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Not quite the courts at Chester Heights (aka, Bronxville/Mount Vernon border), but more or less what would've looked like 30 years ago, Eastchester Playground, Capitol Projects, Bronx, NY, August 11, 2015. (http://www.nycgovparks.org/).

Not quite the courts at Chester Heights (aka, Bronxville/Mount Vernon border), but more or less what they would’ve looked like 30 years ago, Eastchester Playground, Capitol Projects, Bronx, NY, August 11, 2015. (http://www.nycgovparks.org/).

This is a Boy @ The Window story, one that occurred a little more than thirty years ago, and so typical of my experiences growing up with my older brother Darren. Nothing I ever did to help my older brother seemed to help him overcome the trap of going to The Clear View School, a school for the mild to severely mentally retarded (of course, we say mentally disabled in 2015), although Darren was never such. He, in fact, had taught himself to read at the age of three, and taught me to read on my fifth birthday. Darren’s issue was severe shyness, and between my Mom, my father Jimme, and the good White liberals and moderates at The Clear View School, the trap for Darren’s potential genius had been set by the summer of ’74. By the time I was aware enough to say anything about Darren’s predicament, it was already too late.

But say and try I did anyway. Everything from sharing music to talking to Darren about our futures and my escape-Mount-Vernon-for-college plans. I shared books, and tutored him through algebra and geometry and US history.

I even tried playing sports with Darren, including basketball, which in the summer of ’85 was only my third favorite sport. As I wrote in the memoir

“Darren played at the center spot on Clear View’s basketball team, which made sense since he was already between six-three and six-four at seventeen. Of course they crushed every team they played. It was truly unfair. Darren towered over his classmates and his opponents, and being the only non-mentally retarded person on the floor, he could run rings around folks.

Still, Darren could knock down any jump shot within thirty feet of the hoop. His shot was smooth, like Isiah Thomas’ or Bernard King’s. It was the kind of shot no one on MVHS’ basketball team had at the time. Knowing this, I wanted to — no, I had to play my brother to see this shot up close. There were two well-maintained courts near 616, one in Pelham near its main street of Fifth Avenue, the other a longer walk in Chester Heights. We chose Chester Heights for most of these battles. Their court felt like a good outside court should, surrounded by trees, with level, quality-painted asphalt, and bright-white mesh nets.

The first few times we played that summer, Darren just killed me. Every time I left him open for a jumper, he buried it. It was obvious I hadn’t touched a basketball other than in gym class since I was ten. I didn’t have a jump shot, had never worked on my footwork, and could dribble only moderately well with my right hand. Forget about using my left hand! I was so afraid of hurting my two crooked fingers that the left hand’s role for me was to block shots, not to catch passes or take shots.

"Nothing but net" (in context of UPS/NCAA March Madness cross-promotional ad), March 2012. (http://compass.ups.com/).

“Nothing but net” (in context of UPS/NCAA March Madness cross-promotional ad), March 2012. (http://compass.ups.com/).

My semi-buried competitive nature got the better of me. I knew I couldn’t beat Darren in a shootout. But I knew I was quicker than my taller brother. So I decided after another embarrassing performance (I lost 23-2!) that it would be easier to play defense and try to steal a few balls to keep the next game close. Amazingly, the plan worked! It worked so well that I took Darren completely out of his game. After three blocked shots and a couple of steals, I discovered that Darren couldn’t play me one-on-one if I drove hard for the hoop, that I could beat him with my first step. So every time I got the ball I attacked the rim. The last two games we played I won by a combined score of 50-18. I started feeling bad when Darren started forcing long jumpers. After a while, he just gave up. I wanted to win, but I wanted it to be competitive, too.

Darren was so upset that we didn’t talk on our way back to 616. He then walked to the back of our apartment building and threw his basketball down the garbage chute. I wanted to continue to play because I thought it would make both of us better and give us something positive to build on in our relationship. Instead it just made Darren mad and made it even harder for me to talk to him about what was going on at 616.

Standard New York-area garbage chute door, June 2009. (http://theferrisfiles.com/).

Standard New York-area garbage chute door, June 2009. (http://theferrisfiles.com/).

I really did feel awful about how Darren felt after the game. I had shattered confidence in one of the few areas in his life in which he had any. I had humbled a star basketball player at his own game, a game I’d yet to learn. I’d given my older brother yet another reason to be jealous of me. It was shocking to watch him throw the basketball away. I really didn’t know what to say. “I’m sorry, Darren, for beating you two straight games, for making you look bad at your favorite sport?” I guess I could’ve said that. What fifteen-year-old with as much on my plate as me would, though, especially in an environment as competitive as ours when it came to basketball? It made me pity Darren for his situation at Clear View, but also left me angry with him. I was trying to help him, after all, not break his spirit. The incident left me shaking my head.”

I didn’t play basketball with Darren again until the spring of ’97, during my Teachers College interview/PhD graduation week. By that time, Darren’s jealousy and stubbornness had pretty much forced me to give up on my reclamation efforts. But, when left open, Darren could still nail a twenty-four-footer with ease.