Pulling onto the dirt road that meanders toward Rott Schnakebitte’s house, I spotted Rott shooting hoops. He banked a nice hook shot off a backboard that hung precariously from the back wall of his headhouse. On those occasions when Rott and I had nothing better to do we sometimes played horse; the penalty for banking a shot with sufficient force to knock the backboard off the wall was three letters.)
Rott is very good basketball player, one of the numerous things many people don’t know about him. He was getting ready to take another shot when he spotted me. He let the ball roll off his fingers and assumed his dejected-puppy-dog pose. I guessed he was expecting me to give him grief about the two hundred bucks I had recently invested in his newest side venture – a floral photography studio. But I knew that he had backed his truck over his camera and I was not going to begrudge a man for an unavoidable act of nature.
The business that brought me to Rott’s place, perhaps for the last time, was of a much more poignant nature. I was coming to say goodbye. After getting out of my car, I paused a moment to take in the sweep of Rott’s ten acres, an interesting piece of land that observers have described as both "impenetrable hardpan" and "treacherous gumbo." Rott and I then simultaneously followed the progress of the dropped basketball as it rolled off the driveway, into the gully, and proceeded toward Rott’s pond, known locally as a prime place to observe the primal battle for supremacy between leeches and crayfish.
"That was a nice basket," I said by way of greeting after processing one of the weirdest sounds I had ever heard – the "glob-glub"sound of a basketball dropping onto a matt of pond scum as thick as drywall.
"It’s all in the fingertips," Rott replied.
I cut to the chase. "Rott, remember last week when I mentioned that I was having mysterious dreams about chickens?" Rott nodded. "Well the other day I got wind of an opportunity to be the editor of a poultry magazine."
"Must’ve gave you pause for thought."
"You kidding! When the forces of karma converge like that, you don’t stop and think! You leap!"
"Well it ain’t my way of doing things, but then I’m not a man to tell another man how to think."
"Do you think GPN’s readers will miss me?"
"Oh, I do believe you’ve given a few of my colleagues a chuckle. I guess my concern is whether you’re leaving GPN in capable hands."
"Of course GPN’s in capable hands. I was just along for the ride!"
"Well, I can’t say that I’ve never given thought to getting out of this godforsaken business. Fortunately, Bulga’s making decent money in town at the Jiffy Lube. And whenever I’m about ready to chuck it, she always reminds that this is the one thing in the world, besides her, that makes me truly happy."
"Once, again we stand in awe of the incredible generosity of women."
"Amen," Rott replied. He sauntered over toward his headhouse and pulled from the weeds a second basketball. "Up for a quick game of one-on-one?" he asked.
"Nah, I better go back and clean out my office."
Rott fixed me with a pensive stare. "You having second thoughts?"
"Partner, there’s no looking back once you make your move."
"Well, I’m not saying ‘Good luck.’ Never cared for people who’ve said that to me. How about, ‘Shake a tailfeather?’’
"Appreciate it, Rott," I said as I walked toward my car. I looked back, hoping perhaps for another nod of farewell. Rott was in the gully; we used to call it "buzzer-beater land." Staring in seemingly aimless fashion at the treeline beyond his pond, Rott sent the ball arcing over his head with a powerhouse hook. At its apex I fixed that ball to memory. Today, tomorrow and beyond, that ball hangs poised against the endless, heartbreaking, blue sky of August, a tribute to a man who launched a money shot only to impress his father, who taught him the game of basketball, and perhaps the barn swallows, winging overhead drunk on speed and grace, putting even Michael Jordan to shame with their moves.
Those who know Rott can attest that he has the sweetest hook shot this side of French Lick, Indiana. Those who really know Rott are those who have sat with this amazing man on cold, winter nights and watched him coax yet-to-be-described plants from faraway alpine valleys out of dormancy and into bloom.
Rott is the real deal. He’s a grower.
This is Tom Cosgrove’s final GPN column.