I play racquetball. I play it hard and – in my humble estimation, as well as in the estimation of others against whom I compete – I play it well. There is one person I play more often than any other. For our purposes, I’ll call him Lance. I’d say we are pretty evenly matched so our games are always spirited. (To put things in proper context, I might add here that I estimate to be about 25 years Lance’s senior.) We bring out the best in each other and, while we are friends – more on that complexity later – I detect an undercurrent of animus present during our contests. I can only speculate upon Lance’s sentiments but I gain immense satisfaction from beating him. And judging by his thinly-veiled dejection when he loses to me, I suspect his satisfaction in beating me rivals my own.
Lately, Lance has been beating me more often than I’ve been beating him, a decided reversal of fortune. While the scores have been somewhat lopsided – in his favor, of course – they belie the ‘hammer and tongs’ fashion in which we play each other. That is why our last encounter was particularly sweet. I beat him two out of three games. Yes, I freely admit he ‘skunked’ me the last game, meaning he shut me out 11-0. (His revenge for a skunking I administered to him earlier in our competition.) However, this did little to diminish the satisfaction I derived from beating him the previous two games in an almost casual fashion. I’m not sure what prompted the uncharacteristic sense of calm I enjoyed at the beginning of the first game but suffice it to say it carried throughout the three games we played and contributed greatly, I think, to my victories.
Lance’s discouragement was palpable, and for good reason, I’d say. Our playing was pure happenstance. I was alone for the better part of an hour – the only player present among the three racquetball courts – hitting shots and experimenting with various serves. This had been my sole intention and I was thoroughly enjoying myself. Almost about the time I’d decided to wind down, Lance shows up. He seemed delighted to see me; I’d been in absentia for about seven days. He informed me of a coming tournament in Arlington that he was planning to enter. Not assuming he wanted to actually play me in a game or two of singles, I offered to ‘work him out’ as part of his preparation for the December tournament. He accepted and, after he warmed up, we went at it.
I threatened to skunk Lance the first game, getting out to an 9-0 lead. His ire and disgust grew with each point I won. Eventually, the law of averages kicked in and he mounted a strong comeback. The final score was 15-9, I believe. The second game started off a little more evenly but I was pretty much in command the entire game, winning it 15-11. He grudgingly congratulated me on both victories and seemed to gain little solace from shutting me out in the third and final game.
We engaged in our usual post-game analysis. He noted the adjustments I’d made in my game – adjustments made as a result of his well-intended critiques. Truth be told, it had taken a tremendous swallowing of pride on my part to accept his suggestions, mainly because I doubt he would have reciprocated had the shoe been on the other foot. Lance is argumentative, fussy and easily irritated. I have grown to know and like him, though both exercises can be taxing at times. I can tolerate him only in medium doses.
But I enjoy beating him – all day long.