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Artificial Intelligence Tells a Story

I asked ChatGPT, “Please tell me a 3000-word romance story heavily involving pickleball.”

This is what I got: (By the way, it’s only around 590 words.)

Once upon a time in the quaint town of Pickleton, there lived two individuals whose paths were destined to cross on the vibrant pickleball court. Meet Emily, a spirited young woman with a passion for pickleball that rivaled her love for adventure, and Jack, a charming and athletic man who found solace in the rhythmic bounce of the pickleball on the court.

The story begins one sunny afternoon when Pickleton’s community gathered for their annual pickleball tournament. The air was filled with excitement as players of all ages and skill levels prepared to showcase their talents. Emily, adorned in her lucky pickleball-themed attire, was eager to prove her prowess on the court. Little did she know, Jack, the town’s heartthrob, was equally determined to claim victory.

As the tournament progressed, Emily and Jack found themselves paired against each other in a heated match. The court became a battleground of skill, determination, and subtle glances exchanged between the two competitors. With every swift movement and precise shot, a spark ignited between them, transcending the boundaries of the pickleball court.

Their competitive banter soon evolved into playful teasing, and laughter echoed across the court. Unbeknownst to them, the spectators began to sense a different kind of rivalry blossoming—one that had nothing to do with pickleball rankings but everything to do with matters of the heart.

As the sun dipped below the horizon, casting a warm glow over Pickleton, Emily and Jack found themselves in a tied game. The tension on the court mirrored the unspoken emotions building between them. In a moment of daring spontaneity, Jack suggested a tiebreaker under the stars, transforming the pickleball court into a magical arena of possibilities.

Underneath the twinkling night sky, Emily and Jack’s movements became synchronized, guided by an invisible force that drew them closer with each point scored. The intensity of the game mirrored the growing attraction they felt for each other. It was no longer about winning the tournament; it was about winning each other’s hearts.

As the final point was scored, the crowd erupted into cheers, but Emily and Jack only had eyes for each other. Their shared passion for pickleball had forged a connection that transcended the confines of the court. In that moment, Pickleton witnessed the birth of a love story as timeless as the sport that brought them together.

In the days that followed, Emily and Jack continued to explore the magic of their newfound connection. Pickleball became the backdrop for their blossoming romance, with each match serving as a metaphor for the ebbs and flows of love. They discovered the joy of teamwork, the importance of communication, and the thrill of facing challenges together—lessons learned on the pickleball court that resonated in their hearts.

The town of Pickleton soon became a haven for love, with pickleball enthusiasts from far and wide flocking to witness the enchanting love story that unfolded on its courts. Emily and Jack’s romance became a symbol of the transformative power of passion and connection, proving that sometimes, love can be found in the most unexpected places—like a small town obsessed with pickleball.

And so, Emily and Jack’s love story became a legend in Pickleton, whispered from one pickleball court to another, a tale of romance written in the language of swift volleys and gentle caresses of the pickleball paddle. The town continued to host pickleball tournaments, not just for the love of the sport but in celebration of the enduring love story that had put Pickleton on the map as the pickleball capital of romance.

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by Jeff Napier

Wham! My truck was just sitting at a red light, waiting to turn left. A drunken fool careened around the corner at a high rate of speed. Watching in horror, there was nothing I could do. He hit the bumper of my truck, spun around, and hit a parked car. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but that wrecked my lifelong plan.

Coming from the wrong side of the tracks and raised by a single mother, poverty was no stranger. Not only that, but my grandparents never had any money. I was going to break the cycle. In my last years of high school, I looked around for a job. What could a black girl without the means of a college education do? Because of details in my mother’s past and her remarkably low credit score, a student loan was not possible.

I could become a hairdresser but that really wasn’t my thing. How about a massage practitioner? Maybe get a job at a hotel? No, not for me. One day it occurred to me that driving a truck might be nice.

That was it! That was something I could do and it would get me out of the projects. For those who don’t know, that’s the ghetto, the worst of the ghetto. I’d wanted to get way out. Like, what if I could get one of those jobs where I’m driving all over the country? How cool is that?

But there was a roadblock. Truck driving school. There was no money. Practically in tears for days, it hadn’t occurred to me that one didn’t have to start out with a big truck. What about driving for Uber? No, that wouldn’t work because I didn’t have a car. Maybe driving a delivery van for Amazon? Maybe after doing some sort of delivery work for a while, I would have the money to go to trucking school.

It turned out that getting a job with Amazon was ridiculously easy. It paid really well too, or at least for a girl like me, allowing me to start saving for driving school. It took me nearly a year, since my brother stole my savings for his drug habit about six months in.

Let me tell you, hopping in and out of a truck fifty times a day with packages is strenuous work. And people with their dogs. Some people just don’t control them! I still have a little scar on my thigh. But it was a job, and it fit a plan. I stuck with it.

Well, eventually I did learn to drive a big truck. My first real trucking job was a ten-wheeler dump truck. Even though it was just back and forth from a quarry to construction sites, it made me happy, and it was making good money.

