Sunday, August 08, 2010

When preteens attack!

As my friend Sergey and I approached our town tennis courts recently, I anxiously peered over my shoulder, performing a visual sweep to make sure the area was clear. You might not realize that when you’re standing on a tennis court, the chain-link fence turns you into a caged animal, at the mercy of whatever tormentors may happen to wander past. A few years back, I learned this lesson the hard way, taught by the most terrifying tormentors of all: twelve-year-olds.

My wife Kara, her friend Isabel and I met after work to play Canadian doubles (so-called because no more than three Canadians have ever tried to play tennis at the same time) on the courts near Isabel’s apartment. On the adjacent basketball court, six twelve-year-olds goofed around, a few of them halfheartedly hopping around on skateboards. After a couple minutes, they became tired of malingering and decided to turn their attention towards us, generously offering their services as spectators. For these kids, spectating was not a spectator sport.

“Yayyyy!” they yelled whenever Kara or Isabel hit the ball, even if it sailed out of bounds.

“Boooo!” they yelled every time I hit it, forcing me to endure more prepubescent jeers than a pro wrestling villain.

After this had been going on for a few minutes, I hit a winner down the line. “That’ll shut them up,” I thought, and indeed, there were no ensuing boos.

“Know what’s sad?” the ringleader said. “This guy’s probably been playing tennis his whole life, and this is how good he is.”

Just as I turned to give an annoyed look, my primary weapon for disciplining strangers, the ringleader ran around the fence and into the middle of our court. He proceeded to rip off his shirt, pass one end between his legs and pelvic thrust wildly, demonstrating a whole new genre of interpretive dance, and perhaps flossing.

As he made his exit to his friends’ cheers, he grabbed one of our balls.

“Dude!” I said, attempting to appeal to our common dudeness.

“Oooh, this is the best ball ever!” he said, throwing it in the air to himself as he ran back to his friends. They all made a show out of throwing our ball around, enthralled. We ignored them for several minutes, but then, as the ringleader held the ball towards me and danced around, I made a critical unforced error.

“You having fun with that?” I said, engaging the enemy through the Chain-Link Curtain.

“Did you just call me fat?” he said.

“No, I said ---,” but it was too late.

“I’m sensitive about my weight!” he screamed, once again ripping off the shirt he’d just put back on, suggesting that perhaps he wasn’t quite as sensitive as he was letting on.

He stomped back towards the entrance, feigning outrage, and began sprinting straight at me, screaming.

What is the safest way to respond to a charging twelve-year-old? Do you play dead, like when a Grizzly charges? Stand on your tiptoes and try to look huge?

I stood there, tennis racquet in hand, the kid charging at me like the English cavalry, wondering how I would react if he actually attacked. I felt like Braveheart, standing still and yelling “Hold!” as the onslaught arrived, except with no future plans for racist tirades that would end my career.

I learned that day that, if pushed hard enough, every man has a point at which he will seriously consider thwacking a twelve-year-old with a tennis racquet. At least I hope I’m not alone in that regard.

In the end, the boy pulled up short, danced another impromptu Chuffle Shuffle and ran back to his friends, our ball bouncing to a stop where’d he’d just been. We realized later that this was his way of returning the ball without having to show anything resembling politeness or contrition, which would have embarrassed him in front of his buddies. You might not think bellydancing in front of strangers is the best way to maintain one’s dignity; if so, you’re probably not twelve.

You can torment Mike Todd at


  1. It didn't seem like that long ago when we were those little punks. I feel so old reading that article because that punk kid sounds just like me when I was that age. Now I spent last Sunday cleaning my sons vomit out of my car when he got viciously car sick on our way to the zoo. I feel like I may only me months away from getting a gray bush.

  2. Perlson -- I'm not so sure "we" were ever those little punks, but I'm about 100% sure you were. I'm sorry to hear about Isaac and your car, and good luck with your rhododendron.