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Paul threw the virtual ball aside in disgust. It bounced and then disappeared into a holographic display of tennis rackets artfully disarrayed, interspersed with cans of fluorescent balls and wrist-bands, head-bands, and other accessories. Extraneous thoughts went through Reggie’s head as he patiently awaited the outcome.
“I don’t know.”
Reg was the sporting goods manager. He shrugged in sympathy. In his grey cavalry-twill pants, and his white, short-sleeved shirt with the tie stuffed inside about the level of the third button, he was always up for a game of virtual one-on-one, twenty-one, or just shooting hoops for a buck each. He had a preppie look, with the patented Michael J. Fox runners. In a pinch, he could be relied on to set up a putting competition at the annual summer picnic, and was known to party pretty hearty at the conventions which department managers attended once or twice a year.
If he was smart, he would lose this game by a hair and upgrade, up-sell and up-smart Mister Pauly, as he called him privately. Paul’s parents had died in a plane crash, leaving their precious one a half a mil or so in trust, with a big monthly cheque from the annuity fund. Lately he was insufferable around the store. Now that he was all over the grief part.
“Yeah. Maybe we should try another one.”
The tournament was three days away and Paul, who worked the stockroom, didn’t really need the best equipment, but he wanted something half decent. He was floating around inside of these shoes. Nice shoes and everything, they made a statement of conscious self-worth and aspiration, but they just weren’t him.
It was one of those office things. His pop, a lack-luster nonentity by all accounts, had warned him about office politics, which extended to the adult industrial leagues which dotted this fair land. They had their allure, and their dangers for well-meaning and cautiously-ambitious entry-level management trainees who otherwise didn’t have much going for them.
“Shaq isn’t for you,” admitted Reg, standing with hand on hip, the hip flung out like a florist sensing the kill as he looked at their options. “Ah! An old standby. We’ll try the Dennis Rodman…no?”
He trailed off at Paul’s vehement head-shake.
“I have to be able to sleep at night, and look myself in the eye when I shave.”
Reg grinned amiably, although he didn’t think Rodman was so bad.
“Ah, let’s see here…”
“What about a real old classic?”
“What do you mean?”
“I want to try the Wilt Chamberlain.”
Reggie’s eyebrows lifted in an encouraging display of objectivity. He wasn’t ruling it out just yet.
“All right, then.” He went back into the warehouse and grabbed another product off the shelf.
That one was no good either, and the pair of them went through a few more options. Paul was on lunch and they were having a slow day anyhow. While spring usually brought in a surge of wannabe instant athletes, all looking for the very latest in high-tech, professional sporting goods at the lowest possible discount store prices, today was sunny and warm and business was slow. Reg had always marvelled at how Paul took the slightest and most trivial challenge so deadly seriously when he was such a useless cunt at the best of times.
Reggie was the tolerant sort. He didn’t have to hang with Paul in his off-hours, thankfully.
If you looked up ‘self-absorbed’ in the dictionary, Paul’s picture would be there. He was always talking about mountain climbing. It was one of those things that was always in the planning stages. So far, quite a few expedition prospects had dropped out on one pretext or another. It didn’t take too much time or much listening to see what you were dealing with here.
They finally settled on the Larry Bird, although in Reggie’s opinion Paul was just too short to make it work. He struggled with the fasteners. With a little luck, he might still have time to grab a sandwich, if Pauly didn’t obsess too much.
At five-foot four, even in his uplift shoes, with that pasty skin and pudgy face, the beady little eyes and the buck teeth, the fading hairline (at 26,) and the receding chin, which was not a function of age, he would always be an insignificant little man trying desperately hard to play basketball while wearing another man’s skin. The name on the box, the picture on the front, meant everything to Pauly, never mind the fact that he looked like he was running around inside of a potato sack…
He wouldn’t be a bad player if he wasn’t so busy trying to be somebody else. The only other thing they had was a rather shop-worn Jeremy Lin display model, and Pauly had baulked at Rodman. There simply wasn’t time enough to order anything and get it here on time.
Reggie wondered if deep down inside Paul hated himself, but the man’s entire family tree probably didn’t have that much grace.
Someday the NBA would breed a short, clumsy, pudgy-faced white superstar, and then maybe they could find a Sports Skin to really suit someone like Pauly.
Most likely, it would never happen. You never know, though. It was a nice thought.
The real problem with Pauly was that one way or another, regardless of cost or utility, he was going to buy something today.
That much was a given. He would never be satisfied with it. Not in a million years.
It went with the territory.