In time, my dream job came along, commanding an 18-wheeler. I just loved double-clutching and floating the gears with that 13-speed Spicer transmission. Sitting high up over all the other traffic was a delight. And, what a kick, traveling in these United States of ours. The windshield was like a peaceful, never-ending movie. Even the rattly, throaty sounds of a big diesel engine was enjoyable. I was in heaven.

Until that drunk bent my bumper. You’d think that would be a minor thing, but here’s what happened. The company fired me instantly. It seems if you’ve been in an accident that involves two or more other vehicles, that’s their policy. It didn’t matter that the truck was completely stopped, the drunk hit me, then smashed into a parked car.

Worse, a couple of minutes after the crash, a cop showed up on the scene and gave me a ticket. Yes, a ticket for forgetting to turn on my emergency flashers. Can you believe it? OK, so the police officer was white, and I’m black. Well, I don’t want to think about that.

So, guess what? You can’t get hired as a trucker with a recent violation.

Days of unemployment turned into weeks and then into months. All the beautiful money in my savings account was gone. I had been so proud of the used Toyota Camry I recently purchased. but had to sell it. Sure, it was ten years old, but it was MY car!

My addict brother came through for me for once, and gave me some money for groceries. Then, he tried to convince me I could make some money by selling drugs. Yeah, right, like I’d ever do that. I’d rather literally die of poverty.

A food stamps application was in process. The rent was overdue so next was going to be moving back in with Mom. And here I thought I could get out of the projects. Well, the joke was on me and I started crying once again.

Checking the Internet daily for driving jobs, at that point, anything would do. Even if I could get the Amazon job back, that would have been a big relief.

On the worst day of my life, when it seemed every door had closed, I came across a funny little ad on Craigslist. Some guy wanted someone who was familiar with driving big vehicles, but could also cook and do ‘light domestic chores.’ Weird, eh?

In fact it was kind of spooky. What was up with that? Maybe it was about driving a truck full of household or kitchen product samples, and demonstrating them. I didn’t even want to think of other possibilities. If things had been different, I’d never answer such an ad.

The guy wrote back. Once he told me the details, I felt sick to my stomach. This guys was definitely a creep.

He said he had purchased a big diesel motorhome because he was some sort of pickleball player, whatever that was. He said he drove his motorhome once, immediately tore off the air horn under a low-hanging branch and that driving it scared him. He wanted someone to drive it so he could go to pickleball events all over the country. He wanted the driver to make him meals, keep the motorhome clean, wash his clothes, and so on. Sort of a rolling butler.

Yeah, so what else did he want? This was horrible. But at that point, any job was better than no job. So, I took the bus and walked a mile to his place in the hot afternoon sun for an interview.

There was fear about going into his house, but what could I do? I was thinking once I was inside, he could do anything. It was a big house, out in the Brighton neighborhood. He obviously had a dollar or two.

For a white guy, he was pretty good-looking. He did have a nice smile. Sparkly eyes, too. When emailing with him, it seemed like he might be some 50-year-old masher, but no, he was only one year older than me.

Well, we got to talking, and it wasn’t horrible. In fact, we talked over an hour, and I was actually starting to believe this guy could be OK. We walked back behind his house, and there was his motorhome. It was a big, tall, 40-foot long, shiny diesel beauty built on a Freightliner chassis. It was no tractor-trailer but I wouldn’t mind driving that thing, even if it did have an automatic transmission.

He told me a little about this pickleball stuff. He said it was like a cross between ping-pong and tennis. It didn’t sound very interesting to me, but you know how people are. They take an interest in something like tropical fish or rollerblading and they become obsessed.

As evening was approaching we worked out that I’d drive just him once, to a pickleball tournament near Chicago, a three-day trip starting two days from then. After making it clear that there was to be no funny business, I foolishly believed that he would be a gentleman. Maybe it’s because I needed the job so badly. Still, all I was promising was this one drive to Chicago.

I had to catch the last bus home. He got a funny look on his face, like, he understood my situation even though I hadn’t really told him the details. He said, “Why don’t you drive the motorhome to your place then bring it back the day after tomorrow?”

“Oh, I couldn’t.”

Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his wallet. Thinking he was going to give me his business card or something, he handed me four $100 bills. “Here, take the motorhome, get yourself a nice meal, then fill it with organic groceries tomorrow. Oh, and keep the change.”

We were standing in the motorhome at the time. Something went wrong. My eyes filled with tears, my knees felt weak, causing me to slump down onto a sofa, crying my eyes out. He sat next to me, tentatively put one arm around me and patiently waited until I could speak.

“I know, I know,” is all he said.

We did go to Chicago. The drive was pleasant. He sat in the passenger seat most of the time. We talked, but it was all pleasant surface stuff. Nothing deep. I was supposed to be doing his domestic chores, but on that drive, he made me sandwiches and seemed attentive to my every need. He did spend way too much time explaining pickleball to me. I didn’t get it. Why would anyone want to play something that was like tennis, but it wasn’t tennis?

