Bumblebee black-and-yellow finish. Katzkin leather interior. Convertible soft top. 2.2L inline-four engine. Nearly salivating, Dustin stared at the sleek ‘04 Honda S2000 on his phone, dribbling a basketball with his free hand.
Next to the image, an asking price: $20,000. With a sigh and a shake of his head, he pocketed his phone, looked up. Another sigh slipped through his lips. Yellow caution tape entangled all the ball hoops in the park across the street.
The courts were out of commission.
Dustin went to check out the nets on West 4th Street — all being used. So were both of the courts down near Canal. Dustin tried one more spot, and when he discovered that it too was in use, he decided to pack it in and head home.
As he shuffled past the restaurants and shops on West Broadway, sulking, he spotted it — a rusty old basketball hoop-and-backboard, fixed to a brick wall in an alley. Dustin stopped, stared at the net for a moment — frowning, thinking. Then he shrugged and headed into the alley.
It was better than nothing…
He tossed down his schoolbag, slapped on a pair of headphones, put on some music. Dribbling his ball to the beat, Dustin drove to the hoop and went for a layup. The ball caught the edge of the rim, rolled around it a few times — a toilet bowl shot. Then finally gravity did its work and the ball sank.
As it fell through the hoop, the strangest thing happened: a crisp pale-green dollar bill suddenly appeared inside the net—out of thin air — and then fluttered to the ground. Creases furrowing his brow, Dustin went over and picked up the bill, looked from it to the hoop and back.
Pocketing the dollar, he retrieved his basketball, went for another layup. Again, as the ball went through the net, a dollar bill materialized in mid-air inside the hoop and began flittering down.
This time, Dustin caught it before it hit the ground, whipped out the other dollar, held them side by side. For a moment, he stared at the two bills — slack-jawed. Then slowly, his lips curled into a grin.
He sunk another bucket, and another, and another — pocketing his reward for a made-shot after each one. Soon, though, his pockets couldn’t hold any more bills. They were overflowing. So he emptied all the binders and the books from his schoolbag and started filling it with cash.
Dustin stuffed every pouch of that bag full of singles until it, too, was at capacity — and night had fallen over the city. In total, he must have crammed a couple thousand dollars in there — and made just as many shots.
And even though he could barely lift his arms from all the shooting, Dustin wasn’t ready to call it quits yet. He wanted to run around the corner to a convenience store, snag himself another bag to store more of the bills. He was afraid that if he called it a day now and came back tomorrow, the magic money hoop would no longer reward him for each bucket drained. The well might run dry.
On the other hand, it was getting late and he still had a good walk home ahead of him. Plus, two bags and two pockets bursting at the seams with money was sure to make him a target on the nighttime streets of New York.
With a sigh, Dustin resigned to pack it in and come back bright and early the following morning. Before he departed, however, he made sure to take down the address of the alley and snap a picture of it and the shops that flanked it.
Standing over his bed, Dustin upended his bulging schoolbag, dumping out the sea of dollar bills within. The cash plopped down on his mattress, forming a little mountain of green. Dustin then emptied the bills from his pockets, added them to the pile, stood back, and beheld the day’s windfall — beaming.
From beneath his bed, he pulled out a big empty duffle bag, set it down on the mattress next to his little mountain of money. Then he raced over to his desk, snatched a pen and a little black notebook, and returned with them to his bed.
From his heap of cash, Dustin grabbed a handful of singles, counted out five bills, set them aside in a pile of their own. He did this again and again, until he had ten such piles. Then he jotted down a ‘50’ in his notebook, gathered up the ten piles, and chucked them inside the duffle.
And then he started all over again.
Little by little, the mountain of money shrunk — until it was closer to a molehill than a mountain, and the inside of his duffle was an ocean of green. He went to count out yet another five bills from what remained of the once mountainous heap of cash, discovered there were only three left.
He tossed the trio in his duffle, marked down the deposit in his notebook. Then he whipped out his phone and began tallying up the numbers he’d written down. After he finished, he gazed at the final figure, wide-eyed.
Dustin hardly slept that night. He just couldn’t stop thinking about that magical ball hoop, about the $2213 currently in the duffle beneath his bed, about that sleek sporty bumblebee S2000 — no longer some wishful fantasy. No, a few more sessions with that money hoop and it would be his.
(He’d have some explaining to do to his mother, of course. But if and when she asked about the car, he’d just tell her that he won it on a lucky lottery ticket.)
