I’m walking through the grocery store getting some apple juice and I hear,
“Chris? Chris Zell?”
As weird as it sounds, I turned around.
“Chris!” We’ve established that. “It’s great to see you!” Ah, a stranger.
I stand there not recognizing this guy. Sensing that, or just bored because I wasn’t doing anything except wiping condensation from my hands, he told me who he was.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
“Mike Tyler! We used to play tennis together!”
“He he. Yeah, you may not remember, huh?”
I think we’ve established that fact.
He goes on to explain he was part of a tennis mob I knew. I said I remembered them if not by actual names then by their sense of community.
He mentions a few names I’m sort of familiar with. I explain that I do remember hanging around them while I was going through knee therapy and everyone was fun and wonderful.
“Do you remember the tournament you ran?”
At the end of the season I knew I was done with tennis so gathered anyone who wanted to play in a season ending doubles tournament.
“I was so pissed at you because of who you partnered me with.”
I do remember many people were pissed at me. My tournament, my rules. I set up the tournament as a round robin and handicapped the players so that the #1 player would partner with the, for instance, #16 ranked player; the #2 would play with the #15 and so on.
“I was the first seed.”
Oh, okay, I still don’t remember the name but I do remember the whining. He was around 20-22 then, an ex-#1 high school player. He was chubby when I knew him but he sure has taken that pro now.
“Oh yeah, you bitched about getting teamed with that old guy.”
“Yeah, but in the end, you were right.”
What he meant by that is he and the guy won. As even as the draw was, in the end, the best player should be able to carry the worst player to the final. The good thing is all matches will be competitive and everyone will feel as if they had a chance. And, truthfully, they did.
“Robert died.” It took me a second before I realized he was talking about the old guy. I’d known him for years. He was the smiling old guy who was always at the courts. He was one of those happy guys who loved life and playing the game. I remember him fondly.
“At his funeral he had the trophy from that tournament on display.”
I remembered, to the friendly protestation of his wife, he kept it on his TV years back but this was some news. What do you say to something like that? A trifle tossed together for a group of people who, after that day with one exception, I never saw again. That it meant so much to one person he wanted to make sure everyone saw it.
“He used to tell everyone he was a tennis champion and he had the trophy to prove it.”
I smiled and asked the guy if he still had his. He looked down a little sheepishly and said, as a matter of fact, it’s on his mantle scattered with his kids trophies and awards.
We shook hands and I walked away feeling unbalanced. I remember sitting on the hood of a car, dressed in jeans and shoes so I couldn’t be called in to play, watching these people play knowing I was closing a long and fruitful chapter of my life the moment I shut the door behind me that night.
Weird how doors never quite shut and you’re never really sure when a chapter is over.