On the way, we stopped at RV campgrounds. I had never done anything like that before, having to learn about hooking up the electricity, water hose, and all that. Oh, you should have seen the mess I made while disconnecting the sewer hose the next morning.

What about sleeping arrangements, you ask? True to his word, Jimmy was a real gentleman. He had a bedroom in the back of the rig. It had a full queen-size bed. He showed me how a sofa pulls out in the front, handed me some sheets, blankets and pillows out of a cabinet, then went into his back bedroom and closed the door.

When we arrived at the tournament, he introduced me to a bunch of other pickleball players as his driver. If any of them raised eyebrows, I didn’t see it. I returned to the motorhome and tidied up while he got ready for his first game.

Coming back out to watch, I didn’t really understand the game. It had a weird scoring system with three parts like “four-seven-two.” He and a partner lost badly, that much was clear. It didn’t seem to phase him, he was smiling as much after the game as before. He was likeable, but he was a weirdo.

That job lasted well over a year, until things changed which you’ll find out about in a minute. He found tournaments from east coast to west, although mostly sticking to Southern California that winter. Even though he wasn’t a very good player, he was so affable. Everyone loved Jim.

Details slowly became clear. It seems Jim had gone to college for software engineering. While still a student he built a small, social media website competing in a minor way with the likes of Facebook and Twitter. To everyone’s surprise, including his own, Meta, the company that includes Facebook, bought his little website for many millions of dollars. He retired at age 22. Except he didn’t really retire. He kind of brokers websites by other developers, and somehow continues to make more money.

In time, Jimmy got me out on a pickleball court. I was terrible at it, literally swinging and entirely missing the ball a few times. At one point I fell and scraped a knee. But we and a couple of other players were laughing, and carrying on, and having a good time. Pickleball wasn’t awful. In fact it was kind of fun, and wouldn’t you know, I started playing it regularly?

I became Jimmy’s doubles partner. Truth be told, I’m better at it than he is. He doesn’t seem to mind one bit. Among our many tournaments around the country, Jimmy also visited with coaches, and he became a better player, but still, he doesn’t have what you might call natural ability. But mostly, we play. We play just recreational games with other people, but also at the tournaments. We seldom win, but we always have fun.

I still love driving. He and will sit up in the front of the motorhome just discussing anything and everything as the miles roll by. We’ll see mountains and fields, ponds and rivers, people here, and people there. When we get to our destinations, we’ll go to museums and tourist attractions. We’ll visit with pickleball players in their homes. It’s a wonderful life.

Now, I love pickleball as much as Jim does.

And, I love Jim as much as pickleball. More. We innocently kissed a few times during the past couple of months, and last Friday, that kissing really turned into something. For the first time, I slept in the bed in the back of the motorhome, not on the pull-out sofa.

Recent news:

We were married in February. We’ve been discussing the possibility of raising children on the road in our motorhome.

Jimmy’s motorhome

The author’s motorhome

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AI Gets It Wrong!

I asked the well-known AI text composer, ChatGPT, to create a pickleball romance story, which you can see at Pickleball Romance and ChatGPT.

Then, I thought it would be nice to use an AI art generator, Dall-E2, to create some accompanying art work. First I asked, “Draw a picture of pickleball romance.” This is what I got:

AI tries to illustrate pickleball romance

As you can see, the art program isn’t great at spelling.

I thought the illustrations were too cartooney, so then I asked, “Draw a photorealistic picture of pickleball romance.” As you can see, I got more weirdness:

AI tries to illustrate pickleball romance

Want to see more? Check out AI Attempts Pickleball Again.

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Pickleball Romance and ChatGPT

Check Out What Happened When I Tried to Illustrate This Story: AI Gets It Wrong

I asked the AI program, ChatGPT to write a short romance story involving pickleball. For better or worse, this is what I got. I thought you might find it interesting:

As an AI language model, I can certainly help you generate a romance story involving pickleball, but please keep in mind that the story will be generated using natural language processing and may not be perfect. Also, please note that the story will be a work of fiction and any resemblance to real-life people or events is purely coincidental.

Once upon a time, there was a woman named Samantha who loved pickleball more than anything in the world. She played every day and was always looking for new people to play with. One day, she arrived at the local pickleball courts to find a new player, a tall and handsome man named Jack.

Samantha was immediately smitten with Jack, and she couldn’t help but notice how gracefully he moved on the court. She approached him and asked if he wanted to play a game with her. Jack was happy to oblige, and the two began to play.

As they played, Samantha and Jack couldn’t help but feel drawn to each other. They were perfectly matched on the court, and their chemistry was undeniable. They talked and laughed between games, and before they knew it, hours had passed.

As the sun began to set, Samantha and Jack realized that they didn’t want the day to end. They decided to go out for dinner together and continue getting to know each other. They talked about their lives, their families, and their shared love of pickleball.

After dinner, they went for a walk along the beach. The moon was full, and the waves crashed against the shore. They walked hand in hand, lost in their thoughts and feelings. Suddenly, Jack stopped and turned to Samantha.

