Tennis, Anyone?


Grant, Biff, and I often find a fourth for a spirited tennis match on Sunday mornings.

No, we don’t. I’m lying. In fact, I’ve never played tennis in my life, and I’ve played almost every sport there is.

I grew up in Brooklyn and Sag Harbor. I never saw a single tennis court in Brooklyn. We did have a lot of handball courts; they consisted of a cement wall with ugly graffiti on it. We would draw a box for the strike zone and play stickball.

Almost all the handball courts had names of women scribbled on them. They were usually someone’s mother’s name. That was all the rage—to write something vulgar about another kid’s mother. Hey, it beat climbing the wall at Kings County Hospital and looking through the morgue windows, which we would do regularly. Then we’d get pizza.

In Sag Harbor, they had a couple of tennis courts in Mashashimuet Park, but they were hardly ever used. There was one handball court in Sag Harbor, also at the park. We filled it up with graffiti and vulgar remarks about assorted mothers once, and it was cleaned within 24 hours. Hell, that’s no fun.

It was unheard of to have a tennis court on your property in those days. Very few people had swimming pools, either.

In Brooklyn, they had these huge public pools, like Sunset and Farragut, where you paid 10 cents for a locker. Someone would break the lock and steal whatever you left in there. Anyhow, standing in a warm pool with 100 juvenile delinquents isn’t much fun for a kid used to going to Left Sagg beach.

Soon, a pool was de rigueur for the elite Hamptons residence. And why not? Everybody loves to take a dip when it gets hot, plus it’s a good feature for a rental property. And, of course, kids love it. It wasn’t long before almost everyone had a pool.

Somewhere along the way, around the mid-1980s, a tennis court achieved the same lofty status as a swimming pool, at least in the mind of builders and realtors.

I understand putting a basketball hoop in the driveway. Hey, if I could afford it, I’d have a baseball field, like Jerry Seinfeld. But I draw the line at tennis. (And I would never hang out with anyone named “Biff.”)

“. . . And the property has tennis, of course.” That phrase rolled off tongues as if, like a kitchen, there could be no home suitable for the well-to-do family without a tennis court.

Karen and I even tried to talk ourselves into it. “We could play together. It would be good exercise,” she said.

No, it wouldn’t. I would get no exercise whatsoever watching her swing and miss. Even though I never played tennis, I assured her I would win every game and she would never score a point. That kind of put a damper on things.

The court was smack dab in the middle of the back yard.

“I don’t want tennis,” I said. “Can you get rid of it and lower the price?”

“It adds to the value of the property,” the realtor said. I found that hard to believe. The very fact that the balls are pink, yellow, or lime green is enough to cause visual pollution. And from what I’ve seen on TV, tennis players grunt, even the pretty ones. Maria Sharapova grunts.

If I were in a relationship with someone who is a better grunter than I am, I would feel inadequate. Put another way, if someone is going to grunt in my house, it better be me.

“I’d rather have a vegetable garden. Could you ask the builder if he can fill it with top soil?” The realtor ignored me.

“Where is the bocce court?” I asked.

“Well, there isn’t one. Why?”

“I just think it’s against the law to discriminate. Being of Italian descent, I have a right to feel that my people should also have whatever little game they enjoy on their property, especially after the persecution we’ve endured. If Anglo Saxons get tennis, I think Sicilians should get their game of choice.”

Finally, the nice lady admitted she didn’t know what bocce is, which is like not knowing what a meatball is.

All this brings me to the inevitable, as regular readers know. I actually wrote the following joke, which you’ve heard a hundred times, yet no one attributes it to me.

“What is the definition of eternal love?”

Answer: “Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles playing tennis together.”

By the way, I also wrote (really) the tragically overlooked, “What is your sign?”

The answer: “Slippery when wet.”

Thank you, ladies and germs, for laughing.

Rick Murphy is a six-time winner of the New York Press Association Best Column award as well as the winner of first place awards from the National Newspaper Association and the Suburban Newspaper Association of America and a two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee.

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