He has a nice touch. This is the thing that he thinks at night, when he worries that he doesn’t have anything at all, that he’s completely and colossally missed his shot, which he never really had in the first place since he was never good enough.
He has nice touch. That is something Billy knows about himself. He thinks something and the ball does it. Not everyone can do that.
It’s also what keeps him employed. Until recently, he coached kids Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at the Tommy Jackson Soccer Clinic (‘Real Football’ and Atlas leaping up to head the world on the official shirt). This involved running 9, 10, and 13 year olds through cones, passing drills, shooting drills. He’d get down on his knees and correct their form, one hand on the thigh and one hand on the calf. He’d yell at them to keep their heads up as they dribble. He’d yell at them to stay on their toes.
That’s on pause now, along with everything else. With the rest of his time Billy makes trick videos: rainbows, flicks, take-ons, shots. He’s trying to build a following.
An example: the video opens with him facing three defenders (friends he recruited to stand in a line and look menacing). He flicks the ball over each of their heads in quick, rhythmic unison then kicks the ball into the goal. Another example, he kicks a ball forty feet through a basketball hoop. These got 8,000 and 15,000 views, respectively.
The economics of the trick shot YouTube video are challenging. That’s how Billy explains it to anyone who asks. “My best video has more than 20,000 views but YouTube doesn’t start paying until you have a bunch of videos like that. Really a bunch of videos with more views more than that.” People generally nod and tell him to keep at it.
The pandemic hasn’t made things easier. He’s made do so far with videos shot in his apartment. For example, he juggled a roll of toilet paper, bouncing it end over end between his feet and knees and chest and head until it began to unravel. By the end of the video the paper had unfurled in a ghostly strand through his bedroom. It looked like someone was playing a prank on him. That one got about 10,000 views.
He’s running out of ideas. This is what leads him to the roof. He knew about the building thanks to a friend who, the year before, had invited him to a rooftop happy hour that needed more guests (the details were never made clear, all he was told was that it had to seem like a good party for the vodka brand or skateboarder in attendance). That day, he’d pushed open the heavy rooftop door to find himself in a mock tiki bar populated exclusively by 20-somethings in Brooks Brothers shirts.
Mid-pandemic, security is lax. It just takes a bit of confidence, a quick walk past the front desk, and he’s in the stairwell. Forty flights later and he’s on the roof.
There, the reality of the plan hits him. For some reason, the surface of the roof is no longer blank concrete. Instead, someone has covered it in tiny white pebbles. It’s as if the building needed a bit of extra weight on top to keep it sunk into the ground. It’s as if someone was worried that the roof would fly off. The pebbles make it hard to walk confidently. The pebbles make it more likely that he’ll slip.
Still, he sets up. He spends a few minutes scoping out shots with his phone. The goal is to maximize the amount of sky and buildings. The goal is to make the audience feel like he’s floating in the air.
Then he’s ready. The video doesn’t require much, comparatively speaking. All he’s got to do is juggle. He’ll kick the ball higher and higher, and control it each time. He wants his audience to feel like he’s kicked the ball into space and then caught it. He might add some flames when he edits.
Things go fine, mostly. Early on he kicks a pebble and watches it roll off the edge of the building. He thinks, briefly, about it’s trajectory on the way down and the time until it reaches terminal velocity. He tries not to think about what’s below.
The juggling begins. The ball spins up off his foot and onto his knee, off his knee and onto his head. Then it drops down and he fires it straight up into the air and out of frame. He watches it back down, catches it, controls it once (think of Ronaldinho and the crossbar) then fires it back into the air. He does this three times before he loses it.
Maybe his weight was wrong. Maybe his feet were pointing the wrong direction. For whatever reason, the ball flies off his foot at an angle, back over his head, just narrowly missing his nose. He turns and watches it, the white of the pleather glinting in the sun. For a few seconds it looks like it might fly forever, it’s parabola cut off halfway so that it continues to sail ever upward until it hits the sun. Then, imperceptibly at first, it starts to bank back towards earth. He thinks of rockets. He thinks of how much trouble he’s going to be in.
Perhaps the whole time his problem has been one of instincts. Certainly now he should be running away. That would be the move of someone who’d correctly assessed the situation. He doesn’t do that. Instead he stands on the roof, phone now in hand, filming the projectile he launched as it flies towards the Earth.
Davis MacMillan has had work in Wigleaf, Jellyfish Review, *82 Review, and Potato Soup Journal. He lives in New York.