This outing climaxes with a great big YES to life, so let’s follow the trail that takes us there. It starts right outside my house, where a neighbor left a yellow plastic ball I swatted over the trees in my backyard who knows how long ago. Swatting balls by myself in my backyard used to be one of my main hobbies, but I don’t do that very often anymore because I am too busy traveling to far-flung tennis courts. I count this as a win because even though it is good clean fun to swat Whiffle balls, it’s also kinda… lonely. Sniffle. But don’t cry for me because nowadays I am in the Top 1 percentile of out-and-about.
For example, today was a hybrid bike-and-Metro day. Whoa. That’s a lot. Bike riders rule on Metro, by virtue of taking up the most space. I was being really careful not to jostle any fellow passengers. Between the bike and the racquets and my own burly self, I dread even the slightest brushing up against someone because who likes to be brushed up against on the Metro? Oh no. Not that. There are way too many vibrations emanating from far too many people who are let’s just say having difficulties… the interactive goal on the Metro is no interactivity whatsoever.
Fortunately I was able to achieve my goal of no-jostling on my journey today, but wait, I’m getting ahead of my story. First, riding my bike to the Culver City station, I had a moment to appreciate how often you see El Caminos in my neighborhood. You see El Caminos in Mar Vista as often as Corvettes in Marina Del Rey and Teslas everywhere else.
This particular El Camino was two-tone, black and white, like a ska El Camino, except the guy driving it was not a hipster. He was post-hipster. He appeared on the cusp of being post-everything, pulling up next to me near the mosque across from Tilden Park. Sadly he looked like the face of carcinoma, a drawn face with ominous blotches pulling on a cigarette with dangling ash.
“Great car!” I effused to him, because I was in full Joy to the World mode.
“[Unintelligible],” he replied from his specialized position behind the wheel and between worlds.
“Plenty of giddy-up?” I auto-translated because left untranslated his comment could easily have been a warning that Satan is Real or something even more dire.
He pulled away, the El Camino growling throatily. It actually did have plenty of giddy-up. I continued in super-blithe mode practically shedding technicolor flowers until I came upon another innocent civilian, this time a guy wearing a kente cloth jacket with a panther decal over the heart and that’s not all — he was also wearing Adidas warm-ups with what looked like built-in leggings.
I almost spontaneously combusted from fashion joy but was able to burble, “Great jacket!” and was rewarded with a smile and a that-guy finger point, which is my second of those finger-points this week, what a life. Humble. Grateful.
You can’t sustain that level of glee. You really will vaporize. So I feel like I should note here again for people who haven’t yet read every single post that I set forth on these adventures resolutely sober, neither a whiff of this nor a nibble of that, because I feel it is essential to be a reliable witness. The stuff you see when you venture out into Los Angeles is so mind-expanding that it really would be superfluous to light up or otherwise monkey with your receptors.
Also, you do not want to feel paranoid while rolling around LA. I have tried that and my takeaway is no thanks, I’m good.
This was my first time taking the K line down Crenshaw into Inglewood. I took a lot of ghost-in-the-machine pictures of me and my bike’s reflection in the elevator and train glass. That’s my arty-ness expressing itself, also a pinch of narcissism, sure, but I think that’s a victimless crime. Actually, since we’re in it for the long haul on this post, indulge me yet still further in sharing that I’m reading this great book titled Late to the Ball by Gerald Marzorati about trying to get really good at tennis at age 60. Marzorati goes to all the best clinics and learns all the best techniques in his quest to be the best 60-year-old player he can be.
Hooray for him, I say, and extra-hooray for these two notes he shares about narcissism, which I guess must be a thing that comes up for older guys who spend tons of time playing tennis. First of all, he quotes a psychologist friend of his who says “narcissism” itself is too broad and pejorative a term, like “calling someone a hysteric.” And second, this same therapist says it’s natural to become more self-absorbed as we age, because we’re “making sense of our lives and maybe adding a new chapter or two.” To which I say THANK YOU Gerald Marzorati for giving me one of the great pleasures in life, which is learning something from a book that makes you feel better about your life.
The K was virtually empty on the ride to Downtown Inglewood, but there was security all over the place. Armed guards. Much more so than you see at other stations like North Hollywood or 7th Street, where you typically see a fair number of folks who merit a wide berth but not nearly as much security.
In fairness, the K was probably empty because school’s out for the holidays. I’m sure it’s quite the scene to and from Crenshaw High during the school year. When we passed, I felt a pang of nostalgia and wonder-how-they’re-doing about the kids I taught for three years at the ‘Shaw. One of these days I’m gonna run into one of my former students on this quest and when I do, please don’t let me vaporize on the spot from wish fulfillment. It is a little lonely being not-a-teacher-anymore in terms of not having the day-in, day-out complete immersion in the Human Condition.
But there are many solaces such as the tennis part of this story which I am just now getting to, finally. Thank you for sticking with me. You are getting the direct-from-putting-my-bike-away effusiveness in this post. Usually, I write a friend or family member a letter about the day’s adventure which soaks up much of the first-wave endorphins, but today just for a change of pace I am coming to you direct from the quest (although I have let all this sit overnight and revised it, because that’s just common courtesy).
There were two guys playing on one court at Rogers Park in Inglewood, a fine-looking park with a families roaming around getting fresh air. Those guys looked like pretty heavy hitters. I didn’t know them, not that I know every tennis player in Inglewood, but I have been playing there regularly at Ladera or Ed Vincent for the past 20 years so I thought, maybe I will see someone I know. But no again. No students, no tennis buddies, but I walk around with you in mind quite a bit of the time, dear reader, and I appreciate your company for many reasons including your discernment, curiosity, and tolerance.
Fortunately, someone had left a soccer ball on the empty court, which made me think PERFECT because I needed a target for practicing serves. Practicing serves really is the essence of sports loneliness, but I think it’s time we made a distinction here between loneliness, which is sad, and solititude, which can be sublime, enabling you to appreciate things like the steam billowing up from the Don Lee Farms veggie-burger factory across from the Downtown Inglewood station.
Or the lonely underinflated soccer ball on the unused tennis court, which I set up as a target near the T. I was happily konking practice serves when one of the guys who had been playing on the other court decided I needed coaching.
“Keep your head up,” he told me.
It is not like I was glancing longingly in their direction hoping they would play with me or give me useful tips. But I decided on the spot that this was an excellent opportunity to remain calm and cordial. He just had extra tell-other-people-what-to-do energy, which you occasionally find among tennis players. “Keep your eye on the ball,” he also told me.
Both of these tips are sound fundamentals, but — did I ask? Oh, I am glad you could not see my thought bubble as this guy came over and actually started giving me a whole drill I could do about keeping my head up and eye on the ball. I was just like [unintelligible] the whole time, but nodding a lot in the positive up and down direction. I like to think the vibe I was giving off was marveling at how strange and wonderful people are and even though we have our differences what we really have so much more of is what we have in common. That’s a lot to give off in a vibe but it seemed like our interaction concluded satisfyingly enough for him to depart on friendly or at least neutral terms.
And then I hit the soccer ball with a serve and vaporized.