When we left Hooter McCormick and the other members of the Apache Flats Arc Angels recreational basketball team, they had just tipped off in the championship game of the Rio Rojo Invitational Roundball Classic against the Wichita Falls Pocket Pickers, a team of athletic folks from the regional IRS office, who looked too young to be in the 35-50 age division and way too good to be in the rec category. On the tip-off, the Arc Angels center, Tiny Simpson, all 375 lb. of him had tagged the opposing center with a windmill roundhouse then complained to the two referees--Father Herman Buzzletop from the Catholic Church at Saguaro Peak and Pastor Nick Dinkins from the Nailon County Methodist Church -- "Hey ref, keep an eye on this guy, he just hacked my hand with his face."
Action in the first quarter was fast and one-sided. The Arc Angels, try as they might, couldn't even run fast enough to foul any of the Pocket Pickers. As for the Arc Angel offense -- the bulk of which consisted of whoever happened to be at half-court with the ball in his hands launching a moonshot toward the rim -- the output had been slim.
Wichita Falls Pocket Picker - 37
Apache Flats Arc Angels - 9
"Boys, I want to hit somebody so bad my knuckles are cryin'," announced Izzy Franklin during the time-out between quarters. "But I can't keep up with my man, coming or going."
"Yeah," said Jorge Rodriguez, "These guys are good."
Lonnie Johnson, the self-appointed team manager who had given up on actually playing the game way back in grade school shortly after Bertha Jane Peters had not only skunked him in a game of horse, but then sat on top of him demanding that he be her boyfriend.
"I told you, these guys are ringers. You ought to protest. This is going to be a long afternoon if you don't."
"It's gonna be a long afternoon alright, For Them," growled Tiny Simpson, puffing up like one of those spiked fish he'd seen on the Discovery channel. "I say we go for the knees right off the bat, see how many we can put out of the game early."
Charlie draped an arm around Tiny's sweaty shoulders, "I know how you feel, but you know we can't do that, at least not intentionally."
"What'ya think, Hooter?" said Tubby Finkelbein, rubbing the peach fuzz on his chin, craning his scrawny neck toward the bleachers in search of his girlfriend.
"Boys," said Hooter staring at the Pocket Pickers bench, "I know this goes against everything we stand for as a team, but I think it's time we had a plan."
It's the Planning That Counts
The first component of the new Arc Angels' strategy went something like this: Standing at half court on the Pocket Picker's first possession, the Arc Angels held hands and stood fast, making a human Red Rover wall that spanned the court, thanks in large measure to Tiny Simpson's wingspan, proportionate to his 6' 7" frame.
"They can't do that," whined the Pocket Picker's captain, refusing to toss the ball into play.
"You can't do that," said Father Buzzletop, frowning at the Arc Angels.
"Says who?" scowled Tiny.
"Says, ummmm, the rules, I'm sure," said Buzzletop.
"Which rules?" chuckled Hooter. "By the way, just which rules are we using."
Buzzeltop and young Pastor Dinkins huddled up at the scorer's table with lots of head shaking and arm waving.
"Hey, why don't you guys just play the game instead of looking for help from some lame rule," shouted one of the Pocket Pickers in disgust.
"You're a fine one to talk about rules," shouted Bob Houston of Apache Feeders as he strode toward the Pocket Pickers' bench, face red, eyes quivering in anger. "How many rules you and your IRS henchmen have in the book this year? How many changed? Far as that goes, who exactly is it that changes them? I'm not talking points in a ballgame Skippy, I'm talking dinero, hard-earned cash. Come on and let's talk about the rules!"
Hector and Tubby were half-heartedly trying to restrain Bob when the refs returned to the scene.
"Boys, that will be enough of this tomfoolery," said Buzzletop. "We told you at the outset we wanted a clean game and a good example for the youngsters in attendance. Besides, remember about what they say, 'It's not whether you win or lose, but it's...'"
Houston cut him off. "Yeah Father, but They never tried to manage the risk of a feedlot full of cattle with one hand tied behind your back, a Futures market that has gone on vacation and these vultures looking for new ways to pick the bones."
