Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Just As Good, Sometimes Better

WARNING this is not for the faint of heart

Garage Bands
Lung-blown balloons
A fire escape in lieu of a terrace
Spayed cats
Canned laughter
Hydrox cookies
Jackson Pollock’s placemat
Royal Crown Cola
Anything from Chinatown
Fingers (for stirring)
Species when you can’t remember Genus
Auxiliary Cops
Four-seamed fastballs
Unscented urinal cakes

Friday, November 20, 2015

Banville's The Blue Guitar

Banville’s The Blue Guitar is a fine yarn told by the aging artist, Oliver Orme. Right off the bat, he grabs the reader (tickles him really) with “Call me Autolycus.” This engaging intro, a clear nod to Melville, is more of a cannonball plunge into erudition than the chummy flair offered in Melville’s iconic opener. A brief refresher of high Greek drama is needed to unlock the symbolic significance. Autolycus, the son of Hermes and Chione, is known as the wolf. He wore a helmet that made himself invisible, and was a great thief. Our narrator, Oliver the artist, is also a seasoned swiper.

The story is told, in reflection, by a self-absorbed artist, who is regaling the reader in his prurient past more so than unburdening his conscience. He calls his penchant for stealing as a “childish vice”, but really it is a reoccurring trope that ties in neatly with establishing the impetus behind his affair with Polly. He compares his first childhood theft in the art shop to his snatching Polly. “I did steal her, picked her up when her husband wasn’t looking and popped her in my pocket.” To extricate himself of the sheer banality of wrongdoing, he goes on to say that he stole things as “an attempt to break through the surface, to pluck out the fragments of the world’s wall and put me eye to the holes.” His vainglorious curiosity exonerates any wrongdoing. So Oliver leads us to believe.

Banville is a logophile, and it’s a good idea to have something in the way of a pencil and scrap paper to jot down words to add to your own repertoire. Some fun and frolicky references to painters like a “Poussin sky” and “Bosch the devil-dreamer” are peppered through the story. At times, his prose, drips with newly dappled paint droplets: “pink-cheeked shepherdesses and pirouetting ballerinas, blue-coated Cherubinos in powdered wigs.” After his estranged paramour, Polly catches up with him after some years, Oliver describes her “with her fist pressed to her cheek … like that oddly burly angel in Dürer’s Melancolia.” He’s miffed that she has discovered him holed up in his childhood home, never gave her credit for piecing together the meaningful scraps he’d shared from his past. It underscores his appalling lack of sensitivity. Things heat up when Polly confesses she messed up and admits she has ebbed into the profound cliché of going back home herself, to her mother. Polly asks Oliver to take her and her daughter there, and Oliver obliges.

Chalk up another smartly done work for the Irish stylist.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Inzolia, Not to Be Confused With Émile Zola

Sicilian reds are already on the map, and burgeoning in popularity. Nero d’Avola is old hat. People ask for Cerasuolo di Vittoria by the case, by the truck if they have a deep enough cellar. Grillo is wonderful goto with steamed mussels. And who doesn’t love to say Frappato? I’m hooked on saying it myself. It reminds me of Fraggle Rock, sound-wise. Also, it gives me a Muppet-fuzzy sensation. Even Nerello Mascalese is no longer an oddball. Not since Etna Rosso has become shamelessly fashionable.

What still might be under-the-radar are Sicilian whites. Sure we’ve swigged Marsala, but most of us don’t go hunting for its constituents (except for Grillo). The other two blending buddies Catarratto and Inzolia are underappreciated, if not unknown to most wine lovers. As their mono-varietal selves, they make some very interesting and refreshing light to medium-bodied summer quaffers, but also have the stuff to be enjoyed all year long. Inzolia in particular. Inzolia is a white grape found primarily in Western Sicily which goes by Ansonica in Tuscany. In blind tasting lineups, the wine is usually betrayed by its nutty nose. Garbed in a splendidly unctuous core it is supported by bright minerality and floral notes. Weight-wise, it’s perfect for briny faire and bacon-wrapped scallops.

