Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1353
In the first entry of The Basketball Diaries, a thirteen-year-old Carroll uses a fake birth certificate from his coach, Lefty, to get into a twelve-andunder basketball league. Carroll and his friends sniff cleaning fluid to get high, steal purses, and steal from another basketball team. On Halloween, they attack the neighborhood girls with flour-filled socks then get drunk and use rock-filled socks to break windows. Lefty catches some of his players sniffing glue, but Carroll dumps his before getting caught. Carroll and his family move into their new apartment in the tip of Manhattan. Carroll and the gang get drunk, but one of them drinks too much and has to get his stomach pumped.
Carroll, a non-Catholic, is forced to go to confession at his new Catholic school. He attends a funeral for one of his friends who dies in a gluesniffing accident. Carroll scores high on a test but is punished for lack of effort. He describes his first experience with heroin, which he believes is nonaddictive. He steals clothes from a department store and smokes marijuana with one of the older guys in his new neighborhood. A priest in Carroll’s school spanks a student’s naked buttocks behind closed doors and is sent away after the student’s brother labels the priest a homosexual. Carroll’s mother finds and destroys a bag of Carroll’s marijuana.
Spring & Summer 1964
Carroll talks about the caves near his new apartment building, where he goes to smoke marijuana. He describes the rush he gets late at night while masturbating naked on the roof of his building. Carroll and his friends have a huge party in the woods, jump off a cliff into the Harlem River, and steal basketballs from the park house. Carroll loses his job as a seller at Yankee Stadium as a result of his drug use. Carroll and his friends steal liquor from their school that is intended for an American Legion party. He describes a sexual encounter with a girl at his friend’s house.
Carroll has trouble adjusting to the strict etiquette at the new private school that he is attending on a basketball scholarship, but he impresses his classmates with his confidence and athletic ability. During a routine trip with his gym class to Central Park, Carroll almost gets caught smoking marijuana. He notes the futility of the school’s symbolic Thanksgiving fast for hunger. He describes a sexual encounter with a communist girl.
Carroll accidentally exposes himself during a basketball game. He starts hanging around Headquarters, an apartment that hosts all of the local drug users. He drinks codeine cough syrup to get high. He describes his recurring fantasy about shooting a machine gun in class. He goes to a Communist Party meeting but is not impressed. He steals money from the wrestling team. Carroll and some of his team members take drugs that severely affect their game performance.
Carroll gets picked up by a person who turns out to be a male transvestite. He talks about a kleptomaniac friend, Bobby Blake, who gets high and breaks into a closed ice cream parlor. Carroll’s mother receives a notice from his principal about Carroll’s bad grades and behavior problem. Blake gets high again, and this time he breaks into a clothes store and starts handing out free clothes to passersby, including the police who take him away. Carroll and a friend skip class to shoot up heroin in a basement, and they nearly get caught by the police. A little girl talks with Carroll about his antiwar views.
Carroll describes how he hustles homosexuals for money, and he says that his hustles have gotten weird lately. He and several friends find a half-dead, naked woman who has committed suicide by jumping out of a window. Carroll describes the bathroom at Grand Central Terminal, where men from all walks of life go to look at other men and masturbate. He recalls the first time he saw transvestites naked, when he was about nine years old. He talks about his fear of atomic war. Carroll and his friends get high and steal food from a restaurant. He gets high on a train and becomes paranoid that the other passengers are going to throw him off. He gets a case of gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease, and goes to an underground doctor in Harlem to get a shot and some pills. He realizes that he is not in control of his growing heroin addiction, but he says that he better get in control if he wants to do well in school and basketball.
Carroll describes what it is like growing up as a war baby, living in constant fear of nuclear war. He says that getting high at Headquarters is the only way he can avoid getting involved in war politics. He notes that narcotics police steal most of dealers’ drugs for themselves. He takes some LSD, a hallucinogenic drug also known as acid. The police raid Headquarters after a noise complaint. Carroll takes more acid and watches a moon eclipse. He describes his experiences during a massive electrical blackout. Carroll gets high and has sex with his latest rich girlfriend. He says heroin is so addictive that addicts will risk using a filthy needle in order to shoot up. Carroll talks about his parents, saying that they try to draw him into arguments and political debates. He gets frustrated with the ineffectiveness of peace marches.
Carroll has another classroom-shooting fantasy. He says his fear of atomic warfare has lessened but that he is still paranoid. He talks about his experiences during the National High School All Star Basketball Game, when he is groped by Benny Greenbaum, a homosexual college scout. Carroll explains his passion for writing about New York. Carroll describes what it is like shooting up and says that it is getting hard to concentrate on his writing. Carroll’s drug habit continues to affect his basketball performance. He talks about an older woman with whom he has been having an affair; the rich divorcée pays for his drug habit and in return she makes him engage in abnormal sexual acts. Carroll talks about a junkie friend who is in prison for two years. Carroll and a friend get swindled by a drug dealer. Carroll buys heroin from a new dealer and begins to like the vomiting that comes as a side effect. He finds out that one of his old friends is in prison for a drug-related murder. Carroll gets sent to Riker’s Island Juvenile Reformatory for three months for heroin possession.
Spring & Summer 1966
Carroll’s headmaster intervenes and Carroll gets out of Riker’s after one month. A friend offers him a shot of heroin, and Carroll is unable to refuse. Carroll has a bad acid trip and decides to stick to heroin. Since most heroin dealers have been arrested, he buys some methadone instead; while he is waiting for it to take effect, he notes that he is not in control of his addiction. Carroll hustles a homosexual. He defines the three types of junkies. Carroll and a group of friends steal a Porsche, but it gets towed before they can return with a buyer. Carroll and a friend steal raffle books from the American Legion then sell them door to door. In the process, they run across an older woman who has sex with them. They use their earnings to buy a spoon of cocaine. Carroll and a friend eat peyote, another hallucinogenic drug.
Carroll tries to give up heroin abruptly and describes his withdrawal symptoms in detail. Carroll steals some heroin from a friend and starts shooting up again. He goes to a drug-therapy session but soon returns to using heroin. Carroll talks to a junkie friend who has also been trying—and failing—to quit. Carroll and a friend go to New York’s Chinatown to get heroin. In the last diary entry of the book, Carroll surfaces from a four-day high, realizing that he wants to be pure.