“Samantha,” he said, “I know we just met, but I feel like I’ve known you forever. I’ve never met anyone who understands my love for pickleball like you do. Will you go out with me again?”

Samantha’s heart fluttered with excitement. She had never felt this way about anyone before, and she knew that Jack was someone special. “Yes,” she said, “I would love to go out with you again.”

Over the next few weeks, Samantha and Jack spent every moment they could together. They played pickleball together, went on long walks, and shared meals at their favorite restaurants. Their love for each other continued to grow, and they knew that they had found something special.

One day, while they were playing pickleball, Jack stopped in the middle of the game and got down on one knee. “Samantha,” he said, “I love you more than anything in the world. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?”

Samantha was overcome with emotion. She had never felt so loved and cherished before. “Yes,” she said, tears streaming down her face. “I will marry you.”

They continued to play pickleball together, but now with a new level of love and passion. They planned their wedding, and on the day of their nuptials, they invited all of their friends from the pickleball community to celebrate with them.

As they exchanged vows, Samantha and Jack couldn’t help but think back to the day they first met on the pickleball court. They knew that their love for each other had been written in the stars, and they were grateful for the game that had brought them together.

After the ceremony, they played a game of pickleball with their wedding guests, and it was the happiest day of their lives. They continued to play pickleball together for many years, and they always remembered the game that had brought them together and the love that had grown between them.

In the end, Samantha and Jack knew that their love for each other was like a game of pickleball. It was challenging, exciting, and [ChatGPT stopped right here, evidently just a few words short of the finish.]

Want another ChatGPT pickleball story? Here you go:

As an AI language model, I can certainly help you generate a romance story involving pickleball. Please note that the story will be a work of fiction and any resemblance to real-life people or events is purely coincidental.

Carla had always been a fan of sports, but she had never found one that she truly loved until she discovered pickleball. It was a sport that combined the excitement of tennis with the strategy of ping pong, and Carla was instantly hooked.

She began to play pickleball regularly at the local courts, and she quickly became one of the best players in the community. She loved the feeling of the paddle in her hand, the sound of the ball hitting the court, and the rush of adrenaline as she made a great shot.

One day, while playing a game with her regular partner, Carla was introduced to a new player, a tall and handsome man named Mark. He was a skilled player, and Carla couldn’t help but feel drawn to him.

They played a few games together, and Carla couldn’t help but notice how well they worked as a team. They communicated seamlessly on the court, anticipating each other’s moves and supporting each other through every point.

After the game, Mark invited Carla to grab a drink with him at a nearby bar. Carla hesitated for a moment, but then she agreed. She couldn’t deny the chemistry that she felt with Mark, and she wanted to get to know him better.

As they sat at the bar, sipping their drinks and chatting, Carla and Mark couldn’t help but feel a connection growing between them. They talked about their lives, their interests, and their shared love of pickleball.

“I’ve never met anyone who loves pickleball as much as I do,” Mark said, smiling at Carla.

Carla laughed. “I know what you mean. I can’t get enough of it. It’s like every game is a new challenge.”

Mark leaned in closer to Carla. “Maybe we can challenge each other sometime.”

Carla felt a shiver run down her spine. She had never been so attracted to anyone before, and she knew that Mark felt the same way.

Over the next few weeks, Carla and Mark played pickleball together regularly. They continued to work well as a team, but they also found themselves increasingly drawn to each other off the court.

One evening, after a particularly intense game, Mark leaned in and kissed Carla. The kiss was electric, and Carla couldn’t help but feel her body responding to Mark’s touch.

From that moment on, their relationship deepened. They continued to play pickleball together, but they also went on dates, watched movies, and talked late into the night. They were falling in love, and they knew it.

One day, while playing a game of pickleball together, Mark got down on one knee and pulled out a small box.

“Carla,” he said, “I know we haven’t known each other for very long, but I feel like we’ve been playing pickleball together forever. I love you more than anything in the world, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?”

Carla felt tears streaming down her face as she said yes. She had never been so happy in her life, and she knew that she wanted to spend the rest of her life with Mark.

They continued to play pickleball together, but now they were more in love than ever before. They got married on a beautiful day, surrounded by their friends and family, and they continued to play pickleball together as a married couple.

As they grew old together, they knew that their love for each other was like a game of pickleball. It was challenging, exciting, and full of surprises. They would always cherish the game that brought them together.

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Oil Platform Pickleball

I was conversing with Anne in the machine shop. Or, more specifically, as usual, I was listening to her lecture me in a high-pitched, frantic voice about some sort of safety violation. In this case, it was a guard left too high on a band saw. It wasn’t even me who had left it like that. Anne is the junior safety officer. She took her job so seriously that everyone hated her.

Her boss, Chris, the senior safety officer, might see a guard left too high, and he’d smile at me, he’d glance at the guard, look back at me, until suddenly I understood, and sheepishly lowered the guard.

The only place Anne was tolerable was in the multi-purpose room. We have a huge room under the helipad that’s used for storage, meetings, and anything where a large space is necessary. It’s usually mostly empty except when a supply ship arrives.

