I arrived early at a public tennis court to prep for a lesson I would give to my ex wife’s son. I hadn’t taught anyone tennis in over two decades, but wasn’t worried; it was like riding a bicycle.
My ex had called me and asked a favor: would I teach him how to play? He needed to get out more, get active. The Pandemic had driven him largely indoors and he struggled with his fitness.
I was happy to assist and continue the gospel of tennis, once a great and free recreational pastime in America, but now largely gone from our cultural life.
It was an overcast morning. I parked my car alongside a park. Across the street, in front of a brick grade school, a food giveaway was underway and the line was long. Many people waiting to receive food looked like they were living outdoors.
In all my long years of playing tennis, I had never played in view of a food line.
I carried rackets and a bucket of balls inside the fence and beheld the courts: cracked here and there, but the nets were decent and regulation height. I also beheld a bedraggled and bearded man sleeping flat on his back against the fence. He had some meager possessions around him, a bottle of water, and a vaping pen the size of hatchet.
In all my long years of playing tennis, I’d never played where a man was asleep on a court.
But this is Portland, Oregon, America, 2021, so, you roll with it. Anyone for tennis?
My ex showed up with her son. We started with some simple coordination drills and orientation to the court. As I suspected, just like riding a bicycle.
We moved onto basic forehand instruction and the kid showed promise. He also seemed to be enjoying himself and responded well to my coaching.
At one point, a father with rackets and a can of tennis approached the courts with his young daughter in tow. The other court was open. The father saw the man asleep and turned his daughter around and began walking away. I caught her protesting but didn’t hear his response. I would given 50 bucks to hear it.
The lesson was winding down. The kid only whacked three balls over the fence and managed just one errant shot in the direction of the sleeping man. The ball crashed against the fence a sliver over his head, and he sort of grunted, then went back to the land of Nod or wherever he was at that moment. Is it really sleep if you’re sleeping on a public tennis court with all your possessions around you? There must be another word for it.
My ex’s kid thanked me profusely and was game for another lesson. He said it was FUN! I told him that would be great, but he had to practice on his own at least once before our next lesson. He agreed. Then I gave him a racket and the bucket of balls and told him good luck and keep that arm straight and get your racket back. That’s all good tennis really is, and one other little thing—you got to move your ass.