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On my last afternoon in Northern Michigan, we had a farewell game. The distinctive Leelanau light played on the Christmas trees and made a nearby field of pigs stand out like a painting, so still and perfect and grandly swinish. The clouds were Johnson & Johnson cotton balls; the Polish sausage and Stroh's were a delight. Such simple pleasures to counterpoint the complex and demanding game of rural tennis.
In game six (I was up five), I was backpedaling furiously to get to a Harrison lob, and as I bent back to find it against the ultramarine of the sky, the ball simply disintegrated. The report of what could only be a 12-gauge shotgun closely followed the vaporization. Bits of yellow fluff" floated down, as if a crate of chicks had been dispatched with a laser beam.
As the sound of the shot rolled away over the low hills, I realized I couldn't take it any longer.
"Goddam it, Harrison," I yelled, "that's the last straw. You get me out here to play tennis and it's anything but. Bulls, dogs, a wolverine. Boobs Bovian, drinking at 10 a.m.—that's all right. That's maybe part of your game. But guns..."
My sympathies, which were never of the knee-jerk, Eastern liberal variety in the first place, running more to arming English professors with Magnums and shopkeepers with grenades, were suddenly inflamed. It was simply too much to be shot at while playing tennis.
"New tennis balls," Harrison calmly explained.
"New balls. That was Nick Reems, a big-time shotgun freak, and a rural tennis player. He must have heard that we were using new balls and we didn't invite him to play. That's just Nick's way of telling me that his feelings are hurt. Also, I suppose Nick feels that it saves money on clay pigeons, so it's a double treat to blow our ball out of the air. He's a hell of a wing shot."
Nick never appeared. I cringed on lobs the rest of the day, but there was no more gunfire.
Boarding my flight that evening in Traverse City, I was seated next to a young man who was impeccable in white tennis shorts and shirt. He noticed the racket handle sticking out of my flight bag.