“By ten years old, I’m the family champion — with only one hand!"
King David is holding court today, even after suffering the bites of at least nine King Cobras. The court is the one used for handball in Chicano Park; the King Cobras are malt liquors. His game is slowed by the venom, so he has a harder time keeping his lithe, youthful opponents in their place. But he is still canny, tapping gentle returns that dribble down from the front wall, drilling liners that careen off the sides and slip by the lunging youngsters.
“I will tell you a story,” he says during a break in the play. “I was born for the ball. Since I was a little boy. I was born in Cerro del Tepeyac in Mexico City, where the Virgin appeared to Juan Diego. I don’t believe in that bullshit, but when I was three years old, I went to the Basilica there. When the pilgrims came from all over Mexico, I would rob their money because I wanted to eat. I was hungry, like a rat. I had to do something. My mother didn’t know where I was.”
But one day, the boy climbed the holy hill and had a vision of his own. “An angel from God spoke to me. You know what he said? ‘I’m going to take care of you. You are King David. You are not going to die real fast, because you are special up here.’” King David taps his head. “The [other players] are younger than me, and I beat them. Why? Because I have the power. If you have the power of the mind — if you dominate the mind, you dominate everything.”
David’s brother bought land in San Pedro Otacpan, on the outskirts of Mexico City, and that’s where the young king began to play. “By ten years old, I’m the family champion — with only one hand! Nobody beat me.” One day, a man came to town, “the champion of Mexico, of Spain, of France. Fucking amazing player. I told him, ‘This is my handball court. Nobody can beat me here. You want to play? Let’s play.’ We played with a Basque ball, hard like a baseball. And me without gloves. The people got excited. ‘The bravest dog in the whole neighborhood is here.’ They bet a shit-ton of money. I was skinny like a fucking lizard.”
David beat the man. The man asked for two out of three. David beat him again.
“The people carried me up and down the court: ‘David is the best on the planet!’”
He took his game — by bicycle — to Santa Monica, to Venice, to El Segundo, to Palos Verdes, to Long Beach. “I have a lot of people behind me,” betting on his prowess. “Two hundred, three hundred — poom, poom poom, give me the feria [money]. Never had [my opponents] played with a chingón from Mexico City....
“I’m living here now,” he concludes. “This is my court. Okay, let’s play!”
I say I need better shoes.
He tells me to come back tomorrow.