"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

‘It’s Only A Game’ But Never Is–Winning At All Costs

Brent Payton used to play tennis with a well-known psychiatrist who cheated.  At first Brent gave him the benefit of the doubt – close line calls are never easy to make even with a seasoned umpire in the chair – but soon had to conclude that Arturo was anything but honest. He was deliberately abusing the honor system to gain points in his favor.



Perhaps it was because Arturo was a psychiatrist that Brent took such offense at his behavior. A man supposedly skilled in human aberration, failings, and weakness should be the last person to put such an inflated and exaggerated value on winning.  Arturo was European, and perhaps Brent had misread some Italo-Spanish behavioral cues – like a more flexible approach to gamesmanship. 

He had watched many playground basketball games where more time, it seemed, was spent defending marginal calls than actual playing. In the ‘hood the game was all about winning and respect.

Image result for playground basketball in the hood


Brent expected the playground game to be all about showboating and street creds; but where did Arturo Gianni get his compulsion? What difference did it make who won when it came to over-60 tennis among colleagues?

Brent had a good friend who at 70 still played singles tennis.  He was far better than Brent ever was, and it was a rare day that he could beat him.  Yet every Saturday Brent tried his darndest.  He powered up his forehands, focused on making the fluid backhands which came second-nature to his opponent but which had eluded him no matter how hard he tried, ran his pulse rate up to 150 chasing down balls in the corners, and floating lob after lob over his friend who, after forcing Brent to the baseline, came up to the net.

Image result for image older man serving tennis


In short, winning was indeed important, but only if he could beat his friend at his own game and win with perfect, soft lobs, laser-like passing shots, and graceful backhands.

The object of the game was not beating Roy Marvin, but perfecting his game so that he could; or in other words become the tennis player that he admired.

Then there was Arturo who could never be trusted on any call behind the service line.  Worse was his continual challenges of Brent’s honest and legitimate calls.  Not only was Arturo a bloody cheat, but he had the gall to try to force Brent to buckle under pressure and concede the point.

Arturo was married to a professional woman from Croatia who like, Arturo, had a demanding job; and as a result their son, Nicola, had never had any real parental supervision.  To make matters worse Arturo was a disciple of Hans Adelsheim, an Austrian psychiatrist who, modifying Maslow, felt that ‘self-actualization’ would only occur if all conventional forms of discipline were suspended if not eliminated outright.

Arturo claimed success with his adult patients, but when he tried the Adelsheim method on his son, the result was disastrous.  Nicola was the most ill-behaved, anti-social, and arrogantly selfish boy by the age of five when he started kindergarten.  So bad was he that even the school which prided itself in inclusivity and cooperative learning passed him from pillar to post.  “He’s a demon”, said Mrs. Prophet who had just been given a professional furlough from one of the worst schools in the Southeast ghetto; and coming from her, the administration took her claim seriously.

Image result for images psychiatrist maslow


Brent thought that Arturo’s aggressive behavior towards him was what psychiatrists called ‘negative displacement’ – turning anger, hostility, and/or resentment away from the intended target, and taking it out on an innocent bystander.  Coming home to a wild child could not have been easy.  Not only did he have to put up with hours of Nicola’s outrageous behavior (climbing the curtains, throwing darts into the walls, and planting gobs of peanut butter on the dining room chairs), but had to face the fact that either Prof. Adelsheim’s theories were wrong or his application of them was unsound.  In either case, he had failed in his professional approach to child-rearing.

Or perhaps Arturo was taking things out on Brent because of his difficult, argumentative, frustrated wife. Masha Gianni was an adult version of her son; and it was a wonder that she had made any headway at all in the law.  She had obviously tamed most of her eccentric, undisciplined behavior, but compensated for her modest intellectual abilities with an aggressive posture and a sharp-edged defensiveness.  She had made her way by intimidation and threats; and although she had moved up the corporate ladder, her bosses gave her fewer and fewer important accounts.  Brent could only imagine what coming home to this harridan would be like.

Maybe Arturo was just a prick, someone who had been born with an antipathetic nature and unable to suss out appropriate action.  Although he was charming, delightful to the ladies, and a sharp dresser, he had few male friends.  They avoided him like the plague.

