I’m sure there is a puzzled look on my face as I regard my friend Dean. He is getting a new ball from the ball boy who is picking them for us. This is the third time I am unable to return his serve. It is very fast and is packing a lot of power with it. A serious improvement on last month.
“Not scared already are we?” Dean asks me with a grin on his face; he was noticed my bafflement.
The grin looks good on him. It is the kind of grin whose end you pray will never come, not because of its aesthetic quality, but because the guy has gigantic buck teeth whose sheer size prevents his upper lip from coming anywhere near the lower one. It would work way better than a restraining order if the upper lip were a crazy spouse that needs to be kept away from his partner. This is a problem for Dean, but it isn’t his only problem. He has other problems. A number of them are not physical.
One of these problems is how he was so terribly intense about everything. Even the most trivial activity like a Saturday evening hike through the woods can get Dean’s face scrunched up with the determination of one who is intent on winning the hundred meters race in the Olympics. Get him a cookie and watch him fold his face and his shirt sleeves and grit his teeth just to eat a cookie. The guy takes everything in his life too seriously.
So, last month, we were at the country club on Sunday for a jolly game of tennis. It was supposed to be just a set after which we would have ourselves some cold drinks and join the other guys for some good gossip. But then Dean demanded another set after we finished the game without a single score to his name. He was so determined to restore his honor that he didn’t even care about Darius’ presence.
Darius is the guy who usually has the dirt on all the rich people in our town. I don’t know how he does it, but the guy always manages to find out whatever crazy or weird thing that goes down in the secret of their palatial mansions and Dean loves him greatly for that.
But that Sunday as he battled to earn a score, swinging furiously with his racket and cursing the ball for flying in the direction his bat sent it, Dean’s mind was far, far away from Darius’ juicy gossip. You see, Dean is the most competitive human being I have ever seen. He is so competitive that if he sees my car ahead of his on his way to work on a Monday morning, he will break all traffic rules to ensure that he overtakes me and gets to the office first. He hates losing. That was why he forced me to play three sets that Sunday. While thrashing him again and again, I rued the fact that I was missing a good drink with our buddies from the other side of the town.
Don’t think that I did not try to talk him out of his folly, I did. As patiently as I could, I walked around the net to his own side of the court to remind him that I have been playing tennis since I was a kid while it was a new hobby he had just taken a fancy to. But he waved me away and asked for us to continue the game. In the end, I had to end it with the excuse that Marie, my wife, would be waiting for me in the house by then. Yet a panting Dean kept begging me for just one more set.
Today he has a smug look on his face as he gets ready to serve.
He is leading forty – love, and he is looking happy about it. The guy has been training. I think he may have paid one of the tennis guys in town to help him improve his skills so he can beat me in a friendly, trivial match that should mean absolutely nothing to either of us. I wouldn’t put it past him.
There has been a marked improvement in his game. It is evident in his service. However, I know that this marked improvement will not stand the test of time. If I don’t get him on his next serve, I will get him when I start. However, I’m pretty sure that his next serve won’t slip by so easily. That won’t sit well with him however, so I’m beginning to consider letting the ball go. I’m considering throwing the game so that Dean can get a measure of happiness, no matter how small it is.
It took him a lot of effort to get me back to this court to face him again today. He started bugging me two weeks ago, exactly three weeks after that Sunday. I refused consistently since I was unwilling to give up good chit chat with the guys and a great evening of calmness in the clubhouse to frustrate Dean. But he persisted so I had to agree so I can get him off my back. Now I’m considering letting him win so I wouldn’t have to be dragged back here another Sunday so that Dean can have another go at beating me.
I can remember how, in grade school, at the end of the term, he would go round seeking information on the grade point average of the top performer of the class so he can compare his own scores with theirs and see how he performed against the competition. Dean’s win every time syndrome did not start today, I don’t know when it started, but it was there when we were kids.
Now, as he throws the ball into the air, I brace myself and prepare to receive it. I won’t let it go out again this time. I have changed my mind. I’m not letting Dean win because of his other problem. Dean has a big mouth. If he wins today, everybody in the town will hear about the ‘routing’ I received at his hands within an hour.