The Seniors Tennis Circuit; Worshipping Mammon

Written by Taki on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.


 

Tennis Balls
A
long
with “The Girls in their Summer Dresses,” “The Eighty-Yard Run”
is my favorite Irwin Shaw short story. Christian Darling’s memory of his broken-field
run as he walks along the grass where he played 15 years earlier is a magical
moment in fiction. Although Darling’s run was only in practice, all the memories
of youth flood back. Darling is by now a dinosaur, unable to adapt to a changing
world, pretty much broke and dreaming of his youth when he felt invulnerable.


As an old
athlete, Shaw knew all about it. How one remembers most vividly the days of
glory, of victories. The whole world seems to be in one’s lap, “but nothing
is except a fleeting moment of health.”


I have been
thinking a lot of Christian Darling recently as I tour resort towns in Switzerland
and Germany competing in veterans tennis tournaments. As some of you may have
guessed, tennis is a very easy game. All one needs to do is hit a small ball
over the net and inside the baseline only one more time than one’s opponent.
Needless to say, this simple game has driven more people nuts than LSD, crack
and booze combined.


Back in
the good old days, when I was on the men’s circuit, traveling from town to town
was fun. One checked into the hotel, went to the club for practice and then
hunted for women. Forty years later, things are almost the same, but not quite.
One checks into the hotel, has a practice hit before the match and then lies
down hoping to be able to go three sets in the heat. The few women who watch
are one’s age, which means they’re over the hill and basically untouchable.


Why does
one compete in veterans tennis? The Christian Darling syndrome is more addictive
than cocaine. You think you don’t care anymore, but one victory has you dreaming
about “what if.” This week, in Flims, a beautiful Alpine village in
the Grisons of Switzerland, I pulled one out after a tiebreaker in the third
set. The next day, still hung over, I faced the third seed, an Italian chap
known for giving bad calls even when he plays against his children. We were
on court for three hours. I lucked out in the end and went on to win
the tournament. It was Christian Darling time, but it’s all an illusion. Next
week in Germany I’ll probably go down in the first round and wake up, just as
Darling did.


Still, the
hotels one stays in are wonderful, with old-fashioned grand salons, impeccable
service and piano concertos every afternoon. I have not heard the f-word once,
have not listened to any ghastly rap sounds, have not watched tv in more than
a month. This is the good news.


The bad
is the anti-Americanism, which is as prevalent as the Alps. Even among tennis
players—traditionally apolitical and mostly illiterate—Uncle Sam is hardly their
favorite relative. Last week’s Davis Cup tie in Brookline, MA, is a perfect
example of American arrogance. The rules are very simple. Davis Cup rules forbid
substitutions except in the case of injury or illness. With the U.S. down 2-1,
and desperately in need of a victory, they tried to salvage the situation by
inserting Pete Sampras in place of Todd Martin. Martin, one of the few gentlemen
on the present circuit, did feel under the weather because of the heat, but
so did everyone else. The ploy failed, Martin won the first two sets but eventually
Australia prevailed. The Aussies, however, were furious. They had suspected
that Uncle Sam tried to pull a fast one.


“Just
like Kosovo,” said a tennis veteran to me. “They think the rules are
for others. Never for them.”


Well, I’m
an old Uncle Sam lover, but he has a point. Killing 17 Iraqis last week as if
they were flies is now routine for the Clinton-Albright gang. Albright is meeting
with the Chinese foreign minister next week to kiss ass because China is strong.
Clinton uses the Kennedy tragedy to push through legislation. He would, wouldn’t
he? Once upon a time sovereign states could only be attacked when they attacked
another sovereign state. The Clinton-Albright mafia has changed all that. And
even in peaceful little villages like Flims, people are outraged at the bully
Uncle Sam has become.


Jim Holt
THE
TIRED HEDONIST


I Worship Mammon
There is no greater nonsense
than the view, propounded on the opposite page by a columnist who ludicrously
calls himself “Hamlet,” that the rich are not to be
envied. Hamlet claims to be a Jew, but I think he is a closet Christian. For
it was Jesus who is ultimately behind this line of argument. “It is easier
for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the
kingdom of God,” he said in the Gospels.



