He hadn't changed a bit, it was a glorious reunion and we talked about old times and people we knew and the years fell away. Roger is a lawyer, a grandpa and is back playing tennis again. He looked to so good that I thought twice about setting up a match.
Roger had asked what I've been up to since camp and it was almost too big of a question to answer. I was a teaching pro for three more years, doing a stint in Toronto, Canada and Florida.
I taught school for a year, was television news photographer for two years, then a reporter for the NBC affiliate in Boise for 13 years. Press Secretary to the Attorney General of Idaho for two years and now Broadcast Services Manager for the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation. During the years I had covered a couple of wars, hosted a talk show, flown in fighter jets, met Presidents and even a King. I had won an Emmy, was appointed to a few board of directors and did just about everything on my to-do list...but as I told Roger over lunch in Austin, It all started with FXB. He funded my college education, taught me how to succeed, taught responsibility and how to compete. Roger agreed that Mr. B had prepaired him for law school and had been a force and inspiration in his life as well.
November 20th, 1997 I was out jogging and felt a sharp pain in my chest. I could have paniced but didn't. I kept my cool. I got back to the car and drove myself to the hospital. I was immediately admitted and a few hours later I had heart surgery. I was lucky, I had a blocked left ventricle and was able to have a stent rather than an open heart surgery. I was back up and working in just two weeks. But I was sentenced to a life of either a couch potato or daily workouts by my doctor. I chose to work out and started lifting and stair stepping but found it extremely boring when one day an old friend invited me to play tennis. I hadnt picked up a racquet since 1985 and all the joy and memories came streaming back. Its like this, on the court its always summer and I'm 20 and all the worries of the world disappear and things FXB had told me on the court and off come back like boomarangs tossed in 1977.
My wife Sheryl, step daughter Kalina and I were moving in the summer of 2005 and it was a hot day in the dusty garage. I was digging through some boxes and found a big shoe box filled with diaries, letters, photos from Mercersburg. In the streaming dusty light I sat there and read caught in time, suspended in 1977 and it was so sweet that I didnt want to come back. All of my friends were with me in that garage, all young, smiling with racquets in hand. We were all so handsome and young. I realized that the garage was my cornfield, the diaries my field of dreams and then I thought If I build it they will come...I heard Frank Brennan's voice ringing in my ears..."...he missed that overhead and the ball went across the street and into the Ford Dealership a block away..." or "Think of ways to win, not lose," or "Go out and play your own game."
I built a blog and the friends, like ghosts came back to the field of dreams, to the har-tru courts.
Ive heard from Roger, Mark Sanderson, Eric Riley, Chris Russel-Vick, former counselors Eileen Brennan, Coleen Brennan, Skip Schwarzman, Eric Anderson, Jim Hall, Jonathan Markson, James Haft camper Jonathan Mudd and Joyce Hackett. I hope more will make it back .
We got in an argument over whos better the east coast or west players. I argued that we arnt going to be as good on clay but kick ass on hard courts. Bobby and I pointed to Stanford, USC and UCLA no one beats them east of the Mississippi. Of course they argued that those teams are made up of east coast players...some but not all. Bobby Dickinson and I saw Stanford first hand on our Spring road trip, they're very good.
The teaching went well, this is the last teaching day and Mr. B. went over match play, thinking of ways to win instead of ways to lose. He said its always easy to give up when it gets rough but talked about weathering the storm and playing points until theres a break. He says the breaks go the person thats out there trying their hardest. If defeat comes accepts the loss and give credit where its due, dont overly dwell but fix what went wrong, make note of things you can do next time.
I went up to the infirmary and said goodbye to Dr. Prevost, he's a different guy kind of gruff at first then a softie. He took my BP as he has done all summer and noted that it was high and that when I get home to see my family Dr. It was 146/95 and he wrote it down along with a note to my family Doctor. I told him that he did great work on sprained ankle and that I would miss someone inflicting severe pain on anterior ligiment. He said if I turn my ankle one more time he would wring my neck. It was an ugly thing and I though for sure I broke my ankle but Prevost fixed me up with ice and I was back after a day.
It was strange teaching, a huge relief in a way and it went fast. We walked up to that lovely and elegant Ford Hall and I sighed a bit inside. I will miss this place, its smells, the lunch guys especially the guy that looks like Richie Havens. Roger Dickinson was already seated when I walked by he had 3 cokes in front of him symbolizing bets won from campers and a row of milk glasses...I have no idea where he packs it all away.
On this last day Mark S. and Bevin sat with me at the table. Mark asked Mr. B if he could go to the airport and Mr. B. said 'why not.' Mark told Bevin and I about Plymouth St. in New Hampshire, it sounds like a great place to go to college. He is studying to be a teacher and I think he will do well in the profession.
In the afternoon it was all about the campers and their prepairation for the big tournament. Jon Mudd played very well today and lost to Fanning 8-4 which is quite an accomplishment because I dont think I can get that many games. It was a slow, hot afternoon but finally when Roger called balls in I knew my first season at FXB was in the books and I somehow I didnt screw up.
