The Garden. Not the small plot outside the door tended with care to produce flowers or food. Nor the domain from which Adam and Eve fell. This garden was quite different. Square. Noisy. Situated in the midst of a bustling city. The most famous arena in the world, as hyped by the advertisements that followed us in. On Rangers and Knicks nights, filled with 15,000 screaming and passionate fans. But not this afternoon. This afternoon we could buy $15 tickets and make our way to sit only 10 rows back, with Cody’s coach and his friends in the seats they were holding for us near courtside.
I was uneasy, intimidated even. It’s not that I am unsophisticated; I am a management consultant, after all. I fly to engagements in a dozen cities. But this was New York, with my son, who I’m always too worried about and who was looking to me, for this one afternoon at least, for guidance through the melee of Penn Station, the push of 34th Street, the cacophonous, unfamiliar bombardment of our senses.
We were meeting his coach at the Garden—a man who Cody worked out with once a week and who coached the inner-city upstate team that Cody longed to play for. Coach Lawrence had invited him down to watch a high school basketball tournament, the best prep schools from three different states playing through the afternoon. Cody thought that by going he might have a better chance of making the team. I came because Cody had asked me to come.
But I was uneasy. I never take the train. I kept worrying that we’d take the wrong line, or that I’d lose our tickets or we’d miss our stop. I know this made no sense. I kept telling myself these were trivial, unwarranted fears, but it was the city and I was uncomfortable. I touched my hip pocket for the 10th time in an hour, reassuring myself that my wallet was there. Christ, what if I lost it? What if someone picked my pocket? No money, no credit cards, no ATM. Images of wandering the street asking for help from indifferent strangers and civil servants flitted across my mind. I found myself touching my wallet again, my keys in my front pocket. As if these rituals could protect my son from all the harm that might wander unseen into his life.
It seemed like some distant halcyon era when we had been close. Cody was the tough, funny, athletic boy whose soccer teams I had coached, showing him how to hit passes with his instep and take power shots, all the things I’d learned in my own brief soccer career. I’d watched tapes and read books to teach him strategies and technique and stood in the goal taking shots from him in the fading autumn darkness.
I remembered the times he would ask me to come up to bed with him, to watch TV or just lie down for a few minutes before he went to sleep. “Mi hijo”—my son—I’d called him, from studying his sixth-grade Spanish together, affectionately contracted to Mijo. “Good night, Mijo,” I’d say softly into the darkness as I left the room.
But now he didn’t want to be called Mijo. Now we seemed to fight all the time. He seemed ashamed of me, grimacing with disgust at the same corny jokes that used to amuse him. “Dad. Cut it out.” I had become a cliche. The father character in every teenage rebellion sitcom.
My psychologist friends told me it was healthy. That he needed to individuate. That it was a natural and needed process. But I missed those times in the back yard, kicking the soccer ball back and forth. Or him coming to me for help with some problem at school. The same kinds of talks we’d had when he was younger, those times of teaching, were now met with rolled eyes and averted gaze. “Here comes the lecture series again.”
Now here we were in the Garden. And Cody wanted to play basketball instead of soccer. What could I teach him about basketball? But still, I’d come. To a Saturday afternoon in mid-January with the arena three-quarters empty, the upper decks darkened, the lower bowl only partially filled. The crowd there was a mixture of young couples and older aunt-and-uncle types who looked like they might be related to the players, almost all of them African American. Behind the basket, the stands were filled with a teeming crowd of black teenagers who stood and shouted as baskets were scored, and danced in throngs in the aisles during halftimes, quarters, and timeouts when rap music filled the loudspeakers in the arena.