Rocky night last night! Lotta knee pain. Except, is it really pain? That’s what I ask myself after waking up repeatedly during the night to continue re-scanning headlines about Gaza and Israel & post-season baseball.
More of an ache. Not a hobbling. NO is the answer to Do I need or want a knee replacement. No, thank you. I saw an IG photo of former Orioles catcher Rick Dempsey in a hospital gown in a hospital bed, caption reading All those years of catching finally caught up to him, so he got a knee replacement. His doctor promised him he’d be walking out of the hospital tomorrow and on his way to winter catcher’s clinic.
Well, Rick Dempsey was a veteran major league catcher whereas I only crouched on weekends intermittently from my early 30’s to late 50’s. Point being, I’d like to finish this tennis quest before contemplating season-ending surgeries at a hospital. The target date is Spring of ’24 but that might get pushed back depending on how clear I am about what comes next. The leading contender is a new quest to play drums in a band.
Meanwhile, the proximal cause of my late-night knee ache was a double-header Tennis Friendship day. I played twice, once in the morning at Eaton Blanche Park in Pasadena with my friend Walt and then again at Holly Park in Gardena with my friend Bruce. I was so excited when Bruce said let’s play Thursday night that I didn’t even think about already having a plan in the morning and then when I realized my blunder, I didn’t text Bruce and say oh, whoops, no I can’t because Friends Keep Their Word.
Plus look at me with two different friends I can play tennis with in two different parts of LA on the same day!
You might ask: are they really friend-friends or just tennis friends? I would answer first of all that I got lunch with Walt a couple of months ago. We both ordered tuna melts. And we also, months after that, attended a poetry reading together. So yeah, I’d say we’re friend-friends. I’ve known Walt for more 10 years and we just branched off into non-tennis activities a couple of months ago; so yeah, a long gestation period.
Meanwhile, Bruce I just met a few months ago. Yesterday was the first time I ever saw him without his sunglasses on. That’s progress towards getting-to-know-you.
Bruce has lively, friendly, trustworthy eyes that match up with the lower part of his face once you get used to seeing them. He picked me up in his car at the Crenshaw Metro stop in Hawthorne. That’s trust right there. Getting into a car with someone; letting someone get into your car. The first place we were gonna hit, Freeman Park, Bruce said it was closed. [I checked with the parks department today and the helpful person on the phone said they’ll be open again for free play after Halloween.]
We headed over to Holly Park, even though – since he asked – I told him I had already played there.
“Let’s not over-quest it,” I said in the passenger seat. “We’re together. Let’s play.”
I felt good about myself for this. Noble. Not putting myself first. Those courts at Holly Park turn out not to be in the best condition. One court, the net has sagged to the ground and there’s a garbage can in the middle of the court like a warning, stay away. The other court, the net is low but playable, barely, with only some but not all the lights coming on, so it got Halloween-y after 6:30 sunset.
I will say there was a bright crescent moon and you could see the ball just fine. The lights only half-working is just something to complain about.
Furthermore, when I say that I had played at these courts before, I mean, I practiced by myself knocking over a can of balls with my serve. That was lonesome.
Whereas me and Bruce were cavorting. He is a soccer-playing volleyballer in his mid-twenties and gets to everything. Last night he kept announcing when he had returned shots left-handed.
“You learned that from me,” I reminded him. Learning from Each Other: that’s another thing Friends do.
Friends also Listen to Each Other. I listened to Bruce tell me about his job and girlfriend. He listened to my theory about how winning doesn’t really matter in rec tennis, what matters is playing extended points. You keep getting the ball back until the point develops a life of its own. It’s like raising a child.
I really felt like I could Speak my Truth with Bruce. We scampered extensively. Lob this, good-get that. There were also slapstick moments of having put-aways at the net that didn’t work out as planned as in, wow, he just plonked the ball into the net, fine, I’ll take it as my reward for not slicing any serves.
I dawdled afterward while taping a flyer for my homelessness fundraiser to the bench. It was taking a really long time because my tennis bag is full of random stuff like stretching bands and hoodies and a copy of Moby-Dick. Yet Bruce waited because Friends are Patient with Each Other.
And then when I finally taped the flyer to the bench and decided I now needed a picture, I said, “This isn’t really gonna be much of a photo” but he said, “It’s an epic photo.” Which goes to yet another thing friends do: Encourage Each Other.
Walt was doing this big time when we played earlier in the day. I had been telling him about my concern about carrying my tennis bag on public transit, how it’s bulky and I don’t want to accidentally brush somebody with it because they could use this as an excuse for an altercation.
“But don’t worry, Walt,” I assured him. “I’ll get my licks in if it comes to that.”
“I don’t think anybody would try anything with you,” my friend Walt assured me. “You’ve got that Clint Eastwood vibe.”
Who me? Clint Eastwood? Daaaaang. That’s a confidence-builder. I never really thought of myself as Clint Eastwood-caliber badass – except secretly. And this is a still further thing Friends do – Validate Your Secret Self.
Yah and one more thing. While we were playing, some grown-ups and kids gathered at the adjacent picnic tables. I heard one kid crying-moaning-wailing-droning. Between games, I mentioned to Walt, “That’s a very particular vocalization.”
He said, “It’s a gathering of angels who care for these kids.” At which point I began to notice that all the kids had headgear or walkers or wheelchairs. Which leads me to one more thing friends do: Help You Feel More Kindly towards Other People.