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"If you ever wanted a second chance, if you ever wanted to do it all over and do it right, then listen to Joe Kita. He did it for all of us." (Regis Philbin)
We all have our regrets, but rarely do we give ourselves a chance to try to do anything about them. After turning forty, Joe Kita set out to relive his top-twenty personal regrets. In Another Shot he recounts his adventures-from the hilarious to the poignant. Dismayed that he may have missed his sexual peak, he convinces his wife to enroll with him in sex camp. Bemoaning the selling of his first love, a powerhouse Camaro, he hires a private detective to find it. Still smarting from the sting of getting cut from his high school basketball team, he convinces his alma mater's coach to let him try out for the squad again-more than twenty years later.
Above all, though, it's Kita's relationships with his family that haunt him. His interaction with his mother has always been strained, and he attempts to understand her by taking her out for a special night. Kita even tries to get in touch with his late father through a medium because he never got to say goodbye. At once witty and profound, Another Shot offers a glimpse into the hopes and worries of a regular guy and speaks to everyone about not letting regrets keep us from enjoying the rest of our lives.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.78(h) x 0.55(d)|
About the Author
Joe Kita is a writer for Men's Health magazine. A journalist for more than twenty years, he was nominated for a National Magazine Award in 1997.
Getting cut from the high school basketball team
I feel like I have a knife in my heart," gasps the kid next to me. I nod agreement, doubled over in my own breathless agony, sweat puddling at my feet.
"Juniors and seniors to the line!" yells the coach, impatiently thumbing his stopwatch. "We'll do 10 in 55 seconds this time. Ready? Go!"
Basketball players call these full-court sprints suicides. But you'll never fully appreciate the irony of this nickname until you attempt to do almost 100 per day for 2 consecutive weeks with kids 20 years your junior.
I'm subjecting myself to this because although I am 40, I want to make my high school basketball team.
No, really. Over two decades after being cut from the team my senior year, I've convinced my alma mater's principal and head basketball coach to let me have a second chance.
If you find this hard to believe, then you probably were never cut from any team. It's the adolescent equivalent of being fired, except that when you're a teenager, you don't have a safety net of self-confidence to catch you. No matter how diplomatically it's done, the basic message is still "We don't want you."
I got the word 20 years ago in a dank locker-room office. The coach called me in after practice and told me that although he was impressed by my effort, he was going to have to let me go. "Sorry. Thanks for working so hard. Next!"
I remember emerging from that office pale, not wanting to meet any of my teammates' eyes because they weren't my teammates any longer. No one asked me how it went, no one slapped my back in consolation. At that age, failure freezes you, whether it's your own or someone else's. I just kept my head down, grabbed my gym bag, and fled.
But now I'm back. For a couple of weeks (10 days of conditioning, 3 days of tryouts), I'll practice with the Notre Dame Crusaders near Easton, Pennsylvania, after which I'll learn again whether I've made the cut or not. Although league rules prohibit me from suiting up and playing in actual games, for as long as it lasts, I'll be treated as just another kid.
No special favors, no fewer suicides. There are 14 varsity spots and 19 of us vying for them.
Beyond restoring some long-lost pride, the goal of this absurd experiment is to assess firsthand what a man loses and gains with age. For instance, I'd like to think I'm smarter than I was in high school. But even if I am, is this of any value when I'm squared off against a snake-quick senior point guard who spots the open lane?
In sports-bar recollections of our glory days, we never confess to losing a step or misplacing that magic touch. Our jumpers still catch nothing but net, our base hits are always line drives, and all our passes are perfect spirals.
My aim is to find out how badly we've been lying.
Lesson 1: You can train yourself to be fitter than a teenager but that's because most teenagers are in lousy shape.
It's the first day of conditioning, and we're choosing sides to run suicides.
Not surprisingly, I'm the last one picked. Since we do these drills in teams, with penalties for exceeding the time limit, it's poor strategy to have a balding, gray-haired, middle-age guy on your squad. That's like volunteering to puke.
Which is why a senior named Derrick, with a large, apparently self-carved scar on his right arm, looks sick when I hustle out to join his team. No one says anything to me. Even though Coach Pat Boyle explained beforehand what I was doing, few kids seem impressed. But that's okay. Let them think I'm a slow old man. At least I have a clear complexion.
What they don't know, however, is that I've been training for this moment for 2 months. I've been lifting weights, doing jumping drills, running, and playing lunchtime hoops with the desperate intent of not being embarrassed by any teenagers.
Conversely, most of these kids seem to have approached tryouts the same way they do algebra: Don't worry about it until the exam. This quickly becomes apparent as we run the drills, and I'm not last. In fact, sometimes I finish first as kids either give up, collapse, or retch into a nearby trash can. Still, my team finishes well over the time limit, meaning that more suicides await.