I played Tom Sheridan and played well enough to force a tiebreaker. I lost 9-7. I had him but forgot all about his backhand...I played the whole tiebreaker to his forehand and he cleaned me out.
I showered and got ready for dinner. Mr. B. came by the room and off we went. He had a bottle of de Rothshield's Mouton Cadet...1973. The last bottle in the case and when we got to the resturant I had glass, it was great. Mr. B had my pay check and handed it to me. It was for $700.00...thats two hundred more than we agreed on. FXB said that I saved him a fortune and that's my bonus. I am rich! This check will pay for two semesters of tuition at ISU, plus half of my sisters and will also pay for my room. I am set and I wont have any worries. I can study in peace. FXB also said he wants me to come back next year posibly as an assistant head counselor with Riley. I thought I was going to faint, what an offer! So I said I would be back and FXB promised me $800.00 for next year.
FXB talked about his family and the Jersey shore and the vacation plans ahead. He talked a lot about his teaching assistant back in Jersey, Marv. Marv came to camp as a counselor years ago with Charlie Fenske and FXB got him on at the club, hes been there ever since. FXB says Marv has every cent he ever made and is a hard conscientious worker. He says that one day he could get me on the club.
We got back at 9:30 and FXB and I walked the halls and chatted with the campers. The counselors were just getting all the kids to bed. Its so funny two weeks ago they had trembling lips and tears in their eyes after leaving the parents, now they're nervous over the tournament and thinking of ways to win, they're not thinking or missing the parents right now.
I went over to the girls dorms and said goodbye to all the girl counselors. Pat have me a big hug and kiss and told me that Vrana is giving her a ride to JFK where she will fly home to Toronto. Lenny came by to say goodbye and was playing up a storm on the piano. I said good bye to the lovely Chris Russell-Vick and threated to visit her in Kent as well as Becky Craft and Cathy Davidson. A bunch of the girl campers came to the Lounge and snapped photos of me saying good bye. Bevin was sitting on the piano bench and silent when it was her time for the goodbye hug she had a tear in her eye. She said goodbye and gave me a big hug...it was touching.
I made it back to the room at 11:00, I packed everything up with lights out at midnight. Mr. B is coming by at 6:30 in the morning....I have layovers in DC, Chicago, Salt Lake and Boise...before landing in Pocatello at 10:30...what a long day Friday will be!
I went to the campus bank and cleared out my savings account. I'll have spending money for lunch in Chicago, I should be home by 7:30 pm. I called Mom and Jerry and told them my arrival time, they will pick me up at the Poky Airport. This is the longest I have been away and my Mom sounds excited to see me.
I started saying my goodbyes to the campers. Jon Mudd sat at my table and I asked him to buy me a T-shirt at the U.S. Open and he agreed! I gave him 10-bucks and cant wait to get the shirt. I told him that next summer I would come and visit his family in McLain.
I gave Roger five bucks I borrowed from him back in July. We were at Wises and I was broke and lent me some cash. I think he forgot that I owed him because he was surprised that I paid up. He had so many bets going with campers that I probably didnt register.
This tennis is an amazing sport, through tennis I got my first plane ride, got into college, lettered in a NCAA Division 1 sport, got a bunch of cool roadtrips to California, and best of all got me here...to this beautiful campus and through tennis I got to study under FXB, coach of Billie Jean King and now President Jimmy Carter. Mr. B confided in me tonight that he and Mrs. B have been invited to Camp David for a weekend with the Carters! He was so excited but Im sworn to secrecy. He said something about it being the First Ladies' birthday and they were going to play some tennis and then have a dinner for the immediate family.
Mr. B also said that I saved him so much money this summer that I have guilted him into another dinner at Foot of the Mountain, so we are going out to dinner tomorrow night and then its on the plane for Idaho.
I sat down and talked to Bobby D. tonight. He said that he will miss ISU and some of the great friends he made there but hes glad to be staying in Arlington. I told him all about the team and the new coach and how he cleaned house and Im the only player coming back from last year.
He wished me luck and was sincere and nice.
Mark Sanderson invited me to come a few weeks early next year and stay with him in New Hampshire before we come back to camp. We must first ask Mr. B if we can come back. We both seem to be in good standing with the boss, but Ill ask tomorrow at dinner if we can come back next year.
I walked over to Irvine Chappel at sunset. Bryan Barker was playing up a storm on the carolline it sounded like a lot of Bach and Beetoven, at sunset it was an amazing sight all orange with the humidity thick in the air and the music just floating over the campus and through the dorms. Campers were sitting on the steps and listening it was magic and as he often said, a joy.
