. . . 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?

Birth School Work Death

27 Jun

Does anyone remember this tune by The Godfathers? Came out in 1987, the year I graduated high school. I figured since Kate Bush has made her way back into our Billboard top 10 (#1 tune in UK and Amerikkka last week, in fact), short shorts for males seem to be reappearing in gyms and on our sweltering city streets, and mullets have now been (according to my hip, 18-year-old kiddo) in business (front, party in back . . . see what I done there?) for at least a few years—particularly donned by young women (again, according to my kiddo who, I must warn, isn’t necessarily a reliable narrator, although it’s not on purpose; her brain holds way too much information, most of which is useless, high-school residual matter that, hopefully, will be jettisoned by the end of the summer . . . only to be replaced with other useless data, this time the collegiate type), I figured if all of that is happening and if Stranger Things is responsible for resurrecting all things 80s, well then why not dig up The Godfathers, as well. It is a pretty good tune. And if anything, you’ll get a few minutes of respite from whatever it is you’re doing to listen to a song you may have never heard before. (This opening paragraph right here is an exercise I’ve devised for all who wish to dabble in the editorial sphere of the linguistic world; feel free to use a red pen on your screen and chop this baby down to something simpler and more comprehensible.)

During the weekend, my daughter and I sort of Gump-ed our way into a tremendous Pride Month celebration downtown Raleigh (NC, USA) Saturday afternoon. We were innocently on our way to have some lunch at one of our favourite joints, when suddenly there we were, in the middle of a sea of Pride revelers, none of whom, sadly, were wearing masks. Literally. Thousands upon thousands of people jammed into cordoned-off streets and city blocks, and nary a mask in sight. In some sort of defense, it was a brain-boiling 99 degrees F/38 C (heat index surely in the triple digits F) and the less clothing one wore, the better, but still . . . there’s a pandemic raging, although in the States that particular word will get you drawn and quartered.

On the way to lunch, in the car, the kid played that Kate Bush tune that’s en vogue once again thanks quite directly to Stranger Things, and I suggested she try one of Kate’s other great songs: “This Woman’s Work.” It’s on the soundtrack of a fairly under-rated (though a bit outdated in its ideas) 1987 film directed by John Hughes called She’s Having a Baby. The song is strategically played during a difficult Birth scene/montage-type sequence in which the father (played by 6-degrees meme star cum rock star Kevin Bacon) flashes back to his and his wife’s (played by 80s Hollywood favourite, Juilliard-educated, and recently spotted in the Downton Abbey film, Elizabeth McGovern) most loving moments within the last 9 months of her pregnancy—a period up to this point in the film portrayed as very contentious and full of struggles dealing with societal expectations, parents-in-law’s fickle opinions, etc. In other words: after being shown throughout most of the film all the bickering, fights, and challenges the young couple goes through, from struggling to conceive to the difficult pregnancy itself, culminating in a life-threatening delivery situation, we now have a montage of all the loving, good days the couple had, as well. You know, it’s the typical Bad Times-Good Times cinematic device used by directors, particularly in 1980s rom-coms. But, whatever. It works on me, at least.

Played on top of the “good times” sequence in the movie, “This Woman’s Work,” which is a tremendously emotional song (just Kate, a piano, and a background synth) that runs much like a sine wave in intensity and that underscores the difficulties that women face in our world, is doubly vital at extracting that saline liquidy stuff out of your tear ducts. So here we were on Saturday—my daughter and I—cruising down to grab some lunch on a beautiful (yet igneous) afternoon bawling our eyes off in the car, swooning to Kate Bush. It was a sight to behold, believe you me, our makeup running down our faces and everything . . .

