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Archive for December 2010

A Tennis Story

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Jesus P. Bacinski wrote the net game back in 1971 when, at a tournament in Boca, he served and volleyed and drew a line in the sand for every other retiree in the Sunset Sands Retirement Community Annual Tennis Tournament.  Jesus was a 75-year-old retired steel worker from Pittsburgh, one of those life-long bachelors whose money went nowhere but his 401k and after working in the industry for 47 years, decided Florida would be his final resting place.  His bandy legs stepped heavily on his morning walks throughout the streets of fellow septagenarians.  He grunted through life, a perpetual 10-ton anvil moving slowly and purposefully in the pink 6 am light.  This made him a natural foil for the steel.  He understood steel and its natural unbending will, its preference for high heat and its inimitable strength.  He made steel into the most exquisite drain pipes, I-beams and giant bridge supports seen anywhere.  But that day, Jesus walked on water.

The day started with an early match between Harold Stutter, the reigning Sunset Sands champion and former national amateur contender, and Jim Botten, a light-footed 65-year-old.  “The Velvet Ringer,” some with bets placed heavily in his favor referred to him, as it was his custom to appear anywhere after 6pm in a velvet smoking jacket.  Sadly, those in his corner did not have long to see the fleet-footed cigar man fall.  It took all of a set for the spry filly to pull up lame, an old knee injury knocking him for a loop.  Perhaps it was arranged, perhaps it wasn’t, but most didn’t believe that a man who ran the circuit of the neighborhood (a whopping 4.3 miles) every day could find his knee so suddenly gone.  So the reign of Harold, steady for 3 years, became one round older as the heat spread and the sun rose.

Jesus was fortunate.  He received a bye in the first round when Dick Limpkin died a week before and no one stepped into replace him.  This was Jesus’ first year in the tournament, and all thought he would prove a fool.  Never was he seen on the courts near the pool and Pittsburgh did not harbor many great talents of the racketed persuasion.  Skepticism spread freely over the chattering court.  He took his place behind the line, tested his racket, and prepared to receive perhaps his first first serve ever from a former top 25 national amateur contender. The ball was tossed, where it floated for a brief moment at its apex and smashed, with a slight amount of topspin so as to kick up on the bounce and flummox the opposing player into a bad return.  But Jesus was ready.  He saw, from the position of the ball toss and the very small, adjusted backhand grip, exactly where the ball was going, and he rotated freely, seemingly giving the ball back across the court, utilizing Newton’s Third Law:  For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

The crowd, stunned, watched as the ball traveled faster back across the net to an empty piece of court where Harold Stutter did not exist.  The chair umpire, a half-deaf machinist from Massachusetts, called, “Love-15.”  Each point continued in the same fashion, until Jesus P Fuentes was up a break in the first game of the first set against the reigning champion.  The crowd silently adjusted their egos and settled down for a day of tennis.

They came to see a game, came to nosh and eat potato salad made by Mrs Hutchins at #137, but they did not expect art.  Such was the next service game by Jesus.  Most denizens of the court commented afterward about the ease with which Jesus moved around the surface.  “He appeared to float,” one excited patron said later.  “This lumbering man of little motion became a ballet dancer before us,” the newsletter read later that month, “It was as if, like a penguin, he found motion on a different element than the natural earth.  The penguin swims graceful in the sea, Jesus danced his way into our hearts on the asphalt.”

Words truer were never written.  Jesus himself, when interviewed later that day would say nothing but, “I was on.”

Jesus stepped up to the line, placing his left foot a half-centimeter behind it, all his weight centered on the ball of his foot. His right foot served to stabilize him, its toe barely touching the ground as he leaned forward and coiled up like a cobra.  His eyes moved, from the spot he wanted the serve, up and up and up to the ball as it was tossed with no spin, where, at the point it could no longer travel higher, his racket and all of the tightly wound muscle exploded.  The ball howitzered into the opposite court, skidded, and was narrowly returned by a focused Harold conjuring up all of his muscle memory.  But Jesus, being “on,” had anticipated.  Like a tap dancer, he shuffled-step-ball-changed to the net, stuck out his racked, and coolly volleyed to the far court.  The hammering of heartbeats confirmed a sudden truth: time had slowed and this moment lasted forever, burned into their retinas as something sublime.

The rest was mere semantics.  He triumphed quite easily and even Harold Stutter had no problem handing over the trophy.  A week later, Jesus was admitted to the hospital with chest pain.  He never came out.  His funeral, attended by all from the community, included a viewing of amateur home video from that day.  It featured the legendary serve-volley combination.  Speculation into his latent talent ran the gamut, until an old man got up to speak.  He was Bacinski’s brother.  It was revealed that Jesus was a natural athlete, receiving a host of football scholarships before the war, but electing to head into the steel business like his father and brothers.  On weekends, he would coach whatever sport was in season.  “He was a very hard man,” his brother mumbled into the microphone.

No one knew if Jesus was dying when he entered the tournament.  Perhaps he knew it, but he still danced the net game and won.

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Written by Seth James

December 6, 2010 at 10:49 pm

Posted in Fiction, Uncategorized