9. Laser Larry on Court 5

It doesn’t seem that long ago. My daughter – a high school sophomore in St. Louis – had an appointment with her new guidance counselor. When he saw her last name, he smiled. “So,” he said, “you’re Laser Larry’s daughter!”
 
Her counselor was part of a group of guys I played tennis with. Believe it or not, I had a reputation for my very hard – laser-like – first serve. Not my second serve or my backhand, God knows, but once upon a time, my first serve was a weapon.
 
When my daughter came home and told me that story, I was more impressed than she was. “Laser Larry, huh? I kinda like that,” I said. I was 41.
 
Tennis is my only claim to athleticism. In high school I never ran track, played football or basketball, or even went out for baseball. And I didn’t play serious tennis until I was in my 20s. But once I started, tennis became a significant part of my identity. I remember a t-shirt inscription that was only half exaggeration: Tennis is life.
 
One of the first things I did when we moved from St. Louis in 1990 was to find a group of tennis players. I was a solid B player. (I can hear some of you saying, “What??? Who you kidding??? You were average, if that!!” The other guys were always so jealous.) I still play tennis – and poker – with these same guys year round.
 
Fast forward to this past summer. I’m not in my 40s or 50s or even 60s anymore, and the laser-like qualities have long deserted my first serve. In fact, my first serve has long deserted my tennis game.
 
A couple years ago, I began playing in a summer team tennis league at the local club. Team captains arrange doubles teams on courts 1 through 5, based on level of play. On court 1 are our strongest (A) players; on court 5 the beginning (C) players. I was usually scheduled on court 3, and occasionally on 2 or 4.
 
I was typically the oldest, and frequently the most aggressive, guy on the court. I enjoyed surprising 40-year-old opponents with a strong – laser-like – passing shot.
 
Then came this past summer. My legs were in a lot of pain, and I’d managed to add a bone spur to my collection of disabilities.
 
For the first match of the summer, I was scheduled on court 4. Hmmm. But that’s okay, I thought. When they see the lopsided score, they’ll know I should be moved up.
 
The score was not lopsided. We barely won.
 
The next few weeks, I remained on court 4 and, for the most part, my partner and I won handily. But the damage was done. I had begun to see myself as a court 4 player. A nice old guy who still tries to play tennis.
 
That image was driven home with laser-like precision when an opponent hit an excellent cross-court shot against me, won the point… and apologized for it! It was like he’d embarrassed his uncle.
 
We came down to our last regular-season match. We needed to do well to make it into the playoffs. Our captain always e-mailed court assignments the day before the match. And there it was in black and white, for everyone to see: court 5. Laser Larry had fallen to court 5.
 
At the tender age of 71, I’m being forced to acknowledge my own mortality. Yeah sure, I’m still alive and kicking, and even playing tennis. But… on court 5. Laser Larry has become lovable Larry, the nice old guy who still plays tennis.
 
It’s okay. I’ll take it. As another old guy tennis player used to tell me, it sure beats the alternative.
 
Besides. Every now and again, I still make a laser-like passing shot. And I don’t apologize.

9 thoughts on “9. Laser Larry on Court 5

  1. And I always thought of you as Larry, the placement specialist, who would put it where I couldn’t get to it. Don’t follow me to wherever you go after court 5. Keep on playing as long as you can. Dale

  2. I’d trade places with you in a heartbeat. I had to hang up my racket years ago. Playing on Court 5 would be a dream come true. Keep it up, Larry, and continue to sneak your laser passing shot by those young’ens.

  3. Tennis has probably helped keep you alive and fit. Oddly, I remember you being good at throwing snow balls. Your accuracy embarrassed me and my bad shots made you laugh at me. I was supposed to be the tough guy, but throwing and catching, anything other than a punch, always alluded me.
    You sound good and it’s great to hear from you.

  4. I never went out for the snowball team in high school, either. Bob, this memory of throwing snowballs has totally alluded me. I’m obviously repressing them… something traumatic must have occurred.

  5. I’m waiting for the post that says something along the lines of…

    “I was sitting down the other day reading through this fantastic site, oldguyonline.com, about some retiree’s life lessons… And then the realization struck that it was -my site-. I don’t even remember this stuff!”

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