Saturday, December 12, 2009

From Tony Trabert to Bob Ryland...... my tennis heroes

It was sometime in the late 60's I think at the Armory Field House at the University of Cincinnati(UC). My dad had told my brother Dave and  me that we  were going to see his old high school mate Tony Trabert play in an exhibition match .I don't remember any of the match. But after it was over dad brought us up to the court to meet Tony. As Tony reached out to shake my hand I remember dad telling me not to wash my hand because I was shaking the hand of a legend. I knew very little about tennis history or it's greatest players other than Rod Laver and the ones I saw on television.
Marion Anthony"Tony" Trabert was a graduate of Walnut Hills High School in 1948.My dad Richard "Dick" Weiland was class of '47 at Walnut. Tony won the state high school championships 3 times while at Walnut.
He went on to UC where he won the NCAA title in 1951.After this it was onto the world stage where in 1955 alone he won 3 of the 4 major events .The French,Wimbledon and US championships.
Okay enough facts and numbers.I had been playing tennis for a few years and meeting Tony was a life changing experience for me.Hitting against the backboard or hitting with my neighborhood buddy Josh Harkavy took on new meaning. Josh was a lefty and tactically very smart with great quick hands. Josh had that tricky lefty serve and I would imagine I was Trabert fighting hard to win points against the two-time Grand Slam year to year champion Rod"The Rocket" Laver.
For me every time on the court with Josh was a victory for us righties.My dad is a lefty so I had to keep this fact on the down low.
Maybe Josh thought I was a bit overly competitive.....I was that way at everything.In 1972 Josh (unseeded) made it all the way to the finals of the Boys under 12 city championships.
I will give his coach some of the credit.But competing against myself,Stevie Brown(see earlier writings) and Jeff Zinn (google Wake Forest men's tennis) toughened Josh up for his run to the finals.
So Josh "Laver" Harkavy had done it.A few years prior to this my big bro got to the finals in the under 12 and under 14 divisions.Trabert from Walnut Hills had  won Wimbledon!, Dave got to the city finals, Josh 'The junior rocket" as well .
I practiced even more against the wall on the back of our house.Tony won a bunch of imaginary championships in the spring and summer of 1972-73 in my backyard.
I did get to the Boys under 12  final in 1973 only to see a familiar face across the net....Stevie Brown.
See the entry "Searching for Stevie Brown but finding Bob Ryland " to get the rest of that story.
I have heard it said you learn more from your losses than wins. Ask Tony Trabert about that one.
He is a world champion and learned how to channel adversity into ultimate success.
I know after losing a match I usually work five times as hard to make sure it never happens again.
Stevie were you dreaming Trabert dreams like me? Even into my mid-teen years I remember as I would practice and compete that I would imagine what it was like to be Tony.I really never saw him play save that one exhibition. I never saw his technique but my dad kept the bar high  by mentioning Tony whenever I got a little too over confident. Had I won a state title dad would remark. No, I would reply .I would go back out to the wall to bolster up my strokes.
After my move to New York I went into the tennis business as a full time coach.It was in New York that  I  met  Robert "Bob" Ryland at the Midtown Tennis Club where we both worked as  teaching pros .
If you google Tony Trabert you will see that there are many entries on the great champion from Cincinnati.
The International Tennis Federation  has an event named after Tony.There is a sweater named after him! Tony has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated.  Tony was the lead commentator for CBS' US Open coverage for many years . Tony worked incredibly hard to achieve his titles and all the recognition that came along with them.Tony was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1970.
Bob Ryland traveled a similar but much different road. If you google Bob Ryland you will see my website set up for Bob and a couple entries about Bob from NBC-Philly and the Arthur Ashe Tennis Center.
Bob worked every bit as hard as Tony growing up.Bob's dream was to be able to compete on the world stage in tennis. He had the skills but his skin color got in the way.Bob's mother was black and this was enough to keep him out of the whites only genteel sport of tennis.
Bob won the Chicago boys high school prep title in 1937 and was the finalist in the Illinois High School championships in 1939. Then it was on to college for one year before he entered  World War Two where Bob served in the Army Air Corps special services. In 1945 Bob was stationed at Selfridge
Two times Bob won the American Tennis Association championships. The first time Bob was champion there is a picture of Bob with his proud father looking on. It reminded me of the photo of Arthur Ashe with his father after he won the 1968 US Open and his proud father embraced him.
 However there would be no opportunities for Bob or any black tennis champions to compete at Wimbledon, the French or the US championships. Eventually tennis opened it's doors to the black players.
Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe are very recognizable names that have transcended the sport of tennis.
Bob Ryland? The Jackie Robinson of tennis ? I guess so. Sad that Bob has to be referred to as the Jackie Robinson of tennis.How about Jackie as the Bob Ryland of baseball? Only as a point of reference.
That's right Bob Ryland was/is the first black professional tennis player.
Bob was not allowed in to the US championships until he was well into his 30's as an amateur player.
He lost in the first round of his first tournament ever on grass.
Bob kept competing while working his day job at the post office and practicing with the great Pancho Gonzalez. In 1959 a promoter named Jack March made history in Cleveland,Ohio when he selected Bob to compete in the World Pro Championships at the age of 39. Most tennis pros have already packed it in and are off playing golf by the age of 39. Bob eagerly competed in his second opportunity on the world stage.
He did lose that match but by helping to break down the color barrier in tennis he had won so much more.
In 20007 the International Tennis Hall of Fame(ITHF) hosted an exhibit at the US Open called  "Breaking the Barriers". Bob was included in the exhibit.
His picture was featured in the center of the exhibit and he was interviewed for a documentary for the exhibit.
As the two week event drew to a close their was a cocktail party to celebrate the exhibit.
Mayor David Dinkins gave a short speech. As I surveyed the room I noticed that Tony Trabert was seated near the front door. My two tennis heroes in the same room ! Tony was representing the Hall of Fame in his role as President of the ITHF.
If I could have only gotten these two great champions together then my night would have been perfect.
 A short while after the presentations were over I noticed that Tony was heading outside to make his way to the Ashe Stadium. I introduced myself as Dick Weiland's son .I had met Tony the previous year with my son at the Open but I am sure that he meets many people.I mentioned my dad was sick and Tony showed genuine concern for his classmate from Walnut. That was where our discussion ended.I regret not bringing Bob and Tony together.
After the exhibit closed I filled out a form to nominate Bob for the Hall of Fame. Many great champions have been blessed to be inducted into our sports Holy Grail.
It is now 2009 and I have a distinct feeling that Bob will never ever be enshrined in the Hall at Newport.
Bob is 89 and it seemed  as though 2009 was the perfect year since it was the 50th anniversary of when he broke the pro tennis color barrier.After the list of inductees was published I noticed no Bob on the list. I was told by someone at ITHF that he 2010 was a possibility. Will Bob's day ever come? To be excluded from the sport because of skin color during his playing days was hard enough. Now is the time for all the honorable members of the selection committee at the ITHF to do what is right and place Bob into the Hall of Fame.
I looked over the list for 2010 and Bob is still not there.
If not now then when?
Bob is a proud man. Since the day I met him he has always told it like it is.As Bob would say ,"that's the way it is Fred". I asked Bob if he was ever bitter that he never got to prove himself in the big leagues of tennis.
No he said," not bitter". This was as much a loss for the sport of tennis as it was for him.Now is the time to make amends. So to my two heroes let's get together on this thing. To fellow Walnut Hills High School Alum Tony Trabert and the ITHF  selection committee  I say, "do what's right".
Tony my hero.... make me proud.
To my coach,mentor and friend Bob Ryland I say, " keep the faith".
From the wall in back of my old house in Cincinnati I started dreaming of tennis greatness. Although I personally never achieved those heights it is now my dream that another can reach the summit.


