“Int’ those basketball players tall?” – a phrase odd enough in isolation, but when said apropos of nothing, when purchasing a shirt, without any basketball players in sight, is odder still.
I stand on the other side of the cash desk to this eccentric individual who was initially a man, but has now cast himself irrevocably as an oddball. The marbled worktop is no longer of aesthetic value, but now serves a vital function: it separates me from madness. But just how much madness?
I look him in his agitated, darting eyes: Excuse me?
He repeats his intriguing phrase: Int’ those basketball players tall?
I try and look for further clues about his person that might explain his curious mania. His clothes seem ordinary enough, fashionable even, crisp and clean without tears or stains. His hair is well groomed, topping a fresh-shaven face. He seems entirely incapable of such psychosis.
Perhaps he has discovered something that the rest of the World has not. Has he studied NBA statistics and revealed an exponential increase in the average height of the once-regular, now-gigantic basketballer? Maybe he has seen the starting line-up of the Denver Nuggets sneaking around in the background, moving our things about and making them hard to find?
No. Interrogation must begin, lest his bizarre thoughts pollute my unsullied mind. I ask him a simple question, but the only one that could possibly be appropriate.
“Int’ those basketball players tall?”
I try to diffuse the situation, and conceal this conversational oddity before it spreads further.
“Well”, I laugh with little conviction “They have to be tall, otherwise they would be rubbish.”
And then, as if summoned by some sinister basketball overlord, I see Ronnie Corbett dribbling a ball between his tiny legs, pumping like fleshy pistons, a Chicago Bulls vest flapping loosely over his dipping and diving shoulders. Two tall American-African-Americans follow him at pace, rolling forward a full-sized basketball hoop on wheels. Corbett eyes it hungrily, and like an eagle ready to seize upon prey, dashes for his target.
He twists and pirouettes, corkscrewing into the air, arcing high, so high. He defies gravity, and invites words of poetry to roll from the gaping mouths of all that see him perform the perfect lay-up. He holds on to the rim of the hoop as the ball swishes cotton, dropping emphatically past dangling, diminutive limbs.
One of his team-mates turns to me grinning, his friend having shown his skills as planned. “And it’s goodnight from him, mofucka!” he says, pumping his fist in affirmation.
I watch as they lift up Corbett onto the cash desk. He points a thumb over his shoulder to the eccentric customer, “And by the way, he isn’t crazy, you are.”
And as his team-mates whoop in agreement and help him down to the floor where, as Corbett’s feet land on the ground, the sweatband wrapped tight around his forehead springs with a loud ‘boing’ away from his skull and into the air, reducing me to ridiculous fits of laughter.
And as crowds of people stoop over me while I convulse on the floor, I hear a lone, familiar voice say “Int’ those basketball players good?”