Marko at the Net, Chapter 3

It was some other dude’s turn to be Rip Van Winkle’d on the tennis courts yesterday. Marko’s was last Sunday, when he rolled up to the Obama courts and there was nobody he knew there except for old Mr. Johnson, who has been ancient for the past twenty years. Mr. Johnson was gamely teaching an up-and-comer when Marko said howdy and Mr. Johson reported thusly on his well-being, “I’m alive another day.”

Yep, we all get that a lot nowadays. So it wasn’t a complete shut-out over there at Obama last week, but nor did Marko have an opportunity to see how his game was holding up. He has learned a new trick that he likes, which is to hit the ball above an imaginary line five feet over the net. This, to drive the ball deeper into the court, thereby preventing the other side from putting your fluffball away. Marko pitty-pats fluffballs way too much and this is at odds with his preferred Quiet Strength persona.

The imaginary line is holding up well, though. He learned this trick from Mack, a no-body-fat guy who has been playing tennis at Hillside for the same twenty years Marko has been swatting away there. Mack has always been tough, one of those dogged players who not only gets to all the balls but also returns them at a sharp angle. Marko had stated his desire to hit deeper and Mack right away told him the trick he had learned from Clarence about the imaginary line five feet above the net.

Talk about your immediate results! It is not often you get immediate positive as in things-are-better-now results like that. Marko is hitting the ball deeper and deeper just as in a Barry White song. It’s great! He is happy!

So he did a good turn or at least thought he was doing a good turn for Don, who came strolling up the narrow sidewalk next to the Hillside courts yesterday just ahead of Marko, who was on his bike. Don is of medium height with graying dreadlocks and a peaceful demeanor. Marko right away thought, “Who is this copacetic soul?”

Well, Don started chatting with Marlon, who was hitting by himself against two other people who are excellent and worthy individuals but we are just not going to describe them right here to keep things from getting too confusing. Marlon is a very in-shape slightly older-than-Marko dude, assertive, could coach the Lakers or the Clippers based on his ongoing in-depth basketball raps, and also is someone who should never lose a point based on the knowingness of his tennis raps.

Marko somehow generally winds up with a W when paired up versus Marlon. Must be luck! Marko also literally covered his ears and went “Na-na-na-nah” when Marlon attempted to give him some unbidden coaching regarding the return of pitty-pat floaters a couple of weeks ago, before Marko got the revelation about the imaginary line. Marlon did not take well to this admittedly hostile body language because almost as soon as Marko stepped on the court, Marlon stepped off, announcing he was going to go play at Centinela for money.

Before then, though, Don — remember Don? copacetic? graying dreads? — oh yeah, very friendly demeanor — he inquired with Marlon about the OGs, the Legends of Hillside, the guys who ran the courts twenty years ago.

“None of them come out any more,” Marlon intoned, in his very deep voice, like the Sheriff in “Gangster of Love” by Johnny “Guitar” Watson.

“Really?” said Ron.

“Really,” Marlon confirmed. And this is true. The OGs hardly ever come out. Age has caught up to them. When Marlon took off for Centinela — “Go win some money,” Marko exhorted him, feeling kinda but not really bad about the na-na-na’s, because really people, nobody wants your tennis advice unless they ask for it — Don started hitting with him.

He said this was the first time he had played in five years. He seemed to be hitting just fine, according to the Hillside style of 20 years ago, extremely lob intensive. The ball has come down by several feet over the decades. Nowadays you see people actually hitting out on these courts. It’s somewhat disorienting to someone like Marko who came up as a disciple of the Hillside Lob. But so be it. The game changes.

Anyway, Don has this bright, friendly demeanor and he said yeah, it had been a while, he had some injuries that took considerable healing. Marko did not probe into the nature of these injuries but they sounded plenty dire. The point being, here was Don, back on the court, hitting the ball back and back and back just like you’re supposed to. Keep hitting the ball back and eventually you’re going to win the point. During all this repetition Don commented, “It’s just hard to believe that those guys aren’t playing anymore. They were all so strong.”

“I know,” agreed Marko. “It’s a hard truth.”

That’s what I have been working on getting at this whole time. The hard truth. There it is. Back problems, especially. But Marko shared Don’s contact info with the fine fellow who organizes the occasional Hillside celebrations, where the OG’s still show up, in fine fettle other than not having their racquets handy. He shared their contact info with Don, too, so he could connect with them and that way he wouldn’t have to be Rip Van Winkle’d but instead feel connected, which is better.

PS Some other guy wanted to hit after a while, so Marko said, “Come on and hit, I’ll call my mom.” The other guy said, “That’s a good idea” and Marko did in fact call his mom and they had a nice chat about The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron as Marko strolled around the park, which was full of people working out or meditating or boxing. It was actively bucolic. When he circled back around, at the basketball courts adjacent to the tennis courts he heard a basketball coach exhorted about twenty kids thusly: “If you’re guarding someone who’s bigger than you, don’t be intimidated. Use your body language to show them that you are going to be all over them, you are going to own them, you are going to shut them down.” Marko thought this excellent voice and his mom, who could hear the coach loud and clear, thought so too.

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