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Friday, June 15, 2012

Take Two

People do change, no matter how often we hear otherwise. They decide to disturb the status quo every day, for reasons ranging from major life upheaval to passing whim. It just takes a little moxie. Change manifests in myriad ways, too, though people seem to gravitate toward relocating, taking a vacation, or picking up a hobby. Courtesy of my divorce-in-progress, I was smack in the middle of the first species of transformation and contemplating the second when I got an unexpected invitation to embark on the third.

My mother’s call recruiting me to become a member of the Smash Hits, a women’s recreational tennis team, came as I was surveying the wreckage that covered the floor in the guest room of the old colonial I’d bought in North Arlington. Mom timed her call perfectly. Aside from giving me a welcome respite from unpacking, her overture capitalized on my openness to reinvention. I had not played tennis in a meaningful way—stretching the definition of “meaningful” to its elastic limits-- since my days on the Fox Hunt Junior Tennis Team in 1984. Slim pickings in the fourteen and under age group had landed me at the first-seed singles spot back then, but I played halfheartedly. The competition soon left me behind so I dropped the sport. When the opportunity for an athletic do-over dangled in front of me twenty-seven years later, I grabbed it without hesitation.

Unbeknownst to me, my return to the courts spurred a deep divide (and some split sides) among my parents and siblings. One sibling and a parent who remembered my tennis career voiced skepticism. Another sibling and the second parent chose optimism over history and expressed confidence in my potential. The third sibling abstained. To prevent the debate about my skills from raging out of control, my family settled it using a trusted dispute resolution tool: They started a pool and wagered on my badness.

I discovered this after a practice outing with my dad, when I overheard him say to my sister, “She didn’t stink up the joint anywhere near as badly as I thought she would. Looks like I owe your brother ten bucks.”

His assessment was frank but accurate. My game is quite balanced, objectively speaking. On the upside, I run well and cover the court adeptly. I also use every square inch of the racquet, whereas less versatile players limit themselves to the strings. And, because many of my shots emanate from the frame, they travel in ways that even a gifted physics student would find hard to predict. On the downside, my serve has all the consistency of Charlie Sheen in his “winning” phase.

With the Smash Hits’ first match scheduled to take place fourteen days after my mother’s call, the calendar gave me little time to practice. Since our captain subscribes to the tennis version of the Hippocratic Oath, she placed me at the safest spot in the lineup--Number Three doubles--and paired me with my mother.  I reached my athletic zenith at age eleven but this had no impact on my competitive nature, so just before taking the courts at the Army-Navy Country Club (a venue that would deny me admission under any other circumstances), I reminded my partner that I don’t like to lose.

“Okay,” she said. And then, in a statement that reflected her tenacity and proved representative of the Smash Hits’ as well, said, “Did you notice how much cuter our outfits are?” I made a mental note to have DNA testing done after the match.

Mom and I won the first set in a tie-breaker, a development that surprised us only slightly less than our opponents. We compensated for this with an efficient second set choke, losing four games straight in half the time it took us to win the entire first set. Our deterioration in Set Two can be attributed in large part to my serve. I had begun to experiment with leaning into it, wanting to harness the full potency of sixty-eight inches of height and one hundred twenty-nine pounds of might. I achieved an instant increase in speed and power, but it was offset by a loss of directional control. This combination caused me to send my partner the strong, non-verbal message that she should consider parting her hair on the left. With the next serve I disproved that old chestnut about mothers having eyes in the back of their heads because, if she’d had them and they were operational, she wouldn’t have gotten beaned.

I located my self-discipline shortly thereafter and brought my serve under control. My partner’s play improved, too. Between fending off both me and our opponents, she began to show cobra-quality reflexes at the net. We managed to win a game and had brought the next one to deuce when the buzzer rang to end the match. I was proud of myself for summoning up the guts to get back out there. But concern tempered my pride once I realized the news of my concussive debut might shrink the pool of would-be partners. In case it does, I’ve drafted a Craigslist posting: “Seeking: doubles partner who isn’t afraid of head trauma.”


  1. The ole' Yankosky betting pool. I seem to recall the "Boom-No Boom pool" a while back, I would never bet against ya!!

  2. Don't let the fact that I'm a computer/science/techno nerd with no writing abilities diminish this - you're a good writer! I'm actually not surprised. You are now bookmarked on my Blog list.

    1. Jamie, you made my day - thank you!!