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Hard Lessons, Soft Balls

You know what's great? Immediate feedback.

You don't always get immediate feedback in life. In fact, I'd say it's pretty rare. You sit in class and take a test, you don't find out how you did right away. The teacher goes off and grades them, or ranks them by how much effort your parents put into their dishes at the last PTA potluck or something, and in a day or a week or after the semester, you get the feedback. It's totally disjointed.

And most of life is like that. You apply for a job, and maybe you hear back in a few days. Or you don't. You buy a lottery ticket, and you have to wait hours to hear the winning numbers. You get lucky and hook up with someone -- so how were you?

Oh, sure, they'll say you were great. Probably. But you won't really find out until they call you in the morning. Or decide not to divorce you, or to tip you for the extra effort.

You know, whichever situation applies to you personally. Hopefully not more than one at a time.

The point is, there are precious few situations in life where you find out, with startling immediacy, whether you've succeeded or failed. No sweating it out. No gnashing of teeth. Just a quick 'thumbs up' or 'thumbs down', and you celebrate the victory. Or you get your head chopped off. Clean and simple.

One of those situations, it turns out, is playing third base on a 'frostbite league' softball team in early November, with a wicked one-hop ground ball screaming toward you. This is an opportunity for immediate feedback. If you glove the ball -- and, ideally, throw it to first base to get an out -- then you've succeeded. And if not? If you fail?

Well, then you'll be smacked -- immediately -- in the leg with a ball traveling with a high rate of oomph. And there's your feedback. Failure hurts. Like a bitch.

"Bruises are nature's way of telling you that somewhere along the line, you made a wrong turn."

The really nice thing -- though perhaps 'nice' is a bit strong of a word -- is that you'll be reminded of the result for days on end. There'll be swelling. Oh, lots of swelling. You'll have one normal-looking calf, and a second that looks like that huge slab of meat in the back of a Greek diner that they shave to make gyros.

Your leg will, of course, be far less delicious. Even if you soak it in tzatziki. Trust me. I've tried.

The real reminder is the bruise, of course. Bruises are nature's way of telling you that somewhere along the line, you made a wrong turn. Its entire purpose in life is to turn ugly and dark and announce your failures to the world -- like a tattoo of barbed wire, or a child your ex-wife has managed to turn against you.

(I'm not sure where exactly my examples turned from "experienced directly" to "heard from my one friend who watches TMZ". Probably I should meander back to the point.)

The point is, today I failed. I played third base, got smacked in the leg, it hurts like hell, and there's yogurt sauce all over the couch. Our team lost, too -- not on that particular play, but I'm sure I can find a way to lay our collective crashing and burning at my feet. Or at my deceptively delicious-looking purple bulbous calf. Worse still, this was a playoff game with elimination looming -- "one and done", as they say. The other team won. And we're done. Damn.

So my feedback was both immediate, and long-lasting. An all-day sucker of suck that will probably suck maximum possible suckage when I wake up tomorrow, and ever-so-briefly forget my lesson, or that my leg now resembles a giant inflatable wang. I'll swing my feet off the bed, leap onto the floor -- and be immediately reminded with shooting bolts of pain up my spinal column that I did, indeed, fail at fielding. It is a lesson, therefore, which will not soon leave my waking thoughts.

Not until spring, at least, when we join the league again. And when maybe -- if others' memories are shorter than mine -- I'll be trotted out to third base again, to fend off ground balls with my shins or my chest or parts of my face that I'm not especially attached to preserving. Or maybe I'll get back to what I used to do, mostly, and catch those balls before they catch me.

It's either that, or it's gyro-leg all over again in April. I'd like to think I've learned better. But in this case, feedback will have to wait, at least til spring thaw.

And for once, I don't mind the delay.

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