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During one of my grade school years our school board got the idea that we would all be much better off if we knew what the future held, something the experts could tell us. It may have been envisioned as a “Que Sera, sera” sort of thing. Planning for the future, one upping the Soviets, who seemed to be much better at this than the Yanks. One child would be the next Einstein, another the dunce. I knew damn well I wasn’t going to be Einstein, but I wasn’t at the dunce end either.

The aptitude tests took place in the gym, and it was like being back in kindergarten. Guys in lab coats were ready with clipboards and stopwatches. We were encouraged to do puzzles and put square blocks through square holes. We were asked things like: if Mars had air, what color would the sky be? It was fun, about as far from the three R’s as one could get. We didn’t realize that experts like these were still encouraging Americans to smoke for their health.

No doubt the results were sent to the parents and filed away in triplicate. All I remember learning was that I possessed a peculiar combination– fast hands and slow fingers. By the time I thought about asking what that implied about my fate, the experts had packed up and gone home.

I was a short, slightly shy, nearsighted kid. One of the last to be called on a baseball field. At bat, I would stare in amazement at a ball that had just whizzed by and now protruded from the catcher’s mitt. Hopeless at football and basketball.

I was good at only one schoolyard game, the one where you stand facing your adversary and place your palms on his, anticipating the instant he flips his hands over and slaps the back of your hands. I could always pull away before that happened. Then it was my turn.

Later, I discovered table tennis and badminton. They offered me the unmitigated joy of beating the pants off other, more athletic boys. They were not lying about my slow fingers. Typing class was the only one that nearly brought me to tears.

As an adult, I developed fairly strong arms and short, powerful legs. Not much good for sprinting but just fine for outdoor activities I liked– sailing, kayaking, hiking and cycling. Even volleyball.

Every once in awhile I would look longingly at the tall, elegant, athletes in white out on the tennis court. On at least two occasions I picked up a racket, determined to find out if I could master the serve and volley. It did not seem natural to my fast hands, nothing like badminton. I didn’t have the patience or persistence to practice, and no one saw in me a young Jimmy Connors.

As a spectator, it is a mesmerizing sport. I remember watching it on a black and white T.V. for hours when my son was small and we were housebound over long, midwestern winters. Now the giants of the sport are here in Melbourne, strutting their stuff on the new, blue courts. Federer, Henin, Williams, Roddick. Taking the spotlight off cricket for awhile.

Who cares what is happening in the U.S. primaries? This is where the action is. I’ll bet they all have fast hands, fast fingers, fast legs and feet. Powerful biceps and the concentration of Einstein. And not one of them was singled out for stardom by a man in a lab coat and an aptitude test. They just loved the game, and persisted.

Stay tuned, there’s more to come.

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