Nevertheless, it's an ego-booster to realize that I can outrun these kids, if only because I'm temporarily better trained. Exercise physiologists contend that endurance actually improves with age, and I'm apparently proving it. This may result from losing so many brain cells that pain isn't transmitted as swiftly or felt as sharply, but that's beside the point. The important thing is that I'm still standing and many of the kids are not.
Realizing that his gym has become a battlefield, Coach Boyle periodically gives us the opportunity to halve our penalty by making a foul shot. My team's first attempt, by a sweat-stricken senior named Dan, fails, and we all silently wish him dead. After we run more suicides, the coach calls my name. Instantly, I'm back in third-period biology with Sister Attila asking me to stand and detail the life cycle of a hellgrammite. I dry my sweaty hands, slowly walk to the front of the class, dribble, and let it fly. The shot arches through the air in silent, slow motion, hits the front of the rim, rebounds off the glass, and falls in. A cheer erupts, and my palm tingles from high fives.
Later that evening, I drive home in the passing lane, blasting Aerosmith. When I glance at myself in the rearview mirror, I think I spot a pimple.
Lesson 2: Every man needs a team.
Lesson 3: Every man needs a coach.
Each day's session ends with us huddling together in a sweaty knot. After Coach Boyle either chastises or congratulates us, we pile our hands together and say "team" in low, reverent unison. I look at the arms around me to see if anyone else has goose bumps.
Team. It must be the promise of commitment and glory that the word holds. It makes me feel privileged, that I'm a part of something that matters. I want to grit my teeth, whiten my knuckles, and run more suicides. Perhaps weddings should end this way, and family meals, and business meetings.
As we age, men belong to fewer and fewer teams. We become proud, solitary beings who think independence is the mark of maturity. We reclaim some of this bond vicariously by rooting for professional teams, but it's not the same. The experience is dilute. Being a member of a real team means setting definitive goals, making definable progress, and most importantly, having comrades with whom to share defeats and victories. It surprises me how much I've missed this, how much I need this.
There's a similar satisfaction in having a coach. Even though Coach Boyle is 12 years younger than I and more of a Newt than a Knute, it's reassuring to see him every afternoon. He comes to represent a very defined and focused part of my day. All I'm expected to do is follow orders and respond to the best of my ability. The only reward is his positive acknowledgment. But that is enough. There's something so enjoyably mechanical about it all, it becomes almost relaxing.
While there are lots of people giving us orders, there's a critical shortage of people acting as coaches. A true coach wants you to improve and succeed, as much for yourself as for the team. He's the objective taskmaster your father could never be, the field psychologist who understands what drives you. Coaches are the only men that guys aren't too proud to listen to and accept advice from. That's why it's important to have one in your life. It keeps you humble and on course.
Coach Boyle catches one of the kids in a lie. The kid gave a bogus excuse and skipped a couple of practices earlier in the week. So one afternoon, after the rest of us have finished running suicides, he's singled out to run some more. We sit along the bleachers and watch him suffer, the only sound in the gym being the squeak of his sneakers and the coach's admonitions to run faster. Ten, 20, 30 sprints. At one point, he collapses under the basket, and we listen for the curses that he must be thinking. But he silently rises and does 10, 20, 30 more. During his last set, the entire team spontaneously starts clapping and yelling his name. His pace visibly quickens, and when he staggers across the line, there's a certain amount of satisfaction and conquest in us all.
Lesson 4: Maybe it would help to have cheerleaders around the office.
We're into the second week of conditioning, and I'm early for practice today. In fact, I'm the only other person in the gym besides the varsity cheerleaders. I sit nervously alone on the bleachers, trying not to stare at anyone's pompoms. After a while, their coach ambles over and politely asks if she can help me. I feel like a shifty-eyed thief who has just been spotted by store security.
"I, uh, I'm waiting for basketball practice to start."
"Oh," she replies, "are you a parent?"
"No, I'm trying out for the team."
At this point, if there were a red emergency buzzer under the bleachers, I'm sure she would have pressed it. Realizing how crazy this must sound, I explain who I am and what I'm attempting to do. I even show her a business card from the magazine I work for, hoping that it carries the same weight as a hall pass. She seems satisfied, although still a bit skeptical, and goes back to the girls.
After a while, some of the guys arrive, but instead of the usual prepractice roughhousing, they all settle down next to me on the bleachers. There is no conversation. Everyone is transfixed, jaws slack, watching. When a line of cheerleaders bends over and wiggles, the kid alongside me gasps.
"What do you think of that, Mr. Kita?" asks Derrick with a sly smile.
"I still think of that," I reply, mentally checking off one more thing that 20 years has not dampened. "I still think of that...."
