Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wimbledonova, Shakespeare In The Ballpark

1) The Championships continue at the All England & Very Much East Europe Club with semi-finalists: Lisicki from Germany; Sharapova of Russia, Kvitova, a Czech, and Azarenka, from Belarus.

They defeated: Bartoli/France, Cibulkova/Slovakia, Pironkova/Bulgaria, and Paszek/Austria. Is this what happens, when you grow grass on top of dirt packed as hard as Lenin's heart? 

Bulgarian tennis. Exciting. Like watching the new rain-roof go back and forth or having a sleepova.

2) How do the Mets' owners, Mr. Wilpon & Son, like their crow served as the season's halfway mark nears? Poached, Pan-fried? Can crow be Blackened? 

The Mets are 41-39 as of this morning and were already showing signs of life before Elder Fred bashed them all in The New Yorker. The Mets hit two grand slams within two innings in Detroit this week, which is two more than they had hit in their last 299 games. This should be instructive to their owners.

The Tigers replaced a storied Tiger Stadium a few years ago with a thing now called Comerica Park, which resembled one called Yellowstone. Funny, but Tiger fans did not think that 3 walks taking an average of ten pitches and a single were as much fun as a single homer. A few adjustments were made.

The Black Crowes
The Mets built Citi Field as if they had a pitching rotation of Koufax, Seaver, Koosman and Podres. Even The Duke of Flatbush himself would find it hard to hit one out to center at this monument to Brooklyn's old Ebbets Field.

3)...which brings us to, you'll forgive the expression,  the LA Dodgers. They survived many, many years without a World Series win, lost a pennant on the Giants' Shot Heard Round The World homer, finally beat the Yankees in 1955 for their first Series, and headed west after the 1957 season, leaving Brooklyn to its long decline before becoming the artisanal suburb of the East Village it is today.

The Dodgers finally ran into a screwball pitching duo they could not hit named The McCourts. The Bums declared bankruptcy in Delaware, of all places, this week and if that doesn't show how corporate baseball has become, little else will. If the current issue of Vanity Fair is to be believed, and who are we to doubt Conde Nasty himself, it is possible to own a major league baseball team by putting down close to squat of your own money, if any at all.

And that's just the beginning of the fun: you can then bilk the revenue in order to buy about six houses, arrange six-figure no-show jobs for your kids, start a "foundation" paying its chief $400K annually despite the fact that it does not seem to do anything of value for anyone. Finally, you can use the once proud team to finance a divorce, as if it were just another possession like the pool house in your third biggest mansion, owned by a bank, which taxpaying fans had to bail out with their own money in the first place.

This is a tale of such monumental greed, Everest-like ego, and non-stop consuming and primping that it could make even a Kardashian blush with embarrassment.

Dodger Stadium, Deep Hole
What were the other owners thinking when they approved the McCourts as owners? Frank McCourt's only redeeming act may have been the bankruptcy in which he at least gets to rub Commissioner Selig's nose in this Dodger mess and have a judge in charge of what happens with the team, rather than MLB or his estranged (never was a word so apt) spouse.

I have been a Giants fan for life, and we seldom bestow any good wishes on our former cross-island foes, but, deep down, we want to score a zillion runs against a chest-thumpingly worthy and proud opponent, not this sad pretender.

4) ...which brings us to the Giants, who are in first place, despite losing young Buster Posey for the season and having a deep fear of too many toes touching home plate to make runs. A miracle which may not last.

Baseball is the greatest game precisely because it is not so much a game as it is theatre. Only Shakespeare could rival the Tragedies & Comedies taking place each long, looping, five-act season, in which, just when you think some Hamlet or Macbeth will dominate, along comes Falstaff or Romeo.

The owners can try to turn March into April and November into October. They can turn blind eyes to artificially pumped up balls, bats, teams and muscles. They can finagle a bond deal for new stadiums in which they sell $12 cups of beer. But this is all pulp fiction. Groundlings know the real thing when they see it.

These lower case and caste  Montagues & Capulets can fight it out in Delaware. Meanwhile, Juliet is out there in the bleachers waiting for her Romeo, and he will show up by October making us all forget this whole messy scene...

...until next year.

5)...speaking of which: what do we call Tsonga beating Federer after being down two sets to none?