I’ve always been a huge fan of Hauner, if I can snag one, but I’ve also grown rather fond of Feudo Montoni’s Colle del Mandorlo. Their estate sits in the province of Cammarata where the altitude has a wide range between 400 to 700 meters above sea level. The cooler climate, relative to most of the sun-scorched Sicily, adds vibrancy to the wine. Fabio Sireci serves as the estate’s wine steward. It has been in his family’s hands for three generations. He follows the old family recipe for farming success, letting the grapes fend for themselves and cough up their “emotions”. The vines are allowed to graft onto the wild plants and work their own hocus pocus.

I find their interpretation of Inzolia to be sturdier than many other producers’. Sireci’s wine is stonier and pleasantly oily with a kiss of sea foam. Yet, it isn’t briny so much as there is a charming, salty finish. It’s a great wine with lighter chicken dishes.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Bones Brigade

(This is about as Halloweeny as I get. I'm sharing a piece called "Bones Brigade" that first appeared at Mississippi Review online (Now known as New World Writing) back in the Fall of 2006. Enjoy.)


Charlie blasted through the front door sending my nervometer tripping. The mess of bones was strewn over the oakwood table. Two of his goons lugged the body over, freshkill.

"Think of it as your boobie prize," Charlie said.

He wore the sardonic grin of a carnival clown as he swung the butcher blade down, right below the kneecap. Blood splotched in the air like so much tomato clam chowder.

"Bye bye birdie," Charlie said.

He chuckled, a long drawn-out guttural guffaw. For whatever reason I fused his face with Prof. Jackson’s, though Charlie was a somewhat pudgier cheeked, barrel-chested version, but still. Thwack, he separated the fibula from the ankle. Grimple, his do-it-all goon, still donning his woolen cap, came over with his scraper contraption. He skinned the meat right off till there was nothing but bone. My neck swelled up, a rush of phlegm scooched all the way up to my throat. I tried real hard to dam it back, but I hurled all over the table, all over my pants.

Grimple busted out the trusty hose already lying in the sink that was waiting for just such an occasion. He washed all the gunk and guts away.

"Now get to it and make my mobile," Charlie said.

He called the finished product, the hanging skeleton, a mobile. The idea was to string together his victims’ bones and bring it to their enemy crews’ hangout, pinning it up so that it would do its hangman dance, thus striking fear into his lower alpha nemeses. Apparently mobiles, even ones with sailboats and bunnies frightened him as a kid, so this was one way of facing his fear skull on.

The mobile thing became Charlie’s signature stunt, but it had become such a sought after, in-your-face kind of tactic, that before long he had a bunch of underbosses pestering him to supply the service their way, for the appropriate fee of course. So I was needed overtime. The upshot of all of this was that since so many orders came pouring in I got a fat paycheck. Charlie paid me in bricks, thick stacks of hundreds. That they came in bricks came in rather handy. The leg to my fan busted so I used a brick to prop it up. I was still hoping to go to Lake Turkana someday so I needed to get accustomed to the sweltering conditions in my shoebox of an apartment. A simple fan was hardly cheating in my book.

So what was the problem? Why wasn’t I holding up my end of the bargain? Whatever I’d learned in Prof. Jackson’s classes went to mush in my head. I found myself twiddling my fingers against my lips, the way those bozos in cartoons do when they’re going nutso.

See, it’s like this, at the time I was pursuing a degree in Biological Anthropology at U. Chicago’s Grad Program. What I really wanted to do was dig up bones in Lake Turkana, but instead I was consigned to a lab sorting through fossil fragments that quite frankly could have been stale gingerbread crumbs. I bagged them in Ziplocs and labeled them so that whoever came by to sift through the remains could identify whatever the hell it was they were looking at.

Let’s just say pursuing a career in Paleontology isn’t the most lucrative path one can take, which is why I jumped on every moneymaking opportunity there was to pay my bills. Twice a week I even went to the sperm bank, I got more for those deposits than all the interest I earned for the past two years in my high yield savings account at Amalgamated Bank. There really wasn’t all that much in my account to begin with, but hey. At first I told myself I went down to the sperm bank to quench the anthropological thirst inside of me and see what specimens loitered around, maybe I could dig up a thesis just by paying enough visits. But of course, as much as it pains me to admit, it was a totally gratifying experience being there. Beating yourself off, in a doctor’s office, is addictive. The possibility that the nurse might accidentally open the door with my pants felled around my ankles heightens the pleasure more so than cutting off circulation to your neck. It’s different for everybody, but I know what floats my boat. Ooh, it sends shivers down my spine just thinking about it, although I’ve never been so lucky. Nurses ought to work on their bedside manner, but that’s just one guy’s opinion.