Monday, November 30, 2009

Goldy





It was  early in  1973. I was a part of the Sunday basketball leagues at JCC in Cincinnati.I only remember one other player on my team.....Mark Goldman . I was all of 5 feet tall and probably 90 pounds. Goldy may have been a bit shorter and a bit bigger. I remember what he lacked in speed and mobility he made up for with good hands. Although I lacked speed as well . I could play good defense because I wanted to win to a degree that I would do whatever I could to keep the man(boy) I was guarding  from getting open. I was also used to competing in tournaments as a tennis player so whether it was long hours practicing or just spending hours on the court playing matches but I put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to win every time I competed.
Right now I want to apologize to every single guy that I have competed against or played on a team with in my entire life especially Goldy. Maybe not everybody but definitely Mark Goldman.
Goldy died on Saturday November 28th ,2009 over the long Thanksgiving weekend. Just  a few weeks back he called me to catch up on our lives.The last time I had seen or spoken to him was 25 plus years ago . It was probably during my time as a Sammy at Ohio State University.
Keith Gud my roommate was most likely hanging out with us that night at a bar on High Street .
Good times were had by all.

 But quite  a few years earlier Goldy  experienced my competitive personality firsthand on that winter  day in 1973. Our team was down by 7 points with somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 seconds on the clock.
Maybe it was extremely unrealistic to think we would come back but I did especially because  as a 12 year old sport fanatic I was  generally unrealistic  in my expectations .I still thought the Reds would win a World Series.I had just witnessed them fall short a few months back.Seeing Pete Rose fly out to end Game 7 against Oakland  was a heart breaker but .....those guys never gave up.
( see 1975-76 World Series Trophy on Pete Rose Way)
For some unexplained reason as Goldy our point guard brought the ball up the court he decided it was the right moment to set up at half court  and take a "Hail Mary" ....wing and a prayer shot. Goldy's shot was not  close and the other team got the ball back and eventually time ran out .
I flashback to the scene in The Bad News Bears when Tanner Boyle angrily snarls at Timmy Lupus after he drops an easy fly ball.
Now mind you Goldy was no Lupus. Goldy had skills.Lupus not so much.at all.
I remember yelling at Goldy .There may have been some four letter words.It is entirely possible that a 5 foot curly haired kid who weighed 90 pounds lost his temper enough to squarely punch a shorter stockier point  guard.
Unaware that the  said point guard had a mouth full of braces.The ensuing mayhem that took place on the first court at JCC must have looked ridiculous to all in the gym .Goldy was chasing me all over the gym.He was pissed.
I was pissed. I don't remember if he caught up to me.
One of us had a good sized cut on his finger.The other one a sore mouth .Eventually we made up and the season went on .We did not win the league that year.
When I spoke to Goldy during the 2009 MLB post season I had no idea that a few weeks later he would be gone forever.He wanted to get a group of guys together from the old JCC for a game of basketball or softball.
We talked for somewhere between 30 minutes and an hour and I think he had to go because he was on his way to referee a football game. He seemed to really enjoy the job .Plus he had a ticket broker business.
Goldystickets.com .During the Yankees playoff run I was on his site daily checking out his tickets and also thinking of possibly selling my seats through his website.
Goldy and I had connected through Facebook. I had asked him to post some pictures on his page.
He eventually did post some of himself. Sure he had gotten older like the rest of us  but It was good to see him as a grown  up man.
I know he had taken some knocks lately in his life and been through a tough divorce .But he was taken too soon .He still had  so much to offer.Let us not ever take our lives for granted.Goldy's death has further reminded me to "seize the day".
I still laugh  when I think of Goldy chasing me through the gym at JCC. Obviously not funny at the time but now 36 years later it ranks up there in my most memorable and humorous moments .
Goldy if I could right now I would pass the ball to you  anywhere on the court see you set up at and  heave the shot and pray for a swish or bank shot then celebrate with you as if we had won the NBA title for the Cincinnati Royals or the Bearcats of U.C.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Goodbye to Sal

Last Sunday night with my wife and our 9 year old boy I went to see our friends Sal and Angela Zavaglia
Sal has been ill for the past few years with cancer.My son has always looked up to him like a 3rd Grandpa.
In 1995 when our daughter was but a few months old we were looking for a caregiver to help us out with our new baby.The Westchester Child Care Council referred us to Angela . When we visited Angela to interview her as a prospective babysitter we knew right away that we had found the right person to help us raise our child.Angela offered us food,espresso,home made wine.It was a warm family atmosphere.
Angela was referred to as Nonna by the kids she cared for.Nonna is the Italian word for grandmother.
The kitchen is the center of activity in their home. Olivia our daughter quickly picked up the culture and language of her own Italian great- grandparents through her time spent with the Zavaglia's.
Sal and his son Tony ran a landscaping business and would spend their lunch hours with Angela,Olivia and her friend who I will call "Eve".Olivia and Eve became good friends at Nonna's.
Nonna and Sal's grandchildren visited from Canada and helped with Olivia and Eve.
Over the first 6 years they became our family.Olivia got bigger and did not require a caregiver yet we would still find time to bring her to Nonna's.Then our son was born and we started the cycle all over again. Our little guy became attached to the Zavaglia's and Sal would teach Matt about gardening and show him all the cool gadgets that they used in their landscaping business.
Nonna watched over Matt and Olivia with love and affection for the past 14 plus years.
Sal taught me how to make homemade wine. Sal also took me to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.
The Bronx' Little Italy  is a great place to shop for espresso,bread and cheeses from Italy.
I would say about fifty percent of my knowledge of Italian cuisine was given to me by my wife Sandra Spinelli and her family. The other fifty came from the Zavaglia's .
Sal is from Gioiosa in the Calabria region of Italy on the Ionian Sea .Nonna grew up in the next town.
From Italy to Larchmont.
Larchmont.......home of Wall Streeters . Home of the head of the US Treasury Secretary
Tim Geithner....Joan Rivers.....Lou Gehrig.....Norman Rockwell and our friends Sal and Nonna.
My son and my wife went up to the family room where Sal had been sleeping in their home .
Nonna told Sal that Matt our boy had come to see him .Sal reached out his hand for Matt and then my son hugged Sal.
Later that night at our house Matt could not fall asleep.He tried laying down with my wife but was still stirring.Then came down while I was watching Sunday Night Football.
I asked him if something was on his mind and walked him back up to his room .
As I tucked him in to bed he told me he was worried about what we were going to do if Sal died.
He started to cry. His whole body was shaking as he imagined a world without Sal.
When his crying subsided we spent some time talking about a similar talk I had with my mom when I was an eight year old.I had imagined life then without my parents and I remember feeling overwhelmed with sadness and fear.My mom helped to calm me down.Now it was my turn.
Mom passed away six years ago and when she died I felt the sadness of my eight year old self return.
As the week went on our world returned to it's normal routine. Late Thursday night as I was headed to sleep I noticed on our phone's caller ID that Nonna had called at 12:45 p.m. Thursday.It was too late to call their house so I figured that I would call in the morning.
I hoped it was Nonna taking me up on my offer to drive her somewhere or to pick up some stuff from the store. On Friday morning as I walked by the answering machine next to our computer I noticed a new message. I pressed the play button and my worst fears had come true.
Nonna was weeping her way through the message that Sal had died.She had taken the time to call us in her darkest hour.
Matt had woken up especially happy yesterday and I could not bring myself to tell him that his Sal was gone.I let Sandra know. Olivia had been without her cell phone for 10 days due to a bad battery.I had gotten it replaced by Sprint finally and handed it to her Friday morning.To a teenager being without their phone for a day is like a day of detox .Being without one for ten days is like detox boot camp
I didn't want to wipe the cell phone elixir euphoria off her face. But she had to know since her friends at school knew the Zavaglia's.When Sandra told her she was very upset.At school she did run into Sal and Nonna's next door neighbor and they commiserated about Sal.
Picking my son up at school was difficult .He was so happy and I knew that in one moment with one sentence sadness would be brought into his world.
I turned off the radio and put on some James Taylor." Winter,spring ,summer or fall .All you've got to do is call and I'll be there.You've got a friend".
It calmed my nerves. As my wife and daughter puled up to our driveway I knew Matt was about to to be saddened.It was best that we were all together .Matt took the news hard .Who wouldn't?
Last night we went by their house to drop off some food and spend time with their family .
I think Matt saw how Sal's family although very upset by his loss was still able to laugh and love each other and life would go on.Matt laughed a little .He cried some too. As we left their home he clutched my hand and we made our way home .He kept Sal's rosary card with him all night.Staring at his picture.
To Sal our dear friend. We will miss you. As your rosary card stated ," You are not gone but merely in the next room. When we speak of you we know that you will be with us always".
Rest in eternal peace.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Big Red Machine,Bob Shreve and a dead barber.


