I like tennis. I played tennis. I started late and had a couple of communal lessons, but I was tall and liked to come to the net and got pretty good. I also had no head for the game. When you hear someone tell you how much of a mental game tennis is, you shouldn’t roll your eyes – they’re right.
Tennis is not a game to play angry, which is the only way I knew how to play it. I hit balls over the fence to get my rage out. I threw my racket and cursed the Gods with every mishit. I had to run extra laps before every practice, as a fine for every F-bomb, or racket bounce.
I didn’t continue to play because I started doing the plays at school. I’m still performing, but haven’t picked up a racket in a long time.
Many years ago I needed a job in the late summer and got hired at the US Open, or hired by the food vendors. I was going to bartend at a high-end restaurant, but couldn’t make the orientation, so I was relegated to a food stand that sold sandwiches, pretzels, and beer. I was pre-miserable about it before it started.
My anticipated misery was well-founded. It was two weeks of sixteen hour days, with a crew of crazy people, constant theft, and a crowd of people dressed in tennis gear to watch people play tennis. People wear jerseys to other sporting events, but to wear tennis gear to watch, is like wearing cleats to Yankee Stadium. You’re not gonna get in the game.
There are, of course, some class issues when it comes to tennis. It is a high class game, both to play it and to attend its premier events. I was working with local kids from the rougher parts of Queens, some concession stand lifers, and a lot of off-duty firefighters.
The tournament is a great event if you don’t spend it spraying water on pretzels and dipping them in salt. The scope and size of it is something to behold and the ultimate champion has to go through the brackets and conquer one opponent after another. I want to go back as a fan.
In the middle of the event, having lost track of time and my desire to do a good job, two women approached the counter and ordered sodas. I noticed a necklace on one of the women, which had a pendant in the shape of Nantucket Island, where I vacationed as a child. I mentioned her necklace to which she replied, to her companion, “How did he … Oh, that’s right, some of them are working here for college.” I was already out of college and should have been flattered that she thought I looked like a current student, but I was offended that she couldn’t believe a soda jerk at the Open would know Nantucket, or its geographic likeness. The way she called us “some of them” also tuned my fork. “I used to go there as a kid,” I said to the back of her head. OK we rented when we went to Nantucket, and I hadn’t been since I was 13, but I had vivid memories, and affection for the place. I was angry and tired and worrying about my life.
Our concession stand was deteriorating with every day. People quit. New people arrived. Our manager was fired for not being able to control the shortfalls of the registers and the inventory. I was battling new managers. Telling them that I brought limited competency, but certain work ethic. It was miserable.
To many employees the last days of clean-up were voluntary. Managers were almost begging people to come back the last day. I didn’t want to go. I talked to my Dad and he said I should honor my commitment. I tried to argue that only a dupe would show up, to be one of the understaffed, to do all the work, for a group of rotten burned out management creeps.
I went. Because some of us show up and do what we signed up to do.