I joined a group of pickleball players yesterday. They’re called “The Agin’ Cajuns.” (I live near Lafayette, Louisiana, the heart of Cajun country.) This name is a takeoff on the better-known expression “Ragin’ Cajun,” a term that has been applied to political consultant James Carville, himself an actual Cajun.
Do you know pickleball? It’s a court game that’s played with paddles and a plastic ball with holes, much like a whiffle ball. The court is about half the size of a tennis court. The idea is basically the same as any court game with a net. Return the ball over the net without it letting it hit the court twice on your side. There are variations in its rules, but the principle is the same.
The slower speed of the ball and the small court make it a game that is more inclusive than tennis. In just about every way, including age. I had played pickleball—the origin of the name is disputed—in Maine and Denver. I moved to this part of Louisiana recently, and I was looking for a way to meet people and to get some exercise. I found the Agin’ Cajuns on line. So, yesterday evening I went, my brand-new paddle in hand, to play pickleball at the Thomas Park Recreation Center in Lafayette.
I walked inside, and there they were. About forty Agin’ Cajuns in a gym playing on three courts. Four people were playing on each court—doubles—for fifteen minutes at a time. The first thing I noticed was that they were, indeed, agin’. Except for a few players, most everyone looked at least sixty and some were clearly in their seventies. I later learned one woman was in her eighties. The thing of it was, they were all playing hard. And well.
I put my paddle in line to play and watched the others go at it. I hadn’t played in months, and I was clearly going to be rusty.
I’m seventy-seven, by the way. I’m not a Cajun, but I am agin’.
While I was waiting to play, a man came up and started talking to me. I’m sure he saw I was a new face. He informed me he was a former surgeon. He asked me what I did, and I told him I was a writer.
“Oh, an author. Have I read any of your books?”
“Well, I don’t know,” I said. “I hope so.”
“Are you successful?”
“My first book is still in print,” I said. “That’s all a writer can hope for. I just want my books to stay alive. Like I’m sure you do with your patients.”
“They’re all dead.”
He walked on to talk to someone else.
Another man claimed he recognized me.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “I just moved here.”
He looked dubious, as if I weren’t telling the truth.
“No, I think I know you.”
I watched the eighty-plus woman play. She was moving about with agility and pep. She finished, got her stuff, and as she walked off the court, she said to someone,
“I played tennis all day earlier!”
As she exited the gym, I turned to the person next to me and said,
“She’s off to rollerblade.”
My turn to play.
Three women and me. I apologized in advance about my lack of expertise.
“Do you know how to play pickleball?” my new partner asked, eyebrows arched.
“Well, I know how to play, but that doesn’t mean I can play well.”
“That’s ok. As long as you know the rules. I played with one guy who didn’t even know what pickleball was,” she said with some disdain.
We began. It was clear I hadn’t played in a while. I flubbed a lot of shots. My partner clearly wanted to win. On several occasions, she turned to me after she had returned a ball and declared, evenly,
“That was your ball.”
I actually got winded playing. I was nervous as hell, but I enjoyed myself.
The other team won.
“You did fine,” my partner said. I heaved a sigh of relief.
I sat down, feeling like a kid who had just been praised by his little league coach. Does the need to be accepted and validated ever leave us?
A man walked up and began talking to the man next to me about their hip replacements.
“Who did yours?”
“How’s it feel?”
“Good. He did a good job. You?”
“Stromley. I’m doing well.”
I felt a bit inadequate that I hadn’t had an operation myself and vowed to get one soon.
My turn to play again.
Again, I was with three women.
This time I played better. I was fortunate to have a very good player as a partner. She was younger than me and the two women on the other side of the net. She took the lead, often poaching on my side of the court and crushing the return. She had the cold clear look of a killer. We like a killer on our side. I played decently, returning the ball the few times she let me. I was less nervous. I was actually enjoying myself.
I sat down next to the man who said he thought he recognized me.
“Do you have a red car?” he asked.
“Are you sure?”
Two games were enough. My body was speaking to me. Not in Cajun French but in plain English. “You need to go home,” it said.
Before I did, a woman approached. She was handing out little flyers about an upcoming tournament. I asked for one.
“Are you a member of the Agin’ Cajuns?”
“Well, I signed up for the newsletter.”
“That’s not enough. You’re not an Agin’ Cajun until you pay the $12 yearly fee. Have you?” She withdrew the flyer she was about to hand to me.
“Uh, no. Not yet. But I will!”
“Yes! Yes! I promise!”
She handed me the flyer dubiously.
I took it. I grabbed my paddle and water bottle, and said goodbye to those next to me. The man who thought he recognized me pointed a finger at me with a small, knowing smile, nodding his head as if we shared a secret.
“See you next week,” I said to anyone and everyone.
And I meant it.
Hilarious! I think I'm ready for this group.
So silly! :)