I don't really remember whether it was 1971 or 1972.My hair was kinda big though .My dad was raising money for the Kid Glove game that benefited little league baseball in Greater Cincinnati.I was allowed to be the bat boy for the celebrity game before the Reds played the Indians in an exhibition game.Celebrities included local D.J.s and TV news anchors and Bob Shreve of the Past Prime Playhouse.A late night staple on Channel 19 that showed "B" movies along with Bob and his cast of shtickmeisters to fill air time on late Saturday nights.I was assigned to hand out bats in the Cleveland dugout.I knew that across home plate as the game went on were some of the members of "The Big Red Machine".Every time I stepped out onto the field I looked up in awe at the huge stadium that would be the home of 3 World Series Championship teams.
I approached Bob Shreve with a bat and told him how I loved watching his show every Saturday.He told me how much fun they had doing the show and was very appreciative of my compliments.
I have no memory of who won the game.But after it was over I was allowed into the Reds dugout.As I crossed home plate I got a huge lump in my throat.I stepped down into the dugout and can only say that it reminds me of the scene in the movie "Field of Dreams" when Ray Kinsella sees all the players on his corn field and starts realizing they are some of the legends of the game and he is in total awe.I had a baseball,a glove,and a Bick ballpoint pen(Sharpies?) and as I stepped down into their special sanctuary I silently walked up to each and every player that was milling about.Bench,Perez,Morgan even Sparky ,the manager .I really wanted Pete Rose but he was too busy being interviewed by a few reporters so I kept my distance.As my time in the dugout came to a close I heard a loud voice calling out to me from a few feet away,"Hey kid come 'ere".I turned to see Davey Concepion sitting on top of the bench between a few players.He was motioning for me to come over to him.I hurried over to him to see what he wanted."Hey kid?", he asked."Yes Mr.Concepion?",I replied quizzically.He scratched his head with his voice loud enough so many of the surrounding players could hear him."I was being set up and didn't even know it.Me innocent,in awe of the greatness surrounding me had no idea."Kid let me ask you a tough question?",he prodded with a somewhat thick Spanish accent as he reached toward my 'fro of curly hair.
"Did you barber die?".The dugout erupted in laughter.I think I laughed.I didn't answer him as much as I remember myself being in awe of all these guys who were my heroes sharing a laugh with me even if it was at my expense.
Life went on after that day and I took my signed ball and glove home and instead of placing them in a case to save for the rest of my life.I continued using the glove.The ball I don't remember what happened to that artifact.I still collect baseball cards and memorabilia but the true memories are in the experiences not in a piece of paper or a ball but in your heart and mind.
Being the butt of a joke for one of the greatest teams that ever played the game of baseball and witnessing them compete in all those games in the 70's will stay with me forever.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sauce me dang it !!!



Somewhere deep in my brain is burned an image of an egg roll from The Mandarin Chinese restaurant on Reading Road in Cincinnati,Ohio.Before I learned how to speak or walk in 1960/61 I had sampled the cuisine of far off Asia right in North Avondale my home "hood".
But the reason egg rolls are stamped in my psyche are because on one such occasion before me and my attentive Mom sat a dish of hot mustard that my parents would mix with the sweet duck sauce to give the rolls the "heat with the sweet" flavor so popular with today's chefs. I screamed and wailed at my Mom and kept pointing at the Yellow pungent sauce. I was relentless in my infantile efforts to savor the concoction that looked like some sort of succulent pudding in my young innocent eyes.
At this point Mom could have gone in a few directions with my boorish behavior.She could have moved the sauce away from me,moved me away from the sauce,handed the sauce to the waiter to get it off the table.Mom went in a fourth direction.
Look I think that it was safe to assume that after a rather long day of mothering 3 young kids Mom deserved a cocktail or five. Especially those fruity kinds that are on the menu with bright pictures of each one and little pink umbrellas and plastic palm trees or pelicans floating in them.Maybe a chunk of pineapple or some shaved coconut.As I sit here writing this I am being transported to the beach in the Bahamas for a Pina Colada with a float of 151 rum on top or Caribe Coconut rum.
................Reggae interlude................. swaying palms,........... a dang coconut just hit me in my head.............Okay back to the story.
Mom handed me the spoon filled with the MUSTARD! I screamed and wailed as my sister Jeanne described it to me recently as ,"Strong enough to shake the Great Wall of China ".
I got some water and maybe even a bit of sweet sauce to deaden the painful burning sensation that had taken over my infant mouth.The meal went on as usual.I think my Dave who was watching the mayhem asked my mom if he could get a drag off her cigarette and was cashing in on her being  slightly  stressed   from my screaming and a few cocktails .Mom relented big bro puffed and luckily Family Services did not come into the home to investigate.My brother and I survived.He never smoked another cigarette in his life and went on to become a cardiologist and played tennis for Georgetown University.He also ran in 3 or 4 Boston Marathons.My sister after seeing me in such pain went on to become a Nurse Practitioner. Two professional healers in my family.
Oh well I never had a healing calling .I did however become obsessed with all things at 5 alarm chili heat level.The more spicier the more attractive.At 12 my brother took me to a taco shop for my birthday.I ordered one with the hottest hot sauce on the menu.On the first bite I knew the habaneros had won but after drowning my tongue in Pepsi I finished the hell hot taco and never looked back. Over the years I have become somewhat of "foodie" specialist of hot sauces.For our wedding my friend Dan Katz gave us 30 hot sauces that he schlepped from New Orleans to New York City . Best gift ever .......for me.Dan had of course witnessed me once guzzle an entire bottle of Tabasco sauce at Chili Time Restaurant in Cincinnati after a night out with the boys.Hot sauce really has a use in almost every meal.I keep a bottle on the table in our kitchen.Plus a jar of chipotle powder.Every once in a while my wife moves it back into the cabinet where it does not belong.
It may seem trivial to be writing about a condiment.
Passionate love affair is a word that I don't easily use to describe most anything so work with me here people.When I travel around the USA or overseas I make it a point to always visit a food market on the first day to familiarize myself with whatever different foods and beverages are consumed in that locale.
Blah blah beer,wine,snacks and hot sauce .My wife went on a business trip a few years back to Mall of the America in Minnesota.They had a hot sauce shop. She approached one of the clerks and asked which was the spiciest hot sauce for sale.
The clerk reached for the key to a cage where under lock and key the hottest of all hotties was locked up to protect the innocent amateur hot sauce shoppers/tourists from casually strolling in to gander at the cute short thick bottle with the nuclear bomb caution label.
The clerk warned her to use it sparingly.He mentioned that a man had died from ingesting a spoonful of the potion which contained an infusion of habanero peppers.They basically strain out all the ingredients except the oily essence of habanero peppers."Use a toothpick",he suggested.
Recounting this advice to me my wife truly seemed concerned for my physical safety.So I went into the cabinet and retrieved a toothpick.
I slowly dipped the toothpick into the bottle and pulled it carefully out of the bottle and towards my mouth.I had even placed a beer as a chaser next to me in case the heat was too great for even my mouth to endure. As soon a the tip of the toothpick hit my tongue it felt as if
Mount Haleakala had just erupted in my mouth.Wanting to be a man I would not really let on that I was in pain.I took a sip of beer and did not swallow.The beer inside my mouth would help put out my tongue.It wasn't working! Maybe a Chinese fire brigade would have done a better job? Peanut Butter,Ice cream,Milk,Yogurt all would have worked better but I am a man so a beer is a bit more macho.Tequila or Whiskey even more so. In my head I was screaming for my Mommy. The same Mommy that many years before had handed me the spoon of hot Mustard and sent me down this long,dark path to capsaicin Hades.
Had I not learned at the tender age of zero not to play with fire? Apparently not!
I am sure when I told this tale to my Mom that she delighted in being the one to introduce me to
all things spicy.
A few years back I went looking for that bottle and could not locate it anywhere in our home.
I can only imagine some unsuspecting friend or family member without the benefit of a lock and key pouring Da'Bomb on a Taco or some other culinary delight.
My daughter has recently become enamored with my Chipotle sauces and I feel somewhat proud that a Red Hot Chili Pepper torch has been passed to a new generation of Weiland's.
As I reach over to pour some heat on my food I take a bite and a tear comes to my eye.
Is it the nostalgia of seeing my daughter follow in my footsteps (food cravings) or is it because this particular Habanero is burning my mouth,nasal cavities and eyes .
A bit of both I guess .

