Recently I joined an extremely exclusive club here on Camano Island – the swank Royal Racquet and Earl Grey Tea Society. They play on the only public tennis courts on the island. In order to be considered for membership you must live on the island, be male (sorry ladies, get your own club), be at least 60 years old (at 61, I barely made the cut) and be able to ambulate without any help from your grandchildren.
I was inducted into this fashionable club in a formal private ceremony which involved my walking onto the courts and asking, “Hey, mind if I join you guys for some tennis?” Apparently that was the correct secret phrase because somehow they let me in on my very first try, without any background check or body cavity search.
The posh Royal Racquet and Earl Grey Tea Society, more commonly known by its members as the Old Farts Tennis Club (OFT for short) is 25 members strong plus 11 more who are admittedly weak.
The rules of play for the Old Farts Tennis Club are rigorous:
- All games are played in a classic doubles format.
- Play must go on regardless of inclement weather conditions – unless it rains or looks like it eventually might.
- Players must hit the ball such that it lands within the boundaries of the tennis court, as designated by white lines around the perimeter – except for Ernie, in which case if his shot lands within a foot of the line, that’s close enough. Members have suggested to Ernie it’s probably time he got his eyes checked.
- Members must remember to wear their pants when they show up to play – this rule was created specifically for a member named “Barney.” (Not his real name. His real name is Ned.)
- Members are not allowed to show up inebriated. Drinking is forbidden until the member has played at least four games, after which drinking is encouraged – as a way to help members forget how terribly their tennis has declined over the years.
- This is a men’s only club. No women are allowed to play – unless said woman is under 45, attractive, and doesn’t mind older men with the maturity of 16-year-olds making catcalls like, “Hey, toots, if I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?”
- There are several other important rules, but none of the members can remember what they are anymore.
The OFT also adheres to strict rules of “Net-iquette” to keep the game dignified and encourage gentlemanly conduct at all times (other than when an attractive 45-year-old woman enters the court, that is):
- While sitting on the bench waiting for their turn to play, snoring is frowned upon – unless you’re Bert. Bert always snores. He can’t help it. Even when he’s wide awake – and serving. Other OFT members find this phenomenon a bit disconcerting but harmless.
- No cursing is allowed on the courts – unless the member is talking about his wife’s most recent procurement – such as some ridiculously over-priced so-called “art” that looks vaguely like a cow vomited on a Jackson Pollack painting – then it’s allowed – or for that matter, any story involving the wife complaining they spend too much time fishing and not enough time helping around the house. Cursing is also permitted when discussing how in the fourth quarter the Seahawks gave away another game they should have easily won.
- Members are expected to keep the pace of play moving. During a game, players are encouraged to focus on playing tennis and should not ask Artie to share stories about his time living in Denmark. He’ll talk your ear off about how he’s distantly related to King Frederick VIII. Don’t ask. Just trust me.
- Don’t discuss politics with other OFT members – especially with Sid. He’ll drone on about how this country would be a better nation today if only Alf Landon had defeated FDR in 1936. Acceptable topics of conversation include:
- “Does anybody know a good doctor for a hip replacement?” and
- “I think you should have that thing looked at” and
- “I was thinking about buying a new racquet but I hate to spend the money since this one is barely 35 years old” and
- “I seem to have forgotten your name. Do you mind telling me it again?” and finally,
- “I seem to have forgotten your name. Do you mind telling me it again?”
The Two Bounce Club: The OFT has a tradition dating back several years – I want to say to 1735, but I could be off by a few years – in which members who have reached 80 years of age are allowed two bounces to reach the ball. When a member turns 80, the club conducts a special ceremony involving stale gluten-free cookies Barry’s wife made last week, heartwarming comments from younger OFT members about how the newest Two-Bounce Club honoree probably won’t make it to their 81st birthday, and instructions on how to do the secret handshake that is revealed only to new Two-Bounce Club initiates – which they all forget by the next morning, so nobody actually knows what the secret handshake is anymore.
When members turn 90, they get three bounces. And in the unlikely event they make it to 100, they get a free ride in an ambulance the first time they collapse on the court. Legend has it that when OFT founding member Cliff Bledsoe turned 100, he paraded all over the island in the ambulance blasting the siren and shouting over the loudspeaker from the passenger seat to cute women he passed by, asking if they’d like to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
For information about membership to the OFT, just send me an email. I appointed myself Treasurer. A Lifetime membership costs only $500 – payable to me, in cash, in the parking lot. For $100 more, I’ll make sure your application doesn’t get lost. It often takes months before those lucky few that gain admittance into this prestigious private club ever actually set foot onto the club’s luxurious concrete courts. That’s because at the age most members are when they’ve finally been accepted, they have difficulty remembering where they left their car keys.
That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.
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© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2016