My daughter, bless her heart, (no, really) graduated from high school a couple of weeks ago. The 4-year tenure has been a surreal experience, to hear her describe it. It was a life interrupted. COVID shut her down toward the end of her 2nd year of high school and sent her scrambling to that upside down world (wink!) of online instruction—a world which she despised, and a world in which she more or less failed her 3rd year (more than less; much more). Her last high school year, completed thankfully in person, learning in physical classrooms, was spent making up 11th grade courses as well as finishing everything required to graduate from 12th grade. Thus, it was an arduous 2021-2022 during which she made Herculean efforts to finish with the kinds of test numbers and grades that get one accepted to Penn State or Carnegie Mellon. (Not that that really matters, but just giving you an idea. And also, what compelled me to choose two fine institutions in Pennsylvania, in particular? Hmmm.) This on top of weekly after-school-hours piano and composition lessons. As the typical School phase of one’s life goes, it’s been a bear for her. But it’s over. At least for this next gap year, during which she’s planning to work on both her music, as well as partake in the regular drudgery of Work in general.

Speaking of, this past Friday at my weekly Zoom all-hands-on-deck, now going on 27 straight months with no end in sight, mandatory staff meeting, one of the higher-ups made a non sequiturish (-ish because it wasn’t funny) comment about a hypothetical scenario involving homeless people being eaten alive by ferocious porcine creatures, raised by aforementioned higher-up in his office. This thoughtless, tasteless remark immediately drove 2 of my brightest editors offline, abandoning the meeting faster than you can say asshole person with no couth or regard for the human condition. Much faster.

To give you an impression (“but I don’t do impressions!”) of this insufferable ogre: in charge of the entire IT department, this is a lad in his late 50s with a Master’s Degree in nuclear engineering, who—despite having survived cancer and possessing a compromised immune system—is not vaccinated against COVID, will never be vaccinated against COVID, has been gulping down daily doses of antiparasitic drugs meant for horses and other animals, believes the January 6, 2021 insurrection on the nation’s Capitol was a sightseeing excursion undertaken by some “decent patriots,” likely believes the Earth is flat, and whose every day existence and actions, I’m quite sure, are dictated by one mysterious online entity that goes by the name “Q” and speaks in tongues more ridiculous than those fake jobs you put on boots for whatever reason. On top of everything, when he talks he sounds like these friendly outdoorsy gents. (No disrespect meant to the good folks that struggle with life in Appalachia and don’t resort to raping lost city folk during lost city folks’ camping trips, mind you.)

Yea. One of these guys.

And so my recent high school graduate will be, during her gap year, also joining the workforce as an assistant to a certified nurse, taking care of a cantankerous, quirky but funny, nonagenarian woman (her words, not mine….my daughter’s I mean, not the cantankerous, quirky but funny 90-year-old) who is suffering from dementia. This is my kid’s first foray into the world of employment for meager wages, but . . . as things go, it will be an eye-opening experience which may just send her to college sooner than the conclusion of the gap year.

The Death portion of this piece is still pending. I’m not dead, obviously. (Only inside, but that doesn’t count.) Neither are any of my close loved ones, thank Gadd. When I do finally end up taking that exit off The Big Highway (12 C North to Nazareth), tune back here for an update. I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say regarding vibrating in different mediums (media?), musical tastes of angels vs. devils, pleasure cruising up and down the River Styx in a boat helmed by Cap’n Chris de Burgh, and many other observations that might be helpful to those in doubt of some sort of afterlife. Take note: I fully expect to haunt you. But . . . you know, in a good way.

To channel my inner Columbo, one last thing: speaking of She’s Having a Baby and good tunes you may have never heard before, try this. That’s right, that’s Dave Wakeling. From The English Beat. You got it, buster!

At Work Killing Horses and Slashing Eyeballs

15 Jun

Toronto, CA
photo: Jason Chapman

Part of Jason’s photo essay “What Do You Do?” (documenting artists with “day jobs.”)

This is 11 maybe 12 years ago? (confirmation of start date according to post metadata: 22.09.2010; 0855 hrs.) When I had hair. And flair. And something exciting was in the air. These were the days of Input-Output. Books and stories were published with lightning speed—as the business of publishing books and stories goes. Lately, it’s been exclusively Input-Input. Information gathering from all kinds of sources feels much like an impending storm about to unleash gusts and softball-size hail down upon all of us. Insurrection is coming. Strife is coming. Bondage is coming (no double entendre intended, I swear). Shortages are already here. Supply chain disruptions? Check. $8-gallon gas? It’s already in Canada, so why not in America? The animals in charge of our destinies look alarmingly similar: old, white, male. They think alarmingly similar. Nowadays, as the sirens go off, we gather our important documents and flee into the central-most closet, modes of communication lit up in sweaty palms, tracking wind rotation and obsessively noting the crescendo of miles per hour. Input-Input.

