Before you read, make sure you check out Part 1 of the Pickleball saga: http://www.coastalpoint.com/content/pickle-overtime-so-uh-i-guess-i-play...
The assignment was to take the court. There were four of us. Five, if you count The Baron, but he had lost his spot when the reveille call went off, and couldn’t fight as well as he could when I had first met him. And he was young and brave, and the court was dry, despite the rain. And it sloped down toward a road, and there were many curious drivers on the road. And the idea was to aim for the center line, and if our aim was true, we could beat them.
The rain was slight and ceased upon my arrival and then, on the phone, R. Chris Clark called while I walked in barefoot, holding my shoes and socks in one hand and the phone in the other. He was lost.
“Where are you?” he said.
“Relax. I’m walking up right now,” I told him.
“Well, then why’d you tell me you were already here?”
“Because,” I said. “You’re always late.”
They were in the hundreds, scattered throughout Sea Colony’s many courts, all bending at the knees and wearing visors, and swinging at spinning perforated plastic balls of yellow and orange and even some blue, saying uncertain things, such as “Where should I be standing?” and “I thought I wasn’t allowed to go in the kitchen.”
I was to challenge Bob Steele from the radio station WGMD. I had never met Bob, but The Baron had assured me that Bob, too, had not played much pickleball, and that he knew people that would give their right arm to play with my partner, whom he referred to as “Dirty Harry,” but whose real name is Rick Bell.
The Baron referred to Bob’s partner as “Clark Kent,” but his real name is Bill Smallbrook. And he didn’t say anything else about Bill, but I got the feeling that maybe he had told Bob that he knew people who would give their right arm to play with him.
Knowing that I would be compelled to write something about this, win or lose, I brought along Ernest Hemingway, who sat on my right shoulder and said things like, “You’re too self-effacing, it’s not manly,” and “If you’re a pickleball player, declare yourself the best pickleball player; but you’re not as long as I’m around, unless you want to put the gloves on and settle it,” when I was doubting if maybe this was a good idea or no.
When I finally found Chris, he was laying on the Brandywine charm and no longer lost, so I put on my socks and then my shoes without so much as a word and wished for my sunglasses with the sun now making its way.
It made for somewhat of a spotlight as we took the court, and The Baron began to announce the names, and I was to interrupt upon pronunciation of my last name, since he had butchered it on the radio where he originally made the challenge, even though it’s only three syllables, and even though he, The Baron, is an Army man, after all.
When the reveille call went off and people began to gather, I think that Hemingway could sense that I was nervous.
“I believe that pickleball play that is true and real creates a respite from death,” he told me in assurance. “All cowardice comes from not playing or not playing well, which is the same thing. And when the man who is brave and true looks death squarely in the face, like some rhino hunters I know, or Belmonte, who is truly brave, it is because they play with sufficient passion to push death out of their minds. Until it returns, as it does to all men.”
I had no idea what he was talking about or who Belmonte was, but his words were oddly comforting, and I needed them to avoid another run-on-sentence fiasco like had occurred the first time, when this had all started. And when he goes back to his Calvados-and-gin, I had already returned the first shot for a point, and the team with guys named Dirty Harry and last-name-unpronounceable led 1-0.
Then, several more points. After a few photos, Chris had gone off with his new friend and was unlikely to return.
Eventually, Dirty Harry and I led 11-4, the imparity of which did not please The Baron, who called for a do-over.
It was easy to get comfortable when you got a lead in Pickleball. It was easier to get comfortable when you got a lead in any sport (except for bullfighting, Hemingway said).
The points start to stack up for Bob and Bill after that — Bill with his knucklepuck serves and Bob with sideline spikes. I was the first to fatigue, or at least to show fatigue. Too much pretending to be Roger Federer. (Too much being out of position is what The Baron had said through the microphone.)
Then he tells me, through the mic, that he does not like one of my serves, so I hit the next one through the legs for style points, but he doesn’t see, because he’s too busy asking where that photographer from the Coastal Point went off to.
The score is now 15-15. The Baron says on the microphone that you must win by two. The sweat is burning my skin. The sun drips down my face. I cannot push death from my mind.
Hemingway tells me, “All men fear death. It’s a natural fear that consumes us all. We fear death because we feel that we haven’t played well enough or played at all, which ultimately are one and the same.”
Whoever says this, the words are not enough. Both shots 16 and 17 went off my paddle and onto the open court, where not even Rick Bell could save them.
The Baron says that, at the end of the day, America wins. Hemingway has gone off. Probably to watch the bullfights.
While I’m walking back to my car barefoot, the phone rings. It’s R. Chris Clark.
“Where are you?”
“Where are you?”
“I’m walking back.”
“Did you win?”
“No,” I tell him. “America won. I lost to Superman.”
The assignment was to take the court. There were four of us. Five, if you count The Baron.