Monday, April 12, 2010

Martin

I reached a new stage in life today as I attempted to get some exercise. Regular exercise is the key, an older gentleman told me recently. Intermittent exercise, especially on cold days, is the way to give yourself a heart attack. So, since I'm financially covered this week because of two job interviews and the dog coming over for a stay I have to make health a priority. Even though it is windy and cold I biked down to the park with my tennis racket and basketball. The plan is to hit the practice wall until I lose all four balls over the fence. Then play basketball. It didn't take long to lose all 4 balls and just then an old old shuffling man wandered up with a basket full of tennis balls and a racket as old as time. I ran over to get the balls I'd lost and he said in an accent I hardly recognized, "Do you want to hit some?"
Well, dear reader, this man is easily 75 years old. Hell, his shoes were probably 40 years old. And when I say he is shuffling, I mean both feet are on the ground at the same time at all times. My 99 year old grandfather moved about as fast. Maybe the guy is 80 years old. 80! And playing tennis on a Monday. I admit I was really torn between feeling totally useless because I'm like a kid playing hooky from life, and also honored because I get to play tennis with this man and that would never ever happen if I lived a conventional life. I might be the first person to play tennis with him in 20 years. If there was a way to combine my love for impromptu tennis matches with octogenarians and money then I'd be all set.
"Let me get my racket," I said.
Now, until last week I hadn't swung a tennis racket in probably 18 years. No lie. I renounced all athletic pursuits when they became commercialized. I tried to incorporate athletics into my life and did a pretty good job with the merchant marines, tree planting, bicycle commuting and community gardening. There were dark periods of crippling pain and more than one doctor told me I'd never walk or run again and my knees and back remind me every day that I'm no teenager but if I can play some tennis then I'm going to play tennis.

Martin took the side so he would be hitting with the wind and we began my first volley in 18 years, me on the lip of 40, Martin on the edge of oblivion, stiffer than a board, hearing aid, coke bottle glasses, windbreaker jacket from 1988. If I can live long enough to play my equivalent in 2050 I'll be happy. And if I can refrain, like Martin, from talking about my glory days then I'll be happier still. I could tell by Martin's hands that he was once a fury on the tennis court. His hands were the only thing that worked fast anymore and if I didn't hit the ball exactly within arms length of him then it rolled past him. This proved to be difficult in the wind and since I haven't hit a ball in years I had to work to get a volley going. Fortunately, Martin had brought 30 tennis balls with him and we managed to use everyone of them. Balls were everywhere. As soon as one got past him or I hit it into the net I got another and we tried again.
Then the junior high school P.E. class showed up, which is always a bizarre moment for me because I definitely was in that same Junior High P.E. class in 1984, walking on a mini field trip from school to the nearby courts to learn the basics of 30-love, duece, foul, serve, etc. So, here I am, 26 years later, on the same court AT THE SAME TIME as the exact same class I was in plays tennis around me and a guy who is 80 years old. Moments like this have a kind of altered-time feeling to them. Exactly which person am I? Skinny jeans were popular in 1984 and, look, the lanky girls are wearing them again. I'm wearing my standard brown parachute pants and wool sweater. Or am I? Am I actually Martin in his windbreaker, shuffling to the ball. It's a complete overlap of three or four generations and I could easily be any one of them. the boys goof off and hit the ball over the fence on purpose. A fat kid hits a kid in the ass with his racket. Am I the kid he hit? The teacher says "Hey!" I yell, "Nice return!" to Martin who managed to reach a ball on the first bounce. Martin yells, "You're running me into the ground."
And he's only half kidding as I monitor his left arm for signs of trouble.
But I'm thinking we both need exercise. I mean none of us are long for this world so what the hell? Either one of us could have a Myocardial Infarction and drop dead right now. The kids are running on skinny, pale legs, short shorts and black denim pants, t-shirts with pizza sauce stains on them.

No, this story doesn't end with me calling an ambulance. If we were keeping score Martin might've pushed himself to death. But we were just volleying so he called it quits before he died. (I should point out that even though we were only volleying, Martin tried to switch hands to swing lefty at a ball that was going to get by him. I can tell you only someone who has played a lot of tennis would do this. Mentally, he knew what he had to do but physically the joints didn't work anymore. This is a guy who will miss a day of exercise only when he's dead.) I was sort of sweating. I almost told him he must've been a great player in his day but settled on "That was fun." He agreed.
He lives in Kittery and was kind enough not to ask why I'm down at the playground on a Monday morning playing basketball by myself. My answer would be that I am committed to exercise this spring and summer. This is not a moral issue, though you can make that argument. No, it's imperative that I exercise in order to retain some mobility and clear the hamburger plaque from my arteries. I can get a job building wire harnesses and I can die in July, or I can shirk all my responsibilities and play tennis all summer but still be here in August. I know which choice Martin wants me to make. He said he's there every day it's not raining. I think I'll interview him before I lose the chance.
Dollars earned today=$0
Dollars spent today = $0
Humanity points earned today = 100

On the way home my parachute pants got caught in the sprocket of my bike and I almost crashed into a fence.
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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.