I hit with Dunja Heinrichs, she takes lessons from Mr. B and is a fantastic hitter. She'll be a senior at Old Tappan High and is solid muscle, runs like a deer, and cute as a button. She has been playing the boys in the afternoon and can beat most of the camp. We played a set and I got lucky beating her 7-5. She was killing me from the baseline so I ran her with short angles mixed with deep balls to the corners, When I had her deep I dropped her and then hit the mouse trap lob to win point after point. Dunja hates to lose and we talked afterwards, I told her that she needs to keep me pasted to the baseline.
Mark Sanderson and I gathered up the balls tonight and concluded that this is the best session yet. We're only down 4 cans in two weeks. Every night we make the rounds to all the rooms and pick up rogue balls, that pisses the counselors off to no end. Feinberg and Solomon were watering the courts and FXB drove up. A couple other counselors were there and they were giving Sanderson and I a hard time for being such hard-asses. That pissed FXB off and he stepped up and said that it wasnt about the balls, it was about pride and doing a job well and that one day they might understand how important it is to do a job well no mater how trivial and unimportant it may seem.
Mr. B lapsed into a story about the ditch diggers in Patterson that he used to watch as a kid. He said they worked hard because it was pride with them. No one on the crew wanted to let the other down, when they worked they worked as a team. It was perhaps the only satisfaction they had because of the depression. Mr. B. said they were driven because they had families to support and jobs were scarce, he said they worked hard just to get home at the end of a day and have a meal with their families. I understood where FXB was coming from...I doubt the other did. Mark and I walked back to Fowle feeling pretty good, FXB could see how serious we took our assignment. Ball duty is not very glamorous duty but we broke our chops all summer out of fear, the pressure was on us not to lose balls. When FXB and I went to the warehouse yesterday he had 4 gross of balls left, he beamed that the year before he had to buy 5 extra cases.
We got the kids in bed and they were hyper, when I got back in the room at 10 there was a black trimmed Jack Kramer on my bed, the pro Kramer select. It had a broken string but was in perfect shape. FXB had given me his racquet, the same racquet he took to Camp David to teach the President. I was pretty excited about the frame, not that I will ever hit with it because its a piece of history.
I met Lenny at 10:30 and we went across the street to Tippetts Lounge so he could play the piano. All the girl counselors were there and it was festive, we broke out the cookies,candy and cokes and listened to Lenny play. He played everything from classical to jazz and pop, absolutely perfect.
At 11:30 I got back to the room and Mark was still up reading, he called home and his parents are coming down from Mass to pick him up. He's excited to see them and cant wait to get home and beat some of his high school teamates at East Longmeadow.
I drifted off to sleep, dreaming of Idaho and those wonderful Reed Gym courts on the ISU campus where I taught myself to play tennis on the backboard. In a few days Ill be back there beating the hell out of Mike Zaladonis and some of my ISU teamates.
At 10:30 FXB and I went to the bank and he wrote me a check and then we wired my travel agent the money for the trip home. He asked about college and asked if the parents were footing the bill. I told him that I payed for the first year and will pay for it all. The parents dont have the money to send me to college. I get by with grants, loans and have applied for scholarships. I did well last year, I worked in the SUB cafeteria washing dishes every afternoon until tennis season kicked in. I saved every cent and had just enough airfare to get here. Charlie Fenske only had one scholarship for the team and he gave it to Bobby Dickinson. I told Mr. B that I had saved money last year and will have enough for an apartment from Sept to December. I landed a Student Defense Loan for tuition and a BEOG grant. I will live off the camp money and it should last me until March. I think Mr. B was impressed that I could save that much money. We stopped by the warehouse on campus and picked up the last box of balls and T-shirts. We passed out the shirts after lunch for promo photos FXB wanted to take of the kids.
Most of the counselors at camp are on schoarships or their parents are picking up the tab. How great would that be? I already have a job lined up in the Student Union Building working as an usher in the movie theatre, if that doesnt work out I can get my dishwashing job back for SAGA Foods. I cant wait to get back to school, I have some great journalism classes planned and some really fun history and literature classes.
I have totally worn through my grip on the Kramer, I broke the string in the spare racquet and it did not go unnoticed by FXB. He had a spare grip and took my racquet in the afternoon and put it on. This guy can really grip a racquet, it feels great. He also took my other racquet and got it strung. He would have done it but didnt have his stringer. I gave have him the $6-bucks and he said 'forget it,' the guy in town owed him one.
It was a hot, sweaty day but everyone stayed out on the courts and played after 4. I hit with X, Roger and Sandy. Roger and I killed them in doubles. We lobbed and dropped them to death and it was a fun, great match. Every single point lasted forever. We won 7-6, 6-4.
Afterwards Jon Mudd came by and we, along with camper Tom P. went to Highs for mint chocolate chip ice cream cones. We sat on the curb eating them and talking when an Amish Family pulled up in a buggy. The horse was beautifully groomed and the harnesses were perfect. The kids were all scrubbed, clean and well behaved. I have never seen anything like this. We dont have Amish people in Idaho so this was a special sighting.