As soon as morning’s first light seeped through his blinds, he was up, at ‘em, and out the door — in one arm his basketball, in the other an empty school bag that would soon be full and worth a hundred times its current value. At least he hoped…
Twenty minutes later, Dustin was back at the alley, back at the money hoop. He set up beneath the net, wondering if it would still reward him for a bucket drained, worried that it wouldn’t. Dustin got his answer a moment later when he went for a layup. The ball banked off the backboard, sunk through the hoop, and dropped to the ground — trailed by an ever so slowly falling dollar bill.
Joyous relief washed over him.
His relief quickly turned to excitement. Buzzing, Dustin got to work, picking up where he had left off the day before, sinking buckets and collecting cash. For the first few hundred shots or so, he couldn’t keep the smile off his face as he watched the money pile up in his bag. He was like a kid in a candy store. Each dollar brought him closer to that beautiful black-and-yellow convertible.
But then his arms and his shoulders started to feel heavy, sore. And the repetition of it all began to bore him. And by around the thousandth shot — or at least what felt to him like the thousandth shot — Dustin was more than ready for a little break.
But he pushed on, carried forward by a vision of him cruising around the streets of New York in his soon-to-be new car — top down, engine revving, the eyeballs of every passerby glued to him.
So long as there was room for another buck in his bag, he wasn’t going to be stopping.
Despite the tedium and the pain, Dustin kept on draining shots, kept on gathering up dollar bills, until his bag was again swollen with cash. He had to take out a handful of bills just so that all the zippers would shut fully. He hid the excess under the leg of a dumpster.
Dustin returned home with his hard-earned cash, counted how much he had made that morning ($2612) then marked down what his grand total was now up to ($4825) in his little black notebook. Then he transferred the new funds to his duffle bag and collapsed into his bed.
Dustin was spent.
He was tired, and sore, and mentally drained. He desperately needed rest. But he felt guilty just laying there when he could be back at the hoop, filling up another bag…
He made a deal with himself: he’d nap for an hour or two and then he’d head back to the alley, get back to work. He closed his eyes, turned over on his side, tried to fall asleep — but he couldn’t.
He just kept seeing that black-and-yellow convertible in his mind’s eye, kept imagining the feel of the leather upholstery, of the pedal under his foot, the road under his tires as he zoomed along.
Dustin opened his eyes, sprung to his feet, and snatched up his empty schoolbag.
Six more times that day, Dustin made the trek to and from the hoop — there with an empty bag, back with one full of dollar bills. When he got home after the last trip, the sky was dark, he was running on fumes, and the duffle under his bed held nearly $18,000 — to say nothing of the cash in his school bag from his most recent outing to the alley.
Dumping out the bills on his bed, Dustin again counted the day’s earnings and jotted them down in his little black notebook — moving like a zombie. Then he calculated his running total: $19,491.
He was so close…
The sight of that figure was a shot of adrenaline, a second wind. Suddenly, his pain and fatigue were forgotten. All that stood between Dustin and his new set of wheels was $509. That was nothing — thirty minute’s work.
In a blur of motion, he chucked his little black notebook in his schoolbag, grabbed his basketball, and was out the door.
For the eighth time that day, Dustin was back at the alley, back at that magic hoop. Bristling with energy and excitement, he wasted no time in getting to work.
He set up under the net with his ball, started sinking baskets and snatching falling dollar bills out of the air — all the while counting up in his head toward the magic number $509. When he reached $250, he started to pick up his pace a little bit. At $400, he felt his heart start fluttering. He got so antsy at one point that he even missed a couple of shots.
But his march to $509 forged ahead.
And soon, all that stood between him and the big $20k, between him and his bumblebee beauty, was one more shot. One more bucket. Dustin took a moment to let that penetrate, to let it really sink in. And then, just as he had done 19,999 times over the past couple of days, he drained another basket and collected another buck.
He stared at that 20,000th dollar for a long moment before adding it to the ones in his schoolbag and writing down the deposit in his little black notebook. Then he sauntered over and picked up his ball. Returning with it to his bag, the magic money hoop on the wall caught Dustin’s eye.
He stopped, stared at it for a beat — thinking. If he was anyways here and there was still room in his bag…
With a shrug, Dustin went back over to the hoop, drained another shot, snatched another dollar out of the air. And then he did it again and again and again…