The old neighborhood playgrounds were caged, though the fencing kept nobody out, or in. Similar chain-link barriers were everywhere, separating neighbors and keeping jumpers from bridges, but the high fenced, boxed-in asphalt courts really resonated with sportswriters looking for urban grit. They labeled the young basketballers playing within “Cagers”.
He had spent most of his life leaning against the chain link waiting for his turn in pick-up games they played for money. Two or three guys were regulars on his team, the others they’d pick up on the court. There were always guys hanging around, even on the weekdays, when you’d think everyone was on a curb and gutter crew. Connections were made, and if it worked out, you might have a guy for a bag drop later, or even a short-center for your softball team, which was a big deal, since ten guys a side for slow pitch was not always an easy corral.
There were no nets on any of the hoops, the school or park property directors were wary of theft, and there were always some misdemeanors being committed during the games. But excepting the property directors, crime was not a concern. Offenses like gambling, and possession, and drinking, and dealing in the cages were not prosecuted, and there were few patrol cars in the neighborhood anyway. Everyone knew each other, or vouched for newcomers, and besides, the neighborhood policed itself, just as the hoopers called their own fouls during the games.
His softball team was called the Chi-Dons, a mash up of the city name and an Italianate, 50’s sounding motif he’d seen used by doo-wop groups. The name had stuck for a few years after prior monikers – Boozers, Beginners, and Dead Enders had lost favor. He had a green and gold jersey, with the team name screened on, wrapped around his neck as one game finished and he led his hoops team to the court to play the next. As he walked away, the impression of the chain-link marked his back – he’d been leaning shirtless against it for some time; it was what he did, what they all did, from the time they were kids. He’d do the same thing tomorrow and next month and probably next year. You could tell the lot of them from a different crowd by the chain-link pattern marking their backs.
One wonders if the mark was permanent.