Sunday, February 04, 2007

Sunday Primal Sunday

Social Darwinism: Why Fight It?

Superbowl Sunday for me began with an unsettling discovery. Me - Mr. Anti-Jock, Mr. I Only Play for the Fun of it, Mr. It's Only a Game - actually got in touch with my competitive nature (my own repressed Dark Side) during my Winter tennis league match on Sunday morning. Here I was playing against a gentle, retired Catholic school teacher and her mild-mannered Hopkins professor partner. On my side of the net I was paired with an amiable 89-year-old retired Goucher College administrator just glad to be alive much less able to still play tennis. And it came out.

Long used to losing on this USTA adult mixed doubles circuit, usually playing on the third and lowest ranked of the three matches played at each contest, I suddenly released that inner beast, awakening my long dormant Competive Nature early inthe first set. Yes, I got miffed and started sulking like John McEnroe when we got down 0-4 in the first match. I had a (Johnny) Mac attack - I wanted to win. And I've never had that feeling. It scared me.

Usually I would just laugh it off, making a wise-crack about how it didn't matter and all that. But now I was tense and my breath quickened and I ran all over the court tracking down every ball that came my way like it was the most important point in the match, even if it meant scraping my knee on the court or running into the net. Clawing our way back to 3-4, we were a point away from evening it up, but my partner lost her serve after a tight eight game and then Team Teach rallied and served it out at 6-3 after we were one point away from breaking back to 4-5.

"We have to get this second set and force a tie-breaker," I said dejectedly to my partner as we switched sides during the crossover. And we came out like Gangbusters. The balls we hit too deep in the first set now painted the lines; the lobs that didn't lob now found room on the baseline for winners; the drop shots that dropped on our side of the net now dropped on theirs; and the backhand slices that didn't slice now slid away from our frustrated opponents. And I actually got nasty and hit a few aces on my serve, something I always feel uneasy about, usually being apologetic at any semblance of showing someone up with a big serve and preferring just to keep the ball in play. "What's gotten into you?" my partner asked. "I'm desperate," I replied. I told her I just didn't want to go away gently into that good night. I think she could relate. And she came alive, too. 89 may sound ancient, but in terms of tennis it translates into several decades of playing experience. All of a sudden, the games added up and we won the second set 6-1.

In a too-tight tiebreaker, we see-sawed back on forth, contesting every point (verbally and physically - both sides wanted to win) until, after we blew several chances to put it away, my partner served it out at 13-11. Just prior to the end, the retired school teacher really wanted it, too, even trying to psychologically unhinge us by dramatically slowing down between points, like an NFL coach trying to unnerve a kicker before a game-ending field goal attempt by calling out a timeout. Alas, to no avail.

I was spent. Two bottles of Gatorade, two bottles of water and a banana helped stave off the dehydration, but I was still sore, having left everything on the court for that one. And for why? My metrosexual cover was blown; I had become a jocko homo!

My descent into primate behavior continued that night when I not only tuned in to watch the testesterone-charged Super Bowl, but also managed to view two Tarzan movies. Is my next step chest thumping?

It's a most unusual feeling and I'm not sure I like it. I may have to go to the Ingmar Bergman film series at the Charles Theatre tonight to get back in touch with my more familiar Inner Metrosexual.


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