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Deep Below West 10th Street Chapter One

This is one of those things that really is very hard to convey to the reader.If you have ever seen the video from SNL, "Lazy Sunday" you can see the front of my apartment at the beginning of the video (I will post the link to Lazy Sunday at the bottom of the page).
This was no ordinary city dwelling but a subterranean cave. The cave at 207 West 10th Street was my first real apartment in New York City(5 1/2 years). Through a rental service I did a short trial stay in a 5th floor walk up apartment for 2 and a half months where the guy who lived there was off doing opera in Italy.I had 2 roommates that grew up together in Connecticut. Mark was a sort of Keith Hernandez/Tom Selleck looking guy. Linda was older than Mark and to me she had an older sister vibe. Linda had split up with her boyfriend Brendan or as her friends nicknamed him "The Arena" after the Brendan Byrne Arena.Now known as Continental Airlines/Meadowlands Arena.They would get stoned and then hook up.We lived above a Korean grocery and First Wok Chinese restaurant at 78th Street and 3rd Avenue.Roaches had taken over the kitchen and I was afraid to turn the lights on at night cause they would scatter in all directions.With no A/C in my room that had one tiny window facing a wall in an alley I was roasting in the August heat of a concrete jungle.My window fan blew hot air.Two cold showers a night did not really help. But hell I was living in New York City and I would endure the heat,the roaches,the fornicating stoner roommates .Whatever NYC threw at me I could handle it.I survived living in the biggest frat house at Ohio State so co-existing with 70 -80 people was second nature.
As my trial period was coming into it's final few weeks I started to search for other options with the rental service Roommate Finders.One thing that I really wanted was to live in Greenwich Village.My first night ever in New York as a tourist was spent with my boyhood pal Phil Napoli walking the streets of the Village.The streets were teeming with life ,...........and bars .Coming from Cincinnati,Ohio I had never experienced a place anywhere that prepared me for the Village.Not visiting my brother and sister at Georgetown.Not even the nightlife on High Street at Ohio State where my big bro was in med school.
So the rental service gave me some names and phone numbers.Normally I remember every minute detail but I think that some of the places I checked out were so bad that I have blocked them out or made no impression at all.But when I walked into Mike Skaar's office on the opposite side of 10th Street I knew I had found my new home.Mike and his business partner Jerry were very welcoming and un-business like.I had spent part of that summer before moving to New York on August 15th working as a rental agent in my cousin David's apartment complex Clifton Colony by the University of Cincinnati.I was learning the ins and outs so to speak of the rental game.I also realized that being honest and basically nice to people made my days more enjoyable and made it easier to get clients.Mike and Jerry were not bullshit artists.Mike showed me across the street.He explained that Jerry and himself had been hippies.Jerry I think was a schoolteacher.They bought this 6 story building and many of the tenants were students.Many were from Scandinavia.Mike was from a Swedish background.On the basement floor they had converted an office space into 7 bedrooms of varying sizes with a patio out back that had some trees and 1 hour a day of sun kind of like in jail when you get an hour in the yard.The smallest cave was about the size of a small walk in closet.Twin bed on a platform with drawers underneath and no window.The biggest room was in the back and had a queen size waterbed built into a platform and A/C in a window facing the back patio .Because it was below street level there was no sunlight.It was a cave like existence.The closet cave rented for 250/month.The waterbed cave was 500/month.My cavemmates were from all over god's green earth and from all walks of life.Nuns,Vietnam Vets, Marines back from the Mideast conflict in Lebanon,Divorcees,Alcoholics,Video techs.
Japanese,SouthAfricans,Italians,Danes,South Africans escaping apartheid,Long Islanders!Then there was me a simple innocent kid from Cincinnati, Ohio.
My first night on 10th Street was October 31st.The Village hosts a massive Halloween parade every year with upwards of a million people taking to the streets to either march in the parade or join in the revelry.It was around 8p.m. when I ventured out to have dinner and not realizing their was a parade going directly in front of my house I stood there for a full hour staring at the men that were dressed in drag on the street in front of my building.It was like going to a runway show at Fashion Week except this one was choreographed like a lavish Broadway show and it had no real women.I guess that in my rush to live in the Village I had not researched or really gone west of Seventh Avenue....ever!So I didn't realize that Christopher Street which was one block south of 10th Street was the hub of the gay community in New York City.I can use an old cliche here when I say that I had friends that were gay,frat brothers that were gay,my mom was an actor/writer/director and many of her co-artists were gay.
I ended up looking at it this way.There were plenty of women in New York and in my immediate vicinity I would have little or no competition in meeting them except.............. maybe from my lesbian ex-girlfriend from Ohio but I am saving that story for my next chapter.

Two links
1. Google maps link below: windows below sidewalk to left of entry door were mine.Stairway going down to the left of the windows was our front door.
http://maps.google.com/maps?q=207+west+10th+st.10014&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&ie=UTF-8&split=0&gl=us&ei=Bc-xSp-0JZivtgfZ8pmSCA&sa=X&oi=geocode_result&ct=title&resnum=1

2. Lazy Sunday video :
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xEum4kO88LE&feature=related

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Jew and the Wasp


So here it was 1999 and I was competing in my usual round of summer tournaments on the USTA-Eastern men's circuit.I had done pretty well in a grass court event at Forest Hills making it through the first 3 rounds to get into the quarterfinals and facing one of the top seeds.
I had lost to a highly ranked player Ed Perpetua but felt as if I could at the least win a round or two in the National grass event at The Rockaway Hunting Club which is the oldest Country Club in the USA.I noticed on the tournament form that the matches began on......Yom Kippur. Holiest day of the year for my people.They were giving exemptions to Jews to play on Sunday before the tournament began.I was going to be away that weekend and in my tennis mind the option for me was play on Monday(the holy day).It seemed logical to me to act as if the the day of atonement would survive without me.My ancestors from Poland,Russia,Lithuania,Nelsonville,Ohio and Cincinnati were not there to tell me to stay home,pray,fast,eat later,put away my rackets!My parents were in Ohio so it was up to me to decide how to live my life.I chose to play tennis.My opponent Randy Vigmostad had world class skills.I fought as hard as I could but that wasn't enough to beat this guy.I got 3 games in 2 sets.I had played Randy 13 years earlier and got 1 game in 2 sets so! I did better?.................
I still got my ass whooped.After my match my friend Chris Gilroy asked me if I wanted to grab a bite in the clubhouse of the Waspiest country club in the good old United States of America on Yom freakin' Kippur the holiest of all Jewish Holy days.You know what I figured I had already broken the sin barrier so........I went for the gusto.I didn't only have lunch.I had the friggin'buffet lunch.All the goddamn food and drink that I could eat.I had a burger(no bacon) and I think I had a second helping.Dessert....I had pie.After stuffing my face I went back with Chris to the courts and helped him warm up for his next match.I grabbed a soda from a cooler by the court and popped it open and took a sip.I went back to continue the warm up and after ten more minutes Chris went on his way.I noticed a yellow Jacket on my soda can and I shooed it away and grabbed the can to guzzle the sweet nectar.What I felt next was akin to getting stabbed in my throat.Another wasp was inside the can and I swallowed the little S.O.B.! My friends who were with me court side thought I was joking.I went into the locker room and stuck my finger down my throat to extract the stinger.Mark Harrison one of the players gave me a Benadryl which I quickly swallowed in case my throat closed up.I started guzzling water to flush out the wasp.I sat at the tournament desk for a half hour so they could monitor me in case I stopped breathing or swallowing.I have never been shot or stabbed but this seemed like it was pretty close to that pain level.When I got in my car I kept drinking water and had to pull off the highway a few times to find a bathroom.I picked up my daughter at daycare and still could not talk.I could whisper.When I got home and I explained to my wife my dilemma.Dinner at my cousin Martha's was in an hour to break the fast.I could lie.I could call in sick.I could tell the truth.The truth shall set you free.I opted for the truth and a martini or five to dull the pain.We ate.We laughed.We reflected.One guy wanted to use my story.Sorry dude it is all mine.On the holiest of Jewish holy days a Wasp taught me a lesson in the Waspiest place in America. Have I played tennis on Yom Kippur since then? Did I go develop full leg cramps once a few years after because I did two and a half hours of hitting lessons without eating or drinking?
......No comment.
Nowadays on the holiest of days I rest,I pray,I reflect,I wait to eat and slowly ,cautiously sip that first Martini (with 3 olives) and I remember to laugh..............even about my friend..... the Wasp.

