Monday, December 01, 2008

Paddles and Laughs.

It's remarkable how completely off-track I can get over a period of a week. I've built a lot of structure into my life, and make efforts to follow my routine with discipline and focus. Still one or two external factors can throw me, and the next thing I know I'm struggling with the basics. Such is the story of the last seven (or more) days. It started with the digestive malaise suffered by both Baby E. and I. I took off two days, alternating with M. Obviously his patterns differ from mine, and they aren't especially well known to me either. It was difficult for me to adapt to them. I was ready for a vacation, and when the holidays hit, I tried to take full advantage. Predictably this late-year cycle of observances carry with them their own traditions as well.

I spent a lot of time with a group of friends that are relatively new to me. There are challenges that come with getting to know new people, and I especially enjoy the novelty of engaging with them. It's fascinating to glimpse windows into personal histories and events that you have never been part of. Along with those discoveries comes an entire set of proclivities and interests that make up an individual. And then an entirely new dimension of association slowly develops, and you begin to form an understanding of the qualities of a developing relationship. What was once a stranger, a mere anonymous human being, slowly comes into focus. Those are invaluable experiences that sometimes reinforce existing neural pathways, and at other times burn new ones.

So the celebrations pass and new connections are formed under circumstances that encourage the conviviality of loosened inhibitions and a vague sense of a broadened community. Along the way you may very well find yourself doing things you had not anticipated. I went to a comedy show at Garfield Artworks, and supported the art of a new friend. I watched other folks performing for the sake of doing the thing they love. The conditions of the event did not suggest the pursuit of glory or adulation, but instead an intense commitment to participating in something altogether chosen, rather than required. They gave out free cupcakes. The audience voluntarily offered itself to the whims of the comedians on-stage. Fascinating.

And then a couple of nights ago I played a sport I hadn't even known existed- paddle tennis. The game has its roots in lower Manhattan, where an Episcopalian minister named Frank Peer Beal wanted to come up with new recreational activities for neighborhood children. He convinced the Parks and Recreations Department to erect courts in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village (1915). Paddle Tennis was played with a de-pressurized tennis ball and a solid wooden racquet. Unlike regular tennis, serves are traditionally delivered underhand, the net is lower, and the court smaller. The fence surrounding the play is like chicken wire, and you can play the ball legally off its walls. It is most often played in doubles.

Technically the version that I tried was "platform tennis", which was invented in 1928 in Scarsdale, NY by James Cogswell and Fessenden Blanchard. Instead of being constructed on typical materials, its base is a raised platform made from corrugated aluminum. Underneath its surface is a heating mechanism that allows all-weather play. The heat melts any ice on the court and dries condensation. Because of this unique feature, the traditional season lasts from Fall through Winter. It's a game that emphasizes ball placement over sheer strength and speed. Still it gives you a pretty good workout, especially if you start at 10:45 on a Saturday night. It was at once frustrating and fun, and an altogether unexpected holiday diversion.

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