Marko at the Net, Chapter 4

Oh no! Marko must report here on his own poor sportsmanship.

Dang, Marko — what was wrong? In your life, I mean. About how you were feeling?

Ahh yes, you’re right, tell us the story first and then we can pick it apart. I’ll be quiet, I promise. I mean, I’ll do the best I can.

OK! So there was Marko, walking right onto the court where three guys were warming up, perfect timing, so far so good. He starts swatting away, my-my how dextrous, look at Marko, switching hands and everything.

People often say to Marko, “Why don’t you just hit a backhand instead of switching hands,” to which Marko replies, “Switching hands is more fun and more important, it’s a tribute to Earl.” Sure! Earl switched hands a bunch, it was one of the many swaggy things he did. Others included chasing down balls you’d think were impossible to chase down, and getting tougher and tougher the more the score went against him. He didn’t even do these things to be swaggy, though. He did them because he is Earl. Still Earl, not playing these days, but nevertheless still tough to beat as a presence on the court.

Which makes Marko’s poor sportsmanship all the more disappointing, because, you want to uphold Earl’s legacy of being a good sport, a great sport. All those guys, Art, Jeff, never squabbled, never barked. They played the next point, that’s all. Listen to what Marko was up to yesterday, though. Barking at calls that didn’t go his way. Like he has such laser eyesight. What’s up with the pouting, Marko? The head-shaking? That is not up-with-people body language, my friend.

He knows. He was in a snit. Barking at calls is the least of it. You know what he was doing? He was riding his partner. Sure, his partner started off cold. Sure, he was swatting put-aways into the net. Sure he was. No one is contesting that. But instead of saying “Hmmm, hmmmm, hmmm” like Art Smith so often did when Marko swatted put-aways back when he was still getting his game together, Marko to his everlasting discredit harrumphs.

Harrumph, Marko says audibly. Dang. That is not the Hillside way. No sir. Harrumphing? Not the Hillside way at all. And there’s worse. He went on to utter things. I am sorry to have to say them here but we must attend to the situation. He uttered, “You have to make that shot.”

Can you believe it? Marko! Said that. To his partner, a perfectly fine fellow who did not respond by telling him to shut the fork up, who instead just kept on trucking, copacetic, as is the Hillside way.

Oh Marko, so disappointing for you to be an a-hole on the court. I am glad you apologized later, at least. Your partner was perfectly nice about it, too. He flowed. He was there for the exercise and fellowship. Oh yes. That’s the spirit.

Marko, meanwhile: would you like to guess at what might have been bothering you? Overflow disappointment from the working week? The students you are not reaching at school? That one particular kid who, when you were calling all the kids who haven’t turned in any work this semester, replied to your favorite question, “What’s happening?” with “I don’t feel like doing any work” and followed it up with, “I don’t know and don’t care about the consequences.”

Mmmm. It’s true that Marko was thinking about this kid while squeegee’ing the windows of his wife’s car as he drove, not biked, to play tennis. Maybe the biking is important for stress reduction. Marko, while squeegee’ing, thought, “That kid deserves to choose his own adventure.” Sure. He certainly does. Marko wishes he could give this kid, who literally sits there with his arms crossed, staring at the wall, just about all class period long, yikes, no one buy this kid any firearms please! — Marko wishes he could give this kid “The Hunger Artist” or “Bartleby, the Scrivener” to read — tales of the great refuse-niks — but the kid would just refuse to read them.

Maybe Marko should re-re-re-re-read them if he is so keen on their being read. Would that help with his manners on the tennis court? I strongly doubt it. What would then? Well, I think this talking-to ought to help. And if you’re thinking well, this hasn’t been a very stern talking-to, hold on one sec ’cause it’s about to be.

Marko! Don’t you EVER berate a partner like that again! Do you hear me?

Yes, I hear you.

Tell me, what is it you hear?
I hear you saying I didn’t live up to my ideal of being an encouraging person. That I let my frustrations and disappointments out in a way that dishonors what I hope to stand for, what I hope to achieve with my time in the world. I feel sad about that, and I’m sorry. I will really try to do better.

OK Marko. You sound sincere. Go now, and be good.

I’ll try.

PS The photo for this post is of the trunk of the oak tree at the side of the court. There are such great trees all around the tennis courts at Hillside. Oak and pepper and sycamore and pine. You can always look up and see them.

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