I got a text on the BlackBerry. Studio Chief had finally decided that it was worth it to pay the bump in his Department of Water and Power bill to heat the pool. He had coaxed me and some friends into a game of water basketball a month ago and the pool was arctic, frigid enough to freeze a seal. Hours after the game, our teeth were still chattering like Halloween novelty chompers.
We figured our Sunday game against the 1-6 L.A. Clippers was going to be an easy affair, so we could expend some effort playing water ball on Saturday.
The games tend to devolve into a giant scrum. There is a lot of grappling, tackling, rabbit punching, and eye gouging. Once, someone tried to break my finger. There are a lot of rules, but the most important one is that no one injures the Studio Chief. I could feel a jet or two of lukewarm water but the overall temperature was tepid at best and certainly not inviting. We played a few games and I was happy enough when it was over and I didn’t detect any visible bruises. As we were toweling off, soaking in the magnificent view of Sunset Boulevard below, a friend who played for the Portland Trailblazers—he was recently named by People magazine as one of the 10 hottest doormen in the country and worked the nightlife scene when not appearing on soap operas—extended an invitation to join him at the Saddle Ranch Chop House, a known tourist destination on the Sunset Strip. The restaurant featured huge portions of grub served on oversize tin platters and, most importantly, a mechanical bull. Doorman made enough cash working L.A. hot spots in the past year to buy a four-bedroom house in the Valley, no easy feat in today’s SoCal real-estate market. He explained that he was meeting “a couple hot chicks from Texas,” and frankly there was not a single state whose female radar he would fly beneath. Last week was a girl from Tennessee; this week, Texas; next week, who knows? He had the charm and good looks that made you prom king in your hometown and a mere civilian in Hollywood.
Rickets, a fellow New Jersey Net and my literary manager, was driving and, taking a page out of the Studio Chief playbook, parked at a meter to avoid the valet charge. Always quick to offer up money when the bill came, Rickets nonetheless was known to guard his expenditures. He was awaiting a big deal for one of his comedian clients who made millions a year touring the world performing standup and was poised to break as the star of a television show that was in development. Our friends, including The Captain, had already arrived, and when we walked past the outdoor tables into the restaurant, I was confronted by Doorman sitting at a table. His company? Midgets. Four of them.
One wee fellow skittered off toward the mechanical bull as the others started drinking. Doorman seemed to be making small talk and, my curiosity piqued, I walked closer to the action. Then, the Texans appeared: One looked like Jessica Simpson and wore an extremely small, tight T-shirt that announced her extremely large bosom. Her bleach-bottle-blond sister had been drinking for hours and was quite voluble. Apparently, they had challenged the little people to a bull-riding contest. Suddenly, it was as though a bad Fellini film had broken out. Midgets, minding their own business, trying to enjoy a nice toothsome steak, are confronted by a pair of randy sisters from Texas. Wanting to prove their mettle, they accept the proposition and a rodeo contest ensues. Unsurprisingly, given that they were from the land of cowboys and steers, the girls won.
Our waiter had a bandanna tied across his forehead and, as it turned out, was a vegetarian. Our server had fake breasts and tattoos and her shirt looked like it had been dry-cleaned in a paper shredder. The bridge-and-tunnelness of the crowd created a lot of enthusiasm when someone mounted the bull only to be bucked off moments later into a cushioned pit. I thought Doorman and one half of team Texas might procreate before finishing their pulled-pork sandwiches and I had to get out of there. Studio Chief had texted me that he and his wife were going to take me to dinner at an Italian restaurant in the hills and were going to grill me about my personal life and whether I was on the right track, given some recent turmoil. The calculation was this: Suffer through a well-intentioned interrogation over a bottle of complex Super Tuscan or fend for myself and purchase one Dell Taco bean-and-cheese-burrito value meal?
The vino carried the day. Sometimes a good wine only whets the appetite, that warm radiating buzz emanating from a place deep within you and fanning out to all extremities, flooding you in some type of serotonin/dopamine bath. I got home and decanted some aged Pappy’s single-barrel bourbon and the next thing I knew, I had passed out cold. When I came to, it was Sunday, game time.
But not to worry, because the Clippers were a dismal squad. Very small and without a true center. Three of their starters had to be 5-5, tops. Still, operating with a serious hangover and an exaggerated confidence wasn’t a recipe for success. Basketball is still a game of physical encounters. It requires grit and toughness and will. As Willie Loman said, “The world is an oyster, but you don’t crack it open on a mattress.” You have to battle, be a soldier. We took the Clippers lightly and found ourselves up only 2 points near the end of the game when it should have been a blowout. You can’t expect to just show up and win—"on any given Sunday," as the cliché of the NFL goes. We narrowly escaped with a victory, the likes of which didn’t feel satisfying in the slightest. If we beat the Clippers by only a few points, what happens when we play a real team?