. . . in which I play tennis with David Foster Wallace

4 Jul

Indulge my imagination for these next few minutes. See, I think David Foster Wallace and I would’ve gotten along like, what’s that saying about peas and pods? We could’ve totally been besties. Bros! So much in common. Close in age (he born in ’62, me in ’69). So many of the same authors we hold dear. So many of the same things that make us laugh. And, of course, our mutual love for tennis. Including table tennis (do not, under any circumstances call it ping-pong). Sure he was a much more imaginative writer than I could ever hope to be. Sure his encyclopedic brain leaves mine in the dust. Sure he was a ranked junior tennis player in the 70s while I, just a mere dilettante with limited lessons, only had experience playing tourneys in the small town outside D.C. I lived in during the Reagan/Daddy Bush/Clinton years. But see, I learned my game from the batch of players that came along in the late 80s/early 90s and revolutionized the sport. I learned my game from the likes of Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier. Yea I learned from incessantly watching them on TV but still, man: I played with equipment made from Kevlar, not wood or aluminum like my buddy Dave (see, we’re on these kinds of terms. I call him Dave, he calls me Al). I had a Western forehand and hit off my back foot (see previous comment re: Kevlar racquets). I even managed a (meager) 91-mph first serve. Sure it hardly ever landed in and my follow-up 2nd serve was a disastrous 50 mph horror show that usually stood up for my opponent to kill for an outright winner, but . . . just indulge my imagination. It’s summer, it’s hot as Hades, and there isn’t all that much to do inside a well air-conditioned house (thank Gadd) aside from reading or watching the new season of Borgen. Oh and . . . Wimbledon is on, right?

I have a good feeling Dave would’ve definitely kicked my butt on the court, knowing what I know about his style of play. And not even that, just by virtue of him having been a ranked junior player he would’ve destroyed me. But I bet you I could’ve taken two games from him. Maybe. Yea, ok, two games. Yea, 6-1, 6-1 seems pretty fair for a Dave vs. Al match-up. And lordy how much fun we would’ve had banging about that little yellow-green sphere. He with his bandana wrapped around his forehead, me with my Andy Roddick sun visor pushing up my lush mane of hair (yes, I once did have a decent head full of follicles).

The “style of play” I’m referring to that would have surely made mince meat of your narrator is the relentless, cannon-fired-from-the-baseline, consistently hit and brilliantly placed ground strokes Dave was known for in his tennis-playing heydays. He was, what we call in tennis, a wall. Everything came back at you, no matter what angles you may have found, how hard you may have hit, or how cleverly you may have placed that 2nd serve kicker. Dave was a patient machine that punched everything back with about 40+ added mileage per hour. On top of that insufferable consistency that will melt down an opponent within 3 games, he—as any tennis player with any sort of success, even at the junior levels of the sport—could see mathematical angles on the court and place the ball within maybe half a degree of aforementioned angles that only in my dreams I could conjure.

But, still. Indulge me in daydreaming while I watch the pros go at it on the flawlessly manicured lawns of Wimbledon. And maybe factor in the idea that Dave is a kind, charitable bro of mine and feels all sorts of feels for my amateur delusion of tennis grandeur (and perhaps also those of fiction writing). So Dave lets me take 2 games off him in the quick match (Total time: 17 minutes! For those not familiar with match duration, this is possibly the shortest 2-set tennis match in history.).

But in reality, it would be a miracle if I could muster up winning 2 points, never mind games. You see, I have very little patience on the court. That, coupled with very little skill, makes for eliciting an unforced error on every 2nd ball that comes back at me from Dave. Hence the quick match and the generous number of points I allow myself in my fantasy to win off Dave.

But hey, it’s a fun thought experiment. This friendly little match is a birthday gift (53 revolutions ’round the Sun few days ago) generously handed to me by my partner via a lovely handwritten note in a birthday card. She (my partner) is known to conjure up the most imaginative and personal gifts on special occasions for everyone in our little family. There was that year that, unbeknownst to me, she conspired with jazz musician and bandleader Al Strong to pull me up on stage during one of their gigs and sit in on drums with them for a number. (Apologies for the quality, this was years ago and shot on the first iteration of the iPhone in very low lighting.)

Well, all right, even this “tennis match with Dave idea on the handwritten note from my partner” is my own sorry-ass Walter Mitty attempt at escape. But can you blame me. It is the 4th of July, a celebration of the inception of this current dumpster fire of a country in which I currently live. Outside is literally (OK figuratively, but literally if you’re living in California) ablaze with temperatures that have, as of late, averaged in the mid- to high-90s (heat index: 105/6 +). We, citizens and non, are standing together today divided by one thing or another—our respective biases stoked by television opinion shows and politicians whose only aim is to become Instagram influencers. And keep hold of power forever.

So you’ll allow me this little 17-minute foray into the realm of tennis fantasy (or insanity). I deserve this break. Believe me, I do. You don’t know what it’s like to live in my head every day. Or, if you’re one of the four returning readers of this here column, maybe you do. If so, I will gladly take your pity. And any other spare change you may have.

Happy Fourth of July, ‘Murica. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. And watch your fingers tonight. Those fireworks are no joke, man. Have you seen some of those accidents on Reddit?

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