I have often ridden my bike past this park, adjacent to the Shatto 39 bowling alley with its vintage futuristic sign showing bowling pins knocking back a cocktail. The combination of wanting to go bowling followed by wanting to play tennis induced a longing to live a life in which I didn’t have to be somewhere else.
In which I could just be here.
Yesterday was that day, with my first-ever Facebook tennis pal S., who greeted me with the fun fact that at one time in his life he carried a 195 bowling average. How happy am I to have made a real-life friend. S. has enriched my life by providing proof of concept that this tennis quest can be a real thing by playing with me first at the courts near the merry-go-round in Griffith Park and again at the hidden-gem courts near Dodger Stadium in Elysian Field.
It is a great pleasure to make new friends at any point and especially as an adult and even more especially as a now-retired person, because what if my life was closing in upon itself? That would be bad. But my life on this tennis quest is not bad, it’s glad, except that at Shatto yesterday I was down 0-3 and feeling tired, t-i-r-e-d I tell you, of trying and failing to hit winners. Tensing up. Making unforced errors. Enough of that.
So I did something else, spontaneously. Instead of playing to win, I started playing to play. For this, I credit an episode titled “When Rumination is a Good Thing” on the podcast The Science of Happiness. This episode outlines a four-step plan for creating happiness.
- Choose an activity you enjoy doing alone.
- Choose another activity you like to do with people.
- Do something you consider personally meaningful.
- Reflect and write about them.
Dang, I thought. I already do that.
- I like traveling around LA by myself on bike and mass transit.
- I like playing tennis with people.
- It feels meaningful to be out and about paying attention to the beauty and excitement and dire state of this city; and
- I like to write.
What all this meant in terms of me being down 0-3 is I said hey, remember yesterday when you were down at Ladera Park just hitting with your buddies, just rallying, not keeping score, the goal being to keep the point going? Why not play like that now? So I did and instantly the points started getting longer and — I know I just said it wasn’t about winning — but I did start winning points, but only when I was playing to play.
This put me in such a good mood that I remembered another part of the podcast in which a psychologist said that stress produces cortisol which makes us tense up; however, you can counteract that reaction by thinking about things that make you happy. So I thought about hitting with my pals and the nice things they said, such as literally, “I love you Mark.” A guy actually said that to me apropos of some shot or remark I made and it went right to my heart and stayed there, glowing.
I kept all this in mind and also supplemented it with other, non-tennis-related happy memories, such as the waves at the beach on Fire Island and the time I got to meet Mr. Met. I brought the happiness back to the courts at Shatto and how glad I was about the juniper tree in the corner and being in the presence of my pal S., whose girlfriend came to watch us, bringing their boombox so we could listen while we played to Lonnie Johnson singing Memphis blues.
I just wasn’t feeling a taco afterwards, though. Instead I biked home and made a turkey, cheese and backyard kale sandwich. I mightta gotten a little overenthusiastic with the kale. It tasted like walking through a forest, or like swimming in a lake with lots of algae. But still. It tasted fine. Rich. Dense. Reassuring that I would not go hungry or malnourished. I am right now going to harvest a whole bunch more kale and put it out as I sometimes do on a little table in front of my house with a sign that says “Everything is Free” along with this recipe.