One time one of the crates that arrive was marked ‘Recreational Supplies.’ Oddly, with 180 people on this platform, you’d think some of them would take interest. But it just sat there. So, I finally opened up. As the machinist, I was as qualified as anyone, right? Looking inside, I found the most ridiculous collection of equipment. There were 20 baseball mitts, but not balls or bats. There were 12 basketballs. That was good. Then there were two fishing nets. Like, here in the windy North Sea, anyone might like to drape a net off the platform into the freezing cold water 100 feet below, to recreationally catch some fish. Finally, there was something that particularly interested me: Twelve pickleball paddles and 100 pickleballs. Cool! I had played some pickleball, and rather liked the sport. But there were no nets.

I waited and waited for something to happen. I wasn’t quite sure what. The only things that were being used were the basketballs. Occasionally some guys would make use of the hoops that had been thoughtfully installed in the multi-purpose room when the rig was built.

I decided it was time to take action. I got permission to paint the stripes necessary for two pickleball courts on the floor. I managed to get the paint crew to make the stripes. As to nets, it didn’t take much to weld up some portable frames from our huge, useless stock of 1-inch by 1-inch square steel tubing, and cut up those fishing nets into pickleball nets.

All that was the easy part. I put up platform-wide announcements inviting everyone to play pickleball. In my mind, there’d be at least 20 people, and we’d have to wait our turns to play. In reality, four people signed up, so there were five of us total.

One of those people greatly distressed me: It was Anne. I can’t say I hated her, but it was the next worst thing. She’s tall and skinny, and her long, smooth, shiny hair that stops just above her butt fits over her head like a helmet. But that voice! And the fact that even on the pickleball court, she had to be the boss. She made a terrible partner. She’d spend so much energy telling me what to do that when she and I were paired up, I played badly and we generally lost.

One day we were just starting to play, and the whole platform shook. ‘Earthquake,’ I thought. Someone else thought there was an explosion, maybe in the power unit or on the drilling floor. Anne just said, “Oh no,” and went running.

It turns out a supply ship had bumped into one of the four huge pillars that support the platform. Anne called me on the walkie talkie. I was to grab a magnifluxer from the machine shop, and inspect the pillar for cracks. She was even more frantic than usual. No polite words what-so-ever, and she had a few choice swear words for me when I didn’t react instantly.

Well, I went into the pillar, where I met Anne, and she showed me the area where the ship had hit. I checked for a good hour before she was satisfied that there was no damage.

The next day, we reconvened for more pickleball, and sure enough, I was stuck with Anne again. I swear, she arranged to be my partner more than the required amount. I’d like to be a hundred miles away from her, yet she seemed to stick to me like glue. Even on the job. Like, out of 180 people, why did it have to be me inspecting the pillar with her?

On this day after the little bump by the supply ship, Anne was in top form, literally yelling at me at one point about not running a kitchen rally as long as I could have.

That was it. Suddenly, I had enough. I yelled back, “Anne, I don’t like you. I’ve never liked you in the whole six years we’ve been working together. I’ll never like you.”

I wasn’t satisfied yet, adding, “No one likes you!”

As I was saying these things, she just stood there, quietly saying “Oh,” between each of my statements. Her eyes filled with tears, and she ran out of the multi-purpose room.

I felt terrible immediately. Why had I said all that? And in front of the others. I must have hurt her feelings terribly.

Cell phones don’t work on the platform. I tried reaching her by walkie talkie, but she wasn’t answering.

That evening after my shift, I sat on my bunk, and broke down and cried. I had been terribly cruel to Anne. I crushed her. She wasn’t a bad girl. Just a little crazy.

The next morning, a helicopter came and took away one of our crew. Someone was being med-evaced. I was trying to figure out who. Finally, I found out it was Anne.

‘Oh, no,’ I thought. I had no idea what had happened, but was pretty sure my tirade was part of it.

Over the next days, no one heard anything about Anne. Our two-month rotation ended, and it would be another month before I’d be back on the platform. Anne, and whatever the heck had happened to her was never far from my mind.

Finally, I was back on the platform. I asked around, but no one knew anything about Anne until I ran into her boss, Chris. “Oh, yeah, she’s back.” is all he would say, but he added a wry smile. I wondered what that was about.

A day later she came into the machine shop. I was expecting some sort of typical histrionic performance, maybe about an air hose laying on the floor or something. She smiled at me. She actually smiled. That was very weird indeed. She had a bottle of ketchup. She sprayed a little bit on a frayed electrical cord, and smiled again. She sprayed a little more on a box of sharp lathe bits in a box teetering almost half off the edge of a table, and she laughed!

Evidently, this ketchup business was her new way of pointing out safety issues.

This was becoming very strange. I pulled her aside, and started to apologize for my tirade, something I had been hoping to do for the past two-and-a-half months. She brushed it off instantly.