I am reading about a famous tennis player who nearly jumped out of her 26th floor apartment in April in order to put an end to the pain and depression. I am reading of war and politics and climate catastrophe that has finally begun to elicit the slightest itch\twitch in certain people’s brains as maybe, perhaps, PerhapsMaybe a reality and a cliff from which there is no salvation for Mankind (capital M). I read the brilliant words in the giant masterpiece published by a young author who long ago (all right, 14 years ago, but that’s kind of long) decided to hang from the garage rafters after decades of medication, therapy, and electricity being zapped through his elegant, encyclopedic brain. I read I read I read. Input-Input.

This piece is a found draft in the offline archives of this site. I have many of them, these drafts. About 150. All waiting to be found or resuscitated. I’ve always been really good at beginnings and endings. That’s what these 150 false starts are. The stuff in the middle often becomes something along the lines of waiting at a railroad crossing while a freight train endlessly and perpetually click-clacks along on the way to somewhere else, in someone else’s backyard, to dump its toxic load. What if we rewrote the rules and skipped the middle, then? Or, what if there is no middle? “They were born and then they lived and then they died.”

Or what if there is only a middle—a perpetually flowing force of everything that constitutes a sort of reality existing in between nothing that can be delineated as a beginning, an end, or even space\negative space? Something bookended by absolutely nothing. I just made myself laugh looking at the previous two ridiculous sentences. Listen, there is an online subculture that is for some reason obsessed with debating Man’s (capital M, again) free will vs. lack thereof. The pro/contra arguments aren’t really that difficult to grasp. (For the record, I believe there is no free will, however, that’s not for this post to explore.) But to hear the lectures themselves (YouTube, podcasts, TED Talks, etc.) from the experts, and then read the comments of those who seem to take this debate as seriously as professional, cutthroat sport, I am driven to think about the brilliant young writer, the garage rafters, and the tragic conclusion of that particular story.

Some writer guy (white, old, male) the other day lamented the fact that white, old, male writers are having difficulty finding work in this world. This guy who lamented the good ol’ days of conquest, laughter in jest, and literal and figurative gluttony (MAGA) is apparently worth $800 million and has “written” (quot. marks because of the open secret of his using several ghost writers for his novels) something like 200 books. He has sold over 450 million novels since 1976. I am having difficulty understanding why anyone worth that much would even want to say anything about anything in general. Like, to anyone. Ever. (Update to story: the writer guy apologized and backtracked on his grievance. But not before the TwittyTheBirdVerse tore him to putrid little pieces. As the infernal swine that populates that particular world always does.)

A piece in the legendary Washington Post informs me that there is a general bad sentiment and overall ill will against QR Code restaurant menus. Scanning through the thousand+ words, I get the meat of the story to be something resembling: “hey kids, don’t we already spend enough time with our collective heads tuning into EM waves emanating from a small screen held in our hands?” (I may be wrong about electromagnetic waves, but I don’t claim to be a scientist. Or a thorough researcher.)

Now listen here, from the same WaPo piece: “. . . a poll conducted late last year by the National Restaurant Association found two-thirds of all adults preferred paper menus over the online version. Baby boomers in particular revile the use of QR code menus, with 4 out of 5 preferring a physical one.” This reminds me of an old Saturday Night Live joke from the 1970s: “4 out of 5 doctors think the fifth is an idiot.” That’s just, like, basic, good philosophy applied to every poll participant’s perception of their antagonist, man. But backtrack to the subject of the piece itself. This is in the Opinion section of this great newspaper that brought us the break-in at the Watergate complex 50 years ago tomorrow. One thousand lousy words’ worth of the usual headline: Old Man Yells at Cloud!

Speaking of one thousand lousy words, I am at #951 as of this one. So I better skedaddle before I reach the 1K limit. I am sure you’ve reached yours.

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