Monday, August 10, 2009

My grandmother taught me how to hitchhike...my dad helped too!



It was the summer of 1968 and we had just finished playing tennis and swimming .My dad and I went for a walk in our neighborhood.About 7-8 minutes in to the walk and probably realizing that I may not be up to the task of completing the 1.6 mile loop to the top of Rose Hill and Beechwood Avenues in Cincinnati's North Avondale my dad proposed an alternative.
Dad said if I stuck out my thumb that soon enough someone would drive by .They would stop,ask where we were headed and take us home safely.
Hitchhiking tip #1....it is easier when you know the people that give you the ride.
It helped that this was the same neighborhood and streets that my dad had grown up on as a young boy.Basically everyone knew everyone.
So we stuck out our thumb at the first car that passed and as promised by dad our ride was secured.Another time my dad's hitchhiking/negotiating skills got us a ride home from an NBA game in Cincinnati.For some reason I do not remember.Broken down car, no snow tires,empty gas tank?Oscar the" Big O" Robertson was coming out of the game and dad approached the big guy. It turned out my mom was in a dance class with his wife and this translated to a connection and we hitched a ride in his MGb.My brother and  me contorted into the back seat for the better part of 15 minutes.
Hitchhiking tip#2....make sure there is ample room in the car for you to sit (not in the fetal position)Tip # 2A......asking people you don't know but can convince them you do to get a ride is acceptable and in my mind hitchin' a ride after all.
So I began to delve deeper into the hitchhiking phenomenon that had entered my consciousness.I sought out advice from a higher authority.There was no Ask.com or Google to consult.No hitchhiker blogs or forums.Like the one I read about in the Sunday NY Times travel section on August 9Th 2009.The source was .....Grandma Emma Pastor a.k.a. Mamoo.
She probably had been doing it all her life.Growing up in Cincinnati without a car I can imagine Mamoo sticking out her thumb when rides were scarce and money for the trolley was scarcer.
As a teenager she had told me on a number of occasions how she went to this place or that place."But Mamoo",I would say,"You don't drive".Then she would fill me in on her M.O.(modus operandi).She would spot a neighbor getting into their car and as they pulled away Mamoo would stick out her thumb.Once at her destination she would find her unsuspecting ride home.She would start up a conversation with someone she had sized up in let's say the supermarket.Then as she checked out she would watch them as they left the store and then go towards where their car would exit the parking lot and then her hitching digit would protrude.
At the time I thought I had the coolest Grandma in the world.I never really had to use my thumb since I had a car,a bike,my parents.I also found that when stranded I would use it as an opportunity to train for my tennis by running to any destination.After moving to NYC in the 80s I frequently walked or ran everywhere.Which leads me to the next bit of advice.
Hitchhiking tip #3......getting rides from strangers may be hazardous to your health.
In 1989 my Grandma Mamoo passed away and with her she took all of her great stories of life and growing up in Cincinnati.Tales of renting real estate to hippies during the late 60s.Working with a guy named Alvin Youkliss(Great-grandpa of the fiery Red Sox player Kevin..Go Yankees!) tales of my Grandpa Roy going hunting and fishing with gangsters.Her tales of romance from boyfriends before my Grandpa Roy(oversharing?),life during the Great Depression and two World Wars.
Which leads me to this next conclusion.....................
Hitchhiking tip #4...........write down all the stories that are told by engaging older relatives.Once they leave this earth you can't ask them to retell their tales.
All Photos � 1950-2007 David S. Weiland. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Welcome to the "Jungle".....Bob's jungle

When I moved to New York my coach Bob Ryland would speak at great lengths about how he played tennis at "The Jungle".It was a proving ground where many young players mixed with older more experienced players.Sitting on the benches between the sets of courts you could pick up a game or sit and listen to players games get verbally picked apart by other bench squatters.I did end up spending a limited amount of time at the jungle in Harlem on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard.Most days I spent practicing were at Midtown Tennis Club or East River Park along the FDR Drive(Bob's jungle).I became the king of the FDR jungle in the mid 80s.Eventually I stopped going altogether.I began traveling to many tournaments that took up the better part of a week and weekend.Country club tennis as Bob called it was not a breeding ground for tournament players.The public parks are where Bob"made his bones" as a tennis player even practicing with the legendary pro Pancho Gonzalez in the L.A. public parks .Getting to Bob's jungle was not easy.Walking there meant going through Alphabet City which was notorious for drugs and crime.Public transportation to Bob's jungle was not a great option .Bob actually had a pre-game ritual which at first seemed crazy until I realized that the foot bridge to his jungle had been knocked out by a car.The ritual involved crossing 6 lanes of the FDR highway and somehow avoiding getting grazed by a car doing 65mph.It was that or walk a half mile north to the next bridge. So I chose to Bob's path .Once safely on the other side there was a mix of relief and adrenaline pumping nausea that reduced the time needed to warm up on the court before a match.I guess that is a bit of an understatement.Who needs the running of the bulls in Pamplona to get your heart racing?Once there I was greeted by a crazy mix of Lower East Side tennis nuts.It was like West Side Story meets West Side Tennis Club.I have to say as I sit here that I miss the eclectic aura of Bob's jungle.Families barbecuing next to the courts playing loud music on boom boxes blasting Salsa music.Junkies and homeless people coming up to the fence to beg for money or smokes.Seaplanes landing in the East River.Subways rumbling overhead.Boats,cars,motorcycles and helicopters rocking my senses.When I went out of the city to play in a tournament it was very hard at first to concentrate without any noise.I missed the Riff Raff!
Midtown Tennis Club's rooftop courts were noisy(especially at rush hour)but Bob's jungle was bedlam.I don't miss holding my breath to pee in the bathroom.I miss the guys selling flavored shaved ice off a cart.Sour sop and Guanabana were my favorite flavors.My strokes got fine tuned on the cracked courts at Bob's jungle while I played my favorite sport to the rhythms of a Latin beat .I miss seeing a husky,beer bellied tall guy named Juan Baez chain smoking then going out to kick some young guys butt with his slice and dice routine.Angel (do not know his last name) was another guy that was every bit as talented as any guy I saw on the Satellite tour but had possible(?) drug issues.He regularly beat up on me when I first arrived on the scene.In 1986 I beat another tough guy from Bob's jungle named Jose in the finals of the park championships and felt a bit like Kung Fu snatching the pebble from his master's hand and leaving the Dojo for good.Under the noisy Williamsburgh Bridge I made my tennis bones on that day.After that day I rarely made it back to cross the FDR. I heard Juan Baez died of a heart attack while playing on the courts at Bob's jungle.Eventually they fixed the foot bridge so the FDR dash was no longer needed. Bob moved uptown.I moved out of Manhattan altogether.Now years later it all seems like a dream.

