We gather in the gym of the old Lutheran Church on New Year's Eve at noon. No shirts or skins, no colored jerseys. We play twelve hours, or at least that's the idea, but we always run on until dawn, taking a break at midnight to toast the New Year with champagne and sweat. Everybody plays. Williston, the president of the Iron Mountain Building and Loan, Plotter, the Fire Chief, Wilma Plotter, his wife, and their children when they come back for the holidays. O'Brien and Egatz, Wilson and Wesson, Myers and Stangle. Hertz, Busby, Grisom, Field. Somebody we just call Elk. Johnson, Peace, Galler, Fuller, MacIver. Sonny, Bucky, Rocky, and Sherry. Even Copper, South and Mercy played one year when they visited, camping out in our living room like teenage girls at a slumber party.
Who started it no one knows. Even old man Williston doesn't remember for sure. He says maybe the game of basketball was invented up here instead of Springfield, Mass., as he rolls the ball around his large but tight waist and shoots from the free-throw line before the game begins. He says there were years and gaps, and the way we play now is different from how it was played then—mostly men, jerseys, high tops, keeping score. But he says his memory isn't the caged bear it used to be. That's okay. Most of us know it up to there and after. We quit keeping score three years ago. There is no referee. We come by penalties through consensus. We call fouls, double dribbles, handling, walking. Out of bounds is the only call we don't make. That's most important. In the boundary between an old year and a new, we play a game with no boundaries. By not making that call, we mark what we are naming ourselves, year upon year, by the way we chose to live, work, play.
     This year it's different for Cate and me. In years past we've played opposite each other, her arms swarming to block my jump shot, my body defying her charge to the lane even though I still don't stand a chance, as she deftly dribbles between her legs, ponytailed hair whipping out to the side, a dog dodging a horse, her midriff tight, the cut of muscles creating a vertical line down the length of her belly. It's worth the play just to see that skill and beauty. We are taking turns on the court this year since there is Conner.
     Ten months old now. Born March second. Six pounds, seven ounces and eighteen inches long. Black hair, blacker eyes. A Native American child. Even though he's adopted, Cate says he is the spitting image of me, because she and I both know he is the spitting image of us—what we believe and more. We can have a child biologically, but we may not. Having Conner is something extra. A gift to the world. It was unexpected; not knowing it could be this good. Hoping it would. Now here he is, an altogether separate being. An outward sign of an inner bonding. At times, like today, a vestigial sense of ownership—my woman, my child, my family—wells up inside, and instead of gripping that sense out of fear, the dominant man in me, I let it wash over, crash over, into something new, different—a reverence for life, for luck, a prayer for the way it is and the way in deep I hope it will stay. It's not possession. Not obsession. Recognition, maybe, if there is a word for what I feel.

Seven hours in. Darkness is falling, always sooner in these mountains than anywhere else, the horizon so high. This year we've opened up the kitchen and spread out the long tables, everybody bringing their specialty. Cate and I cooked together, both enjoying the luxury of time, her vacation from the Environmental Preservation Center and Save All Green Environments, and my reprieve from Harper Lee and high school kids. We made bread pudding with a Jim Beam sauce and salsa with flatbread, both hits last year. I've played several rounds so far tonight, as has Cate, who is presently hot with her three-pointers. Conner and I watch as she makes the fake, rolls around Bettie Jean, shoots over Rusty, and gets nothing but net. The gathered crowd cheers at her skill. Conner makes the sound that will become "Mama."
     The crowd grows and changes as the games move through the day and into the evening. The first year Cate and I joined in there were just a handful of people, a dozen, and we played until we couldn't play anymore, drank our champagne and went home to nurse our sore ankles, bruised shins, and stressed rotator cuffs that ground around more like mortar and pestle than muscle and cartilage.
     But tonight I have seen a number of families come and go, some players, some spectators, even a few who throw us off with a wave of their hand and go back home, drink a beer, and watch Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve beamed to their dishes from a satellite that knows no time, only the beat of its own orbit around the planet. The Watsons leave, the Joneses come, and the Reynolds disregard what they call our project, saying we're just waiting for the TV cameras from Detroit to arrive. Media dogs they call us, saying that after the lights and the glitz and our spot on 60 Minutes, everything will be back to normal. I watch little Dicky Mann, a stringbean 12-year old, sink it from the sideline, his grin telling me all I need to know about longevity, his teeth dirty as the picket fence Cate and I tore down to open up our yard to the neighborhood.

