First Days of R-Ball

My brother and I had visions of becoming tennis players.  However, living in Rat City, unlike someplace like Orange County, there was not a lot of opportunities for coaching or even playing.  We’d walk down to the local high school, which had two courts in somewhat primitive condition.

One year, for some reason, we decided to join a club.  It was called Tennis World, located in basically a converted warehouse in the middle of industrial Duwamish.  It was, I don’t know, maybe 5 miles away from our house (maybe more, but not 10, I don’t think).

When we start going there, I’m probably somewhere around 15 and my brother Brian is 20.  We’re a couple of scruffy Rat City punks with $10 rackets playing on open courts side-by-side with people who are taking this sport way more seriously than we are.  We are continually hitting the tennis balls into other people courts, probably unknowingly committing a host of unwritten tennis etiquette violations, and generally making a nuisance of ourselves.

Eventually, we got sick of hitting the ball 2 or 3 times and then having to trudge off to God knows where to retrieve it, all the while apologizing to increasingly miffed-looking elderly couples in their sparkling clean white attire.  We investigate the club further, and we discover the racquetball courts.  These are enclosed.

Hey!  We can hit the ball anywhere we want and no matter how poorly we hit it, you never really have to walk more than 5 ft or so to pick it up.  We have just lean’ed out our process!

We buy $10 racquetball rackets and start to play.  Eye protection is mandatory.  I’m wearing prescription glasses at this phase of my life, so I just wear those glasses on the court.  Of course, these are not safety glasses of any kind, so if I ever actually got hit in the glasses, not only would the lens probably shatter into my eye, but the frame itself would probably disintegrate into projectiles that would end up lodged deeply in my cerebellum.  I have a pair of old beat up glasses that have an obsolete prescription.  Brian pokes out the lenses from them and uses them as his ‘safety’ glasses.  We’re set.

We’re pretty clueless regarding such things as strategy or technique, so it was pretty pathetic in there.  On top of that, occasionally we’d get mad at each other (or to be honest, maybe just bored with the game), at which point the goal of the match migrated from scoring a point to inflicting maximum pain upon the other.  In that situation, serving became a decided disadvantage, as you became a moving target that the service returner could line up in his sights with minimal ease and with maximum velocity.

Being brothers, we had a code (and this applied to all of our sporting endeavors, not just racquetball).  Never show pain.  Even if you just got absolutely nailed by a rubber ball moving at 100 miles an hour and all you wanted to do was to curl up in the corner and whimper for your mommy, the only acceptable response was to look down at where you were hit, and calmly say…”That’ll leave a mark”.

If anything positive came from this, it’s that I now have zero fear of the ball.  I’ve been hit so many times that I know that really nothing bad is going to happen to me (especially now that I wear real safety goggles).

Interestingly enough, I still abide by that rule.  Now that I’m proficient (and slightly more mature), I actually very rarely hit my partner (95% of the time, I play a guy named Russ).  However, when I do accidentally hit him, I’m serious, he is such a fucking baby about it.  He’ll walk around grimacing in apparent agony, bending over, taking deep breaths, acting as if I just shot him with a bazooka.  I have to feign concern, but seriously, my only thought is a slightly smug…yeah…that’ll leave a mark.

Of course, when he hits me, he is profusely sorry and is genuinely concerned about my well being.  I’m like, dude, I’ve been hit worse in Nerf gun fights.

Another interesting thing between my brother and me is that we were both intensely competitive with each other.  Of course, being 5 years younger, and let’s face it, my brother was a husky guy while I was more likely to be blown around in the wind like a kite.  Therefore, even though I was very competitive and I hated to lose, the fact is that my brother could kick my ass my entire childhood in pretty much all sports (not so much now…revenge is mine!!!).

Brian knew that if we actually played real games, he’d kill me and I’d end up storming off vowing to never play again.  So…we never kept score.  We basically played one very long game (for the entire hour), just like it was a game, except we didn’t keep score…ever.  We probably played for close to, I don’t know, maybe 5 years together, and we never played a real game once.

After I started at Boeing, I played occasionally but I didn’t play much with my brother anymore.  I’d just started working with this new manager, and during some conversation or other, it turned out that he used to play racquetball.  We decided, hey, let’s give it a shot, and now here are, nearly 30 years later, and I’m still playing Russ, once a week or so.

And yes, I keep score with Russ.  Real games.  And yes, I care deeply whether I win or lose.  Over the years, I’ve probably won about 60% of the games that we’ve played. As I’ve aged, especially over the last year or two, some of my competitive instinct has died down. Maybe it’s not life or death that I win every racquetball match.  Maybe I’m actually growing as a person (it could happen!). Perhaps there will come a time when he’ll start dominating me.

However, I have not let that happen yet.  🙂

An interesting thing about Russ is that he’s -very- religious.  When I get tired / excited, I have a tendency to revert back to my Rat City days, so when I miss a shot, all I want to do is to scream an obscenity.

However, Russ really does not tolerate poor language.  Therefore, the most that I allow myself to say is something along the lines of ‘shoot’, ‘gosh darn it’, or ‘doofus’, when really all I want to do is to scream Motherfucker!  It gets very challenging to contain myself.  At one time, we played cut-throat with a guy who was ex-military, and one time, he got really frustrated and screamed in anger “Fucking Jesus Christ!”, which broke I’m not sure how many commandments in Russ’ little book.  Shortly thereafter, we quit playing with him.

Now, over the last several months, I’ve started playing with another partner, a woman. It’s fair to say that she has a significantly more salty vocabulary than Russ. I’m now free to scream, yell, and curse to my heart’s content.

However, after all of these years of controlling it, I find that I can’t. I still find myself saying ‘shoot’, ‘gosh darn it’, or ‘doofus’.

God damn you to hell, Russ.


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