Rule #1:
Arrive with the proper aspirations

Dream that you belong in this country even after attempting to bomb a US embassy in the 1970s but later reforming yourself by listening to Bob and Tom in the Morning (conservative talk radio parading as dick and fart jokes), and then serving a diagonal cross-court ace that devastates the morale of the opposing pair, cements your status as an American, and wins you citizenship when you disclose your pickleball win-loss record to immigration officials.

Rule #2:
Win a worthy partner by proving you are
a rude son of a bitch on and off the court

When a prospective partner attempts to make small talk by saying, “I have named my Tinder inbox ‘White Castle’ because it’s mostly full of drunks looking for something cheap late at night,” respond by saying, “Men are like calories. You don’t need them after 8 p.m.”

When she has no come-back and asks, “Am I speechless at how rude you are, or at how you might be a witch casting spells?,” do not admit to possessing powers of magic realism that Americans imagine your culture to possess. Instead, show you are an SOB. Say, “With one line, I can cast shade on your calorie intake and relationships with men. I can veil an insult directed toward you as an insult directed toward someone else. I can get you to agree with a statement before realizing it is a criticism.”

“You’re an insufferable witch,” she will respond. She will then propose that you two become fierce pickleball partners that others will want to invite to parties at houses with wrap-around porches.

Rule #3:
Do not feel tenderness for your new partner or self

For too long, tenderness has been an emotion that’s felt like momentum. You’ve experienced it only when fleeing other emotions, like loneliness. Treat tenderness as a kind of exhaustion that arises from running from your traumatic history, instead of as a stillness that comes from being in the presence of the thing you love. Refuse to feel homesickness. Homesickness simply describes the feeling you have when the loneliness of your past is in conversation with the loneliness of your present. Do not wonder how the length of time you can remember a dream often feels like the same amount of time that a kiss lasts—long enough to feel that you’ve forgotten something important about your past.

Remember, there was a time when English felt mirrorless, and you couldn’t see yourself speaking the tongue until you became fluent enough to recognize your own thoughts forming in it. Although loneliness has also felt like an unfluent form of being, and although the English word “solitude” describes a more fluent form of loneliness and thus a more expansive understanding of oneself, run away from that understanding of the self. It will impair your pickleball dominance.

Rule #4:
The server’s arm must move upward
as is done when giving someone the finger

When Kathy, who you are playing against, explains the arm must be swinging in an upward direction when serving, she’ll show you that the serving motion is the same movement the arm makes when raising one’s hand to flip someone your middle finger. Surely, you’ll think, there is a less aggressive way to explain this rule. In any case, you’ll return the gesture to Kathy.

Rule #5:
Contact with the ball must not be
made above your unsatisfactory waistline

You must not serve the ball by hitting it above waist level, which Kathy says is a rule that is difficult to enforce on you because she cannot truly tell where your stomach ends and your muffin-top waistline begins.

Rule #6:
Talk trash

Ask Kathy if she is having sex with her pickleball partner. When she blushes and does not respond, shout at her across the net that she must have one standard for men and one standard of self-respect that takes after her breasts: one appears slightly lower than the other, and neither must have been very high to begin with. Gloat in the admiration of other pickleball players for how you mimic their ways of speaking what they call “trash talk” and what you call “polite conversation that demonstrates your interest in the interior life of another person.” Rest. Take out a bottle of baby rehydration fluids that you carry with you even though your kids are all grown. Add a splash of tequila to make your own version of “Mike’s Hard Pedialyte.”

Rule #7:
Winners must help take down the net

When your son asks, “Is it true? Can you cast spells like your partner asked?” Nod yes as you take out Doritos from your handbag. Enjoy watching him try to discern the truthfulness of this claim while you snack. His flaws will be revealed to you in between bites.

When he asks how your powers work, tell him a story about your ancestors that fits within the bounds of magical realism. Say something like, “Your great grandmothers discovered that when the Spanish landed in Costa Rica and learned a native language there, they found that the bilingual mind for some languages is more susceptible to hypnosis. Your great-grandmothers on your American side who were from Ireland discovered the same thing when the English learned Irish. They learned how to use translation as a weapon.”

When he doubts your response, prove your powers by responding, “Watch me talk someone into letting me take their place in line to play pickleball.”

Ask a man with a ponytail whether he is bilingual in Spanish and English. When the man says he speaks some Spanish, begin casting your spell. Tell him about yourself. Explain, “When my husband died, they couldn’t embalm his body because he was a smoker. Embalming fluids have to work extra hard to reach the extremities of a smoker’s body because of arterial deterioration. The fluids can’t reach the fingers, toes, and capillaries in the lungs. After decades of marriage, a feeling of love toward my husband was just as difficult to reach.” Then ask, “Should we allow our relationships to deteriorate rather than be artificially preserved?”

“I’m sorry for your loss,” the man will say.

“I’m lonely,” you will say and lose track of whether you are casting a spell or confessing your true feelings. You will say, “A lonely life is spent rehearsing answers for a question that never arrives. That’s why strangers are so appealing. They look on the verge of asking a question I’ve never thought to ask myself.” When you bring up old memories, shift your weight from foot to foot, as though you were getting ready to run. Your dominant memories in life are images of escape. Your memory has a momentum to it, as though it were chasing you rather than simply being recalled.

Play with this ponytailed man. When you win, help take down the net even though you are tired and everyone that you love has already left.