I’d grown tired of giving museum walking tours. Actually, I was afraid that the Curator could really revoke my fossil-hunting license if I continued to horn in on his turf. The museum had a very strict policy when it came to profiteering off their patronage. Plus they were pissed that I still hadn’t returned their plaster of paris Homo rudolphensis molar mouthpiece. You could say that’s where part of the trouble began. All I wanted to do was see how Granny would look if I pulled the old switcheroo on her fake teeth.

After Verizon shut off my phone for the second time I decided to answer an ad pinned up outside of the Dean’s office. Big money digging up bones. Had the ad been posted anywhere else I may have been skeptical. I was hard up for cash so I was willing to do whatever I could, within reason; the allure of being a hired hand in something broadly related to my profession got my juices going. I celebrated by making a pit stop at the sperm bank before heading to the docks where, according to the ad, the interview would be held.

A deft breeze tussling the low mast sails sounded something like wet towels whipping flesh. I lit a smoke to calm my nerves there was a rough element that hung around there so I did my darnedest to blend in. After I tossed my seventh butt away I got that lousy feeling I’d been duped. Some prick hiding behind a crate was having a good laugh about it. What dipshit would answer such an ad? Grad school, or so I thought, was supposed to make a man out of me, push all that pussy optimism out and pump in the pragmatics.

As I was ready to leave I felt a hand on my shoulder. There to my surprise was a guy wearing a woolen hat tucked over his ears even though it was a mild seventy-two degrees that listless late spring night. Without a word he led me over to his forklift. He made me get on the lift, while he jumped onto the seat. I hung on for dear life even though we scuttled by at a whopping two miles an hour. I had that feeling that somewhere underneath the hood of that forklift was a turbo-charged motor and this hooknosed goon was going to dump my body into the river.

He didn’t of course. We ended up in a warehouse amidst a labyrinth of crates. He grabbed a crowbar and hacked a crate open. After tossing away numerous crumbled newspaper balls I could’ve swore I saw a pelvic bone. He handed me a flashlight and told me to get to work and put the skeleton together.

It was something. Under all that pressure I actually rose to the occasion, having fused all those years of lab classes into my hyper-charged synapses at that moment. I’m not a spiritual person, but I have to say that I was thanking my lucky stars, quasars, whatever.

"What do you call this," he said to me holding up a fragment.

"A patella," I said.

"And this."

"An occipital bun."

"OK you’ve got it."

"Got what?"

"You’ll start tomorrow."

The next day on I was the fair-haired boy of the bunch. I had a chance to meet Snucker Salas, Donnie Darling, Carlo Campanella [A.K.A, Charlie Cannoli] the head honcho of the crew and many other luminaries from the dark side of the dock. Prior to that I had only read about them in the news and seen one or two mugshots but they weren’t as mean-looking as I’d pictured.

Charlie Cannoli took to me immediately. He had me boxing up the leftovers of his dirty deeds. I told him that my specialty was piecing together pongid skeletons, that I was only beginning to get the hang of hominids, forget about anatomically modern Homo Sapiens.

Donnie Darling was Charlie’s right hand man, a bit of a dandy. He couldn’t leave the john without wetting his hair so that he had that slicked back look 24/7. He wore tighter shirts than the other fellows. Seriously, he made Rayon and other cheap threads look silken or linenish just because he had a flair about him that said style.

He kept an eye on me to make sure that things went down smooth. I sort of liked the guy, not in a faggy way, but enough to want to pal around with him after work and drink beer and throw darts.

"What’s the matter with you Paulie, you ain’t you today," Donnie said.

"Paul, I prefer Paul," I said.

Probably shouldn’t have harped on it so much, Donnie calling me Paulie, it was his way of saying I was one of the crew, that I wasn’t just another cabone meant something. I’m not exactly sure what, but it had to be good.

"It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle," Donnie said.

He rumbled through his coat, I could see the barrel of his gun. The hair on the back of my neck shot up. Then he pulled out an envelope.

"Maybe this will make you feel better."

He brushed his thumb against a wad of bills, letting them flutter. This actually gave me a deeper chill, the goosebumps multiplied under my sleeves like a bunch of hyperactive sea monkeys on crack.

"That’s a lot of shcarole. I’ll spot you some, just to get a little taste, but you’ve got to fill your end of the bargain."

