Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Like a Red Rag to a Bull (11/28/13)
TITLE: A Change in Routine (Fiction - mostly)
By Steve McClure
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But I know a guy who can ruin other people’s days. Tommy hates to lose. You’ve likely known someone like him. Regardless of the competition, when Tommy starts to fall behind, he comes unglued. When we were kids, he’d throw things (like a baseball bat), he’d holler and wail, he’d get nasty…it was ugly. As we got older, he mellowed some, but not much.
Thing is, Tommy’s a nice guy, otherwise – fun-loving, affable, and (yes) even pleasant. He’d give you the shirt off his back. It’s only when competition enters the fray that he becomes this “other person” – sort of like Jekyll and Hyde. And, of course, it doesn’t help when people start rooting against him.
Needless to say, as time went on nobody wanted to “play” with Tommy anymore; no ball, no sport, no game, no cards…nothing. This included attending sporting events; if Tommy’s team began to lose…. Well, you get the picture.
We’ve all tried talking with Tommy. At first, he tried justifying his behavior. Later, he began to acknowledge that he was behaving poorly, but nothing really changed. Then, someone had an idea.
A bunch of us were walking around town when Tommy spied the bowling alley. “Hey, guys, let’s go bowling. We haven’t done that in quite a while.”
We voiced the usual reluctance. Then, Pete said, “That’s a good idea, Tommy. Go get us some lanes. We’ll be right behind.”
Tommy hesitated. Then he realized Pete was serious. He excitedly said, “OK,” and went ahead to get the lanes.
We all looked at Pete. “Listen,” he explained, “we all know the routine: Tommy starts to lose, he acts up, we bad-mouth him, he gets worse…. Well, we need to change the routine.”
“How so?” someone asked.
“By rooting for him.”
“Root for him to act up?” Everyone laughed.
“No,” Pete said. “Root for him to win. If he starts to lose, encourage him to hang in there. Cheer for him.”
“You think it will make a difference?”
“Maybe not,” acknowledged Pete. “But I figure it can’t hurt if we shower him with kindness. Besides, if we don’t change, how can we expect him to?”
“OK,” said Pete. “That’s it, then.”
“Nice stroke, Tommy!” The ball rolled straight down the lane and smashed into the fresh rack, scattering all the pins but one. Tommy’s second ball missed the lone pin. But that’s how we bowl; few spares and even fewer strikes.
“Well, after nine frames, look who’s in the lead.”
“Yeah,” retorted Tommy, “but only by one pin.”
“That’s all it takes. You’re doing well, Tommy. Keep it up.”
One after another, each of us was ending his game with an open tenth frame. Tommy and Phil (who was the one pin behind) were the last to roll.
“OK, Tommy,” someone cheered. “You can put it away with this ball.”
Tommy released the ball in the center of the lane. It struck dead in the pocket. Strike!
“Atta boy, Tommy!” someone shouted. “You’ve buried the rest of us.”
Phil’s turn. …Strike!
“Hey, Phil! You’re not going easy. Tommy, you’ve got your work cut out.”
Tommy wasn’t smiling.
“You’ve still got me by a pin, Tommy,” Phil pointed out. “Keep on keepin’ on.”
Again, Tommy released the ball in center lane. …Strike!
“Wow, Tommy! Two in a row!”
Phil’s turn. …Strike!
“Hey, what a game!”
Tommy was glum.
“Game’s not over,” Phil said, looking straight at Tommy.
Tommy didn’t respond. He stared straight down the lane. He was beginning to burn.
Phil walked over to Tommy. “Tommy, you can do this,” he said quietly. “You can. All you need is a high pin count.”
Tommy grabbed his ball. He approached the line a little hurriedly, rolling a bit off-center. …Seven count.
“Way to go, Tommy!” someone shouted. “Phil needs nine to win.”
Tommy flung himself into a chair, already anticipating the loss.
“Easy, Tommy,” someone said. “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
Phil’s turn. …Split! It was a tie.
Phil walked over to Tommy and extended his hand. Tommy glared back at Phil. Then, he softened and took Phil’s hand.
Was that the end of Tommy’s tirades? No. But they’re becoming fewer. Games with him are actually more fun, now.
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