All this accumulating testosterone apparently finds an outlet during practice, because we run our conditioning drills faster than ever. In fact, the junior/senior team I'm part of finishes just 2 seconds off the school record. Hmmm. Maybe we've finally stumbled upon the foolproof performance enhancer. Think of the possibilities if we could somehow get an audience with the Laker Girls.
As we huddle afterward, Coach Boyle announces that only two players have run every sprint and made every practice in these two weeks: a spry little sophomore and a 40-year-old alumnus. I have the feeling, though, that he's goading the rest of the team by displaying what has beaten their sorry selves. Nonetheless, the congratulations are sweet.
And if I'm not mistaken, I think one of the cheerleaders likes me.
Lesson 5: Speed is the first thing that goes.
Lesson 6: Smarts won't make up for it.
There's a certain nervous intensity in the locker room today. Part of it is that I feel self-conscious that I still don't have Tommy Hilfiger underwear sticking out of my gym trunks, but most of it stems from the collective realization that it's show time. The skill each of us exhibits during the next three days of tryouts will decide our fates.
No doubt about it, I'm psyched. I'm ready to call for the ball and kick some adolescent ass. But at the same time, I feel guilty about even wanting to try. On one hand, I'm expected to excel; I'm a grown man, for God's sake. But on the other, what will I really prove by doing so?
This dilemma is quickly resolved, however, once we start scrimmaging. In the first game, I'm guarding a 230-pound sophomore named Andy. The kid is like a refrigerator with limbs. He has almost 70 pounds on me--most of this, undoubtedly, Big Macs--and when he posts me down low, there's nothing I can do to stop him. Nothing.
Next, I'm up against a 6-foot-6 junior named Eddie. This still-growing boy is so tall that the Federal Aviation Administration is trying to get him to wear a blinking red light atop his head. He has 6 inches on me, which means I'm more of a pest than a test. When he gets the ball inside, it's an automatic two.
Finally, I move out to the guard position and square off against senior co-captain Tate. I outsize him by 2 inches and 15 pounds, but he is quicker than a 3-year-old in Macy's china department. Once he realizes how easily he can gain a step on me, I become nothing more than a matador.
And so the gains I've been gloating over in endurance are quickly offset by these glaring losses in strength, jumping ability, and speed. I would never have noticed a 1/2-inch less vertical leap or a split-second delay in reaction time had I not pitted myself against these young Bulls. But now that I have, the gap appears depressingly wide.
There is also a reckless passion among these boys that I don't share. They play the game with skillful abandon because they consider themselves invincible. When the ball squirts free, they pounce like cats--all instinct and adrenaline. Whereas when I see a loose ball, there's a moment's hesitation during which I gauge the twinge in my knee against my chance of actually grabbing the ball.
If anything, I've become a more thoughtful athlete in these 20 years, but that's not necessarily an advantage. In fact, in a game like basketball, some say intelligence hinders a player by further separating action from reaction.
Fortunately, as the scrimmaging continues, I do better. My stamina eventually outlasts their skill. Red-faced Andy begins to labor up and down the court, leaving me open for a few fast breaks. Fatigue becomes lead in Eddie's shoes, and I'm able to box him out for a rebound or two. And once, when Tate isn't looking, I disrupt his dribble and steal the ball.
Afterward, they all slap my hand and say, "Good game." And I think they genuinely mean it.
Just as I had been promised, I was merely one of the group today. No special treatment, no go-easy-on-the-old-guy. For the first time in this experiment, I truly felt like a high school kid, and no doubt it was because I was doing what kids do best: play. In fact, there were times when I lost all awareness of my outside appearance. It was my ageless soul--the one that thrives inside each of us--on that court, striving and smiling.
A senior Olympian once told me that despite all his wrinkles and white hair, he forever felt 12 years old inside. I understand now what he meant. Take away the mirrors in our world, not only those above our sinks but also those in society's eyes, and you instantly become younger. Indeed, if it weren't for the back-to-reality shake of a Tylenol bottle in my gym bag as I left practice, I very well might have hopped into my Dodge Grand Caravan and peeled out.
Lesson 7: Rest is the most delightful drug.
Time travel is not without cost. This morning I feel like a rusty tin man. Just when we had grown accustomed to suicides, yesterday Coach Boyle replaced them with defensive slides. In this exercise, you crouch and quickly shuffle in whichever direction he points. Since the movement employs little-used muscles along the inner thighs, I am nearly paralyzed. But this doesn't worry me as much as the bizarre pains I have with no pinpointable cause. For instance, there's an annoying one in the heel of my right foot and another, of all places, in my left testicle. I mean, what the hell can that be other than my body's way of telling me I'm a nut?
Because of the 360-degree movement that basketball requires, it's the first sport I've played in adulthood that has made me feel old. What's sobering is that I see no other limps on the court this afternoon. In fact, even though I'm probably in the best shape of my life, I don't feel fit. I keep waiting for my body to shrug aside the soreness, but the one elixir an older athlete needs, the steroid all seniors crave--rest--isn't being dispensed.