That’s just it I’d got way more than I bargained for. It made me sick seeing the way they’d butchered Prof. Jackson. I never should’ve opened my big fat mouth, I could’ve done better on his exams, I mean, it wasn’t his fault I did lousy on Scantrons. He had to be fair to the rest of the class.

"You can’t just chop up my professors because they want to take me to do some fieldwork," I said.

"How do you expect us to run our mobile ring, you’ve got it down pat?"

"I can teach anybody, really, just give me the chance. There’s this guy from my Lithic Tool Analysis Class who’d be perfect to take my place."

"No can do, you’re our ace-in-the-hole."

That’s when I knew that I had only one choice, to finish that job so that I could get out of there alive, but I knew I couldn’t go back. I never learn to keep my big fat mouth shut. Charlie had that devious glow about him while I glommed Prof. Jackson together, like he knew that sooner or later he would replace me.

After I finished the job I took my brick and sped off. I never returned. As a result they kidnapped the Dean of the Department and sent his body parts wrapped in butcher paper to each of the faculty members. So I had to cut my studies short. They would’ve gotten to me sooner or later, nobody could be so important, nobody was irreplaceable. They would’ve caught on eventually that, contrary to popular belief, I wasn’t so special, that practically any of my fellow Grad students could’ve handled the mobiles. I just didn’t want to be around when they came to that indubitable conclusion.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Interview with Aida Zilelian

Aida Zilelian is the founder of the Boundless Tales Reading Series. She recently released her outstanding debut novel Legacy Lost Things. She’s a Queens resident, and also a contributor to Newtown Literary.

JG: Tell us a little about yourself.

AZ: I’m an English teacher and a writer. Before I decided to start writing seriously I played guitar and wrote music. I played shows all over New York City for many years.

JG: When did you start the Boundless Tales Reading Series? What was the impetus behind it?

AZ: I started Boundless Tales in September 2011. Queens didn’t seem to have a reading series that I was aware of, and I wanted to provide a platform for emerging and established writers.

JG: Do you like MCing? How do you put together a lineup?

AZ: I do like MCing. It’s especially fun introducing new writers. My lineup is based on the type of literature being read (i.e. fiction, nonfiction, poetry, etc…) and the overall mood of the pieces. I like to create a nice of balance.

JG: I understand you had to change venues. How did you land the new location?

AZ: Waltz Astoria, where we used to be, was closing. And the Astoria Bookshop seemed like the most obvious and sensible choice. And the owner Lexi is marvelous.

JG: Where does the inspiration come from in your writing?

AZ: My family. Their strengths and flaws.

JG: How has the book tour been treating you? Any interesting stories you’d like to share?

AZ: The book tour has been interesting. I was surprised about how many different types of people were interested in reading about an Armenian family who immigrates to Queens, NY. Last week I spoke with an African American man in his late 80’s who used to be a musician in Harlem in the 1940’s. He bought the book.

JG: How long did it take you to write The Legacy of Lost Things? Any hurdles you had to overcome?

AZ: It took me about a year to write. The most difficult hurdle was writing about characters who resembled my family members and portraying them as honestly as I could.

JG: How many publishers did you approach?

AZ: I don’t remember, honestly. I was fortunate, though. I finished writing the novel in September 2012 and signed my contract in January 2013.

JG: This might be probing, and I’ll understand if you don’t want to answer, but did you draw on any stories or background from friends or family regarding immigrating or assimilating into New York City?

AZ: Absolutely. My parents immigrated here. I drew on their experiences and my personal accounts of their struggles.

JG: Where did you go to school?

AZ: Queens College for my B.A. and M.A. But I was a psych major with a double minor in philosophy and sociology. My M.A. was in creative writing.

JG: What writers have had the greatest impact on you?

AZ: Truman Capote, David Sedaris, Sylvia Plath

JG What are you reading now?

AZ: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

JG: You are also involved in Newtown Literary. You serve on the editorial review board. Tell me about your experience.

AZ: It’s been quite amazing. Tim Fredrick, the founder, is one of the best people I have ever worked with. His intuition on how to run and manage a publication always impresses me. And the staff overall is extremely innovative.

JG: What’s the Queen Book Festival?

AZ: It’s a festival featuring Queens literature. They are working very hard to make it a huge success. It will be the first one the borough has ever had.