By the law
of unintended consequences, this statement actually proved to be a great boon
to the rich, as it freed them of any obligation to be benevolent toward the
poor. “Why should we here on Earth do anything for the wretched rabble,
who will one day be happier than we in heaven?” the rich quite correctly
reason. (The Victorian novelist Samuel Butler, on the other hand, could not
help thinking that if it is hard for the rich to enter heaven, it must be a
lot harder for the poor.)


Jesus’ libel
against wealth was echoed by St. Paul, who wrote in an epistle that Radix
malorum est cupiditas
. This is usually misquoted as “Money is the root
of all evil,” but it really translates as “Greed is the root of evils.”
And the poor are greedier than the rich. Hence they are more evil. As Oscar
Wilde noted, “Wealthy people are, as a class, better than impoverished
people, more moral, more intellectual, more well-behaved. There is only one
class in the community that thinks more about money than the rich, and that
is the poor. The poor can think of nothing else. That is the misery of being
poor.”


Money won’t
buy happiness, the bores are fond of claiming—including that prince of bores,
Dr. Freud. Happiness, Freud submitted, consists in the deferred fulfillment
of an infantile wish, and most babies do not crave money. Yet Freud also maintained
that gold is symbolically connected to feces (which is presumably why we call
people “filthy rich”). And anyone who has spent time with babies knows
that they take a very lively interest in their feces.


Pompous
old Carl Sandburg gassed in one of his poems that “Money buys everything
except love, personality, freedom, immortality, silence, peace.” To which
the far better poet Ogden Nash rejoined:



Certainly
there are lots of things in life that
S
money won’t
buy, but it’s very funny—
Have you ever tried
to buy them
without money?



In truth,
as the great majority of non-rich Americans have discovered, you can
buy these things without money—on credit. “All decent people live beyond
their incomes nowadays, and those who aren’t respectable live beyond other people’s.
A few gifted individuals manage to do both.” (That was one of Saki’s cracks.)
It helps to hang out with the right people. There is no point, for example,
in associating with children; for, as Fran Lebowitz observed, they are seldom
in a position to lend one a truly interesting sum of money.


The secret
of being a happy debtor, many Americans have also discovered, is to be a big
debtor. “Small debts are like small shot,” said Samuel Johnson; “they
are rattling on every side, and can scarcely be escaped without a wound; great
debts are like cannon: of loud noise but little danger.” And if you do
end up getting dunned, take the advice of Baudelaire: “Whenever you receive
a letter from a creditor, write fifty lines upon some extraterrestrial subject
and you will be saved.”


Another
lie about money is that Old Money is somehow better than New Money. Only the
nouveaux riches worry about the age of people’s money. Everyone else, including
Old Money, merely worries about money. (So I have been assured by Miss Manners.)
If the age of money were important, then no one would spend ostentatiously,
because that would demonstrate that they had not been rich long enough to inherit
their valuables.


How do you
know when you have enough money? People on Wall Street are always debating what
The Number is—the amount of lucre you have to amass before you can quit the
money game. I do not like this one-size-fits-all approach. A more personalized
indicator of the adequacy of your fortune is how cavalierly you treat your money.
Picasso used to have around the house an old, red-leather Hermes trunk in which
he kept five or six million francs—so that, as he said, he’d always “have
the price of a package of cigarettes.” Andy Warhol said that no one who
carried his money around in “Gucci this-es or Valentino thats” really
had enough of it; the superrich always kept their cash in a long business envelope.
I have one slightly rich (and sweetly eccentric) friend who has newly minted
hundred dollar bills sewn into booklets. He rips them out like food stamps when
settling big restaurant tabs, which never fails to make an impression.


“A
feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry: but money answereth all things,”
proclaims the book of Ecclesiastes. (To which Woody Allen adds: “Money
is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons.”) How can we not
envy those who have more of it than we do? How can we not disdain those who
have less?



It greases
the palm, feathers a nest,
holds
heads above water, makes both ends
meet. You
don’t know where it’s been,
but you put it where
your mouth is. And it
talks.



