The glorious part of this outing was getting to play on a clay court for the first time. I was tranquil yet exhilarated on my way there, traveling the last leg of the journey from the North Hollywood Metro station in a swanky Lyft because it seemed like the bus might not be coming and I wanted to eat the turkey and avocado sandwich my wife lovingly prepared.
What a ride! We don’t talk about car travel much here and that’s on purpose because traveling by car to get to all these courts would be bad for carbon and karma. In a pinch, though, like when the bus might not be coming and you want time to eat your sandwich — the Audi Quattro sure is nice. It has interior purple lighting to go with the extravagant outdoor lighting so many of us enjoy this time of year.
I had been lured out at night by my soon-to-be-new friend Z’s low-pressure sales pitch. We couldn’t get a clay court reservation until 8 pm, when I told him I was usually already in bed. He replied that he was down “if you’re able to rage late night” and I was like yeah, let’s rage! So we booked the courts even though I knew getting home via mass transit after 10 pm would involve riding with people who have nowhere to go.
Yet part of this quest is bearing witness to LA’s housing crisis. And although I did feel some aversion to being out so late and traveling among people who are not just far from home but don’t even have a home, I even more strongly felt the allure of clay. I’ve heard about it all my life. The bounce is different. The whole game changes.
I imagined playing on clay courts would be like playing on Neptune, but it was really more like playing on Earth. The ground felt more natural, more forgiving than the usual hardcourt, which applies a light hammer to the kneecap every time you stop short or land after jumping. I thought the clay would similar to modeling clay, like you could craft a teapot in between sets, but it was more like soft stucco, not anything you could scoop up. The feeling was more abstract, like arriving at a truly level playing field.
These clay courts had all kinds of accouterments for upkeep — rakes, brushes, hoses — that I didn’t explore because we were playing at night; in fact, we shut the place down and had to ask the groundskeeper to unlock the gate for us so it didn’t wind up me and Z playing like zombies ’til we dropped.
It was almost like that anyway. We tied, 1-1, with Z coming back from down two set points in the first set to win it in the tiebreaker. Beanie off to him! He was tenacious and furthermore had no problem returning my hard flat serve. Since that was the case, I thought I would just go ahead and slice everything, but I could not conjure any otherworldly bounces off the clay that he couldn’t adjust to. Good for him, I say again. I like tenacious. I did come back to take the second set but as we all know, the second set in rec play is the consolation prize. Still, I was consoled.
Which is good because I needed consoling after the late night ride home on Metro. I knew it was going to be dire, but I wasn’t really prepared for a live tableau of The Garden of Earthly Delights.
I’m still not really over it. I don’t think I ever will be. The feeling I got from being in and among all of these very socioeconomically distressed individuals reminds me of being a little kid hearing about the Holocaust for the first time. I have spent quite a bit of energy as an adult tamping down the horror I feel about the depredations of humanity, so as not to be overtaken by despair.
Despair doesn’t help. Awareness does, so let me share my on-the-train note-to-self about what was going down.
Wow the B line from North Hollywood to 7th Street started out chill but soon turned hardcore. Streetgal and Streetguy tumble on with shopping bags and a scooter; he’s got a yellow hoodie, she’s got a wig she takes off when they commence smoking a pipe that looks like a hand puppet. While she fidgets with her hair, he sprinkles white powder out of a foil packet onto his lumpy hand, sniffs, rubs the residue on his gums, really getting in there, as if fighting cavities.
The other passengers are looking on with neutrality shading into muted disapproval, except for the guy with two gallon-sized baggies of weed spilling out of the pouch of his hoodie. He takes out a heaping handful of buds to show the guy in a SECURITY jacket, who gets his number so they can meet up tomorrow.
The smoke is getting a bit thick, so I move to the other end of the car, where things are subdued until a guy wearing big headphones climbs the pole in the middle of the car all the way up to the ceiling. He dangles, not pole dancing, just working off excess fidgetiness.
I think the guy in front of me raises an eyebrow. It’s hard to tell because his back is to me, but I interpolate eyebrow raise from the motion of his scalp.
This is not even to mention the folks passed out sideways and the folks invisible under blankets. The cackling people and the barking people. There were only cackler and one barker on this ride, but I tell you, one person cackling while another is barking really makes an impression.
So did the woman in the corner with her bags who was obsessively tending to her face and head scarf, waving a manicure buffer just above the surface, as if meticulously re-touching a photo. You really don’t want to be looking at people so I micro-glimpsed, mesmerized. A heavyset woman hoisted herself onboard behind a walker, saw this person, and stopped her entire hoisting motion in order to scowl. She wanted us all to know she disapproved. She audibly harrumphed before trudging on to where I could no longer see but could still hear her dropping cans another passenger picked up for her. Each time, she said, “Thank you, baby,” tenderly.
All this while, I am low-key breathing in, holding it, breathing out. I really feel alarmed and distraught. What is there to even think and feel? They need housing, they need services, that’s what our new mayor says. They being we, of course.
It is going to be hard to shake the discomfort of being aboard the Metro late at night with so many people who have been put outdoors. Maybe I won’t even try to shake it. Maybe I’ll let it shake me.