Brent recounted the Sunday morning when he and a neighborhood friend went to the park to play pickup basketball.  It was an over-50 group, no hard rebounds or fouls, light defense, and good pick-and-roll classic offense.  Fouls were never challenged, and if they ever were, either offense or defense got the ball; and the next foul would go the other way. Smart, civilized, and time-efficient.

One day, however, a newcomer asked if he join the group.  Since they were one man down, everyone welcomed him.  Before long, everyone had been elbowed, pushed, shoved, and forearmed.  On one drive of the baseline, he lowered his shoulder, drove into Bob Pickens like a football linebacker, and left him gasping for air on the court.

Why did he do that, wondered Brent?  What was to be gained? What could possibly be the sense of injuring an opponent in a Sunday morning lightweight fun game in the park?

“Testosterone”, said Brent’s wife. “It’s murder.”

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Emily Payton had picked up the late-feminist lingo and cant from the courses she taught at American University.  She had no real sympathies with the radical gender Left and had long ago made her peace with her traditional husband; but whenever something so obvious as post-adolescent dog-fighting had come up, she couldn’t help herself. “Men just like to argue, fight, and piss on each other”, she said. “It’s obvious.”

Image result for images two male dogs fighting


So maybe that was it.  Maybe Brent was only kidding himself about reaching for perfection on the tennis court with Roy Marvin.  Maybe he was just as hormone-addled as the next guy but just want to admit it.

But what about the cheating? How could that be testosterone-fueled?  It was too calculating, too underhanded to be hormonally related. Testosterone was what made you automatically, instinctively, and immediately give the finger to the guy who cut you off.  Heart pounding, hands shaking, you wanted to kill the motherfucker.  It didn’t have you call a let when the ball clearly went cleanly over the net.

The real issue here is not testosterone, aggressive male behavior, or winning.  It is about social intelligence and personal integrity.  There are few people I know of Brent’s age who want anything to do with unnecessary conflict.  At this point in life, one needs as much calm and uninterrupted reflective time as possible.  The last thing any of us want it to be too soon old and too late schmart. Figuring out what’s what requires peace and quiet.

Nine-out-of-ten older men will play games with winning only a second thought.  It is all about friendship, collegiality, and camaraderie. Who cares whether the shirts or the skins win? Or whether you are skunked 6-0 or win the match? We keep our fuck-finger in check, our tempers in control, and our competitiveness within reason.

The other day I was on the stationary bikes at the gym.  Since I was one of the first on the exercise floor, I turned the channel to ESPN and started to ride.  A man whom I had not seen came up to me and said, “You could ask first”.  Aggressive, out of social bounds, and unnecessary. One conflict that never should have happened.  What was the point? To teach me a lesson, even though the offended had no idea whether I was always so inconsiderate? To man up and stand his ground even though we two were the only members on the floor?

It is hard not to do some ‘conflation’ – lumping outwardly similar but unrelated happenings together to develop a consistent theory – when it comes to aggression. There has to be something in common between the asshole at the gym, Arturo on the tennis court, and the newcomer on the playground, and Putin, Ukraine, ISIS, and the mullahs.

Image result for images putin


Shakespeare was very clear where he stood. We are all aggressive, self-protective, territorial, and self-serving because of our human nature.  Until it changes, we won’t change.  One-world idealists on the other hand have been hoping for a harmonious world for decades even though the see not one iota of progress.  Political progressives are convinced that with just a little tweaking and the right government programs, society will advance.

Yet despite Shakespeare, human nature, and testosterone, it is still amazing to me that people – men especially – are continually fighting.  Life is indeed short, and there seems to be no point in wasting even a minute of it.  Christ in the gospels warned against such ignorant competitiveness.  He was surprised and even outraged when his disciples asked what rank they would have in heaven.


Given the right intersection of events and every single man among us will get pissed and ready to fight.  That’s why women think we are slightly ridiculous.  We think about sex all the time and we are ready to fight over nothing.

The smartest among us, however, have learned when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.  Life isn’t just short.  It’s bloody short.

1 comment:

  1. Every time your team wins,there are five other people in the game that simply lost.Every time your team loses,there are five other people in the game that simply won.Consider your adversary's point of view when you win; they were additionally proposing to win,however failed,much the same as how you plan to win,yet wind up losing now and again.My point?Don't generally expect wins,in light of the fact that when you lose,five other people simply won and vice versa.Every match should dependably have a winner and a loser,don't stray from that accord and wind up trying too hard.

    Mark Anderson.


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