Anyone living in New York City with a penchant for tennis appreciates what an expensive and schleppy habit the sport can be.
The dollars my generous parents invested into lessons during my adolescent years might have nourished an Ethiopian village. And the hours spent hauling out to Queens to access courts that didn’t force us onto food stamps unquestionably outnumbered those spent pummeling forehands and smashing volleys.
But I loved the game, and by high school, my skills earned me a position on the formidable Horace Mann tennis team.
Truth be told, though, I never had what my father used to call a “killer instinct.” No matter how committed he was to instill in me a desire to slaughter my ponytailed, white-skirted opponents, I was always content merely to be out on the court, swinging my racket and savoring the crisp, east coast fall.
Playing tennis en plein air in Riverdale, a tree-lined enclave in the Bronx, was a welcome antidote to the frenzy of Manhattan life and a high school education as academically demanding as law school would later prove to be. Bopping around the bright green surface, everything else that ordinarily weighed on my mind — from presenting my research on the seven sacred rites of the Lakota to pondering how long I’d be grounded after getting caught going to the Palladium — seemed trapped in the net that separated me from my opponents.
But when I left for college in Northern California, where free and available courts were as ubiquitous as warm sunny days, and my schedule was — shall we say — flexible, something strange happened. I stopped playing tennis.
Perhaps it was the distraction of the then-unfamiliar wonderland that is California, with its sandstone beachside cliffs and 6’2” bronzed surfers. Or perhaps it was the shocking news that my former tennis instructor had attempted to kidnap and rape one of his students (coincidentally, the sister of a guy who lived in my co-op during sophomore year) before taking his own life. (See The New York Times article).
Whatever the reason, my tennis racket has languished, since 1993, in various closets across the United States.
After several years of passing by open courts in city parks all over Los Angeles and muttering how ludicrous it is that I don’t play, I decided that the time to let my racket see the light of day had finally arrived.
And after seventeen years, it was just that easy.
Koo, a girlfriend who also had not played tennis in nearly two decades, quickly agreed to join me in an effort to jumpstart her game as well. We decided to meet Sunday at 1:00 p.m. in Marine Park, just east of Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica and roughly a five-minute drive or ten-minute bike ride from home — hardly akin to rush hour traffic on the Queensboro Bridge.
Prepared to wait a good 30-45 minutes — it was, after all, a Sunday afternoon — I entered the park gate at 12:45 p.m., armed with my now ancient racket and slew of partially-flat tennis balls, ready to stake my claim to the next available court.
My vigilance, however, was superfluous.
Just as I began making my way between the courts and bushy green wall of vines, dotted with vibrant, fragrant flowers — again, the antithesis of a Long Island City tennis bubble — a middle-aged man rallying back and forth with his son called out that they would be done momentarily.
Yeahhh … that this was the first time I set out to play tennis in Los Angeles seemed more preposterous with each passing moment.
Just as they began gathering their equipment to clear the court, Koo arrived with a bright smile and her typical, Aussie-inflected, “Hi darling!”
We spent the next hour and a half re-connecting with our strokes and footwork, and eventually played a couple of sets — proud when we slammed an ace and amused when a well-intentioned lob metamorphosed into a home run. The doses of merriment we both experienced must have been good medicine for the agony that plagued our right forearms in the days that followed…because we can’t wait to play again this weekend.
If you have read either of my previous two posts (M & Ms:: Part 1 and M & Ms :: Part 2), you’ll know that I recently enjoyed an exceptionally fabulous trip to New York, visiting family, friends and the spectacular Dia:Beacon.
But when it comes to playing tennis, I’ll take Los Angeles any day.
Who else is in?