Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Fly Boys

Poor, dear Buddy remains captionless in his recent dead-eye photo.  He looks absolutely devastated, but then, he always looks absolutely devastated.

When I was in high school, I was extremely bored, extremely obsessed with tennis, and determined to develop a reputation as a bad ass.  The tennis obsession was hard to hide, impossible to discourage, and resulted in being undefeated during my entire three-years on the team.  Of course, I played #6 singles and #3 doubles, so how hard could it have been, right?  We fervently "stacked the deck," but not in my case.  Our number 3 in singles was actually our number one, and our number 5 was actually our number 2 or 3, depending on how hard her week was.

She was, for a while, my best friend.  Her name was Teresa.  I thought she was beautiful, with long straight hair that looked professionally streaked, but wasn't.  She walked with a lilt, sort of took a little bounce when she pushed off the ground with her big toe.  Her face was very plain, but so was mine, so I thought she looked pretty.  Her father took a long time to die of lung cancer.  He was career military, air force, a flight mechanic, and somehow I thought that all meant that they were being taken care of.  Her mom worked a lot.  Her dad lived in a brown plaid recliner -- which would not recline -- with an oxygen tank hung over the back left of that Archie Bunker chair.  It struck me as odd, even knowing how sick he was, that I never saw him in uniform, be that a zip-up flight suit, overalls, blues.  No name tags, no decorations.  Their oven never seemed to be in working order, they did not leave each other notes, and tended to rarely look one another in the eye when conversing, and most conversations ended "okay, okay, okay."

They didn't have a lovely calligraphic version of Royal Canadian Air Force's John Magee's sonnet, "High Flight," beautifully framed and subtly spotlighted.  Some kids learn Bible verses by heart as their earliest accomplishment in Rote.  Not I, though I tended to stop, sometimes suddenly, sometimes joyfully, half way through the fifth line.  When my father built his "dream" house, with his "dream" study, the poem was hung behind his ominous desk, and carefully offset by fine photos, finely framed in matching dark woods, of all the "birds" he'd ever flown.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, --and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of --Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew --
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

I've wondered sometimes, as I have become a decrepit piece o' crap, myself, if it wasn't so much that the butt ugly chair would not recline as it was that Teresa's Dad's arms and legs had become either too weak or too mavericky to make the darned thing obey.  I have what used to be a lovely leather recliner, bought at the suggestion of MDVIP Go-To-Guy, back when my right leg started to go really, really bad.  The cats loved it, and I was stupid enough to think I could train them quickly and well enough not to want to arch their tight little backs and stretch those claws luxuriously into that leather.  I used the cats as my Frustration Referent because I was too embarrassed to admit that my legs couldn't push the chair into position.  Structurally, there's not a thing wrong with the chair, and I even bought a cheap (but cute!) matching ottoman to make up for my physical inability to make it metamorphose... but I am embarrassed by how it looks.

He was something of a dedocated dick, as some men are, but he was her father, and so Teresa lived a life of hard work, kept her head down, helped her Mom, cared for her younger siblings, and somehow managed to keep everyone's hands and minds off of her tennis.

I would pick her up, a quick beep on the ominous horn of my 1965 baby blue pristine Cadillac, and she'd come bouncing down the front concrete steps, neat as a pin in one of her three tennis outfits.  She had two white, classic tennis dresses that she reserved for competition and a pair of white shorts to practice in -- like most everyone, really, except that she alternated the same two tee shirts, one orange, one blue, both plain, advertising nothing.  She wore Tretorn tennis shoes with incredibly white anklets.  She was the first person I knew who was completely sold on Yonex rackets.  Her racket made my shots sit up, begging to be clobbered.  In her hands?  She was the Queen of Spin, deadly at the net.  And yet she had one of the flattest serves ever, with a toss so high that I was sometimes tempted to jog around the court a few times while we all waited for the ball to descend enough so that she could flatly whack it.

That was the only element of our doubles play that got under *my* skin.  The return of her serve tended to be aimed at my mouth or perfectly down the alley as I cowered near the ground, protecting my plain face.

Now... as for what might have irritated Teresa about my doubles game?  Well, choking comes to mind.  Not an occasional choke for those occasional tight moments.  No, choking like not holding service -- not even once -- during an entire match.

It came in the form of a frozen back and a spastic arm.  My lower back refused anything remotely like an arch;  My toss began at hip level, entirely powered by a jerking wrist.  It was the ugliest thing ever.

And she'd never turn around.  She never came to talk it over.  She never had any suggestions (not by then, not at match time... in practice, sure, but always something like: "So why can't you do that when we play X and X?").

My coach would disappear to the other end of the courts.  She never talked to me about it either.

The one time I got my Dad to come watch me compete, I started my period during the match, lost one of my contacts (even then I was "legally blind"), and, yes, choked.  He left before I won.