Get Bob Ryland in the International Tennis Hall of Fame
BobRylandWorldTour.Com

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Standup 101 to Seth Schultz' Pips on Sheepshead Bay,Brooklyn


A few years back I woke up in a cold sweat.A recurring dream that left me wandering through the halls of Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati jolted me again.In the bad dream I had not finished a test in Algebra and therefore was denied my diploma.I think Mr.Iacobucci would probably laugh if he knew his class still torments me.How did I overcome my weekly hellish nightmares of being mathematically challenged?Therapy?Prescription drugs?Crawling in a dark hole clutching my blankie and sucking my thumb while shivering in a pool of sweat until I let out a primal scream and force the overly cranky old man two houses away to call 911 again !I searched deep in my soul to find a way to let go of this gut wrenching feeling.The answer it turned out wasn't very complicated.Make fun of myself.Accept my faults in a very public way.Others had made fun of me with ease all my life.So...what was so tough?
Ever since I saw Chevy Chase deliver zingers on Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live I was sold on the art of delivering a good one liner even if the bulls eye was pointed directly at me.Growing up in Ohio I never realized how many bitter,sarcastic people there were in the world.Then I migrated to New York.Bitterness and sarcasm are worn as badges of honor in New York.Bitter? Not me a simple country boy from Ohio.
I followed Don Rickle's  comedy act from as far back in my life as I can remember.On my parents honeymoon Rickle's even picked on my dad when they were seated in the front row.Poor dad!I had been on stage since starting as a 5 year old in a play called 'Weather or Not" dressed as a Native American boy with my buddy Chris Kraus for Kay King's Mini Mummers theater troupe then onto doing musicals and theater classes in high school were challenging and fun.Doing plays also kept my actor/director/writer mom happy about my involvement in her craft.I was never ever really the class clown .Although I could deliver some one liners when necessary and once even lifted a Weekend Update bit for a performance in a theater class. My teacher Marlene Schmalo was unaware of the source and encouraged me to follow the comedy trail.I didn't listen to her.But growing up in Cincinnati there must have been something in the water because I had heard of about 8 or 9 guys I knew of that felt compelled to try their hand at stand up comedy.I saw one guy that I had played in a boys tennis tournament on Comedy Central(Tom Agna)then another younger kid from my high school on David Letterman(Bobby Tessel).If they made it to the big show then couldn't I make it?I know that the general route on the road to success as a stand up comic(my math nightmare therapy) begins with open mikes.Performing in front of fifteen mostly jaded pissed off other wannabe comics and maybe 3-4 real customers is not a great way to spend a cold Tuesday night in Brooklyn's Sheepshead Bay section where a rowdy drunk tries to walk on stage and grab you .Or being the final performer of the night in a "juice" bar with no one watching you but the waitresses .But performing in a sold out night club on a Saturday night in New York City's Greenwich Village and "killing" the room is a great night.Believe me that the high you feel is possibly better than any feeling in the world.Getting to the point where you do "kill" a room requires a lot of the lonely nights as I mentioned above.Also taking the time to develop some material that you can use in your "set". When I moved to New York I went as a spectator to two comedy clubs on a semi-regular basis. The Comic Strip and Comedy Cellar were my destinations for a night of laughs .I also accompanied two friends of mine to some open mike nights.I wondered what it would be like to be up on stage doing stand up. I had been on stage as a high school actor so I was not intimidated being in front of a large crowd of people .Being funny was another matter entirely.In the winter of 1994 I noticed that New York University offered a class in stand up comedy through it's Adult Education program . I had seen Punch Line" with Tom Hank's and Sally Fields. Sally's  son was in our class he said the movie made him want to do stand up a few weeks later he dropped out!One guy in particular that I talked to a lot in class was Rich Guzzi.He was an energetic fast talking guy from Long Island and he had some pretty good material.He also started doing open mikes before the class final had taken place.Rich kept me motivated  to spend time writing and be prepared for our big night.I have played tennis matches in front of a few hundred people .Performed in plays in front of 500 .Given speeches in front of up to two thousand .Compared to getting up in a dark club in front of 100 people those other events paled in comparison .Many of us were very nervous.Some guys had a drink to calm their nerves.I was nervous that a drink might make me forget ...everything!One guy Lou even taped his "set"list to the stage floor in big letters .When I got up there and did my set I remember looking out and seeing my family,friends and co-workers in the crowd.I calmly delivered my "set" and remember people laughing.I have a videotape to prove it.Then it was over and I had that drink .Best Corona I ever had .We all celebrated at a bar after the show and then parted ways to go out into the world of comedy and life.
Rich Guzzi mentioned an open mike at a place called Pips in Brooklyn .Pips was known as the first comedy club in America. Seth Schultz was the owner and the club's Master of Ceremonies .He was also a great guy that took us under his wing.Over the next year Seth helped me develop material and confidence in my ability to become a comic. Seth let me show up 2-3 nights a week to perform.I looked up to him like an older brother.It hit me like a bomb shell when Seth announced he was selling Pips.After he sold the club he moved to L.A. and I never saw Seth again in person.I looked for other places to perform and feel as comfortable flexing my comedy muscles but none will ever be as special as the small club on Emmons Avenue.I even went Pips after it was sold but without Seth it was not the same.Seth made it onto an episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" with Larry David.He made a film about his friend Andy Kaufman from "Taxi" fame.It was assumed that big things were going to happen for Seth.He died a couple of years ago.I did some auditions at comedy clubs in Manhattan and worked out of a cabaret club called "Roses Turn".The atmosphere was low key and unpredictable like Pips.My wife got to see me on a night when performing to a full house I "killed".I was happy that my life partner had witnessed a room full of strangers laughing at my stories(mostly about us)and I did not drop any f-bombs in my act.More and more I realized I wanted to spend my spare time with my family so I packed it in.It has been over 10 years since I got up on stage to do stand up.Wait!That sounds like a confession in a 12 step program!Kids,work,being a devoted husband and too many late nights all contributed to the demise of my comedy "journey".I don't really recall the last time Algebra woke me up quivering and screaming "IACCOBUCCI" in the middle of the night.So I guess comedy cured my night terrors?
And to my friend Seth who is up in God's country.Thanks for the smiles!How can I ever repay you buddy?
Fred"Wildman"(my stage name)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Searching for Stevie Brown but finding Bob Ryland




