Tomorrow will mark exactly one year since I met Bob on the basketball court near the intersection of 17th and P Streets in DC. Draped in layers of clothing and blankets Bob made me very nervous. I remember his hands disappearing under the garments several times as he erratically moved closer to my face calling me stupid. “Was there a weapon concealed beneath the sea of fabrics he wore?” I thought to myself as I held my ground.
It turns out that Bob suffers from mental illness and probably doesn’t pose a threat to anyone. I have seen him a few times since our original encounter; however, I hadn’t been able to really talk to him until last night. It was just before midnight as I headed home from a dinner at Birch and Barley on 16th Street with an old colleague in town for the week.
“Oh, yeah…you were the one who writes the stories,” he told me after I reminded him that I had given him $10. “Well, ok,” he began to say nervously, “So, how have things been with you?” I gave him a quick update on me and then tried to find out what he has been up to.
He was dressed in the exact same sweatshirt and torn slippers that he wore a year ago. The aluminum foil, rags and plastic bags that covered his head were gone; however, he now had a small swatch of aluminum foil covering his nose. It was held in place by a rubber band that wrapped around his head, forcing the skin of his upper cheeks toward his eyes.
I watched as he shot from the foul line. Like my earlier encounter he sank basket after basket always shooting with just the right hand. In his left hand he held a newspaper, bottle of water and the corner of the grey standard issue homeless outreach blanket. His twelfth attempt wasn’t successful. “That wasn’t a good shot,” he said as he released the slightly deflated ball, “I’m not concentrating.” I apologized and offered that he probably missed the shot because I was talking to him. He says that he believes that he has made 20+ one-handed shots from the foul line this century. That doesn’t compare to his record of lay-ups in a row which he claims to be approximately 2,900.
The evening was definitely worthy of a warm jacket but the still air and bright light from the moon’s last quarter phase helped mitigate the temperature. He seemed to be shooting a little hastily, albeit every time placing his toe exposed slippers in the exact same location.
“I think there is about four or five specific movements that I do and I try to do them exactly the same way every time in order to make a basket.” He went on to explain that the key is to add a little bit of top-spin to the release.
I stood in silence and watched him shoot. He’s truly gifted at being able to reproduce the same shot. One of his attempts misses and I take the opportunity to ask him about the $10 I had given him. I actually never asked him what he was going to use it for so I thought I would try to take the moment to find out. He didn’t recall very well, after all it has been a year, but he said it probably went toward some food or bus fare.
My question about money must have triggered something in his head. “Do you have a few dollars that you could give me,” he asked not taking his eyes from his target. The shot missed and he walked over to retrieve the ball next to his cart holding his belongings. I reached into my pockets and found some coins. “I hate to ask you but I need to add a few dollars on my Metro card.” I pulled a five dollar bill from my wallet and placed it in his hand.
Shortly after I thought I should leave. It was now close to 12:30 in the morning and I needed to get up early. I shook his weathered hand and told him to take care of himself. He returned the pleasantry and continued shooting baskets. I watched him shoot as I excited the court. He made three in a row before he slipped out of sight.
You can find my original post on Bob by clicking here.