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The Guy Code

In my infinite wisdom, I took Simon to the pool Thursday at 3:35. We reached the pool gate just at 4:00, a time carefully calibrated to coincide with the first bolt of lightening to arrive as part of a forecast thunderstorm. Next time maybe I’ll remember to check the weather before heading out.

So there we stood, outside the gates of the JCC, all ready to play and and with our plans scuttled.

“Wanna go inside and see if the basketball court is open?” I suggested.

“Yeah, let’s do that,” Simon said.

The gym was mostly empty. At one end, a group of 4-5 adult men were playing pickup basketball. At the other, a single 10- or 11-year-old boy was practicing his shots. Simon found a ball and moved over to where the boy was playing. For the next 45 minutes or so, a scene played out that I only barely understood.

The boys started out circling each other, but neither said a word. Older boy would take a shot, then dribble out to the periphery while Simon took his shot. Every once and a while they would line up shots at the same time, but always one or the other would nod and back off. If the older boy’s ball took a bounce off the rim or backboard that put the ball near Simon, he’d collect the ball and wordlessly pass it to the older boy. The older boy did the same. Neither ever bothered to ask or say thanks. As time went by, Simon started mirroring the older boy’s shots: close to the basket, from the free-throw line, corner shot, hook shot, whatever the (good) older boy tried, Simon tried too.

I kept waiting for one to talk to the other, but it didn’t happen until the very end. Finally, older boy was ready to leave the court. He picked up his ball, made eye contact with Simon, and turned to leave. Just before his back was completely turned, Simon said, “You’ve got some really nice shots.” At which point the older boy turned his head, nodded, and replied, “Thanks. You too for someone your age.”

And that was that. Nearly an hour of play that included exactly 13 words of conversation. This must be some boy code–or guy at the gym code. I could easily picture two older boys or grown men doing this, but could never imagine girls doing the same. But the thing that really got me was that Simon seemed to intuitively understand the code and abided by the on-court protocol without help. It was one of those moments when, barring his height and success rate, I could easily imagine him a decade hence.


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