Sunday, January 07, 2007

Now, Why Do I Keep Hearing GOB Bluth Saying "I've Made a Huge Mistake" Over and Over in My Head . . .

Tomorrow evening after work, I’m going to play racquetball with PigPen; as I type that, I can immediately picture my Parkerite pals shaking their heads in sympathy for poor PigPen, who obviously has no idea what he's getting into. After all, very few people outside of the Parkerites have been privileged enough to witness the horror that is Cap’n N. playing competitive sports. The situation puts me in mind of the exchange between my dad and myself after her read my account of my first paintball game and its resultant crippling frustration. Dad sent me an ICQ apologizing for inflicting upon me the Enoch gene for over-competitiveness; I responded that my original draft of that post had included the line "I am indeed my father's son," but that I had cut it for space considerations.

Being overly competitive can be bad at the best of times; being overly competitive at something you're not very good at, however, is even worse. Which, of course, brings us back to my competing in athletic activities.

A large part of my problem stems from the fact that, in most things, I'm a pretty quick study – just ask pretty much any teacher or supervisor I’ve ever had. Unfortunately, agility, coordination, and a basic grasp of game strategy are not included in that broad umbrella of “most things.” Of course, it doesn't help that I never seriously applied myself to any athletic undertaking until my collegiate years, at which point I was trying to overcome 18 years worth of couch-potatodom, which meant that things which were second nature to everyone else were huge obstacles for me, resulting in much inwardly focused anger and frustration at not being able to pick up the mechanics of shooting baskets or hitting a volleyball as quickly as I could absorb the rudiments of classwork. I eventually got to the point where I could partake of certain activities with certain individuals without succumbing to the darker side of my nature, but as my mini-breakdown following paintball shows, you don't have to dig far beneath the surface for it to come bubbling up.

Keeping that in mind, let's consider the upcoming match-up, shall we? In this corner, you have an extremely out of shape, non-athletic geek with a tendency for self-fulfilling negative prophecies who hasn't played a game of racquetball in almost 10 years, meaning what little skill may have been accrued has probably withered up and blown away, unlike his midsection, which has ballooned up and stayed put. In the other corner we have a hyperactive, energetic whippersnapper who has been active in athletic activities since before he could crawl and who demonstrates the innate understanding of the mechanics of physicality that brands him as one of that insufferable lot known as "natural athletes." That doesn't sound lop-sided at all, now does it?

A brief aside to demonstrate a key difference between the likes of PigPen and myself. While watching PigPen play softball and paintball, I've been impressed with his willingness to throw his whole body into the activity -- a trait shared by former roomies G'ovich and Flunky -- diving through the air to snag a ball or make the kill shot. I, on the other hand, am pretty sure I've never dived for anything in my life; if you think you've seen me do so, then you were probably just seeing the end result of me tripping over my own feet.

It's not that I don't want to dive after things; I do, I really do. It's just that, so far, my brain has been unable to convince my body that sacrificing itself for the sake of a game is a good idea. There's a mental block at play, and until I can unlock that willingness to go for broke, then I'm constantly going to have to suffer the reactions that I heard far too many times this morning at church when I foolishly mentioned my plans for tomorow.

"Wait, you're going to play racquetball with PigPen? [intense giggling] Can I come watch? [even more intense giggling] Oooo, can you video-tape it? [giggling transforms into guffaws]."

Yup, I got a real ego-boost from my dear, dear church friends this morning, I tell you what.

So, knowing all of this, why have I agreed to play racquetball with someone who, according to everyone and their dog, is guaranteed to mop the floor with me? Well, there are a few reasons. First of all, it's good exercise; even if most of the action consists of me vainly running after a ball, only to bat at the air where it had been moments earlier, at least I'll be running. Secondly, I have very fond memories of the semester when my friend J.D. and I played three times a week; it was quite possibly the first time I was ever able to just enjoy playing a sport without worrying about winning or losing, so nostalgia's in play. Thirdly, the fact that I played quite a bit in the past means that I have at least some modicum of skill; now, if it were baseball, golf, or any of the other thousands of sports I have no knack for at all, it would be a different story. Fourthly, Pigpen was the first person I mentioned the possibility of playing racquetball to who didn't just say "Oh, we need to play sometime" but instead put forth a solid commitment for a particular day and time; I've learned over the years that you can't let firm commitments slip you by, because they don't usually come around again. And, finally, there's the fact that I'm obviously a masochistic glutton for punishment. Obviously.

Now, after all this buildup, I caution you not to be expecting a detailed write up of the experience. Odds are good that my defeat will be so embarrassing that I won't want to relive it. And, in the highly unlikely event that I do end up winning, I won't want to gloat too much, lest Pigpen redouble his efforts to thoroughly squash me like a bug.

All that being said, I'm going to try to approach the game with a spirit of just enjoying myself, no matter what, a feat which I do believe is within my capabilities these days.

Unless, of course, PigPen indulges in too much trash talking, in which case he will likely be forced to put his many years of high school wrestling experience to use in order to prevent me from feeding him his own racket.


cedric the destroyer said...

The secret is, to not try to score. Just hit the ball as hard as you can, and try to do so in a manner that it will come back and hit your opponent. Preferably in the head or junk. I've found that, by doing this, even if you lose miserably, you come out ahead. Nobody will care who won if you have a good high-speed raquetball to the twig-and-berries story. Take it from the fat kid.