The night began like any other in graduate school. I studied in a large office shared with several other budding geologists for an upcoming Doc Frizado Geochemistry test. Cubs, on the other hand, tired of studying. He closed his books, grabbed our carefully formed masking-tape ball, and began shooting baskets on our makeshift basketball court that we had carefully marked across the dusty tile floor. While I deciphered iron oxide phase diagrams, Cubs drained shot after shot through the wire rim and stringed net that we attached to the top of an old chalkboard. While I studied equilibrium and triple points, Cubs repeatedly voiced his prowess, raised his arms to the surrounding imaginary crowd, and tried to lure me away from the books. Eventually, the tape ball’s dull thud against the chalkboard and tile floor became unbearable.
“Come on, man,” I pleaded, and then tried to redirect. “Don’t you have some studying of your own to do?”
Cubs, always the more laid back of my grad school friends, simply shrugged. He just continued shooting and mimicking the roar of the crowd after each shot. Soon, he began launching shots from directly behind me. Taunting me. Egging me.
“What? Are you afraid to lose, Chef?” he would playfully chide with exaggerated follow-through (note: Chef was my grad school nickname for my inclination to “cook” Chef Boyardee most every night). Cubs knew how to push me, which is probably why we became such good friends. After hearing a few “casual” remarks about his masking-tape basketball shooting skills, I couldn’t take it any longer and pushed back from my desk.
I loved masking tape basketball, and Cubs knew it. We played to twenty-one, one basket at a time, win by two, and had only one rule…score any which way you can. This involved pushing, shoving, bumping, slapping, hacking, or any injury-prone ways that guys released aggression through sport. We crashed against desks, tripped over chairs, and kicked wastebaskets in our fight to score. It didn’t matter that Cubs towered over me by about six inches, because I was quicker and often frustrated his long wingspan. I don’t remember who won that night; it didn’t matter. But, I do remember that game’s ability to declutter the mind and lighten the mood. What Geochem?
After our titanic struggle, Cubs suggested we head out and grab some beers. At first, I was all for it. Basketball and beers, what could be better! Geochem could wait, I rationalized, because the test was still a couple days away. Then Cubs added the twist, which he later admitted was his plan all along.
“Hey, how about we go see Kathy (his girlfriend at the time) and head over to Myles Pizza?”
Oh great, I remember thinking. The last thing I wanted was to be a third wheel on a night when I should be studying. Perhaps I should get back to Geochem.
“…annnnnd how about we see if her roommate can join us?”
Wait. What!? Are you kidding me? Although Kathy’s roommate had previously caught my eye at a recent grad school event, I considered her out of my league as she was one of the more popular students on campus and seemed to know everyone. She was involved in graduate student affairs, studied higher education administration, and worked in the undergraduate admissions office! She studied student matriculation rates. I studied depositional and diagenetic histories of oolitic limestones. We couldn’t be more different!
“I don’t know. I’ve got geochem and all,” I tried to back out.
Cubs would have nothing of it. “Bull crap, so do I! Grab your coat, we’re heading out! Besides, I think you two would hit it off.”
“Yeah, right,” I mildly contended as I tossed him the dented tape ball for another round. “One more game before we go?” Cubs smiled in victory.
About twenty minutes later, Cubs and I walked the few blocks to Kathy’s apartment. We passed Pollyeyes, the bar famous for its around-the-world passport of beers, Dairy Queen where they had recently introduced something called a Blizzard, and then made our way along some railroad tracks to the young women’s second floor apartment. We knocked and waited as thumping music emanated through the apartment door. The music grew louder when Kathy opened the door with a smile and invited us inside. After a quick embrace, Cubs asked if she and her roommate wanted to join us for pizza and beer. Kathy didn’t hesitate to accept, and then looked to her roommate.
There, during what I consider the first official meeting of my future wife, Kristy, I witnessed a young woman doing aerobics on the living room couch. Seriously, ON the furniture. She turned, smiled, and waved a quick hello, though remained focused on completing her aerobics routine. We watched as Kristy stepped across the couch, then off and back up, as she moved with purpose to the beat. She rhythmically punched the sky like a synchronized boxer and kicked to the music like a Rockette. I guess you could say I was mesmerized, but that seems too dramatic. In reality, though, it was pretty close. I remember standing there, thinking, whoa, she’s an energetic one. And, dang is she cute! I couldn’t take my eyes off her as she moved about the room in Spandex leotards and leg warmers. Cubs elbowed me, smiled, and winked as if to say, told you.
We agreed to give the women time to finish exercising and get ready, and then they would meet us around the corner at Myles Pizza. Cubs and I left, secured a booth, and ordered the first pitcher. Although our brotherly conversation involved the usual topics, including sports, school, women, and masking-tape ball hoop dominance, all I could think about was the beautiful young woman who would soon be joining us.
“Well, what’d you think, Chef? Am I right or am I right?” Cubs asked with a grin.
I just smiled and shrugged. Perhaps in hopes, as they say, the rest would be history.
It was. Thirty years’ worth now and growing stronger every day!
And to think it all began after a game of masking-tape basketball that night
…on two five eight six!