Over the next weeks, she stayed calm as a cucumber. She was downright pleasant every time I ran into her. I was starting to think of her as attractive. How crazy is that? She never did tell me what had happened until about middle of the third week. She and I found ourselves enjoying a meal together, and she told me the whole story.

She had decided that the ship bumping into the pillar was her fault. She was the safety officer in charge. The rule was that supply ships had to stay 40 feet away from the pillars. She was supposed to be on deck, watching and directing, but she had abandoned her post to play pickleball. After all, the ships never hit pillars, and didn’t need any guidance, right? If the ship had bumped harder, it could have destroyed the whole platform. It would have had to be a way, way harder collision, but I didn’t interrupt her with that info.

So, she felt pretty badly when the little collision that was her job to prevent, happened. She took that very, very seriously. Then, when I yelled at her, the dam broke. She assured me it wasn’t my yelling at her that caused the psychological break. It was only the trigger. The break was on the verge of happening. She did add something cryptic at the time. She said that she had always really liked me. ‘Well, she sure had a strange way of showing it,’ I figured.

They flew her off the platform to the on-shore hospital, where she met with a psychiatrist. He gave her some tranquilizers, and then set up ongoing consultation with a psychologist. She told me the root of everything that was wrong – her breakdown, her horrible frantic attitude, was that she was taking everything too seriously. Too personally. Together with the shrink, they traced it back to when in her adolescence, her mother started getting heavily into prescription drugs, and walked around the house like a zombie. Her father was at work all day. Over and over again, she had to prevent accidents that her mother was setting up. Fires in the kitchen, the mother tripping over furniture, broken bottles, just all sorts of things. I can only imagine the impact of trying to watch over one’s own mother like that must have had on a little girl.

I understood that’s why she had become a safety officer. It had become part of who she was. Being on the oil rig was like watching over her mother all over again, but now there were 180 people to watch over. She had taken it too seriously.

I’ve heard of psychologists having good results for some situations. Well this guy, whoever it was, did a spectacular job. It was the same Anne, but entirely without the squeaky, high, frantic voice, and without the bossy attitude. And it stuck. She never went back to the way she was.

Now there were 8 or 9 people playing pickleball every day that they could get the free time. We had both courts going. I was there pretty much every minute I wasn’t on duty. So was Anne. She and I were becoming really good players. We seeked each other out as teammates.

At the end of our next rotation is when it got weird. For some reason, I drove out and visited her. I met her family. I played pickleball in the park with her friends.

Of course that was three years ago. We’re happily married, and she’s pregnant.

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The $78 Million Man

A Short Work of Pickleball Fiction

By Jeff Napier

Our pastor, although a very nice, and well-educated guy, isn’t very good at counseling, and he knows it, so I have taken over most of the lay counseling that happens at our church. One day I had an appointment with Jeremy, a 21-year-old fellow who according to rumors, had recently inherited 78 million dollars.

On a Tuesday at 3pm on the dot, he walked Pickleball Fiction - The $78 Million Maninto the little church office, and I met him for the first time. He was huge. I mean, he was around 6″ 3′ tall, and big-boned. Well, fat, actually. His pale skin, short blond hair, whispy beard, and goofy sweater made him look even larger. He greeted me with a somewhat unsteady, high-pitched voice.

We started off with small talk. I always like to make my clients feel comfortable as soon as I can. He started slowly and hesitantly, but fairly quickly steered the conversation to his problems, evidently comfortable enough with me already to let go of some of his inner secrets.

First, he said he needed a girlfriend. Then he said, that wasn’t really it. He figured a woman would come along in due course. I agreed, that at 21, he needn’t be in a hurry. I then sat back and just listened. I have learned if you remain silent, people will almost always fill the silence. And, they’ll usually fill it with what they really need to say.

It turns out his real problem is that he just didn’t know where he fit into society. He felt no sense of identity. It didn’t help that his mother had died of cancer three years ago, and his father died of a sudden heart attack just a few months ago. Of course he was still grieving, but it was more than that. He didn’t fit, and that made him lonely. His eyes filled with tears. He explained it wasn’t so much the loss of his parents. He was grieving the loss of himself. He was so sad that he just didn’t know how to “be regular, be a part of society” as he termed it. This great big young man then put his hands over his eyes and broke down into complete sobs of sadness. I waited patiently, as I have learned to do. In time, he recovered, apologized for crying. I told him many of my clients cry, and it is just fine, and actually a good, healing thing. I brought the conversation out to a less heavy level.

I asked about college, but no, he didn’t want to do that. I made a mental note to see if I could direct him toward getting an education at some later point, if he would agree to start seeing me weekly. I wanted to know why he didn’t want college, and he said he had plenty of money, so wouldn’t need a career, and therefore wouldn’t be needing college. I thought about how much fun he was missing out on, but this first session was way too soon for me to start guiding him in any direction.

I have been told that as a counselor, one should follow one’s instincts, one’s curiosity, so I asked about the rumors of his inheritance. The pastor had told me that Jeremy’s family had long supported the church in a big way.