"Be that as it may, Mr. Houston. We're going to use the rulebook of common sense in this game. Each of you play to your ability and whoever's ability allows them to will win," said Pastor Dinkins.
"God (hiccup)...God Bless (hiccup)...God Bless Us (hiccuup), Every One (hiccup), slurred Delmar Jacobs, the Arc Angles team manager, taking a long draw of his homemade elixir the team had dubbed Tiger-Aid.
By halftime, it was apparent that even though the Arc Angels could at times get close enough to the Pocket Pickers to foul them--sometimes spectacularly--there was no way to win at the pace that was unfolding.
Wichita Falls Pocket Pickers 59
Apache Flats Arc Angels 27
If You Can't Beat 'Em...
The crowd was edgy when the teams returned for the beginning of the second half, but there was no denying the "anything is possible electricity" floating from the hardwood floors to the open metal beams of the gymnasium. The Arc Angels seemed to be past death's door every year and somehow or another they always found a way to come back enough in the second half to make it worth sticking around.
"Delmar!" hollered Lonnie Johnson across the gym. "What in Sam Hill are you doing on their sideline. They don't need any help from you."
The Pocket Pickers were drinking appreciatively from the squirt bottles Delmar had provided. "Just (hiccup) trying to be hospit...(hiccup), hospiiit...(hicuup), nice," shouted Delmar in return.
Before Lonnie could make it across the court to drag Delmar back to the right side, the Pocket Pickers' guard got everyone's attention.
"Ooooouch!" he shrieked, blasting himself from the visitor's bench as if launched from a nitro slingshot.
"What's the matter with you?" wondered the Pickers' power forward, who had had words with his point guard earlier in the game, something about not getting the ball enough to keep up his average.
"Th-the bench shocked me," said the guard, rubbing his backside, staring at the metal culprit.
"This bench?" said the forward, falling into a heap on top of it. "Nothing wrong with this bench."
The guard stared incredulously. "But I tell you it shocked me."
"Uh-huh. Cut out the nonsense. Let's huddle up."
As the rest of team trudged toward the scorer's table the guard gingerly tried the bench again. At first nothing, then a sizzle and then a lung-deflating shock: "Oooooouch!" screamed the guard."
The rest of the Pocket Pickers glared at him.
"Quit horsing around," said the shooting guard. "Get over here."
"Now," grumped the center. And the point guard did.
Across the court, Lonnie Johnson quizzed the home team. "What'ya make of that boys."
"Wish'd it had fried him," glowered Houston, taking a dip of Copenhagen before depositing the can back inside his knee-high sweat sock.
"Static electricity is an amazing phenomena," said Whizzer Burkhart, spying his old electronics-engineering roommate, Gizmo Randolph, sitting in the stands with hands inside his trench coat pockets with a satisfied grin on his face.
While the referees took turns trying out the bench to make sure no foul play was at hand, the PA announcer wheezed into an aged microphone, "And now for some special post-halftime entertainment, straight from Quanah, Texas, the Leprechaun Ladies from the Little Blarney Brewing Company."
At that, the lights went out, two transplanted spotlights from the school auditorium came on, along with AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap," blasting over the PA. In came the five Leprechaun Ladies, each wearing long, glittery black coats and ruby lipstick as they strutted to half-court, where they immediately shed their coats to reveal low-cut, emerald green, sequined miniskirts.
Most of the spectators, men and women alike knew all of the Leprechaun Ladies, so they cheered their arrival with lion-hearted gusto. In fact, many of the spectators were part owners, albeit minuscule minority partners in the Little Blarney Brewery.
"What's the meaning of this?" said Father Buzzletop, marching up to the first redheaded, creamy skinned Leprechaun Lady, Lulu LeRoy, who was Cajun by birth and flirtatious by choice.
With both hands on her hips and her best Mae West voice, she fixed her gaze on Buzzletop and said, "Is that a kiss on your lips or are you just happy to see me?"
"Well, I, I, uh, I..." stammered Buzzletop. Before he could find the words Lulu and the other Leprechaun Ladies had sauntered over to the starry-eyed Pocket Pickers.
The PA system started blasting 38 Special's Hold on Loosely as the Leprechaun Ladies each used one of the Pocket Pickers as a prop for their dance.