1976 is a year I will never let slip away from my memory.It was when I turned 16 and got my driver's license and independence.1976 was a year in which I went to see the movie “Rocky” with my tennis buddy Stevie Brown that inspired me to dedicate myself to fitness/tennis and never giving up on my dreams .
“Rocky” had me getting up before school every morning to run a 1.6 mile loop around my Cincinnati neighborhood .I even went so far as to ingest the raw egg diet of Mr. Balboa before many of those early morning training sessions..
I joined a gym and did weight training every other day .
Stevie Brown and I were headed in opposite directions on the tennis court in 1976.Stevie with his smooth classic strokes was the star of our high school team.
Me with the mentality of a brick wall was content to hit balls until my opponents either got bored ,frustrated or just plain angry with my ability to return every ball sent my way until the cows came home.
My defining moment in tennis was in 1973. Reaching the finals of the boys city championships .It was a dream I had envisioned since my brother had done it twice .
I never dreamed of winning .Getting to the finals was the “vision” .
That is where Stevie entered the picture ..On the other half of the tournament was a name I didn’t bother to look for or expect to lock horns with at all .
I beat a cocky kid in the quarters named Andy Porter who was talking about who he was going to play in the next round in the car ride to our alternate match site .As if beating me was a foregone conclusion .Only problem for Andy Porter was I wanted to win the damn match more than him .
The guy I faced after Porter was a pushover .Then came trouble with a capital "T"(or "S")
A year younger and about a half foot shorter than me . Stevie Brown kicked my butt .
I was not cocky .I didn't assume I would beat Stevie .I had achieved my goal of getting to the finals just like big brother Dave .
In 1976 I had let that memory fade pretty far away .Rocky was calling out to me .
Stevie now Steve was on his way to leading our high school team to the city and state championships.I was drinking a lot of raw eggs and humming the Rocky theme “Gonna Fly Now”.
Many years had passed and I don’t really know what happened to Steve. "Rocky” was still around in some shape or form (or Rambo).I was working at Midtown Tennis Club in New York and noticed an article on the wall about Bob Ryland who was a pro at Midtown.
The headline “Arthur Ashe’s dream : to beat Bob Ryland “ hit me like a sledgehammer .
The article said Bob was the first black professional tennis player .
Jackie Robinson of my sport ....sledgehammer again !
After a few weeks I got up the courage to ask Bob to hit with me .I should have kept my mouth shut.
It was the most torturous one hour of tennis I ever encountered .Bob only hit the ball that day with sidespin on both forehand and backhand .If I did get in position to hit a shot it was out of sheer luck .
Like Micky the trainer in “Rocky”made him chase a live chicken all over the yard Bob’s shots were like hundreds of chickens and with each missed shot my frustration boiled over .
I yelled at him to," play tennis like a man" .He laughed and continued to torture me with his sidearmed missiles .
After that I asked Bob to help coach me for some USTA men’s events .
Bob’s answer was “NO” .
He mentioned an event in Brooklyn that I should enter on an indoor linoleum court.
Not the tennis I grew up with in O-H-I-O.
That court was faster than greased lightning and I lost 6-0,6-0 to a guy named Michael Clarke.
I pretty much begged Bob on the subway ride home to help me get some game.
Bob finally agreed as we passed under the East River and back to the safety of the slow clay courts at Midtown Tennis .
One day as I was relaxing before teaching junior groups Bob walked by me with a tennis ball hopper filled with 100 balls . “Let’s go”, he said and motioned to the court.
I jumped up and quickly followed the “Master” onto court 3 .
Bob then proceeded to hit balls to the farthest reaches of the court and simply said ,”hit the ball as hard as you can”.
I did and 100 balls and 10 minutes later I was gasping for air and sweating profusely.
I limped off to teach my class that day .Over the next few months Bob repeated that drill and added other drills along with some sound technical advice .
Since most of my lessons were hitting lessons I could practice Bob’s methods .
Most of the pros at the club could not understand my desire to play and train in my free time since I was already working seven days a week.
I was searching for my defining moment. Where are you Stevie?
1985 was a year in which I lost eighteen first round USTA men’s matches.Ouch! Bob’s advice was simple ,”hit the ball hard and don’t be afraid”.
Winning was never discussed .Losing was not hitting the ball hard .I obliged.
That all changed when I accompanied Bob to the US Open to see Bruce Foxworth .
Bob was helping Bruce get through his early round matches .
Bruce was a cool customer on the court .He listened to Bob and was winning against some big name guys .
As we left the grounds one day I mentioned my desire to get to the Open as a player .
Bob shook his head ,”maybe one day ...keep hittin’ the ball kid “.
Stadium Tennis Center in the Bronx.In the shadows of Yankee Stadium is where my defining moment emerged .
Bob gave me a simple strategy ,”hit the ball down the middle of the court”.Down the middle until my opponent got bored , frustrated or angry with my ability to get every ball back in play until the cows came home.
My opponent was Michael Clarke of the earlier 6-0,6-0 linoleum smashfest at my expense .
This time with Bob in my corner the score was 6-1,6-1 for me.
Maybe 1973 was not my defining moment in tennis . Steve Brown had moved on to bigger and better moments and I guess that I had as well .
I have heard it said that you learn more from losses than from your wins.
I learned to fight harder . To train harder and develop a more complete game .
I learned that in my first year of tournament play when I lost seventeen times in the first round of USTA-Eastern men’s events .I thought about quitting many times during that year .Each time I lost I would speak to Bob and his first question would be ,”when is your next tournament ?”.
I never said to him ,”I quit” .
Instead I started entering tournaments in groups so after one was over I would be ready to move right into the next event .
Bob had the discipline of a champion and his mindset was rubbing off on me.
Not just in tennis but into all areas of my life .
If you think like a champion and train like a champion then eventually you will become a champion.
I spent many years searching for a way to erase the loss to Steve Brown.
In 2009 and many years removed from that loss in 1973 I am now honored that I could compete against my friend in such a meaningful match .
I never found a way to erase that loss but instead I found a tennis legend that changed my life .
In 1985 Bob Ryland helped me to look beyond Steve Brown.......and Rocky.
Arthur Ashe's hero when he was growing up was Bob Ryland now I know why.

Bob Ryland with Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe and Arthur Ashe in 1986 at Midtown Tenni2008 Open
BobRylandWorldTour.com/pdf

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day Mom , Marcia,Sha Sha


I dedicate this to my Mom :
I want to thank my mom for giving me life. Her love was unconditional and I will always know that she was my biggest fan and supported my hopes and dreams .
She nursed me and my siblings through our various childhood ailments .She carpooled countless trips to school,sporting events,and endless other activities of my youth .
When I wanted to learn tennis she got me a lesson with our pro .When I (as a six year old) did not like some of the instructions given by the pro she became my personal coach . I was not always the easiest guy to be around .But my mom put up with my adolescent mood swings. When she once gave me a haircut (a buzzcut) at twelve years old. I swore ,"that she would never ever cut my (insert four letter expletive).... hair again!!!" . She didn't . Thanks for respecting my wishes Mom .
I loved to see my mom perform on the stage .She took her craft seriously and was on her way to big things as an actor , writer and director . I loved to see my parents dance .They were always the best dancers at parties and I was always proud to see people in awe of their moves.
When I went on the satellite tennis circuit my mom once showed up at a tournament and was my warmup partner before my match . After I lost she drilled me on the court to improve for my next event.After I won a match the next week with her watching I knew her helping me had paid off .
In 1988 she became paralyzed below the waist.Gone were her days of dancing with dad ,playing two sets of tennis with our family,climbing mountains with my brother in some far flung place,trekking off to Italy with my sister.Simple everyday activities became chores and she handled them with grace .When my wife and I got married it was too difficult for her to make the trip to our wedding.I was very sad that paralysis had taken away my mom's independence. My wife Sandra never saw my mom when she was able to walk, play tennis or dance . Eventually mom gained some strength back.
She even learned how to drive a van with the aid of hand controls.
Being in a chair did not stop her from being creative .She produced a documentary with my Aunt Lois on how to deal with being paralyzed .They won an international award for the video . When she proudly accepted the award in Los Angeles I was there by her side and was never more proud of her . When my daughter was born she made a few trips up to New York to see her cute Olivia.
On every family trip to Cincinnati our first stop was always to see my mom . Getting unpacked could wait .Seeing friends could wait .Getting Skyline chili could wait . As time went by and Mom got more frail it became apparent that each  visit could be our last one to see  our  beloved  Sha Sha (as her grandchildren called her)  .
In 2003 my siblings and I took our families to beautiful Sanibel Island for spring break .During that trip it became clear to us that mom was struggling badly.My brother Doctor Dave flew back to Cincinnati to check Mom into the hospital.
I never believed my Mom would die .To me she was always bigger than life.
My mom had slipped into a coma on a Sunday night at her home.
The news that she had died two days later came from my sister Jeanne , a nurse practitioner who was with her at the end.
Over  four hundred people came to her memorial service at Hebrew Union College.
Standing room only.Mom would have loved it.
Mom I miss your love,support,warmth,humor,smiles,phone calls ,letters,visits.I even miss your sadness .I would rather have your tears and sadness than not have you at all.
After five and a half years I still miss you Mom,Marcia,Sha Sha and think of you often.I put the colorful urn on the mantel at our ski house in the Pocono Mountains so you are with us always on our weekend retreats.
On your special day we wish you love.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Jerry! Jerry!