Still I worry. I have thought hard and worried much the last few years about the outside world I know, the one away from Iron Mountain. I scan the faces that come and go, waiting for him to show up and challenge us, me, this time of freedom from points and rules, wins and losses. Freedom from the score. He is different people. He is my father, who my mother left because he saw the world only his way. Men worked. Women stayed home. Men brought in the money. Women raised the children. There were certain things that women did not do, going to school being one of them. Before she died in '94, my mother was a successful college professor, teaching English, specializing in Keats, Shelley, Byron, the Romantics. Sometimes a face in the crowd looks so much like my father's I shiver. Not that I wouldn't want to see him. He is a decent man, and we've grown to care about each other, as I've become older. But I am not afraid to admit my fear that my father's capacity to understand what happens here in Iron Mountain on New Year's Eve would be nonexistent.
     Other times it is another face—angry, leering. A face I still see in a haze of water, broken in its lust for power, control, as well as understanding and acceptance, not seeing that those forces are incompatible, fire and ice. For me it is not an amorphous face, as it is for many, the face of big business, big game hunters, criminals or cranks. For me it is a definitive face, the face of Marcus Gale, Copper's brother. Marcus was once my friend, and he is not my enemy now. But he represents a danger for what I see before me—men, women and children on the court, becoming individual, whole, healthy, equal. It's a long process, and we are far from completion. Marcus represents all that is opposite to the glow of the court and the faces playing above it.
     Marcus is a taker. A destroyer. Growing up I didn't understand this fully. He was just the star quarterback, the great baseball player, the kid who slid by in school on good looks and athletic prowess. The guy who got all the girls. My vision of him stayed that way for a long time, and an image of his youthful, athletic self still lives in my mind, buried under a better understanding of him as he came to be so obviously later—a violent person, taking power, taking sex, giving out waves of hate to all unlike him. The Marcus I know now has dehumanized and humiliated men, raped women, somehow justifying his actions through his warped version of the world. I fear Marcus because this rite of basketball on New Year's Eve would not only confuse him, it would enrage him on a deep level, and he would be unable to let it rest. He would have to take it and strangle the life from it. What's scarier is that much of society, what most see as civilization, often gives way to those who perpetuate his actions. He is not evil. Evil does emanate from him, however.

I see a third face as well, in some of the men here—the face of Copper before he met South and Mercy and became a true father. You should see him tell about his adopted daughter Mercy, South's from a first marriage, and how they celebrate Halloween. He lights up like a Jack-O-Lantern. But before them, he seemed a little lost, unsure of himself. He was under the massive hands of his brother growing up, and he believed he was unwittingly complicit in some of Marcus's crimes and destruction. He told me once of a breaking point, a chance to change things between he and Marcus, a leap into violence against the violence Marcus had wrought. Seven years ago, bailing his brother out of jail, Copper had tried to take a police officer's pistol, propelled by everything inside him to shoot Marcus in the face, but he didn't do it. He told me how ashamed he was for not following his instinct. It wasn't that Copper wanted to be violent, or that any person wants to, but it was that he was controlled somehow, softened to a point of inability to resist, good or bad. Inability to act. If it hadn't been for South, Mercy, and Fileman Wirick, too, Copper would still be drifting with the flow, drowning in a shallow river, where all he would have to do to save himself was plant his feet on the murky bottom and stand up. I see men and boys here tonight who may never find their South and their Mercy in anyone, any place, time, or thing. They will know love only thinly, experience passion only obliquely, often in its twisted form of violence.
An hour before midnight the Lumberjacks come in, boozed-up from celebrating at the big hotels built with AMEX's logging money, hotels that house men who come from everywhere to earn a good wage clearcutting the forests. AMEX is world-wide, gutting rainforests and National Parks, cutting pine and fur and evergreen legally or illegally, covering it up with the government's sham environmental policy and hundred-dollar-an-hour lawyers. Most of us who play here tonight fight AMEX. Cate fights with E.P.C. and S.A.G.E. I fight through education, taking my kids to the mountains to read Wordsworth and Thoreau, trying to show them that living forests are more valuable than cash in wallets and pocketbooks. It's an uphill battle, but one we are chained to as stewards of the earth, as stewards of a new way of seeing the world.

