Monday, December 29, 2008

My Cats - The Reason I No Longer Suck at Water Volleyball

There is very good science to support the proposition that pets promote mental health. But did you know they can also lift your water volleyball game to new levels?

I acquired Rocky and Bullwinkle about four months ago, when they were kittens five weeks old. Instantly, I was wearing them like an extra article of clothing. If I'm at my computer they're at my computer, if I'm in bed they're in bed, if I'm in the bathroom, well never mind ...

Literally, I'm forever peeling these little fur balls off my lap, my chest, my legs, my shoulders, my head. Then there's the constant challenge of heading them off at the pass. Off the keyboard, off the kitchen counter, off the prime real estate on the mattress.

Now it's time to discuss water volleyball. I started playing the game on most Saturdays about two years ago. At first I couldn't hit anything, but soon I improved to a level where I really sucked. Then I plateaued. For two years, I amazed my fellow enthusiasts with my singular ability to make gravity unpredictable.

You see, all my life, me and gravity never got along.

Then, about a month ago, something funny happened. Actually, something statistically improbable, which is a polite term for impossible. In the pool, I became the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Literally, the ball didn't have a chance against me. I tracked it like radar. I swatted it in mid-flight like King Kong smacking bi-wing airplanes. I dispatched it on inerrant trajectories that left everyone in the pool slack-jawed in amazement.

There is a very elegant mathematical theory to explain what happened, but essentially it boils down to every dog has his day. Now that I had mine, I could go back my normal dysfunctional relationship with gravity.

But the next week, something really funny happened. I didn't suck nearly as bad as I used to. And the week after, I exhibited flashes of my eye-popping Apocalyptic brilliance. What was going on?

Earlier, I had consulted an expert, a friend who hustles pool. He told me that my body has literally learned all the moves, and that it is my tendency to over-think that sabotages my performance. Apparently, this is a universal human failing.

Yeh, right, I thought. How could my body have possibly learned water volleyball moves? It's not like I actually practiced.

I brought the matter up with Paul, who is responsible for introducing me to water volleyball. I was seated in the living room with my laptop, peeling cats off me. Deftly, with my right hand, I snatched Bullwinkle off my left shoulder and flicked her to a soft landing on the carpet. A micro-second later, without looking, I had Rocky in my left hand, ready for launching.

Suddenly, a light bulb went off. A revelation, one of those Newton under the apple tree moments. I looked at Rocky, squirming in my hand with one of those "what is YOUR problem" looks.

I got it! I shouted excitedly. It's the cats!

All day, all night. At work, while relaxing, in my sleep, I'm forever peeling cats off of me. I explained how all my life I had been hopelessly uncoordinated. Now, thanks to the cats, that was no longer the case.

My pool hustler friend was right. My body had learned the moves.

Not only that, practicing on the cats was way better than using a volley ball. You see, cats have legs. They keep returning to you. You don't have to retrieve them. Volley balls, on the other hand, just keep rolling away.

It was the only explanation, I told Paul. All my life, my limbs have been free-lancing on me. Now, because of the cats, my arms were virtual extensions of my body rather than independent organisms. I could actually will them to do what I wanted them to do. In my sleep, literally.

To Paul's credit, he humored me. But I could see he wasn't convinced.

A day or two later, when I got back in the pool, I served nine straight points before firing the ball into the net. Then, next time serving, another nine straight. It had to be the cats. Yes, everyone in the pool agreed, it had to be the cats.

Right now, Bullwinkle is on the ledge of my window. In a second, she is about to put two paws on the top of my computer screen, then she will shift her weight in a way that will require my intervention.

Hmm, I'm thinking. Instead of just grabbing her and flicking her away, what if I swatted her and put a topspin on her? That would really improve my performance.

Aw, Bullwinkle, I didn't mean that. Here, come sit on my lap.

Oh, oh. Accusing cat eyes. "I am NOT your volleyball!" she let me know, before ducking through the cat door.

Could this be the end?

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