Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Mr. Zambor

Mr. Zambor taught 5th grade science at Mountain View Middle School. His last name was more science fiction, like it belonged to some malevolent ruler of a distant galaxy you’d see in a bad movie. The kind who said, “Show the girl to my private quarters. And the boyfriend . . . execute him.”

Like the evil space emperor, Zambor stole the girl of my dreams – Miss Sievers, my 4th grade reading teacher.

In my first years of school, I had mostly female teachers, but they all seemed old enough to be my grandmother. They wore long drab skirts and high collared blouses. Their voices were pinched and condescending. They smelled like mothballs.

Miss Sievers breezed into Mountain View like an April day, tousling the hair of every boy and awakening possibilities for which most of us didn’t even have a name yet. She had a pretty, heart-shaped face, with a small upturned nose and a spray of freckles. She had a flip-up hairdo, like Marlo Thomas on That Girl. She wore colorful dresses, with silk scarves tied at her neck. And she had a soft melody of a voice, with a smile hiding behind every word.

When Miss Sievers asked for a volunteer to read aloud or pass out dittoes, every boy’s arm shot up, with hands waving like mad. Pick me, please pick me.

We loved her, and she seemed to love us back.

A few months into Miss Sievers’ first year, it became apparent, even to us na├»ve 4th graders that something was going on between her and Mr. Zambor. He’d stand outside our classroom door, signalling. Miss Sievers would glance away from us, smile, then say, “Excuse me for a minute, children . . .” While she was out in the hall, we’d hear the two of them talking softly and laughing. We’d all look around at each other with wide eyes. When Miss Sievers returned, her face was flushed.

Pretty soon I was seeing the two of them holding hands outside the teachers’ room, walking together through the hallways, sitting close at assemblies, his hand resting on her knee. It was too much to bear.

What did Zambor have that I didn’t? Besides the fact that he was an adult, I mean. He was about a foot taller than Miss Sievers. Did she like that? Having his big puffed up chest at her eye level? He had feathered back hair and wore silky shirts. So did I. But at least I wasn’t in my late thirties, trying to act young. He thought he was funny but wasn’t – a deadly combination. Plus, he had bad breath, which he tried to conceal behind furtive blasts of Binaca.

They announced their engagement in the spring. When we returned to school the next fall, Miss Sievers had become Mrs. Zambor. More like Mrs. Zombie. Along with her maiden name, she seemed to have lost everything that made us love her. Her flip-up hairdo was cut short. She started wearing pants suits. And the soft melody in her voice hardened into a scolding tone.

Damn that Zambor. If only I could’ve been in his shoes, I know I could’ve saved Miss Sievers.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Earl Monroe

For years, my childhood bedroom doubled as a nerf basketball court. At about 150 square feet, with a bed, night stand, dresser, desk and stereo, there was just enough room for ten players, a referee and an announcer. All played by me.

With the orange sponge ball in hand, I’d drive towards the plastic hoop that was suction cupped to the back of my door. I’d do hesitation jumpers, hook shots, lay ups and, in the most crucial moments, slam dunks.

The games were always All-Star match-ups. On one side, my least favorite NBA players, like John Havlicek and Rick Barry. On the other, my favorites, such as Walt Frazier, Connie Hawkins and Julius Erving. The criteria for my favorites went beyond their stardom and prowess on the court. I liked players who were flashy. Players who did tricks with the ball. Players with afros and cool sideburns.

And the player I loved above everyone was Earl “The Pearl” Monroe.

I once read that when Earl was a kid, playing basketball on the playgrounds in Philadelphia, he got the nickname of “Thomas Edison.” This was because he was always inventing new moves. When he was drafted into the pros, they called him “Black Jesus” – because of the miracles he performed with the ball. Later they called him “The Pearl.”

Like his namesake jewel, Monroe was graceful and elegant. He would fake out defenders by adopting this kind of non-chalant, almost indecisive manner. When they’d lunge for the ball, Monroe would spring into motion. Spinning, slipping, darting, dribbling behind his back, shooting, swishing. And picking up a foul in the process. Monroe’s marches toward the net were zig-zag ballets, full of unlikely counter-intuitive motions. His mind seemed to be three steps – and dribbles – ahead of everyone else on the court.

