Riot at the Rec

Riot at the Rec

It was several weeks ago. Lance — his name has been changed to ensure privacy — and I were creating a din. So much so that the recreation center’s man-in-charge had to make his way down the racquetball courts hallway and ask us to cease and desist. We acquiesced, respectfully, both of us instantly aware of how loud our verbal exchange had gotten. Yes, we were pissed at each other. And pissed at our lot.

By our lot I mean the 0-8 record — Lance had been keeping count — in racquetball doubles games against our common ‘adversary,’ Durwood (and with whomever he partnered at the time). It was getting under our skin, eating away at us like cancer. And for a couple of reasons. One, we thought ourselves to be as good as ‘they’ were, individually and as a team. Secondly, and probably more importantly, we just wanted to beat Durwood. The arrogant Durwood. The opinionated Durwood. The giver of unsolicited advice Durwood. The domineering Durwood. The sometimes cheating Durwood.

But, apparently, it had gotten under my partner Lance’s skin even more than mine. It had become a fixation to the point of him blurting out during our heated ‘discussion’ that we were 0-8 against Lance and with whomever he partnered. I knew we had lost to them frequently but had not kept a tab of exactly how often. Lance had. He doesn’t like Durwood, period, and had actually beaten him in a singles game (though I believe it was a shortened one). Actually, he has beaten Lance’s most frequent partner, too. I, on the other hand, have never beaten either of them, though I have not played them lately and would surely have better success against them now than previously.

How we even got on the subject of our woeful record against Durwood and company testifies to Lance’s seething anger over our inability to defeat them. We had been in the midst of playing our second game of singles. He had beaten me the first game, something I didn’t take lightly. I don’t like losing, particularly singles games. In league play, my three loses are all against the better players in the league: Lance, and a couple of other players. In each case, I lost two of three. Anyway, the first game with Lance started badly for me, with him jumping out to a 10-2 lead or something like that. I had elected to use my back-up racquet, a very lightweight Head, and was not feeling comfortable with it. Eventually, I stopped play and switched back to my regular ‘stick,’ the E-Force. Right away my game improved and while Steve won the game, I played better than even with him through the balance of it.

While Lance went to refresh himself between games, I stayed on the court and hit practice shots. I was not happy with my play, not just at the present time but for the past few weeks. Tendonitis in my left achilles had scaled back my ability to move explosively and I was trying to adapt to this handicap. Additionally, I had not been hitting kill shots with the frequency I had been in the past. Could it be because I was no longer using the heavy Ektelon stick that had been my main weapon previously? (The strings were broken – for the third time – and I refuse to sink another $25 into getting it restrung, at least for now.) I was feeling pretty comfortable with the E-Force; though it was actually heavier than the Ektelon it felt more maneuverable. Still, after severely rolling my right ankle – I had stepped on Lance’s foot during a singles game about six weeks ago – and then suffering tendonitis in the other leg just when the ankle was about fully recovered, I was frustrated with not being able to recapture my form. Over the past six weeks, I’d played sparingly, trying to give my ankle and my tendon time to rest and recuperate. Meanwhile, my game had lost its edge.

At the start of our second game, I began serving with a vengeance, achieving a precision that had recently escaped me. Hard cross-court drive serves that stifled Lance’s backhand. Heavily hit Z serves that handcuffed his forehand. Down-the-wall drive serves that caught him out of position. When I didn’t ‘ace’ him, I tied him up enough to gain a significant advantage and put him away on my next shot or two. It was such an early blitz that he grumbled out loud, “Where was this intensity when we were playing doubles?” or something to that effect. (In retrospect, it was a perfectly understandable query. The “tone” of his comment is more what I objected to, I think.) I looked back at him and asked him what was he trying to say? That I didn’t put out the effort necessary to win during our doubles games against Durwood, et al? We exchanged heated words along those lines for a few minutes, then resumed play. I continued to batter him for a couple more points. Then he quit.

The ensuing conversation, which escalated into a shouting match, evolved around why I seemed to play at a higher level of ‘intensity’ against him than when playing doubles against Durwood and company. I voiced my displeasure with his insinuation that my effort was questionable during our doubles games. After several minutes the angry exchange ended. Lance had to return a book to me so I waited for him outside. We continued our ‘debate’ in a much more civil fashion. I conceded on the point he had made about my ‘approach’ (if not my desire) in singles play compared to when I play doubles. We confirmed playing Tuesday and parted company.

I learned something about perception, from the outside and from within. How I grade my racquetball game is different than how it is perceived by Lance, whose opinion I respect. While I had considered him a major component of our doubles partnership – maybe the more dominant one – he had the exact opposite view. During our discussion outside, he talked about how he considered me to be the ‘gunner,’ the kill shot component of our team while he was the back-up, the support player, the set-up guy. It became obvious from his description that he saw, and expected, much more from me than I imagined during our doubles play.

Our doubles partnership is still intact. However, the continued lack of success against Durwood & Co. remains a “pebble” in our shoe.

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