#42 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.

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