It was December 12. Mild for Michigan. No snow. 45 degrees. But the local Parks and Recreation had taken down the nets on the pickleball court. I strolled by minus a Covid mask. After all, I was in a park, in the open and no one was anywhere near me. But, I paused near the court to challenge two elderly women playing without a net.

“Hey, is it my imagination, or are you missing a net?”

The one woman, lined a backhand return before responding. “I’ll be darned, you’re right. Huh!” she replied before calling out to her partner, “Jenn, we don’t have a net.”

Her opponent, paused, hand on hip. “I’ll be darned. You’re right. I never noticed.” She turned toward me and remarked sarcastically, “Thanks a lot mister. You know what you are? You’re like my husband, who woke me up to tell me we had a dripping faucet. Then he went back to sleep and I was left wide awake. Hadn’t noticed before. Now, that you brought our attention to a missing net, I wonder how we are going to keep playing.”

“What do you think, Clare? Should we just head home?”

“Well, darn, Jenn, we never paid much attention to the net before. Actually, it was kind of a nuisance, if you ask me. This game is all about moving and crouching and swinging our arms, right?”

“Yeah. We don’t even bother with lines and faults. It’s all about the volley.”

Now they both turned on me. “So, tell me mister, who died and made you line judge, anyhow? Huh? I suppose if you came upon a group doing tai chi on the lawn you would ask them to turn up the volume on the music they were flowing to. Which they don’t. It’s all in their heads. Internal rhythms. As if you would know. Or if a boxer were to run by shadow-boxing, would you point out that he had no opponent?”

Now Clare joined in. “Yeah, you suffer from a lack of imagination. You would never last one day in solitary confinement or more immediately, in Covid isolation. You need to open your mind, expand your world, get in touch with your child and learn to play, for chrissake.”

Ha! It was more fun when I walked around the high school football stadium. At least the players ran drills and formations. But they didn’t play phantom games in a make-believe universe.

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