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photo ©Evan Nichols, 2019

My friend Trout used to wear what I considered to be an enormous watch when we would meet at the tennis courts that summer between junior and senior year. I never knew how he kept upright, running left, sliding right, coming in for a killer slam, scurrying back for an impossible baseline get, all with that damn watch. It must have been five pounds.

I believe we had to pay $5 to have all-day access to the many courts. The guy who ran it, Jim, always greeted us with, “Trouuuuut. Swim up stream!” Trout would smile and say, “Good one” or “Hey, I never heard that one before!” Meanwhile, I don’t believe Jim ever learned my name.

There was a cast of characters there at the courts. A big gentle giant we called Silly Paul. Was he silly? I don’t think so. I think he must have said something like, “That was silly of me,” after he accidentally crushed an overhead and left one of us staring down at a flaming hole in our stomach.

There was Nasty Al, of course. I believe he was a computer programmer of some sort. Everything he said was punctuated by a nasty little chuckle, “heh heh heh.” Very breathy, and always implying something even darker than he’d just said.  I picture him now a bit like a giant rat. He would often tell us about the wild parties he had on his own rooftop, heh heh heh. I believe he invited Trout a time or two (he would have invited me if he knew my name) but Trout and his watch steered completely clear of him.

All summer we met in the morning and played all day, several singles sets, Trout dragging around his watch, then a doubles game against Silly Paul and Nasty Al or, preferably, some random characters who strolled by, then a break at the snack bar. I lived off of Snickers, which I deemed healthy because of the peanuts. Then more singles, doubles. And out.

I should say Trout and I were pretty fairly matched. I can’t say with objectivity how I behaved when I lost, but I know when Trout did he would drag his tennis bag all the way back to his car. That summer we went from being pretty average players to actually getting pretty good. I remember the first day back on our high school courts we got into a furious rally, trying to impress our friend Kristin with our new skills, and for years I cherished her amazed, “God, you guys!”

Recently, on a phone call from Albuquerque, Trout informed me had changed his name to his first name, Justin (Trout Fishing in America is one of his middle names). He said everyone treats him differently now. They take him seriously. Not only that, he says he has changed as well, is more serious, better organized, tackles big projects. Justin’s body has grown bigger and stronger as well.

If you ever have the experience of calling someone who has changed their name, it’s strange. I mean, I called up Trout, but then I said goodbye to Justin. Change, after all, is not a switch you flip. If you change something about yourself, it keeps changing every time you meet someone from your past. It changes their perception of you, sure, but also your relationship. It changes a bit, slips back, changes some more.

That summer between my junior and senior year, I played furious tennis with my good friend Trout and his enormous watch. Does Justin wear a watch?

I have no idea.

©Evan Nichols, 2019

Evan Nichols teaches English reading and writing courses at Merritt College in the Oakland hills. He is deeply grateful to Mark Zucker for agreeing to take a turn at Digital Paper while Evan pursues other projects and spends quality time with The Aged Mother and her little dog too. He invites you to join one project, Read! Write! Revolution! where writers sign on for a 5-week season of writing to a theme, posting online once a week and replying to three posts. If interested, send a line to maestroevanowski@gmail.com.



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