flagrant foul

He never seemed to hurry but he never seemed to be at rest, either—an odd dynamic, a sort of relaxed perpetual motion…”


by brian doyle


When someone dies, we mourn the loss of his verve and the stilling of his body, but not so much the way he occupied space; so I sing Tommy Crotty, who was a graceful man, seventy inches tall, murdered on the morning of September 11 in New York City.

His foundation was built in 1958 by the firm of Patricia and Thomas Crotty, senior, formerly of Brooklyn. The final touches to his structure were completed by 1976, and it was an enduring regret to Tommy at that time that he could go no higher, for he was a very fine basketball player, and forwards like me, all of two inches taller, looked down upon him as a species of guard, which is to say a selfish and weak enterprise, content to hog the ball and fling it wildly from safe distances and never venture into the meat market of the lane; but Tommy turned out to be the best and worst kind of guard, for he shared the ball relentlessly, a great virtue, and he was a greedy hawk on defense, a great vice, for he stole our awkward dribbles and fitful passes, and causes ruckus and dismay among our fearful knees. He was never still, always had the ball, zoomed around larger players, never lost his temper, grinned a small grin, was never the star but always the fulcrum and agent of control and change. He never seemed to hurry but he never seemed to be at rest, either—an odd dynamic, a sort of relaxed perpetual motion.

This stays with me.

I went my way and Tommy went his and here and there we would cross paths when back in our home village—after Mass, perhaps, or at someone’s mom’s funeral. I’d hear his name over the family table, over coffee on the porch, over beer at the beach: Tommy becoming a high school star (Tommy Crotty?), Tommy making the Long Island all-star team (which always picks flashy guards, never workmanlike forwards), Tom earning a scholarship to Marist College upstate (college ball?), Tom going into finance, Tom married (someone married Tommy?), Tom and his wife having daughters, Tom at Sandler O’Neill on the 104th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center.

Remember the way he scuttled up and down the floor with the ball?

Yah—his brothers played like that too, like they were crickets on caffeine…

But then one day I am reading the stories of those who are lost, those who are fine gray dust being breathed all over the city, the brothers who washed dishes at Windows on the World, the best aunts in the whole world, the fireman who hilariously cut hair, the boy age eleven flying alone nervous excited to California, the baby from Boston, the priest crushed by debris as he sent a fireman’s soul aloft, the man who loved ceramic eagles, and I see

Crotty, Thomas Gerard, 42

and I see him swerving along with the ball, sweating gently, wheeling around a pick, whipping a pass inside without stopping his dribble, the meat who gets the ball lurching to the basket and scoring, Tommy grinning (the meat scored!) and Tom smoothly almost lazily sliding back upcourt, and then I see his wife sleeping alone in their bed, her hands remembering his sweet weight, the smile of his space.

So what prayer can I speak into the jagged wintry hole where Tommy Crotty used to be?

Only that little grin as he spun to go up court; only the fluid way he spun; only memory as a prayer against murder; only a snarling conviction that the men who killed him must face him; only an unshakable conviction that who he is can never die, no matter how hot the fire.


Originally published:
Issue Eighteen
March 2002


Brian Doyle is the author of six books, most recently THE WET ENGINE, about hearts and all. It’s not bad. Among his awards and such are (a) a woman married him, (b) the Coherent Mercy granted them three children, and (c) he was named to the 1983 all-star team in the Newton Massachusetts Men’s League, which was a really tough league, you drove to the hole in that league you lost fingers, one time a guy drove the lane and got hit so hard his arm came off, but he was lefty anyway and hit both free throws. Supposedly he then left his arm in a toll booth basket on the Mass Pike but that might be apocryphal.  (bio/2002)

Brian Doyle was the author of many books, including the sea novel The Plover, which has, no kidding, music printed in it, not to mention Mink River, Martin Marten, The Wet Engine, and more than we can recall.  He won the 2017 John Burroughs Medal for distinguished nature writing for Martin Marten, which was plenty cool and much deserved.  Brian passed away peacefully at his Lake Oswego home on May 27, 2017. 

More, much more, from Brian Doyle can be found in the Vault of Smoke.


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