My greatest familial experience with tennis came with Brother Grader Boob, home from college, where he was quite the racquetball phenom, bearing, in fact, the titles of both singles and doubles champ for his area. He competed both indoors and out, but preferred three-wall outdoor sport.  There seemed to be infinite variations to the game, something that tennis is sorely lacking.  Even messing around with "wall ball" avec Brother Boob was a riot.

So he would play half-court, using his short racquet, and a standard fuzzy tennis ball.  I'd play the way I usually played.  Of course.  We messed a bit with the rules, something about number of bounces, something about service lines, but not much.  It was so much fun, particularly when the courts over at the country club were full and Suzy Q and Buffy were forced to join the rest of us slugs at the beautiful downtown courts in the park.

Anyway, I choked through our entire state doubles match.  I drop-served, so as to at least get the ball into play.  We lost.  You can probably guess by exactly how much, if I tell you that we played beautifully when receiving.  But between her flat, here-I-come serve and my oh-hell drop-serves, well...

Teresa ended up with a tennis scholarship -- one of those female things, a drop in a bucket, added to an offer to work slave hours at the library, all glommed onto the heft of a loan.  It was a good school, and I hope she did well there, had maybe some fun, too.  It was a shore-side state university, a lovely place to be, a very different place from where she'd been.

Ha!  You'd never guess where this post was meant to go.  I referred to little Buddy's "dead-eye" photo, which made me think, of course, of "Dead-Eye" Jones, my English teacher.  She had an artificial eye, she was big, pretended to be mean, and I loved to imitate her.  Until the day, that day that happens to every bad high school jokester, the day the person you are aping appears behind you without you having the least clue.

As in my favorite crucifixion song goes:  "[She] never said a mumblin' word."

She did not need to.  She owned me for the rest of high school.  And she never turned me in for playing tennis during fifth period when I was supposed to be in French.  She laughed big long belly laughs when we barracaded a classroom against an unloved substitute who kept stomping her little foot in anger, yelling "Open that door, open that door, right now!" She never called my folks about the pimply airman I french-kissed while waiting for the fifth period bell to ring.  She gave me good advice on the last day of school.  "Everything you think shows on your face.  Be careful with that."

Then, I wanted to write about tennis, it being French Open time and all.

I didn't mean to write about Teresa, and looking back at what I did write... I wish I really had.

We did not have a fight or officially even end our friendship.  It died a natural death, in my opinion.  In my stepmother's opinion, it was an impossibility to begin with, due to different social strata.

My stepmother.  Now that'd be a post.  She'd have been a perfect Brahmin.  Teresa was not untouchable, except, well, really, yes, she was.  Her clothes may have been clean, neat, and mended, but nothing matched in that breathless, thrown-together matchy way.  She didn't accept invitations to our home.  She was ugly. (As for me and my beauty?  The first time I plucked my unibrow, she said, swirling a scotch and soda, "Oh, profderien, that was your one good feature.")

Teresa and I were both barely hanging on, and we hung on through tennis.  We knew we could always find each other on a court somewhere, and that town had three options -- on base, at the country club, or in the lovely, lovely park.  She hung on through some very tough things, as did I.  Thanks to life and tennis, we learned to let them go, and in so doing, we lost each other.

Teresa and her bleeping slo-mo flat-as-a-pancake serve and a slowly suffocating father.  Me and my social anxiety, my various shames.

We'll call this the Father's Day-French Open combo post.

But I still want some suggestions for Buddy's Caption.  If it tugs at your heartstrings at all, Fred is determined that Buddy is feeling ill, or at least, "blue."  He is basing this conclusion on the fact that Buddy has decided to sleep on the living room rug rather than in the ether of his cat tree condo.  Some dude who passes himself off as the Cat Whisperer on Animal Planet claims that this is a bad sign.  Cats should want to be as high as possible and when they go low... well, uh-oh.

My point of view?  Buddy runs around like a crazed rabbit, plays fetch with abandon, chows down with gusto, drinks, pees and poops as if these were the most natural things in the world.  He comes to me for head pats and gentle finger chews.

Give the lad a caption, would 'ya?

Oh, and Happy Father's Day, and congratulations, Rafa!

In terms of what's actually happening -- surgery is Monday, June 18.  Today is another surgical pre-op, with one more later this week.  I'm stressed.  My hips were x-rayed and the one that is killing me looks okay, but the one that I put up with is in dire need of replacement.  Ha. Ha. Ha.  A former fracture of my sternum (from CPR) has decided to torture me again.  Why, no one knows.  I look the wrong way and bones break.  Breathing is interesting.  My kidney labs might look screwed up to the uninitiated, but really they are fine, I am just dreadfully dehydrated from daily fevers.

1 comment:

  1. It's hard to think of a Buddy caption. All I can think of is "I'm watching you... What are you doing? Don't mind me, I'll just keep w-a-t-c-h-i-n-g you"
    Good luck with your surgery, I hope things go smoothly for a change.


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