JG: Opinions about MFAs?

AZ: They aren’t necessary, but they help in many ways. It gives the discipline, insight into other writers that you wouldn’t normally read and you have to produce a body of work by the end of the program. Those are all valuable aspects, I think. But as I said, not necessary. It depends on the writer.

JG: Do you have a schedule for writing, a preferred time or place?

AZ: I just need peace and quiet and I need to be indoors. Being outside is too distracting. As long as I write every day, regardless of when, I’m happy.

JG: Any guilty pleasures?

AZ: HBO’s “Girls”, Lindt salted chocolate, tequila, gin, and aji verde.

JG: What do you want to be when you grow up?

AZ: A person whose writing has made on impression on her readers.

JG: If you were throwing a dinner party who would you invite (Living or dead)?

AZ: My stepfather, my father, my grandparents, and many other relatives who passed away. I know— not very exciting and kind of sad, but they inspired me more than anyone else in my life.

JG: How do you deal with rejection?

AZ: I don’t let it bother me. When I send out stories or my work for consideration I always keep a detailed log, but I forget that I sent it in the first place.

JG: Any new projects?

AZ: I’m working on a new novel. The deadline I have set for myself is December 2015. It’s about a girl’s quest to find out what happened to her family in Armenia during the Genocide.

JG: Places you long to visit.

AZ: Argentina, Italy, and Armenia.

Check out her novel Legacy of Lost Things. You can find out more about Boundless Tales Reading Series right here:

Friday, September 4, 2015

Panther Creek's 98 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir

Recently, I had a chance to taste the ’98 Panther Creek “Shea Vineyard” Pinot Noir. Willamette Valley’s answer to premier cru Burgundy. Holy cow! As a bottled-up 17-year-old it was still so vibrant. Packed with bing cherry up front, offering notes of sage, and rose petal it gave way to darker fruit and a touch of gaminess on the finish. Its balance proved it to be a venerable pairing delight. It’s a silky wine, well-knit and still showing grip, but civilized grip— tannin tame enough to appreciate Debussy in the park.

Panther Creek was founded by the legendary Ken Wright in 1986. Ken moved on in 1994, and so did his bold, fruit bomb style. When Michael Stevenson took over as winemaker in 1996 he brought a new philosophy to the estate, one that focused on balance, nuance, and more restrained oak over flamboyance. 1998 was a Shawshank Redemption to the 1997 washout. The ’98 produced a small crop, less than the tiny ’94 that basketed less than 2 tons per acre. They talked it up as the vintage with plump and powerful wines, many properties were already licking their chops. Harvey Steiman described the ’98 Argyle “Nuthouse” Pinot Noir as “Ripe and seductive” offering “plum and black cherry, shaded with hints of chocolate”. Wine Spectator gave it 93 points. When the ’98 Domaine Drouhin was released its “bright” fruit and “soft” tannins had hailed it as approachable enough to start the Pinot Party. The consensus declared it as an excellent vintage, but I’m not sure anybody realized how long the wines would last in the cellar. Even after you’ve completed barrel tastings, even after you’ve tasted a finished product, a year or two out can seem like an eternity. Wine tasting is indeed a game of extrapolation. A warm vintage like 1998 might show itself plusher in the early rounds, but the fear that it may be short-lived lingers.

The ’98 vintage started out dismally with heavy spring rains. There were already comparisons to the ’97 washout. Then it got warm for the summer, and just before harvest, maybe even too warm for some tastes. The kicker was the fact that they had less grapes to cull from, and, with viticulture less is usually more (in terms of quality). With less than a ton of grapes per acre (when 2.5 — 3.5 is considered the norm) it was going to be a tiny harvest.

Pinot Noir is fickle no matter where it grows, and this is where the love affair begins for the wine wonk. What sets Shea Vineyard apart from other sites? It’s a pristine vineyard located in the AVA of Yamhill-Carlton and is known for its soil composition: sedimentary with cracked sandstone. It is rich in marine deposit and is unirrigated, enveloped in small ridges. The grapes ripen earlier and are known to offer jammier fruit. This is the challenge then. If you you’ve got riper fruit more extraction will lead to fruit bombs. Tannin offers structure, but so does acidity. It is often overlooked as a key factor. For many people the fruit and tannin stand out. The lack of one bolsters the other, but one has to be mindful of all the components, and the interplay between fruit, alcohol, acidity and tannin.

