Originally published September 28, 2010.
My buddy Anthony Pozzi and I planned one last match outdoors before the days got too short and the weather too cold and play moved under the inflatable bubble that covers four of the nine courts at the Green Valley Tennis Club in Haddon Township, New Jersey.
My mother-in-law was in town to babysit, and I relished the rare night out for tennis while my wife was teaching, a night I'm usually changing diapers, hunting for clean pacifiers, and trying to rock our young one to sleep.
The bubble was already up and rain earlier in the day caused me to expect that we would have to play indoors, but late afternoon the skies cleared up and we punched in on Court 7, starting about 5:45 p.m., most certainly my last evening outdoor tennis for the year.
As usual, our games were long, deuce-ad, deuce-ad, and the first set, even though 6-3 in my favor, took a while, at least an hour. By this time the sunset sky through the trees at the end of the courts showed fiery red and orange, like a canvas by one of Hudson River School painters.
We started the second and played another long while to 2-2, at which point we decided to play a tiebreaker. He almost skunked me, winning 7-1 after I played a courageous (okay, lucky that the angry swipe I took went in) point.
Darkness by this point was coming down hard, but we agreed to play a 10-point super tiebreaker in place of the third set.
We moved from Court 7 to Court 5, optimistically hopeful that the easternmost court would provide just a little more light. He started out strong and the twilight reminded me of the Scottish word I learned from the marvelous short story, "In the Gloaming" by Alice Elliott Dark, a fantastic writer and teacher I was lucky enough to learn from in grad school at Rutgers-Newark.
I also thought of some early lines in The Catcher in the Rye where Holden recalls throwing a football on the lawn: "It was just before dinner and it was getting pretty dark out, but we kept chucking the ball around anyway. It kept getting darker and darker, and we could hardly see the ball any more, but we didn't want to stop doing what we were doing."
I felt the same, not wanting to stop, to not lose the last rays of light and the last of warm weather allowing outdoor tennis.
Down 8-5, by this time near pitch dark, I mounted a comeback, and somehow held off a few match points to come back and win the tiebreaker 13-11. On match point I hit a solid serve that he couldn't see at all.
I hadn't beaten Anthony in a while, and even though I had to enlist darkness to do it, it felt good.
I would have been content losing too, however, happy to be able to steal a last few moments of summer-like evening a few days shy of October. Besides, Tuesday night is Taco Night at the Tap Room, the bar/restaurant next door to the club, and the outdoor deck was open, the tacos $2 each, and a bucket with five Mexican beers only $10.
Anthony and I and several other players sat under a tree on the deck and ate and drank and told tennis stories.
It's a memory that will sustain me through the rapidly approaching days when the sun sets before I leave work, when ice begins forming on the morning windshields, and the outdoor nets go into winter storage.