The Dowbrigade is a sucker for a bargain. On rare occasions this means we stumble onto a true, historic bargain. Even a blind pig comes up with a truffle now and again. However, much more often we wind up being taken for a sucker. Case in point.
Last week we were loitering in the Sports Authority store in the Assembly Square Mall in Somerville, a recently recycled tract of asphalt along the Mystic River currently in legal limbo while local residents resist another Viking Invasion in the form of a Big Box Ikea Superstore planned to anchor a megacomplex including a residential village with its own T stop. Meanwhile a rundown K-Mart, a Staples and a Christmas Tree Shop hold down the fort.
Norma Yvonne was in the K-Mart looking for something for someone else. Like out mother, Norma finished her own Christmas shopping months ago, and is currently acting as a shopping consultant for myriad friends and extended family members. So there we were, not looking for anything in particular, but somehow we gravitated to the tennis section.
Now as an avid if mediocre tennis buff (anything but), we are always on the lookout for a good deal on a new racquet. We usually head out as soon as the new, cutting edge, high tech models hit the stores. This is when the slash prices on last year’s Ultra Latest Cutting Edge models to make room for the new stuff. Simply setting back the old internal clock a year we can revel in he latest technology at about 60% off.
Sometimes more. On this particular occasion, we were just glancing through the racquets when we spied, buried under a stack of Hyper Hammers, a few Head Racquets with an attractive gun-metal gray body and an oversized head. Now, any serious tennis player will tell you never to choose a racquet for its color scheme, but we never said we were serious. Any way, the racquet had a list price of $229, but was part of a Big Two-Day Sale, at the ridiculously sick price of $79.00!
And it seemed particularly well-suited to our game. According to the little booklet hanging from the racquets handle, "A lively frame with excellent torsional stability, the Head Titanium Ti S6 will perform best in the hands of players with compact to medium stroke styles seeking an extra large sweetspot (115 head size) that blends a nice balance of power tempered with an open string pattern; ideal for spin artists with an all court game. "
We instantly recognized ourself in that description.
But the clincher was that we had in our possession, in our wallet, at that moment, a coupon we had clipped from the Boston Globe that morning, completely coincidentally, for an additional $10 off of any item priced more than $50 at none other than the Sports Authority! Fate. Karma. Kismet. I was helpless.
The word that best describes the experience though is serendipity – the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for. Inter-inguistic digression – we have been looking for the closest Spanish equivalent to serendipity for weeks, have looked in every Spanish-English dictionary in Norma’s library, on line or in the Harvard Coop – and nada. Anybody know how to say "Serendipity" in Spanish?
At any rate, we bought the dam racquet, and yesterday finally got a chance to try it out, down by the Riverside, with the Just Don’t Suck Tennis Club, a bunch of over-the-hill geezers who wack it around every weekend morning there isn’t snow on the public courts down by the River Charles. In this league a new racquet is a big deal, althogh none of us harbor illusions that a new ax is going to resuscitate what passes for our game.
And yesterday, our flashy, gun-metal gray racquet couldn’t hit squat! Every shot wen off at an extreme, seemingly random angle. We were making contact (hard not to with the cartoonist oversized head) but had absolutely no clue as to where the ball would wind up when we did. We couldn’t hit a serve, or a volley, or a lob, or a spin or a slice or a drop shot. Usually at least ONE of those is working.
As the morning wore on, we began to look more closely at our new weapon, and we began to notice some strange things. For one, it was "top-heavy", rather than symmetrically oval, as most modern tennis racquets are. That is, the head bulged out at the top, like a squash racquet; the aforementioned extra large sweet spot. And the arrangement of the strings was weird – they weren’t in a parallel grid; rather, they arced out from the center bottom like rays from a focus somewhere near the hea of the handle.
No wonder we couldn’t hit anything. No wonder it had been marked down to less than a third of list. No wonder we are know as a shopping fool.
We played two sets with out new racquet, and lost them both. Then, to salvage some self-respect and to test out the Prime Directive, we switched back to the old racquet for a final set – and won. We had not violated the Prime. We didn’t suck – the new racquet sucked!
When we swallowed our pride and told the sorry tale to Norma Yvonne she replied, as she is wont to do, with a Spanish proverb. In this case, "Lo barato sale caro". Rough translation – cheap stuff ends up being expensive.