The Tennis Curmudgeon


The Week – Part Seven

The rest of the day was nothing more than a blur. Interviews and pictures and autographs. In one day, if I kept one, I’m sure I would have tripled the press clippings in a scrapbook. The next day when I went into the locker room there was a pile of clippings in front of my locker. Other players were, of course, giving me shit. It was very strange You’re in a room where everyone knows you, it seems intimately, yet there is not one familiar face to you. Like an off kilter episode of The Twilight Zone.

All I wanted to do was get on the court and out of this maelstrom. I guess it would have been different if there was an answer. If I felt anything out than surreal about it. I tried to think of something it was similar to. But even a perfect game in baseball doesn’t really compare. You know you’ve got that going. You have hours to let it seep in. I was going along life hitting a tennis ball and forty minutes later I wasn’t. Maybe if someone knew what was going on that may have made it a little different. I’m pretty sure if someone knew it wouldn’t have happened. That’s the kind of thing if someone didn’t directly tell you I’m sure you would feel.

I played one set a few months ago in ‘The Zone’ and I could feel everyone breathe. There was one point somewhere in the middle of it when my opponent hit a well placed, deep cross-court approach shot that I shouldn’t have been able to get to. And if I did there was no way in the world I could do anything with it. That’s the thing about being in ‘The Zone’ – amazing happens. I hit a down the line passing shot and heard everyone watching gasp. It was as if all the air had been sucked of the court. It’s likely I’ll never hit a ball so well, so well received.

I’m not complaining. It was like I’d been taken behind the velvet ropes of the most exclusive club you’ve never heard of. After the press was done with me my new best friends, Schulyer and Tyler, took me to some country club the likes I’ve never seen. It’s like they had gold plated waiters. I was feted with a cocktail party in my honor but I’m pretty sure it was a previously scheduled cocktail party. I got tagged along due to circumstances. I’m damn sure my picture will be on the guard shack wall tomorrow under the words: BANNED FOR LIFE.

But I didn’t give a shit. It was amazing to see even if the expiration time stamp was blinking. Have you ever seen on of those fancy ballrooms in those elegant movies about royalty? That event was on par with a VFW Beer Bust compared to this room.

At every step was some attendant waiting to do your bidding. I get a little uncomfortable having people at me beck and call. I don’t mind some assistance now and then but when someone’s hovering over me trying to anticipate my every desire, that gets to me.

It happens at almost every tournament where one attendant takes his job to the extreme. I guess I’m lucky I’m so lowly that guy doesn’t often see me as well known enough. But every once in a while I get one.

He wasn’t just over assisting me, he was omnipresent for everyone. I don’t know how he did it. It didn’t take me long to get his attention. I think handing me a towel and starting to wipe me down after a shower was the breaking point. I explained, gently, that there are plenty of guys who like the fawning, but I’m not one of them. It wouldn’t affect his tip. I knew he’d be around if I needed him so he could relax a little around me. Gentle, see?

“Then go fuck yourself.” He said. “Who the fuck do you think you are anyway?”

Well, that was not what I expected at all.

I wanted to punch him in the face. Actually made a fist I was that close. But then I thought how rapey it would look for me to be standing over a guy after punching him in the face which, inevitably, would cause the towel I was holding my junk to fall. Yeah, standing over a bleeding guy while naked is never a good thing. So I laughed.

“Who indeed.” I said walking away.

“No seriously,” he said grabbing my shoulder. “I’m busting my balls around here and you have the nerve to talk to me like that?” I stood there staring at him contemplating just how bad punching him would really look. We’re about the same age, height, so it’s not as if I’d be whacking a little kid. But there was no way around it. It would look pretty fucking bad.

Sp I looked at him and shook my head. I’ve been in a lot of arguments in my life but this one had to be one of the odder ones. And I’m not saying it was solely due to my level of nudity.

“I appreciate all you’ve done, I really do. I know I thanked you when you brought me over a couple of bananas. All I’m saying is if I need you I can find you.”

“You can go fuck yourself.” Do we sense a pattern here? “I wouldn’t do a fucking thing for you after the way you spoke to me. Do you know who I am? I could buy and sell you. How dare you?” I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone ask that question. If I know who they are? Tons of times. The buy and sell thing? Countless times.

I’d actually like to see how that transaction was pulled off. First, who would they buy me from? I’m guessing it would have to be me. And I wouldn’t let me go cheap, I’ll tell you that. Then there’s the issue of finding someone who’d actually be interested in buying me. I’m not handy around the house. I don’t have any really marketable skills. I’m thinking people who say that haven’t really ironed out all the kinks.

“I’m sorry.” I say to get the argument over and put some pants on. “Don’t worry about it. I’m probably not going to in your hair much longer.”

“Can’t be soon enough.” He stormed off to get some orange slices for one of the guys who watched the proceedings. Locker rooms are weird places made even weirder with attendants and agents and officials always milling around. It’s like being in half a nudist colony.

Turns out the kid was the son of some rich guy. Turns out, a lot like his dad, he was also a jock sniffer. I don’t mean that literally. I’m sure at least some of the players would have an issue with that. Just someone who likes being around athletes. A tournament official came over and told me I’d have to apologize to the little fucker. I told him I didn’t think I did anything wrong. He agreed but was in a bind. It was a moot point anyway. I lost my next match so never saw the offended party again.

Although I liked the drink and the food and the people, I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I started to feel like an object. Like Schulyer’s new vase. But even more than that (who wouldn’t want people to tell them something they did was amazing?) I’m not much of an ‘event’ guy. I like parties but when you put the word cocktail in front of it it seems more serious than a party should be.

I hang out for about an hour, which seems like plenty of time, before asking Tyler to call Steve.

“You can’t go!” Schulyer says a little too forcefully. A lovely couple in their acid washed faces standing behind him blanched at his lack of comportment. “This is for you.”

“I appreciate it, I really do.” I said shaking his hand. “But I’ve got a big match tomorrow.” I tap him on the shoulder. “I’ve got to find a way to keep my streak alive.” You would have thought that was the funniest thing any human had ever uttered if you used Schulyer’s guffaw as your guide. “But I truly thank you and hope to see you out there tomorrow.”

“I wouldn’t miss it.” He said wavering slightly when I pulled my hands away. I turn and start edging my way through the well-appointed crowd. Some nodded when I passed but most didn’t pay any attention. I could feel my sheen wearing off with each step.

I get to the car with Steve standing outside. He starts to open the back door.

“What are you doing?” I step to the front door and open it. “Let’s go.” He jumps into the drivers seat and looks at me.

“Fun?”

“I’m hoping for it.” I ask him to take me to the Treetop but he adopts the cocked head and arching eyebrows that says, ‘That may not be an option.’ “What? I’m too famous for the day?”

“I driven past a few times and it’s been packed all day.”

“Packed?” Then it dawns on me. “I mentioned them in the press conference today.” Me and my big mouth.

“I stopped in there a hour or so ago and that women you left with last night is telling tale of your exploits.”

“I’m getting gossiped about! I have hit the big time!” I laugh for a second before looking at Steve expecting him to elaborate. He chuckles.

“Chill, she’s telling everyone tennis isn’t the only thing you’re good at.”

“I appreciate her way with a tall tale.” I think about it for a second. It might be fun to go there and, as they say in that fancy establishments me fame has afforded me, mingle with the common people. But I know the outcome. And nothing can get in the way of work. “Pick up some beer and go to the hotel.”

All in all it was an illuminating day. Everyone was so happy for me.

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