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tennis Notes: Sameness

1) The players and corporate sponsors have succeeded in equalizing all surfaces for major tournaments at last. The "clay" at the French Championships at Roland Garros has been reduced to a fine brick dust atop a granite-like clay base, and the balls are now smaller and less fuzzy. Gone are the long, long baseline rallies of yesteryear on the annoyingly slow (for some) courts. Faire du homogene.

Now, Wimbledon continues its own homogenizing of the game, with some green fuzz on what could just as easily be concrete instead of dirt. Rafael Nadal's first round opponent, Michael Harris, hurled himself Becker-like around the court. Instead of the old soft landings, we could see in the TV close-ups that few players will make similar attempts. It looked as if he had jumped from a second-storey window onto asphalt. The US and Australian Opens had already paved the way, literally, by dumping grass and Har-Tru along the way in favor of hard courts.

Parity has come to tennis, as it has to major league baseball and the NFL. Is parity another word for b-o-r-i-n-g?

Many players have complained over the years about having to adjust their games to the idiosyncracy of Parisian dry mud and Wimbledon's uneven bounces. Well, worry no more, boys and girls. You can reduce your Paris hotel laundry bills and stick to the baseline all day long in what passes for sun in London.

But, real fans will notice the difference, the expanding lack of artistry in today's game. Now, players need only have one kind of game, never really have to rush the net, if they don't want to; and they do not have to suddenly invent a shot to overcome a weird bounce or put an end, finally, to a marathon clay point.

I saw my first major matches in 1956 on the super-soft grass at Forest Hills, where Hoad, Seixas, Rosewall, Savitt, and Gibson were prancing. It had rained a little, and some players donned special spikes, with permission from the umpire, which further aerated the courts. The balls began white in those days, then slowly turned a light green over the nine games of use. It was beautiful to watch all of this athleticism and creativity on display. Hoad, in particular, moved around like a blonde Nureyev from Down Under.

All gone now. Only Federer still has the classic strokes. Only Federer could truly compete with the greats of the past. Only Federer has the magic of the artist in addition to being a great athlete. Only one single surface exists so that everything conforms, as if the players were coming from the same assembly lines producing the sponsors' automobiles. Ho-hum.

2) American tennis? One word: Williams. Check that: two words, Venus and Serena. And what about the men? Please.

There are two American men among the 32 seeds at Wimbledon 2011. Two. There are 5 from Spain. That's Spain, folks, where they used to produce players who could only play on that interminably slow stuff in Paris. Et, mais oui, there are also 4 seeds from France itself. Sacra Lacoste!

Didn't America pretty much invent the assembly line? Where are these guys? Answer: playing basketball, football, or wearing braces from injuries developed by trying to hit every single shot as hard as they possibly can. Every shot. Like Nadal, who is wonderful, of course, but destined for a short career.

Check out the names of the women seeds at Wimbledon and you can read a history of the Cold War thaw and the growth of freedom in the east: Wozniacki, Zvonareva, Sharopova, Kvitova, Stosur, Petkovic, Kuznetsova, and my favorite, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Not to mention, Na Li, the reigning French Champion. Ah, the Chinese know a thing or two about homogenization.

3. Gee whiz, what a coincidence that Isner and Mahut, they of last year's longest match in history, meet in the first round this year! No, really, the folks who pick the draw swear that it's just pure luck, pure chance.

That's luck, a four letter word, spelled ESPN. Duh.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hey, You, Get On That Cloud

Quick, what's the name of that little French place in the east 50's where we had that great affordable lunch?

And, where the heck is Timbuktu?

If you said "Let's google it" in response to these questions, raise your hands. Hah! All of you.

But, what if we have different problems:

  • we're not getting all the cable channels we thought we'd ordered.
  • the central AC shuts down right before that big heat wave.
  • someone's hacked your amazon account and has used your credit card.
All of those things happened to us recently and we could not google up an instant solution. 

So what, you might say. Nobody can do that. Well, we'd like to point out that google, Twitter, Facebook, itunes, netflix, etc. have raised our expectations for instant problem solving and lowered our patience level. Why is this significant?

Recently, The Times's front page, we read about a mother of a NYC private school boy, who spent $35K on an outside tutor for a class in a school that costs $38K annually. She did this to insure that the boy gets and A. In other words, she wants to "google" up an A and she's willing to pay for it (will she follow the boy to college and go to work with him later too?). 

If we want a definition, a photo, a how-to guide, a diagnosis - we google it.

