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Original Issue


All my friends put up basketball hoops for their youngsters. Of course, they don't do it for the kids. Everybody knows the kids will take three shots and become bored, at which time they'll tie a rope to the rim, bend it down, tear off the net and make a squirrel trap out of it. The real reason you put up a basketball hoop is so you can occasionally fire your old two-handed set shot to make sure you've lost none of your uncanny high school shooting ability.

But there is this factor about basketball hoops, whoever they're built for: it is impossible to put them up properly. They are designed that way. Look around your neighborhood. There is something wrong with every one of the hoops. Too high, too low, crooked pole, sloping ground, overhanging trees, backboard askew or wobbly. Or at the absolute least, no net. The one I put up suffers from all the above. If you wonder how it can be both too high and too low, the answer is simple: the kids say it's too high, my wife says it's too low.

It all started when we presented our 8-year-old Mark the hoop for Christmas. I remember the way I gave it the old nonchalant "Soon as the weather gets better, I'll run out and stick it upon the garage for you." Mark, to his credit, looked dubious.

More than three months later I plunged in. In case the subject of backboards hasn't been on your mind lately, you should know that the apparatus comes in 14,962 pieces, batteries not included. Except that only 14,961 pieces are, in fact, included. The trick is to figure out which one of the items is missing. This earns you the privilege of special-ordering it.

I spent most of the first day on the garage roof in the rain and the wind. The squirrels that abound in our yard persisted in dropping acorns on me, an act that I considered a gesture of derision. Once I had screwed and nailed everything into the garage, making many erroneous holes in the shingles, I surveyed my handiwork and found that the rim was 8'4" off the ground. That's a bit short of the regulation 10'. Mark told me that.

Next day I went out to buy a pole to get the necessary height, figuring that increasing the height of the garage was beyond my skills. "Sure, Mac," said the man at the pole store, "that will be $50." My face turned the color of the pole, which was striped. Later, I made a deal with the kindly folks at the junk yard—$22 for a rusty pole that might or might not be straight. The kids loved the junkyard and were mad that I wouldn't let them move there.

Digging the hole for the pole was a wondrous adventure. Solid rock. No wonder that the Pilgrims or whoever it was who first came to Connecticut spent all of three days there before they started talking about moving to Kansas. All day I dug and said things like, "Goodness gracious, this soil is a bit unyielding." Then, when I put the pole up, it fell on my foot. It rained. I mixed cement and it turned out well, solid in my wheelbarrow, after I was interrupted by a phone call. The guys who were installing my new furnace (I was going to install it myself, but I was tied up with the basketball pole) helped me hoist the backboard. It slipped and fell on my shoulder. The nuts didn't seem to fit the bolts. The rim was inexplicably crooked. I did something wrong with the net so that the ball always stuck in it. That was before the net fell off altogether.

It is a terrible blow to a person (heck, let's use me as an example) who does so many things so brilliantly to find out that putting up a basketball hoop is not one of them. It cuts right to the core of your hopes, your dreams, your aspirations. By floundering so long at this one project, my captivating personality was diminished. The neighbors who at first laughed soon were ignoring me for fear I'd ask for their help (which I obviously didn't need); the neighborhood dogs who had barked at me the first three days found other pursuits, and Mark paused long enough during the fourth day of my labors to say, "Dad, why don't you just hire somebody to do it for you, like Mom always does?" Little kids don't understand the big picture, so they say dumb things.

"Don't you see, Mark," I explained, "this is the American thing to do. I am not striking rocks; I am striking blows for democracy and against Communism. You may think all I'm doing is digging in the dirt and swearing. Not true. This basketball hoop is symbolic of what it means to live in this great land." Mark took off running. I guess he was going to tell his friends about my great speech.

My only break during this marathon came when my wife lured me inside with promises of beer and pretzels, then asked me to unstick a window. Easy. I strode briskly to the dining room and hit it crisply with the heel of my hand. That is, I hit the glass, gashing my hand. What with the trip to the hospital for a sewing job, I missed a good three hours at the hoop that day.

But the hoop is up now. Thanks for asking. My records show I have $92.50 invested in this piece of work that my wife wants me to take down before any summer visitors see it. Which probably explains why I'm so huffy toward her these days. Mark doesn't care what happens to the hoop.