Hoop dream (i):

There has always been some strange connection for me between basketball and the dark. I started shooting baskets after school in third grade, and I remember dusk and macadam combining into the sensation that the world was dying but I was indestructible. One afternoon I played H-O-R-S-E with a classmate, Renee Hahn, who threw the ball over the fence and said, “I don’t want to play with you anymore. You’re too good. I’ll bet one day you’re going to be a San Francisco Warrior.”

Renee had a way of moving her body like a boy but still like a girl, too, and that game of H-O-R-S-E is one of the happiest memories of my childhood: dribbling around in the dark but knowing by instinct where the basket was; not being able to see Renee but smelling her sweat and keeping close to her voice, in which I could hear her love for me and my life as a Warrior opening up into the night. I remember the sloped half-court at the far end of the playground, its orange pole, orange rim, and wooden green backboard, the chain net clanging in the wind, the sand on the court, the overhanging eucalyptus trees, the fence the ball bounced over into the street, and the bench the girls sat on, watching, trying to look bored.

The first two weeks of summer, Renee and I went steady, but we broke up when I didn’t risk rescuing her in a game of Capture the Flag, so she wasn’t around for my 10th birthday. I begged my parents to let Ethan Saunders, Jim Morrow, Bradley Gamble, and me shoot baskets by ourselves all night at the court across the street. My mother and father reluctantly agreed, and my father swung by every few hours to make sure we were safe and bring more Coke, more birthday cake, more candy.

Near midnight, Bradley and I were playing two-on-two against Jim and Ethan. The moon was falling. We had a lot of sugar in our blood, and all of us were totally zonked and totally wired. With the score tied at 18 in a game to 20, I took a very long shot from the deepest corner. Before the ball had even left my hand, Bradley said, “Way to hit.”

I was a good shooter because it was the only thing I ever did, and I did it all the time, but even for me such a shot was doubtful. Still, Bradley knew and I knew and Jim and Ethan knew, too, and we knew the way we knew our own names or the batting averages of the Giants’ starting lineup or the lifelines in our palms. I felt it in my legs and up my spine, which arched as I fell back. My fingers tingled and my hand squeezed the night in joyful follow- through. We knew the shot was perfect: when we heard the ball (a birthday present from my father) whip through the net, we heard it as something we had already known for at least a second. What happened in that second during which we knew? Did the world stop? Did my soul ascend a couple of notches? What happens to ESP, to such keen eyesight? What did we have then, anyway, radar? When did we have to start working so hard to hear our own hearts?

At the end of J. M. Coetzee’s novel Elizabeth Costello, the only thing the eponymous elderly protagonist can affirm is not love or art or religion but the sound of frogs, trapped in mud, belling with the cessation of torrential rain. Nietzsche: “There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy.” Wittgenstein said, “Our only certainty is to act with the body.” Martha Graham: “The body never lies.” We are all thrillingly different animals, and we are all, in a sense, the same animal. The body—in its movement from swaddling to casket—can tell us everything we can possibly know about everything.


At the Alaska SeaLife Center, Aurora, a Giant Pacific female octopus, was introduced to J-1, a male octopus. They flashed colors and retreated to a dark corner of the center’s “Denizens of the Deep” display. A month later, Aurora laid thousands of eggs. Despite the fact that her eggs didn’t appear to develop and aquarists—the animals’ caretakers—believed the eggs were sterile, Aurora daily sucked in water through her mantle and sent cleansing waves over the eggs, defending them against hungry sea cucumbers and starfish. Even when aquarists, certain the eggs weren’t fertile, began draining her 3,600-gallon tank, Aurora sprayed her eggs, exposed and drying on rocks. Several eggs from Aurora hatched exactly 10 months after her encounter with J-1 (long since deceased); nine baby octopi received food through an electronic, automatic feeder in a rearing tank. Although Giant Pacific females usually die about the same time as their eggs hatch, mostly because they stop eating for months and spend their energy defending their eggs, aquarist Ed DeCastro said Aurora appeared invigorated and that “she was still tending the eggs.”

• • •

In seventh grade, Natalie suddenly loved to criticize Laurie for getting a point of information wrong or having pieces of food caught between her teeth or chewing too loudly or, especially, talking while eating. These were, I now know, the opening fisticuffs of the apparently inexorable mother-daughter donnybrook that will dominate our house for the next several years.

My father takes a variety of medications to combat anxiety, depression, and sleeplessness. Earlier this year, he and I visited his psychiatrist to make sure that he was taking them in the right combination. We had a few extra minutes at the end of the session, so I asked my father’s very Freudian psychiatrist why teenage daughters are so critical of their mothers. He said, “All that hormonal energy is coursing madly through a daughter’s body, and it becomes, for various reasons, anger at the mother. I think the daughter unconsciously senses the tremendous leverage the onset of her fertility gives her, which causes the family to start treating her with more deference. She’s the chance for the family to perpetuate itself. Her mother’s leaving this arena just as the daughter’s entering it. When they study this issue, disputes between mothers and daughters, not only does the father invariably side with the daughter”—I can’t remember my father ever doing this with my sister; my mother ruled the roost, regardless —“but so does everybody else. The genes are driving the family to protect the most fertile female. So a good deal of a girl’s anger at her mother has to do with the mixture of power she feels with the onset of fertility and the burden she feels at being the designated bearer of children.” My dad sat next to me, listening to this, nodding and mmmhuhing, elbowing me in the ribs at appropriate moments, proud of his shrink’s Olympian overview.

The Actuarial Prime of Life, or Why Children Don’t Like Spicy Food

Tolstoy, in his late 70s, said, “As I was at five, so I am now.” St. Ignatius Loyola said, “Give me the child until he is seven, and I will show you the man.” Wordsworth wrote, “The Child is father of the Man.” Is the father the father of the man as well? I suppose he must be.

Aging begins immediately after the actuarial prime of life. In the United States and in most other developed countries, the actuarial prime of life is age 7. After you turn 7, your risk of dying doubles every eight years.

By the time you’re 5, your head has attained 90 percent of its mature size. By age 7, your brain reaches 90 percent of its maximum weight; by 9, 95 percent; during adolescence, 100 percent. Two percent of total body weight and 60 percent fat, the brain receives 20 percent of the blood coming from the heart and consumes 20 percent of all the oxygen in the body.

Between ages 5 and 10, your kidneys double in size to keep up with the increased metabolic wastes of the body. At ages 6 and 7, lymphoid tissues, which produce antibodies, reach a peak in size.

A toddler’s stomach is the shape of a cow’s horn; at 9, it’s the shape of a fish hook; at 12, it’s the shape of a bagpipe and has achieved adult functional maturity.

The average duration of a 6-to 10-year-old’s activity is six seconds for low-intensity activities and three seconds for high-intensity activities. “At ten,” Schopenhauer said, “Mercury is in the ascendant; at that age, a youth, like this planet, is characterized by extreme mobility within a narrow sphere, where trifles have a great effect upon him.” This is a perfect description of my father as he is and as he always has been: a perpetual 10-year- old.

Growth from birth to adolescence occurs in two distinct patterns: the first, from birth to 2 years, is one of rapid but decelerating growth; the second, from 2 years to the onset of puberty, is one of more consistent annual increments. An average 1-year-old is 30 inches tall, a 2-year-old is 35 inches, a 4-year-old is 40 inches, and an 8- year-old is 50 inches. During the elementary school years, children’s growth slows to about two inches a year. Your height relative to your peers usually doesn’t change much after age 6, and the proportions of your weight tend to

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