Oh, yes, it was true. He had a team of nine people managing his money. In fact, he wasn’t allowed to manage his inheritance at all until age 25, at which time, he would get full control. In the meantime, he was allowed a trust fund of $6,000 per month, after taxes.

Hmmm, At his age, I could really live it up on that, I was thinking to myself.

Being our first meeting, I just asked a few questions, and let him drive the conversation. It seems he was not only lonely, but felt he was getting fatter by the moment, because all he did was watch TV and drink root beer. He loved his root beer. And, he was having troubles with money.


It’s true. He couldn’t quite make ends meet on the $6,000 per month. By the 20th of the month, he was always borrowing $10 or $20 from his friends for food, was late paying the rent on his apartment, and felt quite embarrassed about that. Oh sure, he paid his friends back right after he got his check, but he felt like he was pretty out of control about the money. I asked him where it all went, and his first response was “I don’t really know. I don’t understand it.” Upon pressing, it seemed quite a bit went into customizing his motorcycles – he had three of them, taking friends to dinners, going to concerts, and buying fancy clothes. Here in the office, he was wearing tattered shorts, worn out Keens, and a T-shirt. Go figure!

He had another problem: Headaches. Everything gave him horrible migraines. Stress. Chocolate. Peanuts. Alcohol – even a single glass of wine. He had been to many doctors, and they prescribed this and that, and every medicine he tried either didn’t work, or gave him other untenable symptoms.

Jeremy was messed up, and I was sure that the Lord could work through me to help him. I convinced him to schedule weekly visits with me. We prayed together for a short while, and then I sent him on his way. He promised to meet me next week.

Jeremy was true to his word, and appeared at the church office right at 3pm the following week, and the week after that, and so on. After about six sessions, I hadn’t really helped him much, but he did seem to enjoy having someone to talk with, even though I was an old gray gent, more than three times his age.

I became convinced he needed an activity, something involving a social group. Church would have been sufficient for some people, but for Jeremy, our various social activities only made him feel more like a misfit. I definitely pushed as hard as I dared to get him to enroll in college, but Jeremy wasn’t having it.

He bought himself a guitar after I hinted around about music, took a few lessons, and gave it up. He spent $5,000 on a fancy electric piano, took a few lessons, and then gave that up, too. I suggested basketball. He laughed at me. I suggested tennis, and he actually tried it, but said it gave him a headache and hurt his knees. I could imagine it did. He was a big guy, but his knees were probably just ordinary size.

Then one day while out for a walk, I saw a bunch of people playing a funny little game that looked like tennis. I stepped closer to the fence, and saw that while it looked like tennis, there were some differences. The courts and nets seemed a bit smaller. And they were using little plastic balls full of holes. They reminded me of whiffle balls that we used with plastic bats to play baseball when we were small children. Most of the people seemed to be elderly, like me, but there were some twenty-somethings and people in their thirties and forties as well. They had a weird way of calling score: They kept saying three numbers, like “7-4-2.” I was going to have to ask about that someday. One of the players who was evidently waiting between games started to approach the fence. I was feeling shy, so I walked away before he could trap me in a conversation.

The following week, figuring it would be easier on the knees, I suggested this new game to Jeremy, and told him where I had seen the people playing. No, he wasn’t going to do that, he told me. As usual, we talked an hour, and I didn’t significantly change his life. I knew our sessions were drawing to a close, because I just couldn’t go on not helping him.

In the next weekly session we started talking about this and that, with me trying to focus him on telling me how his week had been, in case I could find something to leverage that might give me an insight as to how to help him. I had prayed all week for some sort of thing I could do to help Jeremy. So far as I could tell, God didn’t have any direct answer for me. Or at least I couldn’t hear the answer.

My mind started to wander, thinking about God and ‘answers’ and so I wasn’t listening carefully, but I thought I heard Jeremy say something about “pickleball.” I asked him to repeat it. He said simply that the game was called pickleball and he had tried it out. I asked, “And, how was it?”

He said that while he did try it, he didn’t like it, but was at least proud that he had once again tried something new. That had been what I was pushing all along – that he had to keep trying things until the right one came along. I talked metaphorically, because in counseling that can sometimes work where direct advice doesn’t. So I said it was like Julia Child, the famous French chef. Before she took up cooking, she tried hat making. That fully didn’t do it for her, but she kept trying things until she discovered cooking.

I asked why he didn’t like pickleball, and he told me that he felt intimidated. Everything he did, he did wrong. Every time he tried to hit that darn little ball, it went into the net or sailed out of bounds. Every place he stood on the court, the other players told him it was the wrong place. After forty-five minutes, his legs hurt. Not from running around to hit the ball, but from being told he was supposed to stand at the kitchen line, or at the baseline, and then having to quickly move to the other line.

Kitchen line? Yes, evidently, pickleball players have a zone seven feet in front of the net in which they can not hit the ball unless it has bounced. They call this the “kitchen.” On top of everything else, he kept smacking the ball before it bounced, and it embarrassed him. So, he wasn’t going back.

Well, another wasted hour, or so I thought.

