#471 Reed Park, Santa Monica / Yagul

I really have to start adding an extra 15 minutes onto how long my phone
says it will take me to bike to a tennis court. I’m slowing down! I used to get
places faster than my phone said it would take me. Now… not. And that breaks
one of my main rules in this quest to play tennis on every public tennis court
in Los Angeles, which is, don’t be late.

I texted my new tennis friend D that I would be late which gives you a
certain amount of absolution. It lets the other person not worry that they are
going to be flaked upon.

D was practicing his serves when I showed up. He had also rented a ball
machine, which he said was pretty inexpensive. I kinda wanted to play with it
but as the one who was late, I felt it best to do what he wanted to do, which
was rally. This was fine with me because I played just for fun yesterday with
my third-time-playing-together tennis pal B at Cheviot. He texted me mid-afternoon
to say hey I have a court and I think my hitting partner is gonna flake so do
you wanna play, and I said heck yeah because B has picked me up like that when
I had no one to play with.

We’re friends!

B showed great consistency yesterday in walloping my dinky groundstrokes
into the corner. I kinda do dig it when the opponent spreads their wingspan and
gets way on top of the ball prior to putting it away. It’s a thrill, albeit a
self-defeating one.  I feel ready for a
follow-up skill involving me making more competitive shots.

Meanwhile, I’m happy to report I did not beat myself up over the dinkiness.
It’s just something to work on. I was glad for new friend D today giving me a
chance to try checking out all the things The Inner Game of Tennis suggests
checking out when trying to hit firmer ground strokes: how bent are your knees,
where is the ball in terms of lowness and out-in-front-of-you-ness, where is
your racquet as the ball is crossing the net… It turns out, if you do stuff
the way Inner Game politely suggests, you do hit a zingier
groundstroke.

And that’s all I really wanted to know. I think I am gonna have to work out
doing more lunges with a kettlebell to strengthen my glutes and hammies so I
can really get down. This is something to look forward to!

It is not all bad news with my game.
While D and I were hitting, an older guy — well, he could be my age, or
not much older — he was watching from behind the fence and he said to me,
“Buddy, your backhand is looking good. Just right! It looks like what
they’d tell you to do for 115 dollars an hour. Maybe 150.”

I was like, dang. I didn’t even know I had a backhand. I thought I
was just doing whatever happens when someone hits the ball to your left. A lot
of the times I just switch hands. But no, here is an objective bystander
telling me I was doing all right. I just realized this was literally a backhand compliment, but I still appreciate the encouragement.

So, that is all the tennis-y part of this post. I do also want to tell you
about what happened afterwards — and then, just a little about looking for a
taco.

While we were rallying, I noticed these balls stuck high up in the fence. I
thought that was weird because usually tennis balls, when they stick in the
fence, are ankle to waist high. These balls were a good ten feet up there, and
they had been there a while because that screaming neon green had faded to
gray.

They looked like impaled heads, like you see in the pilot episode of A
Handmaid’s Tale
or read in Stephen Greenblatt’s biography about
Shakespeare seeing as he crossed the bridge on his first visit to London. I
know I spend most of my time in these posts discussing the minutiae of my
completely average tennis game; however, it is fitting proper to note that we
live in dire times and appropriate for impaled heads to be the audience, along
with that nice complimentary older guy. A mix!

Well, I took a pic of those balls and then noticed this bundled-up guy
sitting on a bench in front of the pro shop next to a pile of duffel and trash
bags bungee-corded and chained to a dolly.  I noticed this guy was looking up at the
fence, with that universal expression of, “What could possibly be worth
taking a picture over there?”

I didn’t want to keep him in suspense, so I told him, “Those balls
caught my eye because they’re up high.”

“Somebody had some nail polish up there a while ago,” he reported.
“After a while it fell down and broke on the court.”

“People do weird stuff with nail polish,” I agreed. “I
remember when I was a high school teacher, students would sometimes whip out
their polish and start doing their nails in class. I would always be like,
maybe you could do that somewhere else.”

“I went to school right over there,” he said, pointing to the
church across the street. I sat down across from him because it seemed like
stories were going to be told. Indeed, there were. He had a chemistry teacher
who taught them how to make gunpowder! An essential ingredient of gunpowder is
phosphate!! And phosphate caused COVID because what were they doing in that
cave in China? Mining for bat guano, which is rich in phosphate!

He reached into his pile of stuff and pulled out a bottle of water with a
big “pH” on the label. He told me this is the good kind of water to
drink because it’s loaded with you-know-what. That’s right:  phosphate!
He also said he is interested in designing a better label which reminded
me of me because I often think about merch and how to jazz it up. He and I
really did have a thorough conversation about phosphate and its many different
roles in human health and history. Ultimately, I did start walking slowly away
because the conversation was taking an Ancient Mariner turn.

Honestly it had had an Ancient Mariner tone from the get-go, but after ten
minutes I felt like I had sufficiently upheld this guy’s humanity and what I
really wanted to do now was go write down some of the stuff we’d been talking
about before it ebbed away in the flow of the day. So, I settled down on a
nearby bench to jot some notes on my phone, but before I got very far this
other guy comes up to me and asked if I could make a call for him on speaker.

“I want to call my dad to let him know my phone is dead and I’m
hungry,” he said.

“Sure,” I told this new guy, who looked 25 years old and also
1,000 years old. He gave me the number and someone who sounded like a dad
answered right away. A quiet, deep voice. I was really touched by how
responsive dad was. Not angry. He sounded ready to do what needed doing, and
grateful for the opportunity to be useful to his son. He said he would be right
over, at the place they usually meet, the church across the street. Dad said he
would bring a charger, too. He said, “I charged the charger.”

*

It was still a little early for a taco, so I got a breakfast burrito at
Yagul on Wilshire and Sixth. The friendly guy at the counter suggested the
quesadilla and I shoulda listened, oh well. The breakfast burrito tasted like
potato. I like potatoes, though, so that’s okay. I was grateful for the
nutrition. What I really liked the most about this place was the papel picado,
and the way the cut-out papers closest to the air conditioning vents fluttered
and clung to the ceiling.  

Published by MarkGozonsky

Mark Gozonsky is the author of The Gift is to the Giver: Chronicles of a 21st Century Decade (Keppie Usage, 2022). His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Sun, and Lit Hub. Mark’s essay, “Gritty All Day Long,” is anthologized by Norton and featured in Best American Sports Writing. He has been writing since his emergence as a gigantic music nerd in early-1970’s San Antonio, Texas. Stints as a regular commentator on public radio’s Marketplace and Internet 1.0 exec preceded a 20-year run as a public school teacher. Marko’s favorite writing topics include unorthodox pedagogy, well-intended gardening, and the intersection of baseball and urban bicycling. He lives with his wife in Los Angeles, where he is working on a new book about his quest to play tennis on every free public court in LA.

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