Buzzletop and Dinkins were pleading with the PA announcer, the Ladies, the crowd, anyone within earshot to knock off the nonsense and get on with the game, which they finally did, as soon as the song was finished.
So it was a new team of Pocket Pickers who took the floor in the second half: the point guard still worriedly casting glances here and there like a prairie dog searching for predators, in this case looking for Freddie Kilowatt, who he knew would reappear again sooner or later. The rest of the team seemed now to only be aware of the Leprechaun Ladies, looking for ways to personally grandstand their ball playing talents.
Which is probably one good reason that the Pocket Pickers' center never saw Bob Houston coming at him low and fast on the inbounds pass. Soon as the center had his hands on the ball, so did Houston, letting his forward momentum carry him into the center, sending the flummoxed near-7-footer flailing backwards. Houston landed on top of him in a heap with his knobby knee squarely deposited in one of the center's more physiologically sensitive areas.
The crowd roared.
"Audit that," wailed Houston, removing himself from the wreck. "Go ahead and audit that you slide-ruling, long dividing bag of bones."
The refs called a flagrant foul, of course. But, it made little difference. For one thing, the center missed both free-throw attempts, bent in half and grimacing as he tried a kind of modified granny shot; understandably, he would remain ineffective through the remainder of the game.
Plus, the brief spark had ignited the crowd, who was now fairly well tearing the rafters off the place.
On the next inbounds play to the Pocket Pickers point guard, Whizzer hand-checked him with one of those dime store joy buzzers, the effect of which was that the guard promptly threw the ball away. By the time the refs approached Whizzer, he held up empty hands, feigning dismay at the accusations being made by the visiting team.
So it went, the Arc Angels still getting beat, but gaining ground through the third quarter.
Wichita Falls Pocket Pickers 73
Apache Flats Arc Angels 58
"Boys, I don't know what's going on out here, but I hope you don't have anything to do with it," said Father Buzzletop, half way between scolding and total surrender.
"Just playing to our abilities," said Tiny.
"Yeah," said Tubby, flexing his golf ball sized bicep. "Some teams start fast and some of the rest of us catch up to our abilities."
Across the court the Pocket Pickers were taking in plenty of Tiger-Aid refreshment and solace from the Leprechaun Ladies who were making over them like they were surely a pro team gracing the crowd with a rare exhibition.
As the whistle blew for the final quarter, the Pocket Picker's guard again shrieked and ejected himself from the bench.
"Come on abacus man, cut out the commotion," said Houston.
"Yeah," said the Pocket Picker's center, hobbling to the Arc Angels' end of the floor, "Let's get this over with."
For the first two minutes, the game actually resembled one as both teams seemed to find a rhythm that had them trading baskets at a furious rate for recreational ball. But then, as if walking through a door, the Pocket Pickers suddenly went stone Clinton cold. They couldn't make a pass, they couldn't make a shot. As for defense, they seemed reduced to giggles every time an Arc Angel sped past them.
Just like that, the Arc Angels were within striking distance, forming a kind of bucket line from one end of the court to the other, easily picking up the loose balls and rebounds, swinging it to the next teammate in line and so on, then having the luxury of taking as many shots as necessary to sink a goal, since the Pocket Pickers by this point seemed satisfied to remain on their end of the floor high-fiving the Leprechaun Ladies and each other. The crowd was going wild, and the Pocket Pickers were sure the adulation was for them.
Tiny Simpson, the Angels' designated scorer, had his back to the scoreboard and shouted over his shoulder, "What's the score, boys?"
"Does it matter?" laughed Hooter, tossing him another unopposed pass.
With two minutes left, the referees had been lulled into a sort of daze. Given the Arc Angels bucket brigade and the Pocket Pickers apparent refusal to mount any kind of offense or defense, there was nothing to call.
"I don't know what your friends did, but I've never seen anything like it my life," said Buzzletop, slumped wearily on a chair next to Delmar Jacobs.
"Well, (hiccup) Father," wheezed Delmar, "(hiccup) I guess some guys can handle their (hiccuup) Tiger-Aid, and some guys (hiccuuup)…"