Other things take more time, but we expect them instantly and do not like it, when they take more time. It's such a pain to be distracted by having to steer, brake for a light, avoid collisions, while all we really want to do is text our pedicurist about that appointment right now!

Here are some other things we want to google and get right now:
  • a cable appointment at a specific time.
  • a moderate doctor visit fee that we can just pay ourselves.
  • the house, apartment, job, car, come to think, woman or man to die for.
  • affordable pet health insurance.
  • Moderated TV commercial volume (we won't quit on this!).
  • someone in charge to take global warming seriously in the US. Finally.
  • a ban on Congressional use of Facebook, Twitter, etc. And, no more "Weiner"  jokes, which are an affront to the integrity of hot dogs everywhere!
Apple has just announced a new service to replace their rare failure, MobileMe. Everything is going to The Cloud and we will no longer need to bother physically syncing our devices to share music, calendars, contacts with...ourselves. 

As brilliant and sensible as this Cloud solution seems, we can't help thinking that it will further shrink our human patience. Will we be able to go to a Cloud for cable, cellphone service, banking errors, electrical/plumbing repairs, college, marriage, and on and on some day?

As the man sang, "Hey, You, Get Me Some Of That Cloud."

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Dear Ms Andress

Dear Ms. Andress,

Honey Ryder Rising
My client, an American who wishes to remain anonymous, recently attended a dinner at which the diners played a rather fun game. Each was asked to name the one person, any person, either a contemporary or from the distant past, with whom they would most like to, shall we say, "spend some time." The time spent, of course, need not be of an intimate nature; however, in all honesty, my client wishes to be clear that there was certainly a suggestion of  intimacy in this game.

So that there will be no misunderstanding in this matter, my client freely admits that he had no hesitation whatsoever in naming you his choice. To further clarify, he actually named a fictional-you, in character as Honey Ryder in the film Dr. No. As you well know, this was the the first of the many successful films in the James Bond series. As my client put it so succinctly that night in announcing his choice, "She put they yes, yes, yes, in Dr. No, No, No."

I hope that you'll agree that this was rather more than clever, and, speaking as a fan myself, an accurate description of your impact on 14 yr.-old boys such as my client was at the time of seeing the film.

My client sat in amazement that same night, as his male friends named others like Katherine Ross, Marlene Dietrich, Bridget Bardot, Jane Fonda, and Sophia Loren among other candidates. Surely, they could not have been serious, he thought. Where were they in 1962, when you were changing the course of his life with what he and the rest of the world took to be your Swedish accent. How were we to know that you were actually Swiss and that this voice was dubbed!

No matter. He knows exactly where he was: a small movie theatre in Westhampton Beach, Long Island, NY. Thereafter, he became much more interested in literature, devouring all of the great works of Mr., later Sir Ian Fleming, who owed you a great debt, as he did to your fellow actor, Mr., later Sir Sean Connery for helping people to forget that Fleming was, in all fairness, a pretty terrible writer.

But, you may ask, why am I writing to you?

I am writing to you, because my client, having made his choice so clearly and quickly that night, and, later, having had a chance to more thoroughly review his choice, must tell you at this time that he believes he made an innocent error. He assures you that he still holds you, in a matter of speaking of course, in the highest regard, or, to be more accurate, holds the Honey-You in the highest regard; however, he must renounce his choice at this time.

In taking this action, he also feels that you deserve to know about your replacement, and, while this might be only a very small consolation to you, it will make him feel just a little bit less than a cad and a little more like a gentleman for taking this action and telling you the truth.

He hereby names Ms. Charlotte Rampling, the fine British actress, as his choice

Charlotte Rampling? Charlotte Rampling of the skin and bones physique, with the English girls' school (St. Hilda's) "come hither" tease-look, who later in life couldn't get her clothes off fast enough in a series of French B films. That Charlotte Rampling!

Well, yes, the very one. My client wishes to explain that what many saw as teasing he took to be a demur quality, a look of being slightly stricken, concealing a deeper more complicated and passionate self.

While you also have a similar quality, Ms. Rampling has the aded quality of using her own very posh and  plummy voice in movies and on TV. As already stated above, my client realizes now that he does not even know what your own voice sounds like, since he has been admiring an impostor's voice all these years.

In closing, my client wishes you well and hopes that you will understand his decision and not hold it against him. Also, he fervently hopes that you will not seek damages, in which case he will be as ruthless as Dr. No and  Goldfinger combined.