This is the last time, you swear. Your wife is starting to make inquiries about the lacunae in your itinerary, the welts on your ass. You hit the jackpot: courtside at Staples Center, but it's a lousy Clippers game. Bill blathers endlessly in the aggressive lingo of basketball: pick and roll, stop and pop. You are startled by another voice in Bill's head. He is pushy and demanding. This upsets you to no end. How dare they double-book Bill! The crowd is louder than you could have imagined. The athletes streak by, stunningly fluid and acrobatic, like seals bopping a ball around, barking for applause. Finally, you get it: the other voice is the producer. This comforts you, but already the game is warping away as you are sucked through the sleeve behind the backboard and into the locker room at Helix High. You are prepared to run, but there are no players to run from. Just men in uniform. Police men. As they slap the cuffs on you and do that thing where they hold your head so you don't whack it getting in the car, you can see what your life is going to be like: humiliating court appearances, an ugly divorce, a special tier at San Quentin in the sex offender wing. The cops in the front seat argue over whether you're siren worthy. You feel detached, remote, miles and miles away. It's like Being You, except it is you, and man does it ever suck.

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