Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Chapter 3: Turning 16 & Tennis with Dad

When I showed up in town, I had braces on my teeth and had that long, lean look of adolescence. It didn’t matter, my dad took me to a favorite bar of his with a little dance floor and live music. As I recall, a musician named Copeland Davis was playing that first night. My dad loved to dance and would teach me a little bit of swing dancing. I knew how to do the Hustle and so we traded dance steps. I have no idea why I wasn’t thrown out for being so obviously underage.  
For my birthday, Dad took me on my first cruise, to the Bahamas. The last day of our trip, I was walking with my dad when suddenly he said, “Wait!” He walked over to the roulette table and placed a bet on a number. Clueless about what he was doing, I watched the wheel slowly come to a stop—on his number. He had actually won! He said he sometimes just “got a feeling” and he always bet on those feelings.
My other birthday present involved tennis lessons. There were tennis courts on top of the parking structure where we lived, yet my dad preferred to play at the public courts, where he could pick up games near a little beachfront bar called The Greenhouse. He liked to challenge really good younger players to matches, knowing that they would consider him too old to be able to give them a workout. When they said “No thank you,” Dad would needle them, “Come on, just one set!” He would offer to wager a bet to get cocky players to play for easy money.  With his black socks and weird t-shirts (the Pink Panther and Superman themes were the tame ones), my dad looked anything but seriously competitive. 
My dad enjoyed helping me practice my strokes. Still, I was a beginner, and he grew bored whenever he wasn’t keeping score. With a sly look my way, he’d nod at the next court and say, “Let’s challenge them to a little doubles.”  I so didn't want to play. Dad never wore the proper tennis attire, said the most embarrassing things, and I also didn't really know how to play doubles. It didn’t matter, as Dad could be ridiculously persuasive. 
With lessons and Dad's coaching, I fast became a pretty good singles player (somehow I made the Santa Monica High School tennis team the next year when I returned to California). 
Doubles, however, never became my thing, perhaps because Dad drilled it into me to "stay out of the way" (so he could make heroic shots and win for two). The foreshadowing became clear only in retrospect: Dad liked to do things his way and collaboration would never be one of his favorite games.

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