No wonder
we love it! Unfortunately, as Baron Rothschild once pointed out to me, it is
not enough that you love money. Money must love you.










Scott McConnell
THE
CONFORMIST


Off the Bus
One of America’s most bitter
battles petered out in mid-July, neither side triumphant. The Times signaled
the end with a below-the-fold headline: “Busing’s Day Ended: Boston Drops
Race in Pupil Placement.” A few weeks prior, a court had voided a Yonkers
school integration plan, extending a national trend. Black parents no longer
supported busing, dissident members of the NAACP questioned it and the liberal
elites who dreamed it up in the first place had moved on to other causes.



Few want to dwell on this
epochal failure of Great Society social engineering. (I know, having several
years ago circulated a book proposal on the subject.) The purely educational
consequences of busing were well known by 1974, when federal judge W. Arthur
Garrity set out to reorganize the Boston school system. Busing black kids into
white schools did not improve their reading and math scores very much, if at
all. It may have lowered white achievement slightly, but less than critics feared.
As for the mutual understanding and respect between the races that would supposedly
arise from sharing classrooms, this proved nonexistent, much as Norman Podhoretz
had predicted in 1963, when he published an account of his experience in a 1940s-era
integrated school. Studies showed that black kids bused to integrated schools
tended to be more hostile to whites than those who attended all-black schools.



Still, liberal
judges and social engineers pressed forward. After all, it was not their
children who would serve as the pioneers in school integration. The guinea pigs
in the busing experiment were the children of the white working classes. In
the case of Boston, this meant kids from the Irish and Italian enclaves in Charleston
and South Boston. Oh, the scorn that the dominant media of the day attached
to the phrase “ethnic enclave.” It conveyed an impenetrable web of
backwardness and bigotry, the kind of neighborhood that needed to be shattered
so that mankind could progress. A Newsweek story of the era about Louise
Day Hicks, Boston’s popular antibusing politician, gives the flavor. Describing
Hicks’ followers, the magazine wrote, “They looked like characters out
of Moon Mullins, and she was their homegrown Mamie-made-good. Sloshing beer
at long tables…sat a comic strip gallery of tipplers and brawlers and their
tinseled overdressed dolls.” Try to imagine Newsweek writing like
that about Latinos.


Cooking
up schemes to bus other people’s children long distances involved a singular
calculus. As Nathan Glazer once noted, formulating transportation plans from
which one’s own private- or suburban-schooled children would be exempt offended
a basic rule of morality in both the Jewish and Christian traditions. Nevertheless,
elite liberals pressed on, maintaining that racially integrated education was
a constitutional right. During this period, liberals largely abandoned the work
of securing popular political majorities for their programs, proceeding instead
through the courts.


This was
how their plan worked in Boston: Thousands of working-class white kids would
be bused out to black districts every day, while thousands of black teens would
be bused into Charleston and South Boston. When something went wrong, it was
the fault of the whites. When an Irish Catholic boy was stabbed by a black classmate,
author Jonathan Kozol (a hardcore busing proponent) wrote that it was Louise
Day Hicks “who put the knife in.”


An interesting
footnote to American feminism is that both the leadership and the bulk of activists
of the antibusing forces were female. But when a delegation of them tried to
meet with Gov. Michael Dukakis’ commission for “International Woman’s Year”
they were rebuffed. The suburban feminists, “dressed [according to the
late Anthony Lukas' classic Common Ground] in Town and Country tweeds,
Pierre Cardin silk scarves and eighty-five dollar alligator shoes,” had
nothing much to say to the neighborhood ladies, clad in windbreakers and “Stop
Forced Busing” t-shirts, only that busing wasn’t a women’s issue. Then
Gov. Dukakis, fond of being photographed as a concerned dad walking his own
children to their neighborhood school in suburban Brookline (a luxury many Boston
parents no longer enjoyed), changed his schedule to duck the meeting. If elite
liberals were disturbed by the hypocrisy of it all, they never let on. In the
25 years since, so many white families fled the Boston school system there is
no longer enough to integrate with: a system 52 percent white when busing began
is now 84 percent “minority.” You can see why it’s difficult for anyone
to claim victory.






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