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Charles W. Dowdy

A Writerís Bad Backhand
by Charles W. Dowdy

I will never be a great league tennis player. Thatís because Iím a writer. Instead of simply whacking tennis balls over the net, I stand there and create mythic figures out of my opponents.

Before children, the closest I would come to the tennis courts was the first tee of the golf course. Just before teeing off, I would gaze over at the tennis courts and think, ďWhat morons! Why would anyone want to chase a little yellow ball in this heat?Ē Then I would chili-dip my little white ball into the lake, beginning a three hour trial that would culminate in one of two things: impaling my playing partner after he ďaccidentallyĒ performed a gastric clearing of the baffles in my backswing for the fourth time, or giving up, relegating myself to riding in the golf cart and starting a beer IV.

This year, for reasons I have not had enough therapy to understand, I agreed to play tennis. And in doing so, I have condemned myself to be a miserable failure.

I canít help it. There is nonstop commentary in my head -- unfortunately, somewhat cheesy commentary. I read Louis LíAmour westerns as a kid. Iím really into the guy on the white horse thing, and I know Iím not a hero so it has to be my opponent on the other side of the net. (Itís probably not so bad for Steven King -- he can visualize the dismemberment of his opponents.)

At the beginning of a tennis match I canít help but attach nearly superhuman qualities to the overweight, forty something guy on the other side of the net.

This was what took place in my head last week: My opponent pulls his gear from a much traveled bag. The sweat bands on each and every limb, including his head, are a clear indication that he is prepared to sweat profusely, intending to run down every shot.

He sports a pair of ankle high tennis shoes. Apparently basketball is no longer the only domain of these high top shoes. Or maybe this man is a leaper and he will plant himself at the net, jumping high into the air, swatting away each feeble effort I send his way.

And he must really be some kind of leaper if he can do that with the protective braces he wears on each knee. These cumbersome braces speak of the spirit of a fighter, a man who will never say die despite what poor genetics and the passage of time have sent his way. The braces also speak of multiple knee surgeries, a supposition confirmed by the labyrinth of surgical scars on each knee. Well, the ones I can see on the left knee. I assume they are on the right knee, but there is no way to know as my opponent tripped on his way out to warm up and not even Superman could distinguish scars through that much blood.

But talk about playing through pain. My opponentís face betrays not one sign of discomfort. Of course, Iíll have to assume his grunt with each and every groundstroke, well, with every movement he makes, has always been a part of his game. And itís not so much a grunt as a scream, much more Monica Seles than Andy Roddick.

As we meet at the net to decide who will serve first, he pulls out a tape measure and checks to make sure the net is regulation height. (All right, at this point Iím honestly thinking, Buddy, youíve got to find something else to do with your time.)

I wait as my opponent attaches a black Velcro thingy to hold on his glasses. Then a second Velcro thingy. Then he dabs the sweat from his brow with a towel sporting a Nike logo. Iím using a dirty dishtowel. A dirty dish towel? How do I, a mere father of four, stand a chance against an opponent such as this one?

The match is set to begin. My opponent prepares to serve, his face a picture of determination as he swats angrily at an offending horsefly.

After the match we meet at the net. I offer him congratulations and my apologies for my pitiful play. But did I ever really have a chance against this tennis god? This pharmacist with such natural skills who might have really been something if only for some obsessive parents?

Of course, I didnít. I am completely spent and there is hardly a drop of sweat beneath the six inch wide sweat band on my opponentís brow.


Charles Dowdy lives in south Mississippi with his beautiful wife, four kids, and a menagerie of furry things. Heís in the radio business, but also writes a weekly column for several newspapers. He loves to hear from editors. Write him at cwdowdyjr@yahoo.com -- especially if youíre an editor.

Want to read more of Dowdyís stories? Check out the USADS HUMOR SECTION for a long list of hilarious articles. Or try these:

Goodby, Debt -- Hello, Ricecakes
The Waiting Room War Zone
Baby Room Racket


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