Jun 22, 2010

Here's what's happened. Let me begin by saying, a little immodestly, I am a tennis blue blood. The B-player but from 'Old Tennis.' As though you were from old money in Old Westbury.

I took my first lessons from Lester Stoefen (B. March 30, 1911 in Des Moines, Iowa - D. February 8, 1970 in La Jolla, California), who was 6'5", or maybe it was 7'5", in his late 40's in the mid 1950s when I knew him, when he stood out on court 2 at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club shoveling one ball after another, to kids of all ages, the littlest standing four across at the base line. He was the machine before machines, hour after hour, in sun glasses and rumpled hat, looking at the tennis on the next court, looking at anyone who came in the front door of the club, looking up at the moon for relief. Thinking of rum cokes in the club bar... In the '30s he won three grand slam events, including the doubles championship at Wimbledon.

On my mother's side we go back to the beginning of the Lawn Tennis Association. And to all those clubs, like Maidstone at the end of Beach Lane in East Hampton. My mother learned how to play the game from Bill Tilden. She was in her thirties. This was when he was living in ignominy at Charlie Chaplain's and had a drink or two before every lesson.

Years later she was "involved" with Tony Trabert. Perhaps this was just in my father's mind. Perhaps, there was no intimacy at all. Years later my mother like people to think there was. This was the kind of drama I grew up with.

There's one other thing. My mother got to be an excellent player. She taught the game for a while, at a doctor's club in San Diego. But late afternoons, weekends, she was out on the show court at the LBT&T Club, usually with three men. She could get to the net in a flash, she had a flat, hard first serve. She had great ground strokes and played like a "tiger" at the net. And that's what she told her doctor students. At the net be like a tiger.

Until recently, I could have cared less about my mother's forehand or my Old Tennis connections. But now I've begun to see it all as a chapter from the Camelot years. It's as though you remembered some famous actor from the 50 and suddenly, for very sentimental reasons, knowing that actor makes you imagine the past as a cure for the present.

But here's what's happened. All these years later, I'm out on Vincente and 23rd. Lets' just say, there's been some big time downward mobility. It's also cold, windy, no matter what time of year; two of the courts are knee-deep in pine needles. One of the nets looks like a Halloween spider web from two years ago. Completely shot through.

And of course no would think to fix the net or bring a broom. Actually, one of the players owns a body shop down the street. He put together a piece of tire at the end of 10 foot long steel pole. You have to be a weight lifter to work the damn thing. Which is shaped like a huge eyelash

And then on one of the other court one of the stanchions is bent in, like a davit on the Lusitania as the stern rears up.

Get the idea? This is outcastville. This is not maidstone, this is tombstone.

Plus everybody's psychotic. Shouting, fighting. You hear about everyone's life, things you don't want to hear. I don't want to know, for example, that

There's about 25 regulars and half as many irregulars. The cuckoo's club: Cab drivers, the professor, a couple of dentists — they're both getting sued — a gyno, and of course, Archibold who broke out of Australia years ago and is still on the lam. He's 71. No matter how close to the line your shot he always calls it out. "Oh that was out," he'll say. "Come and look at the mark." He's got the head of his racket right on the spot, which is a foot away from where you saw the ball hit.

And then he'll hit a winner and shout "Yeeha". And he'll keep shouting that out until the next point is about to be played.

And now the doctor is laughing himself sick. I think he's a gyno. He's in his 60s going on twice that at least. He bends over after every shot, leans on his racket. Are we going to have another heart attack? That's all I want to know. He's bent over. He's wearing a wrestler's eight inch black leather truss. You understand the picture he's low and fat. Real fat, but hard. You can tell it's hard fat, so if you gave him a body shot he'd laugh himself sick. Shorts half way down his thigh, like a little rich kid in 1950. Hahahahaha, he's saying. You make a mistake: Hahahahahaha. Over and over. I want to put the racket right on his temple. Hahahahahahaha.

Not a point goes by when he doesn't go into a paroxym. I'm praying he has a heart attack.

And he's not the only one. This is a street club for the insane. I'll tell you about the fight we had in a minute....

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