LEISURE LETTER #75: THE SANGUINE LIFE OF A SPORTING DANDY

On the advice of a dear friend I recently became engaged in sports. “You’re just too high strung,” he said. “These sports will help you.”


It was good advice. 


There would be no football, basketball, baseball etc . . . – my physician strictly forbade contact sports. Complications tracing back to a horseback riding accident in 1998 would make things difficult for me. Ever since then I have been . . . fragile. 


So I started with golf. Used clubs, leather shoes, leather glove. I had one of those Irish sheeps wool caps, a collared polo knit and a brand new pair of slacks. I was looking sharp. Octane picked me up in the antique Mercedes Benz. “You look the part,” he said. And he hit the gas, rolling on down Beach Road. 


At the clubhouse – late afternoon. It dawned on me I was without a putter. This was a major blow. Without the putter there would be no way for me to catch the bogey, the birdie, the par. I was finished. 


As luck would have they had a spare left-hand putter at the lost and found. It was eighteen and a half inches tall, 100% plastic, Fisher Price model. They said I could keep it. 


We played. Sunset matinee. 


With the driver Octane was blasting golf balls 500 yards. A real Tiger Woods.  For my part I could hardly get the ball up in the air, let alone get it to fly straight. I was what you might call “a nuisance” on the course, and many of the fellas gave me dirty looks. But the weather was lovely, a golden sunset afternoon. Pelicans and seagulls roamed the twilight skies. We walked 9, it was a pleasant hike.


I guess it didn’t matter that I was terrible at golf. I left the links with a renewed sense of purpose, this indescribable joie de vivre. Maybe my friend was right . . .


. . . But it was time to move on. The tennis gods approached me in a dream – Wimbledon at The Reef – Rockfish Nadal, Albacore Agassi, Jackfish McEnroe . . . the usual suspects. It was unreal. 


The very next morning there was a knock at my door. It was my old coach, Gianni Dijon. He was dressed head to foot in white athletic velour. He was tan, unshaven, untamed; and he took drags from one of those thin cigarettes the Frenchies smoke. We shook hands, hugged, exchanging brusque formalities – it had been a long time. In this latest manifestation, Gianni was teaching tennis lessons at the Del Mar Racquet Club.


“You need lessons, kid?”


I thought about it, thought about the dream I had the night before. “Sure Gianni. When do we start?”


“I got the racquets in my whip,” he looked back toward a mean looking Isuzu Amigo parked on the curb: top down, convertible.


Off we went to the community tennis court. As always, Gianni had his Stan Getz tape playing on the radio. Although it had been sunny earlier in the day, it looked like it was going to rain. 


At the court on a cloudy afternoon. A couple rallies to get things going, just working on that forehand swing. It turns out I was a natural, spruce as a goose, spry and sprung. Old Gianni had a hard time keeping up. That is . . . until we played a real game. Then he showed me what it was all about. 15 love, 30 love, 40 love, my goose was cooked. But I was happy for Gianni and his new trade. And I was happy to be a tennis player after all these years of searching.  


We went downtown and got a bite to eat. Pizza joint, Sutter Home Chardonnay, extra parmesan, nothing fancy . . . Then we bought some lotto tickets. The jackpot was up to $1 billion. We could get a long way with a bill, open our own sports facility, something elite, top brass, the new Olympics. Things seemed to be looking up after all these years, after my accident. If only that old horse could see me now!


He would see me and Gianni Dijon walking the downtown strip, happy as clowns. We turn into a door framed in neon lights. A backlit pool table at the Athletic Saloon – I’m making a name for myself on the felt. I see the angles, I feel the magnitudes. I am the latest incarnation of Pythagoras, master of the Euclidean Plane. With the pool cue in hand I am like Isaac Newton, author of the new physique. Finally I have found my calling. 


Midnight – I walk along shiny streets of sweet California rain, a lotto ticket pushed deep in my trouser pocket. I have won the world already.

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