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It’s 4 pm on the last warm Sunday of the calendar year and the handball courts in Sunset Park are packed. Stefanos Chen brings us one player’s last desperate minutes to find a pickup game before dark.

By Stefanos Chen

It’s 4 pm on possibly the last warm Sunday of the calendar year and the handball courts in Sunset Park are packed. A motley crew of teens, ‘tweens and indeterminate youths squat around the edges of the fenced-in perimeter as they wait for one last showdown at sundown—one last game to carry them through the shut-in months of winter. No one is watching the sunset.

The wall is a massive slab of poured concrete, divided into three separate courts by broad swipes of orange paint, like an unfinished triptych. There are three doubles games in play, side by side, four kids per court. Each game has its own row of spectator/challengers who switch off between calling the shots and shouting obscenities.

The handball court in Sunset Park. Photo: Chen/The Brooklyn Ink

The handball court in Sunset Park. Photo: Chen/The Brooklyn Ink

“It’s been, like, point-game for the longest time,” says an older boy who’s been waiting to play for close to an hour. He wears black and blue from head to toe, his growing beard is landscaped into a pencil thin line and his hair is cropped into neat cornrows. The ends of his braids stick out from his Yankees cap as he sighs and stares down at his impeccable Pumas.

“Nah, we’re gonna push!” comes a higher pitched voice from the far right court. “Relax, I got this.”

Most games end at 21, but when the game is tied at 20, the players can agree to “push” the score until they reach a decisive victory. If the players need another tiebreaker, they “push” the game again. And again, as 10, then 20 minutes elapse. It’s too late to challenge the winners of the middle court;  a new game has already started. And on the far left court, an older man rifles through a small stack of singles with a five in the middle—money game; no hope of playing there. Black and blue grumbles to himself as he presses up against the fence, staring daggers into the players.

Just outside the chain-link fence, a police car drives by at a crawl, signaling the start of the evening patrol. Black and Blue strikes up a conversation with a new kid, who isn’t looking to play at all. They talk for a few minutes, but their words are unclear. “Yesterday…f..ked my whole day,” he says to the new kid. Between words, he occasionally looks up at the handball game and listens for the score. It’s getting harder to spot the tiny rubber ball as it whizzes back and forth.

“Man, what is this push shit?” Black and Blue grumbles aloud. One of the players, a youngish boy the others call “Dragon” volunteers an answer.

“Was I talking to you?” Black and Blue asks. “Inevertalk to you.”

“You’re talking to me right now.”

The game continues at a snail’s pace. One of the players announces the handball equivalent of double over-time: “Game 31!” he says. It’s just after 5 o’clock and the park lights have come on. The court on the left has emptied and the middle court players are getting ready to leave. Black and Blue plugs in his earbuds and walks away.

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7 Responses to “Push”

  1. Daniel Roberts
    November 12, 2009 at 2:48 PM #

    Great HIB. I want to play handball.

  2. Lisa Riordan Seville
    November 12, 2009 at 6:51 PM #

    I’ve spent so much time there lurking around! A whole world captured within a chain-link fence.

  3. Britney
    February 23, 2010 at 2:49 PM #

    I would love to write and say what a great job you did on this, as you have put a lot of work into it.

  4. Chuck Donatich
    March 22, 2010 at 9:55 AM #

    Yeah season continues with episode 12 I’m happy because ABC is making more episodes for flashforward because it was a fight between them for episodes

  5. Mark Rathbun
    March 28, 2010 at 6:28 AM #

    Great Article 🙂

  6. Alloy Car Wheels
    April 21, 2010 at 4:59 AM #

    I like the way you have shared this post. It made me imagine how the handball court looks like. Thanks!

  7. Tyler
    June 5, 2010 at 5:25 PM #

    Discussed on the same topic this morning and totally agree with you lol

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