Do you ever have one of those days where everything goes unaccountably right? Something like that recently happened to me. In my case, we are talking astronomical odds, roughly the same odds against the universe supporting life.
To give you an idea of the kind of long shot I'm talking about, according to an article in this month's Discover magazine, the chances of the right kind of universe coming along amounted to something like one in ten to the power of 500. That's 10 with 500 zeroes after it.
The gravity had to be just right. The rate at which fused hydrogen atoms converted to energy had to be just right. On and on it went. Ten with 500 zeroes chances to get it wrong.
Now that you know what I was up against, I can begin my story. This is a story of weekend water volleyball. Little did I know, cosmic forces were at work:
Ten or 12 people were already in the pool when I arrived, volleying the ball back and forth. I walked over to the net. "Which one of you wants me?" I asked.
This was the cue for people on both sides to point to the other team.
You see, I'm John McManamy and I really suck.
I returned the first ball that came to me. No big deal. Then the second one. Then I got off some serves that didn't go into the net or another time zone.
I rotated into the front row. The server had a reputation for lowballing unreturnable rockets. He wound up and unleashed his missile. I jumped up and witnessed a splash of water - into their side of the net. It took me a microsecond or two to realize I was the source of that splash. The server just happened to have hit me on my outstretched palms. But to everyone else in the pool, I had just made an impossible play.
You could see it in their faces. Jaw-dropping disbelief, I think best describes it.
Don't worry, I reassured everyone. The order of the universe shall reassert itself. After all, I'm John McManamy and I really suck.
Several games later, front row. One of my teammates behind me lobbed back a shot in a weak high arc. On the other side of the net, Aqua Man was licking his chops in anticipation. But first the ball had to travel through my airspace. No time to think. I jumped. I pirouetted. I swung my arm like a windmill. I slapped my hand. I felt contact ...
Then gravity took over. I descended. My head went under water. I resurfaced. I looked up. A whole pool of bug-eyed faces looked down on me.
Now it was my turn to express disbelief. You mean I didn't hit the ball into the net? I could only think.
By this time, I had been in the pool for more than an hour. I had been returning everything hit to me. I had been making difficult plays. I had been making highlight reel plays. A casual observer, not knowing who I was, would have singled me out as one of the two or three best players in the pool.
The odds of that happening? Try ten with 500 zeroes. My eyes were working. My brain was working. My body was working.
Not only that, the ball was cooperating, the net was my friend, and gravity was breaking in my favor. I returned my second impossible serve from the same server. He could only shake his head back and forth.
Of course, he seemed to be saying. This is John McManamy. He is supposed to suck. But not today.
To paraphrase Zero Mostel in the Mel Brooks movie The Producers, "What did I do right?"
It was time to consult an expert, in this case a pool hustler friend. He picked up a bottle from the table. "Your body already knows what to do," he explained. He set the bottle back down on the table. Your mind, on the other hand, he went on to say, doesn't always believe what your body has learned.
He encourages young players to practice by stroking a pool cue into a beer bottle. When you're good enough to reliably tap the bottom of the bottle without the cue glancing off the sides, he told me, then you're ready to practice using a ball.
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.
When my friend lines up a difficult shot, he has complete confidence in the wisdom of his body. The right shot simply presents itself. The body assumes the right stance. If he had to think about the shot, he would overcompensate and mess it up. At the same time, he is able to tune out all distractions.
"If there were a naked girl in the room," he let me know, "I wouldn't know she was there."
Another friend in the room took this in. "If there were a naked girl in the room," he replied, "I wouldn't know the pool table was there."
Of course, the next week the universe aligned itself back to normal. But you know what? I can never go back to being the same player. There is a slight swagger in my step now as I approach the pool. People in the water actually have to think before they invite me to join the team on the other side of the net.
You see, I'm John McManamy and I don't suck as bad as I used to.
Published On: December 16, 2008
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