Panther Creek’s ’98 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir has the balance and acidity level have offered tremendous ballast. It’s a layered wine with great nuance. I see this wine carrying on well into the next decade.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Journeyman’s Guide to Flushing: Welcome to the 2015 US Open Qualies

The big rub for the journeyman is how he can seal his apprenticeship and sluice into a full-fledged master. Doesn’t happen by osmosis and it doesn’t come cheap. One must make sacrifices and be totally committed. Precision is the key. Tennis is no different than blacksmithing or carpentry in this instance, it requires the dedication and diligence of a craftsman. I shadowed the racquet-wielding journeymen this past week during the US Open Qualifying rounds. These guys have battled all year long, playing just about everywhere a net can be staked. They’d rally with frying pans if it came down to it.

The Qualifying Rounds don’t get much press, if any. You won’t catch these matches on cable. Nobody is tuning in at their local watering hole. None of matches are slated for the stadiums of Arthur Ashe or Louie Armstrong. They’re relegated to the outside courts, but every match is a battle for survival, the lifeblood of the sport. The next Pete Sampras or Rafa Nadal may be smacking groundies on one of these blue courts. To get an idea what’s at stake you need to realize that most of these guys cannot fully earn their living playing matches. Yes, they are playing for prize money, but their purse is a pittance compared to the main draws of Masters level events. Due to the incredible costs of travel and lodging, equipment, inflation, and oh yeah food, some of these guys have had to crash in their cars or in sleeping bags under the stars. Many have had to do various odd jobs. Stringing racquets and giving tennis lessons happen to be two of the most popular staples. Many of these guys don’t have the luxury of traveling with their coach. Some don’t have formal coaches.

Qualifiers cover a large swath of skill level. There’s pedigree too. Some are rising stars, still in high school or college, others have been career journeymen. A few have made into the bigtime and have slid back into the lion’s den. This year’s top-seeded Qualifier is Paul-Henri Mathieu from Strasbourg, France. He’s been ranked as high as 12 in the world back in 2008. He’s raked in some $5.4 mil in prize money since he’s turned pro. He’s the anomaly, French Open Juniors champ of 2000. He went the distance with Agassi at Roland Garros in 2002. He’s beaten Andy Roddick, and Fernando Gonzales when the Chilean was #5 in the world. Mathieu has 4 ATP tour titles under his belt, but has recently fallen on hard times, and now he’s forced to grind it out as a Qualifier. So far this year he’s made 2 ATP tour finals, most recently the Generali Open in Austria, earlier this month where he succumbed to Phillipp Kohlstreiber. At Wimbledon, he didn’t even make it into the main draw, losing in the 3rd round of qualifying.

Here in Flushing he seems to have his A-game, knocking off the Italian, Matteo Donati 6-3, 7-6 in his first bout. In his second-rounder, he crushes the German, Tobias Kamke 6-1, 6-2, but there’s always one more match, and the looming anxiety of breaking through. He’ll to get past the hard-hitting Colombian, Alejandro Falla or else it’s a plane back France.

This year the Sake Squad is a new attraction. You might be familiar with James Blake’s groupies. Allow me to introduce you to the Sake Squad. There’s about 35 to 40-some-odd of them (give or take) clogging up the left side of benches on court 12, wearing bright orange shirts that read Sake Squad. I mistook them for fans of the German, Jan-Lennard Struff garbed in an orange and black top. An innocent mistake, but I soon noticed that their cheers and claps were out of sync with the German baseliner. I then realized they were fans of Saketh Myneni, the 6 foot 4 Crimson Tide Alum, originally from India.
Myneni’s best results this year topped in the Spring. He made it into the semis at the Batman Challenger in Turkey, and then in May he made the semis at Samarkind Challenger in Uzbekistan. Early in the second set Myneni pops a string, and has to go over to his bag to grab a new stick. He must have at least 9 racquets hidden inside. You’d think they are all identical, the frames for sure, but, as a longtime journeyman myself, I have a hunch some may have slightly different tensions. Sometimes you want more bounce off your serves, the trampoline effect, and, other times you need a tighter, more laser-focused touch. That kind of edge makes all the difference. Maybe.

