Street Soccer vol.1

Jason and Keyan started this thing we lovingly call “street.” Except “STREET!” is nearer to how we pronounce it. When I say lovingly, I mean endearingly, as in wrapped in swaddling clothes sleeping in a manger and surrounded by sheep and heavenly host. Now, take the swaddling clothes and turn them into a fitted elasti-cotton halter dress and turn the Holy Child into Adriana Lima standing in the light of a Valencian summer and you get the picture. “STREET!” is a union of holy things.

Blasphemy aside, this is one of our stories of street soccer:

Near the elementary school there are a couple tennis courts that haven’t been touched by the reviving hand of the parks service in at least three years; we’ve been counting. Beside the weed-encroached courts is a caged rectangle of even more neglected tarmac. Chained-link lines the east and west sides, and green cinderblock encloses the two ends. This forgotten space is our playground, our sandlot.

It is winter break with a few inches of snow blanketing the earth. I read a book while lying in bed, barely fighting off the boredom. It must be after midday and the low swinging sun is glazing the gray walls with warmth and light. The phone rings. “We’re playing STREET! at 2:00.” The magic words come. I rise, slip on shoes, a long sleeve shirt, and grab my shovel. I wind my way to the court at the park near the school and the church, surrounded on all sides with the middle of all middle class neighborhoods, as the sun is greeting the tops of the trees.

I opt for no hood. The brisk afternoon is tamed by the long low light of the sun. A few of the guys are there with a couple girls, everyone dressed to play. Hats are turned to the nonsensical 35 degree angle. Kids take turns running stripes of snow into the chain-link like a field manager mowing the Bernabeu. I do my part. Ice is built up at the south side from the cast shadow of the tall cinderblock end wall. The plastic shovels are a paltry tool for the task. The ice stays. I chip at the edges of the hard-pack while more cars arrive, parking the forerunners into their spaces.

After so many times playing here we have met more and more people that come out to play with us. Many have been coming for years, alone, just to kick against the block walls. Now they play with us, catching games when they can. They brighten up just talking about what it is now, about meeting up again next time.

We set the shovels against the fence by the color wheel of Nalgene bottles and cell phones. It is a traditional four on four, two teams on, one team out. First team to two keeps the court. Three guys and a girl play on each team. I can’t recall how we decide who is defending the ice sheet.

When you stand there you can feel it, almost humming. The sunsets are more beautiful there, and it seems you can run and run, like you will never need to stop. It is, at times, the center of the universe. It is full of magic and sometimes I can see it all, even as I participate in it. This is the great thing, the great truth about it – bringing me into contact with what is always there and what I only sometimes see.

The sun is turning us orange and our long blue-purple shadows reach into the snow clumped grass to the east. I still remember the particular faces and gestures of the kids.

These moments are crystalline, etched in my memory. Chris’s big shoes and flopping hair are in constant action. He is always moving when he has the ball, swerving and cutting, purposeful and playful. His hair exaggerates his darting runs, gliding forward and back like the oars of a rowing crew. His spirit is light but solid. His play is the mirror of his character, embodying the balance of traits needed to guide our school team next year. Kelly’s hair is made even redder by the long light, and her eyes are the cool complement of that warmth. She is like a drawing of focus. The epicenter of that focus is her intensely calm eyes. There is no smile on her nearly pursed lips, but there is palpable joy in every quick-sharp step of her gray tennis shoed feet. She has some of the fastest feet I have ever played with. I am reminded of that fact every time she cuts around me with her capable right foot. Kenny is a super hero with dashing speed and glowing uncombed hair streaming nearly straight up. His spry body looks like it could chew up 200 meters with ease- like he is made of lightning and air. He too cuts and swerves, a sort of un-identical twin brother of Chris. There are others and they have their tricks and skills. They are made of the same good things, and I am in awe of them all today. They are radiant under that sacred light.

The goals back then were drawn on the green walls with street chalk, usually white or light pastel. The rest was already there including elementary school graffiti, barking dogs, and weed-infested asphalt. The almost unusable degraded surface chews up shoes, knees, and hands with ease, making tennis (its original purpose) impossible. Most people walk past places like this, never even seeing them, intentionally looking past them. What is not seen by others is for us a secret garden, a sanctuary at the center of everything. How is it possible that something so wonderful exists in plain sight, almost glowing, and yet goes unnoticed?

We played until the dark made it impossible to distinguish the ball from the court, the sky from the wall. We walked, or limped, off the court laughing and breathing hard. We stood in the snow and joked about how many times we fell, awkwardly, defending the ice sheet, about how many times Kenny shot the ball over the wall, about who had the sweetest moves or luckiest saves, and about how we should play again tomorrow. We did play again tomorrow, and the next tomorrow, and almost every day of that break. It was a great day of soccer, full of incredible and ridiculous moments, humor and joy. It was like every other day of STREET! I can recall.

My walk in the park

Park sign in Valencia, Spain tells visitors to pee on path and other useful tips. Posted by Hello


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