I arrived at the public tennis courts ten minutes to nine. I was early. My daughter and son-in-law dropped me off and left to play golf for the morning. I waved good-bye, chomping at the bit to play my sport after a whole week’s hiatus.
After stretching and going through my regular warm-up exercises, I noticed something peculiar. I was the only one there and it was 9:10 a.m. We always started at 9:00. Hey, what gives?
Did the gang change days and not tell me? Nah. They wouldn’t be that thoughtless. These were my friends.
So I dug all the used tennis balls I could find out of my wheeled tennis bag and nearby trashcans to practice my serve. I practiced and practiced. I practiced until my serving arm felt like boiled spaghetti. Still no one there.
I felt my bottom lip begin to poke out like my 3-year-old grandbuddy’s when he’s sulking. Yup. My widdle feewings were hurt. My so-called friends had changed something – day, time, planet – and left me completely out. I felt like a have-not in an exclusive club of haves. A humiliated have-not at that.
So knowing I had about three hours to kill before I’d be picked up, I packed up my rolling pink tennis bag and trudged up the hill like a disgruntled bag lady. There was a K-Mart about a half-mile away, across a major highway; looked like I would have to amuse myself with blue light specials and Charlie’s Angels ensembles for a long time.
But before I got very far, a voice called out from the pickleball courts I was passing, “Hey, we’re a player short; would you like to play with us?”
Angels sang. Harps played. A glorious sunbeam broke through from heaven. These people wanted me. I was no longer an outie. I was now an innie. A HAPPY have-not. (More about morphing from a humiliated have-not to a happy have-not in chapter 3 of my new book, Too Loved to be Lost.)
The only caveat was that I’d never played pickleball before. I didn’t really know what it was. But I soon found out. This lovely group of ever-so-friendly, extremely patient and longsuffering folks loaned me a pickleball paddle – which looked a little like a wooden kitchen cutting board with a handle – and introduced me to an exciting new sport. Who knew slapping a wiffle ball around a teensy court could be so much fun?
Actually, a pickleball court is 20’x44′, the same size as a doubles badminton court. The rules are a cross between badminton, tennis, and ping pong, with the goal of keeping the little holey ball in play until your opponent either hits it out of bounds or into the net. Games are to 11 points and both partners on a team get a serve.
I learned right away that the dynamics were quite different than tennis. For one thing, you have to stay out of the kitchen (the section of open court between the service box and the net – see photo above) and it’s pretty much impossible to lob over the heads of two 6′ tall men standing ten feet away from you on a court the size of your bathroom.
But once I got the hang of it, I had a jolly good time. What fun! Of course today I can’t move (evidently pickleball uses a whole different set of muscles than tennis) but I’m still feeling the rush of trying something new and almost succeeding.
Best of all, I’m still basking in the glow of happy have-notness.