Chain Link Fence
I had this friend in 8th or 9th grade, his name was Mike Vandershoot. He kinda marched to his own drum, you know? One day, I was out walking my dog. It must have been late winter. Rainy, 40 degrees, muddy. Crappy weather. I went by the tennis courts and I saw Mike walking toward me. He was carrying a racket, bouncing a tennis ball on it as he approached.
“Hey,” he said, when he got close enough.
“Hey,” I said back.
“Your dog wanna fetch this ball?”
“No,” I said. “She’s got bad hips. Can’t run.”
He stuffed the ball in his pocket and turned the racket around so that the handle was facing me. “You wanna try something?” he said.
You never knew what to expect with this guy. “Like what?” I asked.
“Check this out.” He jabbed the handle of the racket at the chain-link fence surrounding the tennis court. “Did you know that eight out of ten times, the handle doesn’t go through an opening in the fence?”
I gotta be honest. If anyone else had been there, I would have called him a freak. You know how things are when you’re just starting high school. Teenagers aren’t the nicest people.
He didn’t look at the handle as he jabbed it at the fence. He looked at me and counted off ten attempts. Two of them went through. “See?” he said.
I looked at the fence with all that space, wondering how the handle didn’t go through more often.
Mike guessed what I was thinking. He nodded at me. “Crazy, isn’t it?”
I admit it. I was curious. “Okay, let me try,” I said.
He passed the racket and I jabbed it through the fence. It went through. So did attempts two, three and five.
“You’re cheating,” Mike said. “You can’t look at it. You’re influencing the results.”
So I looked at him and continued. The first five attempts failed. In the next five, two went through the fence. Eight out of ten. “How do you know that?” I asked.
“I’ve done it a lot of times,” he said.
I kept looking at him while I made more attempts. “How many times?” I asked.
“Eight hundred fifty?” I said. “You’re sick.”
He answered by quoting this guy named Krishnamurti: “”˜It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.'”
“Who the hell is Krishnamurti?” I asked.
“The Dalai Lama called him the greatest thinker of the 20th century.”
I still don’t know what jabbing a tennis racket handle through a chain link fence has to do with some Buddhist thinker. I kept at it, though. Mike’s estimate seemed to hold up.
After I walked the dog home, I didn’t think much about it. In fact, I forgot about it for years.
I hung out with Mike less and less as the next school year came and went. And then, in the summer of our freshman year, he died. He was out West, hiking some trail in the Rockies with his family. He fell off a scenic overlook. Part of me thinks he did it on purpose, like he wanted to know what it would feel like to fly through the air or something stupid.
I tell ya, recently, I can’t stop thinking about that guy. I’ll be standing in line for the urinal at a football game or sitting at my desk on a Monday morning or I’ll get home from work on a Friday excited to let loose for the weekend and I’ll plop on the couch with a beer and then I’ll get all depressed thinking about Mike.
Crazy, isn’t it? I mean, that was 25 years ago, for Christ’s sake.
And besides, what do I got to be sad about?