After a conversation with his barber, Patrick Smith wonders whether or not a man should play light—or even left-handed—in a tennis match against his wife.
I was the only customer in the barbershop the other day. I walked in and my regular barber stood up, leaving the other three barbers lounging in their barber chairs, waiting for business to pick up.
Snapped into the striped cover that keeps shorn hair off your clothes, I asked my barber what was new since I last visited.
“I got two things going on in my life right now,” my barber said, snapping the No. 1 guard onto his clippers. “First, my wife’s about to start taking tennis lessons.”
The Greek chorus of Other Barbers chimed in.
“That sounds good.”
“I’m no good at tennis.”
“The second thing,” my barber said, already mowing a thick stripe of hair off the side of my head, “is I’m trying to become more ambidextrous.”
The chorus responded:
“I can’t do shit with my left hand.”
My barber looked up from my quarter-shorn scalp, incredulous. “Jesus,” he said, buzzing clippers now at his side. “What kind of imbecile says ‘ambidex-TREE-ous’?”
The other barber, picking at the teeth of a comb, said, “I think you’re mispronouncing it, is all.”
“I’m not mispronouncing it. You are. Anyway, knock it off, willya?” My barber owns the shop, so the chorus shut up. “So, like I said, I’m thinking about taking up left-handed tennis.” I asked him to explain. “Well, the wife’s learning to play tennis, right?” he said. “So I ought to learn to play tennis left-handed. That way, we can play together.”
“Are you, like, some kind of awesome right-handed tennis player?”
“Not especially. Why?”
This is where I should’ve said “No reason” and shut my eyes. That’s the beauty of the barbershop. When you don’t want to talk, you can just shut your eyes while the barber’s working on you. But I didn’t shut my eyes. I kept the conversation alive.
“Because if you’re not any better than just a regular, ordinary person who doesn’t play much tennis, then, well, why don’t you just play right-handed?”
He didn’t miss a beat: “Because I’d beat her too bad and she’d get discouraged and quit.”
Finished with the first stage of my haircut, my barber switched off the clippers with a loud snap. Again, this would’ve been a perfect point to abandon the discussion. Alas, I could not. Something bothered me about my barber’s plans.
“But don’t you think she’d be equally discouraged that you weren’t doing your best?”
“I would be doing my best,” he said, taming my right eyebrow with scissors and a comb. “I’d just be doing it with my left hand.”
“Say you beat her, though. What if you play a set or something and you win, playing lefty? Wouldn’t she want to throw her tennis racket into a pond?”
“No. Why should she? I think it’d motivate her.”
“How would losing to a flailing fake left-hander be motivating?”
“Look, men are just naturally better athletes than women. It’s a scientific fact.” (Helpful conversation hint: when someone tells you something is a scientific fact, it usually isn’t.) “So if we’re both taking up tennis at the same time, I’m going to need something to make it tougher for me, a handicap.”
The chorus awoke.
“Yeah, spot her some points.”
“You could play with a skillet.”
“Wear dress shoes.”
I was, of course, skeptical. Are men naturally better athletes than women? Besides, the first thing you need to learn in tennis—how to hit the ball over the net—doesn’t involve a lot of athletic prowess. It’s more hand-eye coordination and having a feel for the physics of the ball and the racket.
My barber ignored the suggestions of the chorus and insisted that, not only was this left-handed thing a good idea, but it’s actually the only decent thing a man would do under the circumstances.
“I don’t know,” I said. “It sounds kind of like ‘one hand tied behind your back’ or something.”
“It’s not like that,” he said. “I’d just crush her.”
I didn’t want to tell the guy how to play tennis with his wife. So I finally let it go. But the conversation stuck with me and I thought about it for a couple days.
After my haircut, I settled up with the barber and left a good tip. But the tip I really wanted to leave was this: Don’t do it. You’ll regret it.