Play a Let

/ Sport /

I’d have sworn I’d told this story. Maybe I have but it perhaps remains among the not yet revived, censored stories.

Jeano loved my idea for a novel. She loved me. She offered, three times, over our first year, to be my patron: wanted to take care of me while I wrote. By late 1982 I’d moved in with her in her motor home in Outdoor Resourts, Hilton Head Island: pools, jacuzzis, game room, on the Intracoastal, three tennis courts …

One day we played on the single court, fenced in, ivy grown, no view. It was very gusty. Jeano wasn’t a bad athlete, but of course she was older: upper fifties. I was a pretty good athlete for a middle aged guy, but I was a lousy tennis player. I had good to excellent ground strokes but lacked an overall game: no serve, no tennis sense, no volley, no lob … I’d practiced getting the ball back across the net; not hitting so it would be un-returnable. Still, I’d regularly beat Jeano six love, six love. A woman, she was used to that.

Ah, but this time on the court we weren’t getting along. She had provided me with no place to work. I couldn’t even plug in my electric typewriter! She didn’t even give me a writing surface, something to rest my clipboard on. She’d given my furniture away, put my business inventory in storage, made me her boy-toy: not at all what she’d promised, not at all what I’d given up my life to pursue. Anyway: we’d gone from her complementing me lavishly at every word I uttered to her finding fault with my every breath. She’d decided she’d made a mistake: that absolved her from all responsibilty. She owed it to herself to free herself; she didn’t owe it to me to keep a single promise. So: I was girding myself to bolt, trying to tread water meantime.

So, here we are playing tennis. Jeano is servicing. She’s lost the first set love-six. Now she’s down love-five in the second set: love-forty. She double faults. OK, that’s the second set: I win, six-love, six-love.
But: just as her second serve clears the net, the can her tennis balls came in clattered around on the base line, blown by the wind gusts.
“I have the right to call a let”, she said.
“Go ahead, serve again. “Play as many lets as you like. But: since it was your ball can that interfered with your concentration, you don’t have a right to a let; you’re responsible for your own equipment. It’s a let if you’re kidnapped by gypsies; it’s not a let if your pants fall down.”

She hadn’t secured her equipment in the face of the wind: seemed to me her clattering can was her own negligence. But no. Jeano had to pull Authority on me. She, not I, was the rules expert.

Understand: See: this is vastly less a tennis rules point than it is an object lesson in how not to get along with your boy-toy, how to stymie your artist, how to betray God, fair play … civilization …

I told this story while jailed with a veteran line judge in Jesup: he’d called lines for Chris Everet, for Martine Navrotilova. He thought Jeano was right, it it didn’t matter that she hadn’t secured her equipment, that a let was not just the obvious curtesy, but was demanded. The other day I asked my beloved Jan. She thought the same.

OK, I’m not a tennis judge. In this society I’m not judged to be a judge of any kind. But I’ll insist on this: at the very least what’s fair here is ambiguous! I see arguments on both sides.

Does tennis have an appeals system? a supreme court? Could it ever be the case that a ruling gets reversed: that a fine point missed the first time around comes to be admitted later? One day it’s obvious to the Nazis that the Jew is subhuman, that the fag is even worse.

Let’s Clarify Let

Most of us think of “let” as meaning “permit”; in the case of tennis it means “interfere with”. That meaning had been in English for a long time. We know this from Hamlet threatening to “kill the man that lets me”. Not I’ll kill whoever cooperates in his own death; No: I’ll kill whoever gets in my way. In tennis it’s the net which can interfere with the flight of the ball being served. Convention demands that the receiver have a clear view of the serve’s path: touching the net deflects it at least a little bit.


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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