I used to think my weekly tennis sessions with a group of friends were about having fun and getting a little exercise, but I realized the deeper significance of the sport after reading a column titled "Male Bonding: Tennis and Beer," by Chicago Tribune columnist D.L. Stewart. For Stewart, tennis is "more than a game."
He explains his theory this way: "On a deeper level, tennis can be the catalyst that brings men together. It can be the cement of bonding for men, to whom establishing meaningful relationships with members of the same sex does not always come as easily as it does to women .... Perhaps the same claim can be made for the game of golf, but I'm not sure I could establish a meaningful relationship with a man who wears plaid pants in public." Me neither, D.L., you're singing my song.
Stewart's tennis partners are named Bubba, Joe, Nick the Greek, Stuart, Charlie, Randy and Larry. Mine are Bill, Don, Gene, Jim, John, Kiyoshi, Mike and Skipper, who range in age from about 50 to 84. You can find us out on the courts at Ross Gold Park most any weekend morning, or at other times during the week.
"After the final point has been scored and the last racket has been hurled," you can find D.L. and his buddies at a Chicago pub, where they drink beer "until Mike, the muscular bartender, gives the last call." Here in Carson City, being older and wiser, we don't "throw" our rackets; we "drop" them, although it all depends upon what you mean by "throw."
After tennis, our gentlemanly group usually adjourns to the City Cafe for coffee. There, we engage in serious, meaningful conversation on topics we really care about, like tennis, baseball, football and basketball. Like D.L. and his friends, once in a while, "in a particularly intimate and unguarded moment, we explore our mutual feelings about golf," agreeing (everyone except Gene, that is) that golf is a "wimp sport." Once in a great while, we discuss politics and everyone (except me) agrees that my latest Appeal column was misguided and wrong. They keep me humble.
In his column, D.L. Stewart related a story about the time his wife was thinking of selling their condo and moving across town, and his friend Bubba stepped in to save the day. "I'll get the guys together and come over there in a beat-up old pickup truck," Bubba said. "When the buyers come along we'll pretend we're your next-door neighbors. We'll throw beer cans in your front yard and blast music real loud on the radio, and stuff like that." "This is what being a 21st century man is all about - guys caring about other guys," wrote a choked-up D.L., temporarily overcome by emotion.
"You'd really miss me, wouldn't you?" he asked his concerned friend Bubba. "Of course I would," Bubba replied. "If you leave, there's no one else in this group I can beat all the time." And that's the way my tennis partners feel about me. If I moved out of town, someone else would finish last. And who said guys aren't sensitive to the feelings of other guys?
My favorite philosopher, Dave Barry, once observed that while women are exploring their inner feelings, guys are earnestly following the playoffs. What playoffs? Any playoffs. Barry also offered some attractive alternatives for the older athlete who can no longer engage in strenuous sports like tennis or baseball. They are as follows:
n Walking like a dork, which has become very popular among older people who used to jog for their health but could no longer afford the orthopedic surgery. Good point.
n Golf, in which you get together with other weirdly dressed people in the clubhouse and "drone away for hours about how you 'bogeyed' your three-iron shot on the par six, or your six-iron on the par three, or whatever."
n Fishing, "which is very similar to golf because in both sports you hold a long, skinny thing in your hand while nothing happens for days at a time."
n And skiing, "an action-packed sport that offers you the opportunity to potentially knock down a tree with your face." Very challenging.
Finally, Barry offers a word of advice to the older athlete: "Whatever sport you decide to become involved in, you should not plunge into it without first consulting your physician. You can reach him (or her) on his/her cellular phone, in a dense group of trees, somewhere in the vicinity of the 14th hole." As we were saying, golf is for wimps.
Oh yes, I forgot to mention another attractive aspect of tennis. Thanks to Danielle Arnet of the Tulsa World, I now know that some old tennis rackets are worth real money. For example, a lopsided tennis racket purchased by a Santa Monica, Calif., collector for $30 in 1994 is now valued at $2,600. And some old tennis ball cans fetch $800 at auction.
I should never have given Skipper that old wooden racket for the children's tennis program. It wasn't just lopsided; it was uniquely scarred from having been "dropped" hundreds of times. It may have been worth more than my Beanie Baby collection.
And that's my incisive report from the geriatric sports world. So if you're out at Ross Gold Park on a Saturday morning and see a middle-aged tennis player throwing a temper tantrum, maintain a safe distance from ground zero. After all, you never know when a tennis racket will "drop" in your direction.
(Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, plays tennis in Carson City.)