by Dustin Stevenson
The Lakers are in the second round so there’s a Goodyear blimp up over downtown. The whole night it’s up there, filming Staples Center’s blue roof and the high-rises and maybe the sun setting, all the way down Wilshire into the ocean. It’s probably not filming Pico-Union where los mexicanos still have their leather belts, wallets, and sunglasses laid on the sidewalk for sale. It’s not filming the colorful murals on Burlington or the number 18 tagged on curbs and the walls of the donut shop. Its cameras are too weak to see the Converse dangling from telephone wires outside my house on 11th or the crumbling lot next door where the Martinezes got evicted a couple months ago and we never saw them again. But in my backyard where it smells like carnitas y tamales from the street I can hear the Goodyear blimp humming. It’s impossible to know what it is looking at, but when I look up it’s like the whole country and all the millions of people in the world who love basketball and are sitting in their homes wishing they were in LA, on the beach dipping their toes in the cold ocean, or going to Beverly Hills, or dating a beautiful actress, it’s like I’m looking back at every one of them.It's a game day so I'm wearing my XL Trevor Ariza jersey which was bought for Sal, when he was alive, and now that he's not, I wear it when the Lakers play and when I play. I’m smaller than my brother was because I’m younger. Five years younger. But I have more game than he did. I already run with the ballers up at Lafayette if they let me. When they do, they say stuff like, "Ay, Alejandro, that shit with Sal was fucked up. Jódete M.S. Trece!" Since I’m still small, I run the point. I move the ball and move my feet and practice a hard defensive stare like Ariza's. I know it’s tough for Salvadorans to get in the league because we’re short, but my dad says mi abuelo was like over six feet so maybe I got a shot.
Tonight my dad’s getting off work from the restaurant early so he can listen to the end of the game with me. He’ll walk home through LA Live's huge video boards, past ESPNZone, where I’m gonna have my 14th birthday, and straight past Staples itself with the giant "Go Lakers" banner they put up during home stands and then take down when the Clippers play. Now it’s up full-time for the playoffs. Then the $30 parking lots and the old blue Convention Center and all the nice, big advertisements they added The sidewalk is really nice, like white and new, and has gold records with the names of Grammy winners on them. When I was a kid this was part of skid row and I didn’t go here. Then under the freeway, the 110, where there’s this generator so loud you can't talk. The generator powers Rampart bright floods. They're so people who park in the cheap lots west of the freeway won’t be scared on their way to the car. Then down and down like burrowing into the earth, it gets to dark.
After that parking lot there aren’t any more generators or bright lights. It's just the old pupuseria and cars honking at men with shopping carts looking for empty bottles and los Borrachos at the bar where my dad and his friends usually watch the games. I don’t drink but when I’m old enough I’ll go there and watch. If it's not on KCAL or ABC I listen on the radio and it's not the same. No matter how hard Spero and Mychal try, they can’t tell you the determination in Kobe’s eyes. They don’t have enough time to describe Sasha and L.O. running the pick-and-roll and what Powell's doing on the weak side. My dad says the radio used to be better. If the Lakers are up big in the fourth he'll say, "This one’s in the refrigerator niño. The door's closed, lights are out, eggs are cool, butter’s getting’ hard, and?" and I’ll say, "and the jello’s jigglin’." Then my dad will drink his Modelo Especial and say slow, "That’s what Chick'd say niño. Best radio voice ever was." He’ll sigh like the air is heavy for him and then I won’t know what to say so I won’t say anything.
There’s an LAPD chopper with it’s spotlight swooping along the streets a couple blocks south. Maybe the Hoovers are starting shit, or M.S. down near Washington. Danny, the captain of our block, is probably on his porch with his pit bull Kimbo. Danny holds it down. The chopper circles low overhead and sets off a car alarm. I can’t hear the Goodyear blimp anymore but I can still see it. I can see it looking down at LA which is so beautiful. I can see it looking for all the most special things in the city to beam up to satellites in space and then all over the country and all over the world for people everywhere. I puff out my chest as much as I can and stare at it hard in case it ever looks at me.
Selected for publication as part of the Rufus on Fire Basketball Fiction Contest