Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Septathlon Racquetball! (Thinking The Lions/Essays About Stuff.)

Note: I forgot to take my camera with me to this event. Because of that, I have no pictures and had to ask myself: "What kinds of illustrations would best capture the spirit of an athletic contest between me and The Boy?" The answer to that question is the same as the answer to most questions I ask myself: "Screenshots of the 1980s "Dungeons & Dragons" cartoon."

Monday night was Event 3 in the Septathlon. It was The Boy's chance to pick the event, and he surprised me with:

Event: Racquetball.
The Bet: I chose that if I won, The Boy had to call me "Briane The Great" for 24 hours. The Boy never got around to choosing a bet... which tells you how he did. (Foreshadowing!)

I was a bit concerned when The Boy announced his choice of events, and here's why: To my knowledge, The Boy has played racquetball exactly once in his life, a time about 5 years ago when I taught him the game. Back then, when The Boy was 2/3 his current age and 1/2 his current height and weight, I taught him the basics and kept things evened-up by playing right-handed and by not trying very hard, but even so I couldn't lose to him.

Losing to children is very important, to an extent. At least, I think so, but others obviously disagree. A couple years ago we had a get-together, a rare occasion where Sweetie and I decided to interact with people who don't live in our house. That happens maybe 3 or 4 times a year, tops, and usually is the ill-advised result of an unusually good day where we end up feeling optimistic and energetic and, overall, imagining that someday a prospective home buyer will not notice the marker drawings all over the Babies!' room. Brimming with that kind of spirit, we will plan an event or outing of some sort, and even go so far as to invite a relative or a friend.

"Let's have everyone over for a birthday party," we might say, or "Let's invite our friends over to watch a movie." So we do that: we get them on the phone and say "Let's all get together for something-or-other," something we do because we are, for that moment in time, feeling like it would be fun and a good time.

People's schedules being what they are, we have to push that day out 2 or 3 weeks, generally, and sometimes longer. But we don't care! We optimistically say Sure! October 2nd works great! See you then! We'll cook dinner!

Then October 2nd arrives, and October 2nd is very rarely akin in spirit to the day, now weeks in the past, when we were feeling so optimistic and happy and sociable. October 2nd is a lot more like our usual day, i.e., a day like yesterday, a day when it rains so hard that in the 1-block walk to my car I get soaked because Middle has both umbrellas with her at college, a day when I agree to go grocery shopping for Sweetie as a favor to her and, while grocery shopping, realize as I'm getting my groceries checked out that I've bought the wrong kind of soda, and I have to decide whether I should try to run back and exchange it while leaving the Babies! in the care of the cashier, or take them with me, or simply opt to drink the wrong soda, a day when I have to run to Best Buy to get a cable to hook the DVD player up to the Babies!' TV and I take them inside with me and they almost knock down several million dollars' worth of TVs and then spend the remainder of the time grabbing at my ankles and chanting "AAAAHHHH!" at the top of their lungs.

Those days are more frequent than the Optimistic Days, and on those days, we never decide to just invite people over.

By the way: I opted to carry both Mr F and Mr Bunches and a 24-pack of soda back to the soda aisle and swap the wrong soda for the right soda, a task that is even more difficult than it sounds, and that's saying something. It was more difficult because not only was I carrying 90 pounds of 3-year-olds, plus the soda, but the 90-pounds-of-3-year-olds hate backtracking. They refuse to go backwards, to retrace their steps, to ever double back or get something they forgot . They are forward-thinkers and forward-movers, which is great in most instances, but not so great when their attitude requires that you physically battle their efforts to stop you from backtracking. I managed to exchange the soda, grabbing the right case off the shelf whiel Mr F wrapped himself around my neck and Mr Bunches attempted to slide down my leg to trip me up and prevent me from going any more backwards.

If you ever get a chance to be in the grocery store when I'm there with the Babies!, take that chance. You will not regret it.

Most days are like that in our house, which is why most days we don't have the energy or the desire to invite people over or to be social, which is fine with me because I'm naturally antisocial anyway, and also I'm very tired. But sometimes, we do invite people over, and one such occasion was the time I learned that not every adult thinks it's important to let children win games.

We had invited the relatives, Sweetie's family, over, and as the kids grew more rambunctious, I suggested that we move the party outside and play some croquet. We did that, setting up the croquet set that we had gotten from someone or something. It was in our garage, and I'd known it was there. I think maybe Sweetie's mom bought it for us at a rummage sale, but I'm not exactly sure where we got everything that we have, and I don't look a gift horse, or gift croquet set, in the mouth.

