Nadal arranging his water bottles. Photo grabbed from

Gary was watching tennis on television the other day. Rafael Nadal was playing. Aside from the fact that he is one of the best tennis players of all time, Nadal is interesting because he offers a host of ritualistic behaviors that are far beyond any other athlete I am aware of. All people have quirks and athletes typically have superstitions. Some pitchers won’t step on a baseline when leaving the mound to return to the dugout. Others have pregame routines that they try not to vary. Rafa is in a class by himself. From how he arranges his water bottles to the predictability of his sequence before he serves, he clearly has quirks. Gary noted when Nadal’s game was over and it was time to change sides, Nadal walked toward the net and made a sharp right turn to go to his chair – not your ordinary approach. These behaviors could be amusing little eccentricities. Or they could represent a disorder that interferes with his life. I hope it is the former or something in between that doesn’t create problems for him.

It is kind of funny that Gary was commenting on Nadal’s routines given that he is a creature of habit himself. I guess we all are to varying degrees. Gary’s habits are harmless and amusing (to me). His process for cleaning his glasses is a whole production – if he tells me he needs to clean them before we leave the house, I know I have plenty of time to sit down and read the newspaper. Not surprisingly, his glasses are far cleaner than mine. Once in a while I will ask him to give my lenses his special treatment. I am amazed at the difference – he clearly knows what he is doing.

I walk with a friend who used to need to circle the stop sign instead of just reversing course when we got to the end of the block. Snow could be piled up knee deep on the side of the road, but the walk didn’t feel right to her if she hadn’t done that. I remember when she decided she didn’t need to do that anymore. Humans are so interesting.

These rituals must give us some comfort, some control, or we wouldn’t do them. I have routines, too, though I can’t say I see them as quite so specific or engrained. I get up in the morning and do things in the same order – I think – go to the bathroom (TMI?), wash hands, brush teeth, take meds, make the bed, get dressed, head downstairs. I continue the process by taking my little hotplate out and plugging it in (a gift from Dan and Beth because they know I like my coffee to stay hot), pour my coffee, prepare my breakfast, open my computer and start with the New York Times Spelling Bee, then move on to the crossword puzzle and end with the mini puzzle. Next up, I clean the kitchen – most nights I have left the dinner dishes to be done in the morning. Then I start my day – up to my office to write, read and research. I’m okay, though, if my routine has to change – if I have an appointment, or if Gary hasn’t made the coffee that morning or whatever comes up. The routine gives some structure and a beginning to my day, but I am not married to it. It doesn’t cause me anxiety to do it differently.

Are there people who specifically choose not to have a routine? I imagine that there must be though I don’t think I know many. I wonder what that would feel like. From what I hear from friends, most are pretty devoted to their schedules.

I was taking my brother home from the hospital after his hip replacement surgery a couple of years ago. The nurse was going over the discharge instructions. Mark asked about climbing the stairs to his bedroom. They asked how many steps it would be. “15,” he replied with certainty (I could be remembering the wrong number, but the number isn’t the point). I looked at him, “You know the number of steps off the top of your head?” He looked at me quizzically. “Of course.” Later when we were in the car, I asked him about that. He responded, “Don’t you count the steps when you go upstairs in your house?”  “No, I have no idea how many it is.” Apparently, Mark counts things – and not just the typical things that we all count (like reps in the gym). My brother has his oddities, too.

You never know what might be going on in another person’s head. Well, maybe that isn’t entirely true. I know the thoughts in mine are quite different from my brother. I might be replaying my last conversation with my son or composing my next blog post while Mark might be constructing his all-time Yankee batting order, putting his love of numbers to good, productive use, or he might be thinking about how he might next tease me. Either of those thought processes are totally alien to me.

To the extent that we find our partner’s, family members’ and friends’ little quirks and eccentricities charming, amusing or at least not annoying, it works. When it drives us crazy or when it gets in the way of their functioning, then it is another story.

10 thoughts on “Eccentricities

  1. Interesting I need my coffee to remain hot at all times just like you. In fact that is why when at home I use small coffee cups. Easy to refill for a second cup which also will remain hot. When visiting other people and they have those large coffee mugs I only fill it half way.

    When I’m unloading the dishwasher I find myself counting how many forks, knives, plates, etc from each type. Why? I don’t know. It’s not like the dishwasher ate one of my dishes.

    Counting certain things, yeah guilty of that too. Steps yes. When serving in tennis I always bounce the ball three times before serving. I guess it’s a timing mechanism.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve recently become fascinated by Replay 2021 on Apple Music, which lists my 100 most-played songs of the year. It updates once a week and has become a highlight of my Sunday morning, as I check to see how my Top Ten is doing, who got bounced out of the Top 100 or is teetering in the 80s or 90s, who barely made it in, who debuted at a high number. Ridiculous? Yes. But fun.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Once again, an interesting post. The every day routines you describe are easily Juxtaposed by most. Where it is an imperative to be in the exact order is when it probably is accompanied by a diagnosis.
    However, The tennis routine before serving; the golfer routine before hitting each shot; the basketball player who bounces the ball 5 times before shooting a free throw; these are rituals that are taught to make the next action part of a routine to reduce the tension in the next action which is the one that counts. No diagnosis here.
    When I see Gary next I’m bringing my glasses for a thorough cleaning


    1. Right – I agree with your analysis. From what I have read about Nadal, those routines also serve to ground him and put him in the right frame of mind. I think Gary is considering offering glass cleaning services when he retires :). Thanks for your comment.


  4. As soon as I finish this, I will place my phone down at just the right angle, leaning against any object the keeps it from being flat on a surface. Then I will clean Mark’s glasses-no charge.
    But, when I go upstairs to go to sleep, I will not count the steps. That serves no actual purpose.
    Great blog post and thank you.


  5. Some people live life according to their internal owner’s manual, others live life as if it were a jazz riff.


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