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Happy Birthday Harold! October 9, 2006

Posted by caveblogem in Other, Tennis.
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When I was in high school, my Father always told me that it was like a microcosm of life afterward.  Now this was depressing news for somebody like me, who wasn’t all that popular or successful in high school.  But it turned out, Harold, that my Father was completely wrong.  Turns out that only people who ended up working most of their adult life for the Federal Government would be able to retain this sort of worldview for long.  Life is not even remotely like high school.  And it’s not like fishing either, Harold, thank God for that.  It turns out that life, Harold, is a lot like playing triples. 

In triples, you play tennis with two other teammates against another team of three and have to change positions every point, win or lose.  So you run around a lot, which can be exhausting, but at first it seems like fun and excitement.  You’re even one of those people saying with childlike glee, “yeah, let’s play triples!”  You know you are. Then you’re running around and hitting the ball, and it’s almost like a game.  And everybody wants to win, and wants to help out their teammates.
So you try to play your best. 

At first it is pretty easy.  You run around and get to each feed, and you say “focus,” to yourself, but you do not say it out loud because it might distract your teammate Michael, unless he is not your teammate, in which case it is O.K., maybe.  And this works, you get to each feed.  You are not one to miss a meal, and you are running downhill, stoked on your own fear and adrenaline.

And you try to stay loose, and between rounds you analyze the game.  You think to yourself, “could I have done a little better?”  And your answer is “well, yeah.  But we would have won if so-and-so didn’t flub that last shot.  And what does it matter?  At least it wasn’t me this time.” 

But it doesn’t take long to realize how serious the whole thing is.  There are strangers behind you, and sometimes they yell incomprehensible things in fractured English.  And you try to be quiet yourself, so as not to offend the easily distracted, cranky women on court two.  But the game of triples is not so civilized as other, more traditional, forms of tennis.  Perhaps it is the constant running, with only a short break between games and no break at all between points.  And that’s life, if you think about it.  No, if you really think about it.

Sometimes you teammates—your own teammates—yell things at you.  “Go! Go! Go!” they might say, or “good shot!” or “just get it in!” whatever that means.  Some of them even try to make humorous comments, and you try to laugh at these, just to be polite.  It could have been funny, but who can tell, with that slurred speech of his?  Clearly, the constant running is getting to him, too. 

And after the third game or so you begin to think other things to yourself.  You think “I am going to die,” but just for a little bit, until the endorphins kick in.  After that you think “isn’t it weird that the Spanish language has no word for “counterclockwise?”  Or maybe they do, and your coach is faking it.  He is not really Mexican.  No language could avoid the concept of counter-clockwise-ness entirely.  Mon Dieu, the world has only been digital for forty years or so.  I can remember the Christmas that they came out with digital watches.  Remember, Bill Bixby’s character on The Magician had one, and they were really expensive and . . . and then you miss a feed, because you haven’t been concentrating on what is important and right in front of you. 

And this might bother you, but if you had time (and some sort of oxygen supply, of course) you could think of how everyone else is so happy that it wasn’t them missing that shot.  You are making others happy, which is nice.  And let’s face it, you can miss a feed or two and get away with it.

And there are certain compensations, mid-game.  Almost everybody gets off a really good shot from time to time, which is more than can be said for golf.  And there are always some other players who are not as good as you, even though they might be younger.  And when some kid is playing, a kid who grew up with the game and can run all day long and can get to anything and hit the ball so hard that it makes that really pleasing “pok!” noise, well, you can console yourself with the fact that he has no money, and he will be working under Baby Boomers who will exploit him for the rest of his days.  And forget Social Security, pal!

One of the most important consolations, right now, in mid-life, is that you get so tired that you forget things.  Not even your trusted advisors could tell you for certain what the score is, even though they have not been running endlessly in a counter-clock-wise direction and trying to hit the ball nicely, or at least really hard.  So you keep on going, watching the ball, which is about all you can do, you have so little blood left in your head that it will only move your eyes back and forth and concentrate on one thing—the ball.  So when it comes to you, you hit it.  Generally, you hit it back to the other side, because that’s the direction you are facing.  And you have no time to wonder if this running around in a counter-clock-wise direction is somehow going to affect the structure of your leg muscles in some sort of long-term way, making you reel around the office like a drunk when you are distracted and not thinking about it.

And when that bell finally rings you will still begin to forget it all, except the pain, of course.  Everything else will just fade away.  That game of triples will exist in its own little universe, isolated in time and space.  And if the Hindus are correct we will be reborn.  And if we played our best, perhaps we will have a backhand in the next round. 

Best wishes, Harold.  And many happy returns!

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