I’ve been a shitty blogger—my last entry came right after the U.S. Open final—although I have an excuse (upcoming) but must first pat myself on the back for my prescience. In my previous post, I’d said of the Rafa/Nole match that it was “a contest…”:
painful, at times, to watch, really excruciating to behold, because the physical toll on both players was evident as the third set came to its thunderous conclusion, so that this seemed less a tennis court then a coliseum, a to-the-death affair, and when Rafa took the third there was an expression of disbelief on Nole’s face that honestly warmed this weekend hacker’s heart…My inner Mother Teresa wants to upbraid the USTA for destroying the very players who line its pockets. My inner sadist would’ve liked to watch either emerge from bed this morning. I’m picturing the opening scene of North Dallas Forty without the Quaaludes and pot.
And look at Nole since: he made a feeble attempt to play Davis Cup, retiring with the same back injury suffered during his Balboa match with Rafa, one which in turn sidelined him for nearly eight weeks total. He managed, next, to win a couple at the Paris Indoors only to withdraw because of a shoulder injury, a sure sign of coming back too soon. Was he rope-a-doping to collect that million plus Masters Series check? Wouldn’t you? But he certainly competed against Troicki and didn’t have to. Has he been the same player since the Open? Was George Foreman after The Rumble in the Jungle? Does the USTA give a shit? Do the players really protest? No. Why? Greed all around, the same thing that happens to short story writers who make it big.
Federer, meanwhile, has been doing the late-career-Agassi thing, mopping up the comers, the twenty-somethings, making tennis prognosticators look bad. Like Hopkins or DeNiro, the dude still kicks some ass. He won Basel (again) although admittedly his competition was thin. Does he play top level talent a non-appearance fee? Are USTA players like, “Meh, Basel. Such an ugly and dirty ceety! I will skeep!” Next he thumps Gasquet, Berdych, and Tsonga on his way to win the Paris Indoors–and those last two players had been giving him fits in 2011. (Though I will say of the final that Tsonga played very poorly in his 1–6, 6–7 (1) thumping and will also add that Federer was sure, this time around, to keep his foot firmly planted on Ali Jr’s neck during the match, proving an old dog can still learn.) What does the 2012 season look like? I’ll reserve making that forecast till after the season-ending finals but stick by my leading observation in my previous post: men’s tennis still belongs to Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and sometimes Murray.
In Ladies and Gentlemen news, the story collection was just named one of Kirkus Reviews Top Books of 2011 and if you want to hear a fun interview, check out my appearance on John Seigenthaler’s A Word on Words. I had the honor of appearing with novelist and short story master Jim Shepard at Nashville’s Southern Festival of Books (if you haven’t read his National Book Award-nominated Like You’d Understand, Anyway, get it and get a life). Even cooler, he and BookTalk’s Stephen Usery joined me at my house for beers afterward. Other SFofB highlights: meeting Justin Torres (We the Animals) and Chad Harbach (The Art of Fielding). Harbach’s plenty nice but a bit stingy. I asked him for fifty grand to buy a pack of smokes. He said he was sorry. He only had ten thousand bucks in his wallet.
As for my failure to blog, I’ve been working on a new novel, Playworld, doing research and drafting, the latter mostly reconnaissance, which has produced plenty of writing that may never end up on the printed page, like this paragraph:
My aunt always seemed to be smiling, which pressed her high cheekbones into her eyes and made her dimples cartoonishly discrete, so that her face reminded me of a Seuss character. She was short—not overweight but stocky, not fat but wide around—and when she wore a tube dress, as she was now, the skirt hung like a lampshade over her legs and made her head appear smaller, an effect heightened because her hair was bobbed, so that her body had the shape of cake stand’s glass dome. It was a rare thing to see her as dressed up as she was; I recalled a Christmas party or two and a wedding. Her default outfit was always some shade of housecoat, and she stood legless, like a Weeble, behind her kitchen’s bar, for she was always cooking for her three children, a thing she did with great command and limitless patience, as my cousins rarely arrived at these meals together. To see her clothed thus engendered a deep and complicated feeling of sympathy toward her, because her formalwear appeared dated, were the same, in fact, as the outfits I identified in the framed pictures that hung on her walls taken at long-ago family gatherings, or that I saw in documentaries of the Robert Kennedy or Martin Luther King assassinations—there was something pearl-and-cat-eye-glasses about them. It made me root for her. Where was her Prince Charming? (It wasn’t my fat Uncle Marco, whose ties were always loose at his neck.) Where was her fairy godmother? And yet, I’d occasionally catch her reveling in her underdog status, using it as cover, usually when she joined my cousins and me at games, Monopoly or Life but especially Scrabble, the last at which she was demonically good, a wizard at plinking a tile on the square we’d all thought boxed into uselessness, a play that activated branches of words and was followed by some serious math (which she’d already tabulated and subsequently crosschecked), a move she always pretended to accidentally discover—“Look-ee here,” she’d say—as if it weren’t an ambush all along. She didn’t fool me and seemed to recognize this when we were alone, and I loved her ruses and excesses and was annoyed by them in turn; they reminded me of her stories, which went on forever and gathered toward A Moral but made inspired detours, full of wicked asides, usually about family members. (“Your Aunt Madge, you may have noticed, begins the evening dangerous as a snake and ends it quivering like a jellyfish.”) Here, however, our roles were reversed. She was my charge, somehow, and I was suddenly afraid in her presence: not only of her good-spiritedness, which was bulletproof, but also the fact that she was impervious to embarrassment, which caused it to ricochet, and so I fixed my gaze on her black dress shoes, waiting for the blow.
Does this constitute a coming attraction? Who knows? Not me. And I’m writing the goddamn thing.