The lumberjacks play, showing off, stripping down to the waist and posing. When they find out we don't keep score they are less interested, and when they get outrun and outscored by Cate and some of the other women, they mix back into the woodwork. It's too bad. They could learn something from us, other than there are some terrific basketball players in this crowd. We try to send them the message, not only with this game, but with how we conduct our everyday lives. But they find us a threat to their way of life, unable to see that their livelihood self-destructs and leaves only ruin. They can't envision that our path—equality and preservation, of land, animals, men and women from all walks—is the only passage to building people who are truly human.
     This path is what we toast at midnight, taking a break from the game. I have been told that the town can hear our cheer a mile away at the stroke of the clock, and secretly, I've heard people say that the lights from the gym grow brighter for a moment, electrified by the sound of our voices. It is nice to think about, whether it is true or not.
Cate and I play for another half-hour, while Misty Jameson watches over Conner. He is sleeping most of the time, but finally wakes, cranky, wanting his parents. I take him in my arms, Cate kisses his forehead, and we pass our good nights around the remaining crowd. There will be some still playing at dawn, a new day, the first of another new year.

Outside, we begin the walk home. The air is cold and crisp. Our breathing rises into the night air. The landscape is light, and Cate points to the full moon. I marvel that over thirty years ago three people landed on the face of that rock, in a place called the Sea of Tranquility. A wonderful name. There Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins touched down, making an important step in the history of humankind. That landing, shown on an old black and white television in the home of my parents, is my first visual memory from childhood. I think of that as we walk, not marveling at what Armstrong and Aldrin must have felt as they first stepped foot and walked across the moon's surface, but knowing that Collins was in the capsule, monitoring them, testing the atmosphere, the soil, creating a baseline of what composed the moon and the moment in time. That first mission, Collins didn't walk on the moon, but made it possible for Aldrin and Armstrong to do so, taking us to a new place, in peace.
     In a singular gesture, I lift Conner towards the moon, up above the lighted valley and the world. I smile at Cate and I see she knows, in her own way, that we pilot the capsule. I hold Conner high, planning on telling him the stories, these stories, of how we came to be where we are. Showing him through our actions and words that we will help him walk in new territory, help him be whole, teach him how to shoot a basket on a New Year's Eve not far from now, let him make a further step for all of us. The moon shines bright and I can see his face. He is awake now. He gurgles and claps his hands.



"Hoops" is the epilogue to The Waterhouse, a book that chronicles the journeys of Jimmy Timberlake, Copper Gale, and Marcus Gale as they try to define their masculinity from the age of 15 to 35. The story itself came about as I was trying to find a way to tie up the book, finish (and begin) Jimmy's storyline. An older student in one of my classes, Greg Hignite, invited me to play basketball with he and some friends every Sunday night at the Lutheran Church in Richmond, IN. I never went, but the image of them playing grew inside my head, making space for Jimmy, Cate, and the people of Iron Mountain, where a portion of the novel is set, to create their vision of a better world. Conner, by the way, is the name of a boy who was born, around the time I was writing the story, to Scott and Kathy Rundell, good friends that still live on the plains of Kansas.