Last Friday night a stranger showed up at our tennis league.
"I'm here to replace Paul," he said. And when some guys looked at him quizzically, he added, "Paul died last week." And then he kind of chuckled. Nervously, because Paul had died the previous week—of pneumonia. Monday Paul canceled a tennis match because he wasn't feeling well, and Wednesday Paul was dead. "I think he was about our age," his 50-ish replacement said with a shrug.
None of us knew Paul that well. (His name isn't even Paul; it's something else—Indian, I think.) One guy remembered he made bad line calls in his own favor. "So he got what he deserved," someone chimed in with a chuckle.
This isn't the most immediate tragedy I've seen in my recreational sports career—or the most callous response. Years ago a guy collapsed after making a layup and died on the court. Bled from his eyes. The next week I showed up and one of the guys said that since I was the youngest, I had to pay the dead guy's court fee from last week. I was so upset, I never went back.
But I was younger then. Now I'm used to seeing how fast the living leap away from corpses of people we don't know well—see Scalia, Antonin.
Versus how long we linger with the souls of our own dead.
My favorite joke:
Guy walks into a bar, sees another guy down at the end with his head in his hands, crying.
"Whassa matter with him?" he asks the bartender.
"His father died," the bartender says.
"Oh, that's terrible. When?"
With all the dead people we're communicating with every day, we don't have even one minute for a new guy, and we don't want to get his hopes up.