It was 1971 and I had just met Hubert H. Humphrey(HHH) the Vice-President of the good ol' USA under LBJ . At an after party for the event for HHH I was being introduced to many politicians and political "types" . I was getting a few autographs to accompany the one I got from HHH on his American Airlines ticket jacket . A younger adult came up to me and said,"hey you want my autograph ?".
"Who are you?",I responded . Someone overheard our exchange and came up to fill me in .
"This is Jerry Springer and he is running for city council " , the guy explained .
I shook my head and as any 10 year old autograph hound would do I held out the pen in my hand and let Jerry sign .
Many years later Jerry would use that same hand to sign a check that would get him in a load of hot water but this "John Hancock" was most likely one of the first that Jerry had ever signed .
I still have the autograph tucked away in a closet somewhere in my house .
A few weeks passed and I forgot about Jerry and all things beyond the fourth grade that mattered to me at the time...UC Bearcat basketball, Batman and any type of  candy.
My dad came home from work and announced we were having a guest for dinner that night .
It was some guy running for city council and he was helping him raise money .
A little while later in walked Jerry Springer .No chants of "Jerry,Jerry".No Steve the security guy holding back crazy men going after the women they love after discovering they have been cheating on them with their brother's girlfriends .
I don't remember what we had for dinner.My mom probably made a brisket or chicken with herbs in a white wine sauce . Jerry eats with with a knife and fork just like every other civilized human being (not including Springer show bizarros).
Okay so dinner is ending and my mom who was an actress mentions that she is holding a Psychodrama theater workshop in our basement after dinner . She wonders aloud if Jerry would like to join in .My dad probably was not too excited to see this exchange between my mom and "The Ringmaster" take place . Jerry instantly accepted her offer. After dinner the theater people started filing in and must have been wondering why the guy who ran for U.S. Congress in the last election was in our basement as they entered their weekly angst fest .
I had to witness this class first hand so I plopped my ten year old frame on the floor and watched closely as the group was led through a series of "drama drills" I will call them .
At one point I remember seeing Jerry laying on the floor and I think they were telling us to pretend to be babies or something and I started laughing .I did not get kicked out so it must have been okay to giggle .
What if Steve from the "Jerry" show ran in grabbed me and pulled me out of the room?
Jerry left the class and I went back to my life of UC Bearcats,fourth grade french and pixie stix.
He got elected to city council that year and never looked back . Actually he looked back once a few years later cause he wrote a check to a "massage" parlor and got caught. My heart broke.Say it ain't so Jerry for the love of all things pure and decent in this world say it ain't so! Jerry? Did you ever hear the expression ?....... Cash is king!I guess not.
I was there the night in 1975 when Jerry got re-elected to city council after he had resigned in disgrace only a short year earlier . I remember Jerry and his wife only a few feet away from me as he tearfully made his acceptance speech.Cincinnatians are very forgiving people.
The years passed and I moved away from Cincinnati .Jerry moved on to become mayor then local TV anchor then the "Ringmaster".I moved on with my life focusing on college life(beer,girls,fraternity,Buckeye football),UC Bearcat basketball, and rock and roll (no more candy).
Jerry inspired me to get into politics as a young boy. I worked as a page in the Ohio Senate when I was a student at Ohio State .Then served as sergeant-at-arms for the Young Democrats .I even once contemplated running for the Ohio House of Representatives. Then I made my big move......I tended bar at the Governor's mansion.Then I got invited to an Inauguration party.I met the Governor and a famous Astronaut senator. I reached my 21 year old hand into my suit pocket for a pen and paper to get an autograph. A piece of Jolly Rancher candy was stuck to the paper(I guess I still was into candy)
I grabbed a cocktail napkin and like any 21 year old autograph hound would do I held out my paper and pen.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

You were always on my mind ....Baseball





Baseball has woken me up from a deep winter slumber.
My eight year old son Matt is playing in his third year of Little League and if given the choice in life would rather watch TV, play baseball all day and eat cookies than go to school ,wash behind his ears and eat spinach.
Forty years ago in Cincinnati,Ohio I was him .Except I think I liked spinach and TV options were much more limited than 10 hour Zack and Cody"Suite Life" marathons with a side of Sponge Bob and Drake and Josh for good measure .
My life was fed with stimulus from other rabid baseball fanatics .My dad and brother Dave.
Pete Rose was our hometown god and Crosley Field and Riverfront Stadium  were his temples.
As much as I loved playing sandlot baseball with my buddies and mixing it up I came to accept the fact that the organized game was not going to be a part of my life past the age of 10.
After two years of less than earth shattering results in Little League.My dad and I decided to call it quits on my baseball career and follow my path to becoming a tennis player .
I hated right field anyway !
Was this a mistake ? Did I give up on my field of dreams? Maybe. I still loved to compete and get in the mix . The sandlot was still there for me after school on most days growing up in North Avondale , my boyhood neighborhood .
Two boys from North Avondale made it all the way from the sandlot to the "Show".
Darryl Boston and David Justice .Not me.
I channeled my energies towards the tennis courts and in 1973 made it to the finals of the city championships for the Boys under 12 age division (more on that story later).
Tennis was great for me but so much of our lives are shaped by baseball and my passion for America's game never died. It lived through years of "The Big Red Machine " all the way to the Reds 1990 title with Lou Piniella.
I always remained a loyal Redleg baseball fan .
The Reds became mediocre and living in New York I was exposed to a whole other level of rabid sports fanatics . Mike and the"Mad Dog" . Fans that demanded winning teams.Calling for players and coaches heads if they lost .
George M. Steinbrenner . Winning at all costs .For a simple midwestern boy it was a bit off putting.
Then along came Joe Torre ,Jeter and Don Zimmer .Zimmer a Cincinnati son with the Yankees.
Loyalties were shifted .I was scared to tell my dad I was a convert to the "Bronx Bombers".
I don't know if to this day I ever broached the subject.
Tough to talk about. I am getting choked up as I type.
Then in 1999 I learned I was going to have a son of my own .
On a hot summer night in 2000 my son was born.
Before he was born I had some worries about the dynamics of a father/son relationship weighing heavily on my mind .
My daughter was easy .Cute as a button and following her mom into the worlds of gymnastics and all things not familiar to me.
Was my boy going to play tennis or sports at all .Be a righty or lefty . Eat all his vegetables .
Important stuff .
In August 2001 my dad was asked to throw out the first pitch at a Reds-Brewers game and we were allowed to go on the field to witness my dad's one pitch(a strike).
My son barely one  at the time swears that he still remembers that moment at his first game.
His second big league game was again an opportunity to go the the field at Shea Stadium and meet the Mets and do a clinic .Courtesy of his aunt and uncle both Mets fans .
Since that Reds game in 2001 me and the boy have been to around 100 games.Major League ,minor league ,college,high school,little league. We watch games on TV and replays of games.Last month in his first "real" game ever he struck out in his first at bat to lead off for his team.He got on base later on a walk . Then later in the game he was brought in to pitch as the closer .With the bases loaded he struck a guy out to end the inning . I think I held my breath the whole time he was on the mound.
His next outing he walked the first five batters and decided he likes being a catcher more.
As a hitter after a series of walks and strike outs he was still loving baseball .I was right there with him .
Last week in his fourth game of the season he got two hits .His first hits ever in a real game .
I know that this is his journey as a baseball player I can enjoy the ride even knowing it is his ride.
I know he has other interests(skiing,music,acting) .Just as my daughter is not about gymnastics anymore or all things unfamiliar to me (music,boys,snowboarding)..
As I sit here watching the raindrops fall on our deck my boy laments his game being rained out .
He quickly recovers from his rain out scenario and heads out catch a movie with his mom .
And he discovers the basic philosophy of the game.
 As Nuke Laloosh said in Bull Durham, " A friend of mine once told me:
Baseball......you throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball, some days you win , some days you lose , some days it rains".