Sports teach you about life. That’s what everyone says — every coach, every teacher, every parent. Yes, if you want to learn about this Game of Life, play a sport. Play and learn.
But I’d forgotten about one of my most memorable sporting lessons till I had lunch with my old friend, Cyndy, recently. “Do you remember,” I asked her over my turkey sandwich, “being on the Paperettes?”
The Paperettes. Until I said that, I hadn’t thought about them in years — although an occasional nightmare might have been attributable to them.
It was the early 1980s in Charlottesville, Virginia, and by day, we all worked at the local newspaper. Most of us weren’t very happy there. We had a draconian system of management that relied on intimidation and threats. At least once a year, usually right before Christmas, somebody would get fired for no particular reason. Just because.
To combat company-wide malaise, the newspaper brought in management consultants to find out what was wrong. The year before I was hired, I heard, one of the consultants urged all the reporters to be honest with management, since they were all sitting at the same table, weren’t they? Speak up!
So, one of the reporters voiced a complaint.
“You’re full of shit,” the publisher told the reporter.
Then, the publisher got up and left the table. So much for the era of good feelings.
The next year, when I was there, another management consultant company breezed in. They urged all of us in the newsroom to be scrupulously honest when we filled out the survey about the newspaper’s management team. After all, they assured us, the survey was anonymous. We’d all be protected.
Which was fine, in theory. Unfortunately, the newsroom filled out the survey and answered the question about their confidence in management with a ringing 0% level of confidence. The survey might have been anonymous, but it was a little hard to pretend you weren’t part of the 100% of the newsroom who had no confidence whatsoever in the group of bullies running the gulag.
Still — and back to sports and the Game of Life — the women at the newspaper had their own softball team, the Paperettes. This went a long way toward healing our wounded feelings and thwarted ambitions. A couple of nights a week, we could all get together (did we wear some kind of uniform? My memory, mercifully, escapes me) and work as a team. We could leave our frustrations behind. We weren’t just underpaid, unappreciated laborers at a shitty newspaper; we comprised one of the worst softball teams in the history of the universe.
I’m not exaggerating. Do you know what it’s like to take the field and realize the inning will go on forever and you will never get to bat, since your team is incapable of making three outs? No, you do not — or you would have never played softball again, would you?
But, inured to abuse, we kept showing up — playing other women’s teams made up of strong, physical country girls who could pound the skin off the ball and send us scurrying in a panic. If our team didn’t have uniforms, we did, at least, have a uniform facial expression: a permanent cringe.
The season went on and on and on. I guess the Paperettes could have gotten really discouraged, but we were tougher than that. We insisted our friends and partners come to cheer us on, even though there was never anything to cheer about, except, maybe, when games had to be called off because of weather.
Oh, and the highlight of the season — well, that was a memory to treasure. Two of our outfielders were futilely pursuing a fly ball and collided with each other. Neither had a concussion, though, so that was something to celebrate.
“The Paperettes?” Cyndy said, frowning. “Oh, yeah. We never won a game, did we?”
Cyndy, who’s in sales, is ever the optimist, with rose-colored memories to comfort her. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I don’t think we ever even scored a run. But maybe that’s what sports teaches you about life: Forget the bad times and move on.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)
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