Myneni’s contingent is loud and eager to pump fists for their player. Tennis fans aren’t as dorky as you might think. Some show the souped-up ebullience of soccer nuts, they might even throw-in a wave (the rippling kind often associated with beer-chugging sports). All that hullabaloo doesn’t shake the German. Struff gets stronger as the match progresses. His serves are booming. He cranks his backhands. Midway through the second set it looks like the Myneni has run out of gas. Struff wins in 3 sets.

Later on, I stumbled upon a nearly crowdless match on court 6 what was merely a green practice court oh so many years ago. Am I dating myself yet? It’s the court I won my Freshman Doubles Championship match with my doubles partner Richie Reyes back in 1988. I was drawn to the match because it pitted a lefty, Jonathan Eysseric against a righty, Jose Hernandez-Fernandez. I’ve always been smitten with that racquet dichotomy. McEnroe-vs-Lendl, Ivanišević-vs-Agassi, Nadal-vs-Federer.

Hernandez-Fernandez is currently ranked 183 in the world and plays Davis Cup for Dominican Republic. At this year’s Wimbledon, he suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Czech player Jan Mertl (15-13) in the third. Despite that he’s jumped 100 spots from 2014. Here he started off slow, hitting balls at what I’d call warmup pace. Eysseric looked sharp had those nice lefty angles. The lift off his back foot made him seem like a pelican or an old-school Nintendo character, think Super Mario swinging a racquet rather than an oversize hammer. Hernandez-Fernandez hung in with good repertoire. Clearly, he had a big forehand, but what impressed me was his ability to rush the net when necessary. During the critical fifth game, while he was twice in jeopardy of going down 4-1, he chipped his way into the net, and eventually broke his opponent’s serve, placing a crisp forehand volley winner to get back on serve. Then in 10th game of the first set down 5-4 on his serve he ran around his forehand and sliced a backhand to force an error. Eysseric was livid. During the tiebreaker the Dominican dialed it up a notch, cranking forehands and backhands. The Frenchman clubbed his way back, and then Hernandez-Fernandez began mixing it up, and won an awesome rally with a chip forehand. He bulled through the second set and onto the next round where he fell to the American, Tommy Paul. Tommy is a Jersey boy who lives and trains in Boca Raton. Having won this year’s Boys French Open he comes into US Open with high hopes. Nonetheless, he’s still a dark horse never having risen above 429 in the world). After Noah Rubin and Mitchell Krueger lost in their second-rounders, Tommy becomes the lone American left in the Qualies.

Taro Daniel is back. He qualified last year in his first US Open appearance. Now he’s seeded #9. He won his first match against the Argentinian, Renzo Olivo. Keep an eye on Elias Ymer, the 19-year-old Swede, Galo Blanco’s protégé who has earned a trifecta of births into the Australian Open, the French Open, and Wimbledon. He’s a favorite to make a qualifying slam after he dispatches Jan-Lennard Struff in the 2nd round.
One of the great joys about wandering around the courts during the Qualies is that you get to see the dwarf stars before they burst into supernovas. Back in 2004, I remember being impressed with a young Frenchman who had sweet strokes and a cannon for a serve. His name was Jo-Wilfred Tsonga. Nobody knew much about him. I caught both his matches. He eventually lost to fellow countryman, the veteran lefty, Jérôme Golmard. Then in the 2005 I stumbled upon a talented British kid, Andy Murray. He was cocky as hell, but he had the weapons to back him up. I caught his 2nd and 3rd round qualifying matches when he knocked off Paolo Lorenzi 6-3, 6-2 and then made minced meat of the Ecquadorian, Giovanni Lapentti 6-0, 7-6. When he beat Andrei Pavel in the main draw I was convinced that this guy was something. This was even before he hooked up with Brad Gilbert. But Murray ran into a wall with Arnaud Clement. Clement too had qualified into the main draw 2005, and cruised through his 1st round match beating the former #1 Juan Carlos Ferrero.

It’s 7ish and the sun sluffs off and will probably crown the Unisphere before the next batch of fans pours in. Night tennis in New York rocks. The blare of white light on blue courts brings new energy. It’s invigorating. The 21st century gladiators are smashing, lunging, and slugging their way into the blue hour. Some will win. Others will not. It’s great to be out, watching this protean transformation. That guy, that guy right over there that beanpoley guy he’s going to be the next Djokovic. Wait, what’s his name? Let me check my program.