By S M Chen, posted Aug 1, 2017    “Can we all get along?” – spoken by Rodney King, after the 1992 Los Angeles riots (which cost over a $1 billion; 63 died, 2363 were injured and 12,000 arrested)

***

It was just another morning in paradise – or so it seemed. The sun shone brightly and skies were blue. The day was warm, and promised to get warmer.

Four of us gathered to play tennis for exercise, as some of us are wont to do several times a week.

One was a lady, a flight attendant for American Airlines, who arrived on a red Vespa scooter with a matching helmet. I didn’t even know she rode.

Another player is a fellow I’ve known since high school. Son of a missionary to Singapore, he and I used to battle over a ping-pong table. He’d honed his skills abroad. Though we have our differences, we put those aside when we’re on the tennis court. I enjoy playing both with and against him. His height gives him a formidable advantage when at the net.

The third, beside myself, is a fellow who attended the same college my freshman year. He’s a bit older, but seemingly none the worse for wear, other than his knees. He’s altered his game to accommodate his lack of mobility and is one of the more formidable players among the group with whom I play.

Where I live there are six tennis courts. Given the number who belong to the association, the courts are usually underutilized. Though it somewhat surprises me, I hardly grieve.

There are a clubhouse and sizable swimming pool on the premises. An attendant/guard works on site during the daytime.

This particular morn there was more than one court available.

We chose Court 1 which, unlike the others, is off by itself. Secluded, it resembles a private court. Its four corners are not right angle, but, rather, form 135-degree angles because of diagonal walls placed between sides and ends. Balls have to be retrieved less at this court, which is often shadier than some others.

We started somewhere around 8:45, I’m guessing.

The first set, my partner was the flight attendant, an affable blonde whose athleticism exceeded what one might surmise, Vespa notwithstanding. She very much held her own and the final score was close.

We decided to play another set. This time she teamed with the player with bad knees.

Like life, the set had its ups and downs, its ebbs and flows. It, too, ended up being tightly contested.

During our second set the employee, a middle-aged man with heft, came to the fob-operated gate and informed us that others had requested Court 1 and that we would have to vacate soon.

We played on, perhaps thinking we’d be done by the time others came to claim the court.

But it was not to be. The set dragged on.

A second time the club employee came, this time with the two men who had made the specific court request in tow.

We stopped play and went to speak with the arriving duo.

Ensuing conversation was held mainly between the flight attendant and one of the two men who had arrived. Words became somewhat heated and the air seemed thick with tension.

The contention of the attendant was that other courts were available, so why were we, in middle of play, being asked to vacate? Could someone actually reserve a given court in absentia? Her voice increased in amplitude.

The man to whom she was speaking never raised his voice, but held steadfast to his position that a given court could indeed be reserved. Besides, we’d occupied that court for more than 1.5 hours (a posted understood figure for allotted time of occupancy).

Actual written rules were posted on another court some distance away. None of us bothered to check at the time. Emotions ran higher than baseline. The attendant promised to check with the homeowner association before she boarded her Vespa.

A few days passed but the event was not forgotten.

***

This morning I played tennis again. Outside the court were posted the rules that govern the tennis courts. I decided to read them carefully.

Upon doing so, it became clear to me that we four were in the wrong, that courts could be indeed reserved, even if other empty courts were available. I might not like the rules, but implicit in my playing there was acceptance of those rules.

Afterward, on the drive home, I spotted, walking in the other direction, the man who had engaged in somewhat contentious discussion. In over 5 years living here, I’d never seen this particular man walking; I’d only seen him at the tennis courts.

It would be easy enough to continue on my way and let him continue on his. Perhaps better that way. But something nagged at me.

I turned around and idled alongside him. I put down the passenger door window.

He’s tall, graying, with long hair in a ponytail. As I’d seen him before, he wore sunglasses and a French legion hat similar to the one Ivan Lendl used to wear, the better to keep the sun out. He reminded me a bit of the actor Sam Elliott.

After he came to the car, I said, “I read the rules. I wanted to enlighten myself. You were absolutely right the other day. “

I held out my hand. He took it.

“I’m glad you stopped and told me that,” he said. I couldn’t tell if he was smiling behind the sunglasses. “I’m a lawyer,” he added. “I helped write the rules. One reason I moved here is because of the tennis. I used to play in college.”

As we chatted, he said, “I don’t want to be known as the local jerk (he used another word, but ‘jerk’ suffices).”

“No need,” I reassured.

I turned the car around and headed home. He continued on his walk.

***

He and I may never be friends. That was not my intention.

But I was grateful for the opportunity to apologize. We aren’t always given that opportunity.

When we are, I think we should consider taking it.


S M Chen lives and writes in California.