I've even gained 5 pounds. Before I had been used to doing long, steady bicycle rides and runs. Now my exercise is coming in short, intense bursts, which evidently doesn't combust as much fat. Either that or I'm getting chubby just guarding Andy.
Lesson 8: What you lack in skill, you can make up for in heart.
"You nervous?" asks Coach Boyle with a grin, as our last practice ends.
"Nervous and beat up," I reply, trying to simultaneously rub my knee, shoulder, and head after a bruising scrimmage.
"Okay, everybody bring it in here!" he yells, calling us all to center court. After explaining that cuts will be made in private, he orders the juniors and seniors to the bleachers by the door and the rest to the stairwell outside the locker room.
And so the drumroll begins again. Coach Boyle first meets with the varsity captains in the hall, then begins calling us out one by one. We sit on the bleachers trying to be cool, one kid dribbling a basketball, another humming to some music in his head. When a marginal player disappears through the swinging doors, we listen for the gunshot that we know will finish him off.
"So you think you'll make the team?" asks Derrick jokingly.
"I heard I got your spot," I reply, deadpan.
Even though I realize this is all stage play, my palms are still sweaty and my smile slightly forced. I can feel the weighty hopes of every weekend warrior on my shoulders. If I make the team, then I've proved that age is not so tough a foe. If I don't, then there's always donkey basketball.
Frank, a dark-haired fireplug of a senior, returns through the doors and sits down next to me. Someone asks if he made it, and he shakes his head no, too choked up to even mumble the word. I suddenly get the urge to drape my arm around this kid and confess that I know what he's feeling--that I've been there and that it's manageable. But even 20 years later, I'm still frozen by failure. It's a contagion I can't bring myself to touch. So I swallow hard, along with everyone else, and we go back to dribbling, humming, and hoping.
I spring for the door like I should have for every loose ball. And suddenly, I'm back in 1977, standing across from a coach who shakes my hand and tells me he's been impressed by my effort. "You have a lot of heart," says Coach Boyle. "You really gave 100 percent out there. And...
"And anyone who shows me they want to play as much as you did deserves to make the team. While you wouldn't be a starter, I'd use you on the press team. That's our 9th through 14th guys, who run the opponent. Congratulations."
I want to hug him. I want to find my old coach who cut me and tell him he was wrong. I want to ask one of those cheerleaders to the prom. I want to hike up my underwear. I want to retake my SATs. I want to finagle a second chance at everything I've ever failed at in life. I want to tell Frank not to give up hope. And most of all, I want to stay with this team.
"I'll be in the stands for your first game," I say, pumping Coach Boyle's hand, "just in case you need me."
When I eventually let go and head for the locker room, I feel as if I'm wearing Reebok Pumps inflated to cloud 9 level. There's still a bunch of underclassmen jamming the stairwell, and when they see me, someone asks if I made it. I flash them a double thumbs-up, and that stairwell becomes like the Boston Garden to me, reverberating with cheers.
Besides learning that the boy inside us never dies, I learned the value of heart from this experience. Although I still don't have the ability and skill of a lot of these kids, I trained, I prepared, and I won on heart. It's firsthand proof that the cliché is true: If you set your mind to something, you really can accomplish it. You can lead and succeed via your skill, which is easy when you're young. But you can also lead and succeed via your heart, which we often forget when we're old.
As I leave the gym for the last time, Derrick comes over to administer one more back pat. "I'm so happy," he says. "Finally, there's someone on the team who's old enough to buy beer."
Table of Contents
|Chapter 1||Getting Cut from the High School Basketball Team||1|
|Chapter 2||Not Being Filthy Rich||12|
|Chapter 3||Never Having the Courage to Ask Her Out||21|
|Chapter 4||Getting Rid of My First Car||28|
|Chapter 5||Losing My Hair||44|
|Chapter 6||Not Getting Along with Mom||54|
|Chapter 7||Never Being Able to Find God||68|
|Chapter 8||Missing My Sexual Peak||86|
|Chapter 9||Having Dad Die without Saying Goodbye||100|
|Chapter 10||Never Learning How to Surf||108|
|Chapter 11||Working My Life Away||119|
|Chapter 12||Never Pulling the Trigger||127|
|Chapter 13||Not Having Washboard Abs||138|
|Chapter 14||Being Very Afraid||146|
|Chapter 15||Never Winning the Big Prize at a Carnival||156|
|Chapter 16||Not Being a Real Man||166|
|Chapter 17||Not Taking Better Care of Myself||179|
|Chapter 18||Mistreating a Dog||192|
|Chapter 19||Not Having a Hero||200|
|Chapter 20||Missing Our Wedding||212|