I was playing, and my brother-in-law, Charlie, and Charlie's kids: Baby Charlie, Lexie, and Bailey. I think Middle might have been involved, too. We set up the croquet course, and decided on the rules for the game.

Deciding on the rules of the game is an important step for most unsupervised sporting activities. There are rules and then there are rules. First off, there's the official rules, but who ever knows those? Especially for croquet. I've never been sure if there were official rules for croquet, because I've never seen any organized or professional croquet matches or competitions. Even as I typed that, though, I'm amazed that I haven't seen any such matches. With all the sports networks and satellite TV and Internet, how has there not been developed an international croquet league? They televise spelling bees, so could croquet be any less televisionesque?

I never learned the official rules of croquet, or even some official rules of croquet, and until that moment, I'd never even played a real game of croquet. As kids, we'd had a croquet set at Grandma and Grandpa's house in West Allis, but their yard was too small to play croquet in and we were not inclined to such genteel pastimes, anyway. Instead, we'd take the croquet balls and mallets to the alley out back of their house and take turns seeing who could hit the ball the farthest down the alley, smacking them over and over down the road and then running after them. Nobody ever won, but nobody ever took a mallet to the head, either, which meant it was one of our more successful invented

The night of the croquet party with Charlie and the kids, we had to try to figure out how to play, with only a rudimentary knowledge of the game. We figured that there must be wickets and posts for some reason, and gradually came to the consensus that the posts were there to be targets or goals. We set up the wickets and decided to hit the balls through them in a certain order, and played the game.

I didn't try to hard. We were playing with kids, after all, kids as young as 2 (Baby Charlie) who didn't really understand the game and also didn't understand why it's a bad idea to swing the mallet in a circle when an unsuspecting uncle is standing right behind you trying to help you.

But Big Charlie, my brother-in-law, went to town. He roared through that course like Tiger Woods if Tiger played with a mallet instead of a putter. He showed no mercy, and won the game.

I was shocked. It had never occurred to me to actually beat a young kid at a game. In my life, kids get to win until they're about 12. From 1-12, at least, kids are invincible in games. They win at chess, at Monopoly, at football, at everything. I have distinct memories of playing Monopoly with my sister, Katie (who, for some reason, loved Monopoly at the age of about 6) and funneling her money when she wasn't looking. True, I had a secondary motive -- by giving her my money freely, I was speeding up the end of the game -- but the other motive was to let Katie win. I used to lose at checkers to the kids, and when I taught them to golf they had more do-overs and mullligans and "free drops" and more, while I would do whatever I could to let them win.

I always thought that was supposed to be done so that kids wouldn't end up getting frustrated and not play the game anymore, and because, well, it's a nice thing to do, letting a kid win. How hard is it to beat a 5-year-old at checkers? Not very. So it doesn't give a lot of satisfaction to dominate that kid, but it did make me feel better to let the kids win, and, as time went on, I amped up the level of competition to the point where I sometimes would win but I'd make it close for them.

I no longer let the older kids win, although I still do give them some special favors. When The Boy and I golfed, for example, I let him take a couple of free shots and a couple of drops, and then I stopped paying attention to his score, so that when I'd say "What'd you get on that hole?" and he said "I don't know, 9," I just took his word for it, even though my impression was that he'd gotten, say, a 37.

We went, then, to play racquetball Monday night for Event 3, and I was concerned. I was concerned because The Boy had not ever played racquetball but for that one time a half-decade earlier.

Or so I thought. That's what concerned me: Maybe The Boy was setting me up. Here's what I figured: The Boy had told me that he'd been playing golf all summer, but he'd clearly not been playing golf, because if he'd been out golfing all summer then there had been something weird on the golf course, some sort of inversion of the laws of physics where the more one played golf, the worse one became at golf.

But now, The Boy had not, so far as I knew, been playing racquetball. So what if he'd actually been practicing, and was sharking me? Or what if The Boy really was some sort of freak of nature where the less he does something, the more expert he is at it? I couldn't rule that out.

Actually, though, if The Boy had some sort of superpower where the less he does something, the better he is at it, that would be (a) cool, and (b) make The Boy phenomenally great at almost everything, since he really does very little, ever. The Boy would, for example, be awesome at homework, since I haven't seen him do any homework since 7th grade.

To help maximize my chances of winning and protect me from The Boy's potential weirdly-inverse skills, I opted to eat a bowl of mixed cereal for dessert in preparation for the match. The mixture, if you must know, was Honeycombs, Raisin Branch Crunch, and Cookie Crisp -- the dessert of champions.

