Yes, it turned out he was a member of the local racket (hey-ohhhhh!) and was in the business of casually inviting friends to join him for a night as his Doubles Partner.
Now badminton, like all sports, was completely foreign to me so I had a pile of excuses ready when he asked including: “I don’t have a racquet”, “I don’t have a ball”, “I don’t know how to play”, and finally my trusty failsafe “No.”
But Jon would have none of it.
“Come on, I’ll pick you up and drop you off. You can use my extra equipment and I’ll bring a bottle of water for you. Plus, the guys there are really easy going and casual. You’ll have a great time. Come on, it’ll be fun.”
There was a bit of a Mexican standoff as we sized each other up, squinted a bit, and jutted our chins out, but eventually I sucked it up, threw on some sweatpants, and went along for the ride.
Turns out Jon was a liar.
I entered the dimly lit high-school gymnasium to the sight of high-flying Asian superstars spiking the birdie in all directions. Zipping and zooming across the court, they leapt three, four, five feet off the ground, whacking the bird in high-stakes, high-drama back and forth exchanges.
“Oh, it’s not as tough as it looks,” Jon said to my pale and worried face. “And don’t worry — no one cares how good you are. They just want to get some exercise.”
I stared at Jon with a worried glance, but eventually unpeeled my racquet, yanked up my tube socks, shivered a few times, and stepped timidly onto the court, where I proceeded to immediately get beaned in the eye by a well-smacked birdie. People, I’m telling you straight up: I got shuttlecocked.
It happened quick and I dropped my racquet stunned, cupping my eye with both hands and sucking air in loudly like a wheezy Shop-Vac. Throbbing, swelling, bruising fast, I was experiencing the birth of my first-ever black eye.
Thick and dark, purple and navy blue, I sported the big fat shiner for the next week at work. And it felt great, it felt liberating, it felt like I was free — because for once I wasn’t a wimp. No, for a moment I shed my thin, fragile shell and motored around town as a fighting thug with an attitude problem. The black eye screamed “Don’t mess with me”, “Don’t make me do it again”, and “You should see the other guy.”
Now, don’t get me wrong: it’s not great to get nailed in the face. Eyes are delicate little peeled grapes which we don’t want squash balls, door corners, or accelerating fists smacking into. All I’m saying is that if it happens and everything works out fine, then just enjoy that week of walking around with a black eye, tough guy.