Aug 18, 2007


The boy arrived at 7:30 a.m., so sharp you could cut it. He was in his bright red soccer uniform. His mother appeared in very dark glasses. The kind that are both fashionable and frightening. There were bruises on her upper left cheek and next to her left ear. She was short, with short hair and a fidgety smile. A custom-made, long-haired, white dog moved around her feet like a shag rug on the loose. She talked to it and to me and to her son all at the same time.

"Now Bougie, stop," she said looking down at the dog and then up at me. "Do you want me to have his father call you when you come back? He could come here and pick him up. I should do that, shouldn't I? Isn't she cute, oh she's so cute, and we're taking her to Tahoe today, to get my daughter, she's been away at camp. We've all been away, haven't we? Well, you're always away." She looked at the boy.

She paused, having lost her thread. She looked down at the dog and that seemed bring back a train of thought. "Yes, why don't you call Steve, he lives on Russian Hill, maybe that would work better, actually, call him when you come back across the bridge, when you get to Treasure Island, that gives him time to get dressed and get whoever is there out of there...." She looked at the boy who had the look of a shriveled-up hibicuscus bloom.

"Now, you're probably wondering why I look like this," she said.

The first thought I had when I saw her was that she'd been beaten by someone. I shook my head.

"I had surgery yesterday."

"Really. Are you okay?"

"Eyelift. I'm going to look like for a month, can you imagine?"

"I can't." Actually I would have been interested to see what she looked like, what price she'd paid to be marginally more attractive.

"I am."


"I'm used to it already and I've arranged things so that I won't scare anybody for a few weeks."

"That's good."

"Don't you hate that?"


"Oh God this whole getting old thing. I just want to give it all up. What are we doing to ourselves?"

She seemed to want an answer.

"I don't know."

"So why don't you call Steve when you're coming back across the bridge... Right, Bougie? He'll be glad to go wherever you are."

She glanced at her son, turned abruptly, towed Bougie back to her car, got in, waved, and drove off.

* * *

A few minutes later we drove off to a game in Tassajara, that vast Atlantis east of San Ramon. One gated community after another. Roman columns here and there. Past the gates to Blackhawk, past once rolling hills, now squared off. Past grazing land, a cow in the distance. Even the malls are pleasant.

We finally reach the field, for Super-Y game for boys under 13. Turf field, intense heat off the plastic even at 9 a.m. Only 8 members of the team showed up. The others off in one part of the world or another. The other team was one of those blond suburban teams with a couple of Latino kids for skill and drive. They weren't a very good team, but ours was hopeless. Such a change from a year ago.

Suddenly, here was Dash on just the kind of team we once held in such contempt. But then everything you hate you will experience. No Latinos on his team at all, no African Americans, nothing but rich white kids, but city kids, much softer than their suburban counterparts. "Our" boys go to the Towne School, just down the street from where Danielle Steele used to live, and where the headmaster shakes your hand every morning as though to say, 'you're on your way lads, on the track to Goldman Sacks and maybe one day you'll invent some new form of subprime loan and nearly bankrupt the world.'

And never be punished for it.

The first game was lost 8-0. The second by the same score. The opposing coach felt so badly for the Seals, since they were 4 men down, that in the second half of the second game he put in the same number of players plus one so that it was 9 on one side, 8 on the other. It made no difference. Most of these kids had no stuff, no spirit, no desire to struggle, not the life force of mice, and you realized once more the cruel irony of success in America these days.

When the game ended several parents were angry that we had let the boys play on. We argued that learning was more important than winning. But what about self-esteem, they said. What kind of lesson is that? I didn't mention the curse of entitlement or that self-esteem is not even a poor man's substitute for character. How you can have character without struggle, I wanted to say. But there was too much anger and resentment and so Dash and I, and Iyka, the kid from Georgia, fled as fast as we could.

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