back to the Black Table

 There was chaos at the small railroad apartment just off the corner of West Fourth Street and Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village, and the people causing the ruckus were lucky nobody called the police.

If you stood outside the door, or in the hall of the floor below, or even out on the street, you could hear them. At first it seemed like they were laughing and having fun, talking trash to each other, being jestingly competitive. But then it escalated. The couple’s voices started rising. Then they were screaming. You heard stuff being thrown across the room. You heard the couple’s pet howling for quiet. The floor shook as they jumped up and down.

It all ended with a loud, violent “MotherFUCKER!” and a piercing wail of “You know what? Fuck this stupid game we’re playing! I’m sick of it!” Then another loud bang. There was no weeping, not yet anyway, but the pain was evident. This couple was ruthless, vile, twisted. Whatever mess they were in, they were in it deep.

Mercifully, the neighbor decided she couldn’t take this anymore, not at 11:30 at night, no way. She walked across the hall and rang the doorbell, nervous that she was about to become a witness to some gruesome bloodbath, but still undeniably (and understandably) irritated. Someone had to say something. People were trying to sleep, you know.

My roommate opened the door. “Oh, jeez, ma’am, I’m sorry,” he said in his best North Carolina-reared, oh-so-polite Southern accent. “We were just playing a game in here, and it was a really close game, and we got a little carried away. I’m sorry, sorry. Won’t happen again.” I was glad he answered the door (upon hearing the doorbell, I immediately hid under the bed); I was still too fired up to carry on a normal conversation, particularly one in which I needed to look remorseful.

He closed the door, I crawled out from under the bed and we met at the couch. “Shit, we were kind of loud, eh?” I said.


“Maybe we should try to keep it down, no?”

“Might be a good idea.”

“Well, it’s just ... there’s no freaking way Cota can hit four straight three-pointers with Bradford right in his face. No freaking way.”

“Hey, Easy Ed’s the man.”

And then we sat back down, took the PlayStation off pause and proceeded to have Brian’s Tar Heels wax the Assembly Hall floor with my Fighting Illini. Then we marked it down in the book (106-87, 34 points for Brendan Haywood, 28 for Easy Ed Cota, 23 for Brian Cook in a losing cause), and then played again. Quieter this time

Readers, you shall be the first to whom I admit it: I am a video game addict, specifically an NBA Live 2000/March Madness 2000/PlayStation addict, and it’s becoming a real problem. I try to read, write, ponder, mull, pontificate, masticate, abdicate, but I end up in front of the TV, flipping the damn machine on and trying to figure out how to get Toni Kukoc’s post-up game working again. I have dreams at night of Rusty LaRue at the point, trying to figure out a way to get the ball into Elton Brand without Will Perdue getting in the friggin’ way. I even once dreamt that I was out there, playing digital equivalents of Derrick Coleman and Robert Horry, taking the charge, draining the trey. I lost that game, too.

My roommate is my enabler. We used to work at The Sporting News together, and we initially bonded over the PlayStation. He was the new guy, a quiet, shy, friendly sort who didn’t drink (making him a bit of a challenge for my fellow lushes), and I wanted to welcome him the way I had been welcomed. (Well, minus the sheep molestation that is typical of any Sporting News hazing ritual, dating back to the days of Red Smith and Alfred H. Spink. Hey, maybe I shouldn’t have revealed that.) So we hung out by playing NBA Live 99 on his PlayStation, simulating the playoffs and drafting All-Star teams to battle.

Of course, we lived about 10 miles away from each other then, as opposed to 10 feet. Now it’s out of control. We have steno pads filled with statistics from each of our nine or ten games a week, and every waking moment when we’re home at the same time, the damn game is on. We’ve even spent Saturday nights just sitting there, listening to Mos Def (his choice) and Meat Loaf (mine) and playing until 3 a.m. We’re lucky enough to never be interrupted by girls calling.

I’ve always been like this. My parents wanted their son to have a well-rounded growing-up experience, so they held off buying me a Nintendo. This just meant I would find kids in the neighborhood, usually younger and more easily pushed around, who had one, and I’d commandeer it to play Excitebike, or Metroid, or Bases Loaded. I also have been taken in by trivia games, ranging from the high-tech (those bars that have those interactive games where you compete against fellow drunks) to the just plain dorky (those insert-a-quarter contraptions you find next to the dart board at hole-in-the-wall dives).

In fact, it’s kind of funny how the games and my drinking run hand-in-hand. Last Sunday, my editor and I decided to grab a drink, watch the Lakers game and get caught up on matters. We ended up at this place right by my apartment, which, lo and behold, had not only one of those quarter machines, but also little booths where you could hook up a PlayStation and battle it out over vodka tonics. We sat there for about three hours, drinking and playing Triple Play 97. The sun shined vibrantly outside.

My roommate and I, as you’ve probably gathered, are intensely competitive in our showdowns. In fact, to be entirely honest, after I finish this column, I’m going to head home and fire it up again. The trash-talking shall ensue again. “Hey, nice shot, bitch! You like that? Do you? You want some more? Yeah, take that, I’ll give you some more! You’re my little bitch now!”

I’m sure there’s no way anyone overhearing us in the hall would draw any wrong conclusions.



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