The following week, I was planning to tell him our sessions were done, and to suggest a psychologist, hypnotherapist, or an NLP practitioner. I was planning, but never got the chance. He came in wearing a smile. I had never seen Jeremy smile. Ever. It just wasn’t part of his set. But today he smiled. I had to ask. It turns out, on some sort of whim, what he called, “perhaps a self-punishing whim” he went back and played pickleball again. He was a little better than the last time, and some of the people he had played with before had not only remembered him, but welcomed him back with big, open arms. He noted that the fact that they acknowledged him like that made him feel really, really good.

And something else had happened. He didn’t have a headache afterward. Or more specifically, he might have had a headache, but didn’t really notice.

We spent the hour talking about pickleball. Or rather, he talked about pickleball, and I mostly listened. I didn’t have to ask questions to draw him out, and I was smart enough to let him run with it. He was actually, truly excited about something for the first time in his life. I asked about that scoring thing, that business with three numbers. He tried to explain something about “first server” and “second server” but I didn’t get it. That wasn’t important. The important thing was that he was having fun telling me about something that excited him.

Let’s cut out the long middle of the story and go to the end. Jeremy continued to have sessions with me. He became not only a regular pickleball player, but totally enamored of the game. He started to lose weight. I didn’t notice at first, but one day he mentioned he had lost almost twenty pounds. He said he went to a tournament, placed third in mixed doubles along with a young woman, and was rated 3.5, whatever that meant.

In time, I found out what 3.5 meant. Jeremy had been pestering me to come play pickleball, but I had been resistant for a while. I am often too shy for my own good, and I, as a lay counselor, of all people, should know better.

Finally, he wore me down, and on a Saturday afternoon, I tried the game. Just like Jeremy, I was embarrassed by my own foolishness. It reminded me of my first time square dancing. My wife took me, and all evening I was always in the wrong place, facing the wrong direction, and doing the wrong things.

At least I was facing in the right direction in pickleball. But one time, I even got that wrong. Someone hit the ball high and far back, and I ran backward to get it. Somehow, I fell over my own feet, and bumped my head. Oh, that hurt. Fortunately, it wasn’t serious. I was able to get up and keep playing. The other players explained to me that a person needs to turn around facing away from the net, to run behind a high ball, stop, turn around facing the net again and then hit the ball, in order to be safe and effective. Evidently, it is faster to turn and run forward, than to try backpedalling. Yes, I was fully embarrassed to fall in front of those people. It could have been worse. I was almost injured. I swore in a very un-religious way to myself that I would never, ever play pickleball again.

I was back on Sunday. And Monday. And Tuesday, and for the life of me, I can’t tell you why. But I was really, truly enjoying it. I tried to explain it to my wife, but she just shook her head and said, “Winner, winner, chicken dinner,” evidently acknowledging my new interest and giving me her support.

It’s nice being retired. Besides my work at the church, I have an open schedule, and I’ve been filling it with pickleball. I now know why they have a three-part scoring system, and even know what it is, from personal experience, to be a 3.5.

Oh, Jeremy. You might be wondering how it turned out for him. The years passed, and he stayed with pickleball, playing nearly all day, every day. He became very physically fit. His headaches mostly subsided. He explained to me that he still has headaches from time to time, but for the most part, they are so minor, so much in the background, he just tunes them out, and can enjoy whatever he is doing. He says part of the problem may have been the root beer. He has given up most sugary and starchy foods.

I asked him about that. He said he noticed some of the pickleballers who were in their sixties and seventies were as spry as kittens. That they could move like 16-year-olds on the court. Upon talking with them about that, he found a common thread among them. Their diets were light on sugary and starchy foods. Sugar, as he put it, is an enemy to good health and energy. He had even given up his beloved root beer. He said it was easy when he figured it was partially to blame for his headaches.

On his 25th birthday, he came into full control of his inheritance. I was worried that he’d blow the whole works on a yacht, buy a sports team or a TV station, or find some way to spend all the money quickly. But no, he bought an average three-bedroom house for himself and his wife. Yes, I did say his wife. He met a pretty little thing on the pickleball courts. She’s the one who placed third with him in his first tournament. She adores him as much as he adores her. She is as tiny as he is tall. They are a great couple. They have come for a couple of co-sessions with me. Not because they need anything, but just want to “stay tuned-up as a couple,” as they call it. I can tell they are lifers. They’ll stay together for the long run. I saw her last week, and noticed she is pregnant. I asked, and sure enough, they are expecting twins. “Two more pickleballers,” she explained.

Late breaking news: The four city pickleball courts were becoming overcrowded. As you may have heard, pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America. Jeremy and his wife have made arrangements with the City Parks and Recreation Department to donate $300,000 for six brand new courts. I can’t wait until they’re built!

It seems God has given Jeremy, and the rest of us, an answer in the form of a little plastic ball full of holes.

Folks, let me know if you liked this story, because I’m just crazy enough to try writing some more. Or, perhaps you’d like to contribute a story? I’d be honored to publish any good pickleball-related story here as long as it has the right qualities for