He once told an interviewer, “The thing is, I don’t know what I’m going to do with the ball, and if I don't know, I’m quite sure the guy guarding me doesn’t know either.”

When Monroe got traded to my favorite team, the Knicks, he was in the September of his career. Prone to knee injuries, he was constantly in and out of the line-up. But the frailty and the intermittent appearances made me root for him even more. He always brought an extra helping of excitement to the game. Even if the Knicks lost, you knew there’d be at least one or two Monroe magic moments.

Meanwhile, back in my bedroom, the Pearl was unstoppable. My announcer could never find enough adjectives and exclamation points for him. “He shoots! He scores!! What an AMAZING shot! Monroe weaves himself like thread through the defense and sews up another two points!”

I’d keep score on a spiral notepad, and at the end of the games, Monroe would always have forty-plus points to everyone else’s ten or twenty.

Outside of my room, I was never good enough – or tall enough – to play basketball on the school teams. In seventh grade, I tried out and got cut in the second round of callbacks.

I was crushed.

But I remember watching a Knicks game on TV that night. Monroe was in rare form. Pretty soon I was smiling, picking up some new moves for my next nerf game.

Even if I couldn’t play on the school team, I was the Pearl in my bedroom.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Antonio Villas Boas

When I was fourteen, there were two things I’d seen in magazines that I was dying to see in real life – a UFO and a naked lady. Not necessarily in that order.

With that in mind, the strange tale of Antonio Villas Boas became my ultimate fantasy.

Villas Boas was a Brazilian farmer who had what might be called a close encounter of the erotic kind. One summer night back in 1957, he was out ploughing his fields, trying to avoid the heat, when he noticed a strange red light in the sky. As it descended, he saw that it was a metallic egg-shaped spacecraft. It sprouted legs like a spider, then touched down in his field.

Terrified, Villas Boas tried to flee, but his tractor stalled. A few seconds later, he was seized by a small alien about the size of 12-year old boy. The alien wore a shiny helmet and had intense blue eyes. Helpless to resist, Villas Boas was brought aboard the craft. The alien then stripped the farmer of his clothes, and gave him a physical. This involved spreading a gel on his skin, poking and prodding him with strange instruments, then extracting blood from his chin. Throughout the exam, the alien made high-pitched barking sounds, like a puppy.

Villas Boas, still naked, was then put inside a room, whose sole piece of furniture was a cushioned examining table.

A half hour passed, then in came a second alien. The same height as the other, this one was obviously female. She was naked, with very fair skin, long silky blonde hair and wide-set feline blue eyes. Her breasts were large and round, and her pubic hair was bright red.

Without a word, she came to Villas Boas and began to stroke and caress him. She nuzzled and nipped softly at his ear. One thing led to another, and the pair forged an intergalactic union right there on the examining table. Villas Boas would later say that he had never felt so aroused in his life.

When they were done, the she-alien stood up, rubbed her belly and pointed to the sky. The message was clear. Villas Boas was to be the proud papa of a space baby.

Having performed his stud service, he was hastily dressed and escorted from the craft by the little barking alien. The craft then zoomed off into the sky.

That story was in one of my UFO Digest magazines, and I must’ve read it over a hundred times, mentally projecting myself into Villas Boas’s lucky shoes.

Not only would I get to see a UFO and a naked lady, but I’d get to have sex too. My two wishes granted, with an unfathomable bonus. I decided the cat-eyed alien girl was the perfect match for me. She was my height, she didn’t talk, and she was completely naked and ready to have sex. Unlike with the girls in my middle school, I wouldn’t have to stammer through the whole ordeal of asking her if she wanted to go to the movies or to play miniature golf. I wouldn’t have to meet her parents. I wouldn’t have to worry about what to wear. I wouldn’t have to figure out a place to take her to make out. And best, I wouldn’t have to face the impossible task of buying condoms at the drug store.

I could gladly skip the exam part, but maybe that was a necessary prelude to the sex. As for being a father at fourteen, admittedly, that would’ve been kind of weird. But then again, my offspring would be half-alien, like Mr. Spock. That would mean that he would possess all kinds of cool superpowers and advanced knowledge, which upon his return to earth someday in the future, he would share with me.

As far as I know, Antonio Villas Boas never heard from his space child or the cat-eyed vixen.