We didn't actually go play racquetball until 8:45, after the Babies! were in bed, and we left a little late because The Boy had begun watching Monday Night Football in preparation for the match. Once football sets in, it's tough to get The Boy moving again, but I eventually got him off the couch and we headed to the health club for Event 3.

You can tell, too, that you are dealing with world-class athletes because of the extensive preparation and warm-up we go through. It wasn't just limited to a bowl of cereal for dessert and watching TV. We also engaged in a quick round of "Who can say a funny line from a movie first," when Sweetie named movies and we'd try to come up with a line from them, and I gave the Babies! a bath.

We got to the Court about 8:50 and began the warm-up. In The Boy's case, that consisted of smacking overhand smashes against the wall as hard and loudly as he could, over and over. In between, I reminded him that in racquetball, the lower the ball is hit, the better. He responded by hitting even harder overhand smashes, shots that were even more overhand. Don't ask how that's possible; with The Boy, it's possible.

My own warm-up was to tie, and then re-tie, and then re-tie again, my shoes. For some reason, lately, my shoes never fit the same way twice in a row. Sometimes they're too big, sometimes they're too small, and sometimes, they seem a little too wide. On Monday, I also couldn't get the laces to be roughly equivalent in tightness. First the left shoe was tigher than the right; then the right shoe was tighter than the left. I need the shoes to be about equal in tightness or I go completely insane (as opposed to the 98% insanity I walk around with every day. My shoes are the 2% of my life that makes sense.)

We hit the ball around for a while as we discussed what the rules would be, and I struggled to remember the rules myself. After all, I'd only played racquetball for a little while, in law school, and then for a bit after that against Sweetie until she hurt her back once going to get the mail.

As I said, there are rules and there are rules, and absent the "official" rules people just do their best, so we decided on some unofficial rules: We'd play to 21. You could score points when serving and when not serving. You could play "fault" serves if you wanted to -- that's something I always do, too. If someone hits a serve that would be a fault, I try to play it anyway. I'm there to play and have fun, not litigate, so I don't focus on the rules so much as I do on trying to run and get some exercise and have a good time and not bang into the walls too hard, while still banging into the walls.

That last part is an important component of my racquetball game. Inherent in any sport is not just the "thrill of victory," but also the "thrill of getting some minor sports injuries to talk about and feel tough about for the next couple days." Racquetball presents an excellent opportunity to do just that: With the lunging and diving and walls and all, it's easy to bang a wall just hard enough to not only score the point, but to then walk back and set up for the next point while rubbing your shoulder and saying "I'm gonna feel that in the morning." And I will, because I'll make it a point the next day to get up and gingerly roll my shoulder around while noting for Sweetie that I "banged it up pretty good last night," but also noting that "I'll live, 'cause I'm tough."

That's what sports is all about, at my level: Getting to kind-of injure myself en route to victory so that I can make a point of shrugging it off. I'm not exactly going out for the Ironman, here.

Then we began, and I threw The Boy a last bone before we started. I decided that I'd play right-handed (I'm left-handed in real life.) He protested that I didn't need to do that, but I did it anyway, to keep things kind of even and interesting.

Just 20 minutes later, the contest was over, and The Boy was locked into calling me "Briane The Great" for 24 hours. It wasn't even kind of close. I won both games by about 15, even though I really did bang the wall pretty hard in game one and got kind of dizzy for about 5 minutes. The Boy got some good shots in, but couldn't quite come to grips with the idea that he should not be always overhead-smashing the balls, and had a lot of trouble returning serves, even the serves that I tried to set up to let him return them. (Yes, I did that, too -- once it became apparent that I'd beat him, I just wanted a good game, so I tried over and over to get him serves that would let him at least return the ball, which he did only about 50% of the time.)

Having proven that The Boy doesn't live in some kind of parallel universe where less practice = more skill, we decided to play a third game for the fun of it. I told The Boy I'd play left-handed for that one but would only score on my serves, while he'd score anytime he got a point. That game didn't last very long, either, and I won it 21-16 after dropping behind 16-11.

We spent a few more minutes hitting the ball around before heading home. The Boy never named what his bet would be, but it didn't matter. He also avoided addressing me directly for the next 24 hours, but I forced the point at least once, when I asked him something and he said "I guess so," and I said:

"You guess so... what?"

He sighed and said: "I guess so... Briane The Great."

Score So Far:

Me: 2 (Golf, Racquetball.)
The Boy: 1 (Basketball.)
Middle: Ineligible due to decision to focus on obtaining an education rather than taking part in a series of semi-athletic contests.

1 comment:

lisapepin said...

Holy shit! You are literally writing these faster than I can read them. You're the Stephen King of blogging.