Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

Disorder on the court

Marine One flew low and the sun burned hot above Court B-1 at Hains Point on Saturday morning as I tried to make a triumphant return to league tennis after an eighteen-month hiatus.

(If you’re wondering what happened to my beloved Smash Hits–a storied USTA 3.0 franchise that made its first unforced error by allowing me to join the team in 2012 and compounded the goof by making me captain a year later –they had to disband after a slew of injuries and retirements dropped their numbers to unsustainable levels.)

Since spraining my wrist in February of 2014, I had set foot on the tennis court exactly once, to swat balls around with my friend Laura. Laura, also a former Smash Hit, asked a few weeks ago if I’d like to join her on a team called Sets in the City for their fun summer league. I agreed after determining that Sets possesses the two qualities I view as essential in a team: 1) a great name; and 2) a near-total disregard for actual tennis skills. The captain put me in the lineup for Saturday.

I faked my way through the warmup, but it took less than ten minutes of match play to show that I was rustier than a door hinge on the Titanic. My serve, an eloquent testimonial to why multi-tasking doesn’t work, was sometimes powerful and sometimes accurate but never both at once. I also struggled with ground strokes, alternately taking the phrase literally and hitting the ball straight into the asphalt or treating it as ironic with shots that didn’t touch down until West Virginia. To make matters worse, adrenaline, an uninvited guest when you’re a 46 year-old amateur playing a no-stakes-just-for-fun match, crashed the party and refused to leave no matter how hard I tried to get rid of it.
The whole scene would have struck me as comical had I been playing singles, but my brand new partner, Kate, had to suffer through it with me. We lost the first set, 4-6, before Kate determined that yes, it would probably be okay if she went ahead and suggested a couple of tweaks to my technique.

She delivered a gentle critique with saintly politeness, just as my mother — my long-suffering and once-concussed partner on the Smash Hits — probably would have done.

I appreciated the kindness, but what I really needed just then was my father’s more direct approach. Dad wouldn’t have made it through one game much less an entire set before bellowing a helpful,  “KEEP THE G*&@*!@*! BALL IN THE THE G*&@*!@*! COURT!”

As it turns out, dear old Dad was already on my mind anyway. Twelve hours earlier, my butt had been on the bleachers at Waters Field in Vienna with Mom and my sister Lynne, cheering as the American Legion Post 176 baseball team –an outfit Dad has coached for more than 25 years –won the District Championships. Friday night’s game capped an improbable title run that required Dad’s team to beat the formidable Vienna post twice in a row.
How did they do it? The occasional towering home run helped, of course, but they won mainly by playing small ball and showing big heart. The boys of Post 176 weren’t perfect, but their sense of team seemed to elevate their game both individually and collective just when they needed it most. That, more than anything else, seemed to propel them to an unlikely championship and an even unlikelier chance to douse Al, Dad’s coaching buddy of over 25 years, with a huge bucket of gatorade. I’ll remember that moment of spontaneous team joy, and my dad’s role in it, forever.

As I stood on the court, waiting for the helicopter to pass and thinking about the night before, I decided I was glad to be playing doubles rather than singles, even if it meant being accountable for my lousy game. Like most things in life, tennis is better, and makes you better, when you’re in it for someone besides yourself.

So I worked to raise my game. Which in my case that meant aiming to keep the ball in play and succeeding maybe half the time. It was still a major improvement and enough to help  us win the second set. Though Kate didn’t launch into the Hallelujah Chorus, I could tell she wanted to.

Kate and I went on to win in a tiebreak, 10-8, and though it didn’t really count for anything, it felt good to be back on the ball. Or at least somewhere in its general vicinity.

What's this thing for again, anyway?

What’s this thing for again, anyway?

Last night really left a mark. Just ask Andy Murray.

If you ask me, the best sporting event in D.C.  doesn’t require a trip to FedEx Field, the Verizon Center or Nats Park, and doesn’t even involve the local teams. It’s the Citi Open, a world-class tennis tournament that takes place every summer at a tiny venue right inside Rock Creek Park, a true local treasure.

This tournament was first held in 1969 and was called the Washington Star International because its main sponsor was the Washington Star, a daily paper that had been in circulation since 1852. In a sign of industrial trends to come, the paper went bust in 1981 and Sovran Bank took over as the main sponsor. The tournament became the Sovran Bank Classic until Legg Mason jumped into the sponsorship fray in the early 1990s. We knew it as the Legg Mason Tennis Classic from then until 2011, when Citi arrived on the scene. From here on out, I think it would simplify things greatly if the organizers would just call it the Insert Financial Services Mega-company Name Here Open.

Regardless of the name, the tournament attracts household names every year and the venue is so intimate you can see the expressions on the faces of those household names no matter where you sit. Sometimes the draw is full of players whose prime has passed, but not this year: three of the men are ranked among the Top 10 in the world by the Association of Tennis Professionals.

Last night I went to see one of them, Andy Murray, with my friend Laura from the Smash Hits. (We may not play great tennis, but we know it when we see it.) Ranked third in the world, Murray was seeded first in the tournament, and I could hardly wait to see his game up close.

But first, I had to get stung by a bee. It happened during a break between rounds, while Laura and I were sitting on comfy chairs, enjoying the shade of some trees and a Grand Marnier/pisco-based cocktail called the Match Point. We’d been talking about online dating when a big bug alighted on my left cheek. (I guess online dating inevitably attracts pests.) I swatted it away, not realizing it was a bee until a vaguely familiar pain kicked in just below my eye. I’d been stung once before, twenty-five years earlier. I was a lifeguard at Fox Hunt Swim Club at the time and got stung three times in the heel while performing the lifesaving function of mowing the lawn.

Laura and I happened to be near the First Aid trailer when my latest sting happened, so we made a pit stop. I guess it had been a slow day in First Aid, because we were the only customers and the woman manning the trailer seemed almost excited to hear that I’d gotten stung. She handed me a numbing swab, but when I requested ibuprofen, she shook her head and said, “As the attendant, I can’t do that.” Then she asked my name, which seemed odd at that point in the proceedings. When I told her, she said “Great to meet you, Karen. My name’s Delphine. And as your friend, I’d be happy to give you some ibuprofen.” Two ibuprofens, an ice pack and one new friend later, Laura and I began making our way to our seats for the big show.

Once the ice had melted, I could feel my cheek beginning to swell. Right on cue, one of my more attractive (and single) guy friends materialized out of thin air a few seats away. As we chatted, he said nothing about my face, which by then looked like it had sprouted an ocular tumor, but I could tell he noticed. I texted my family for sympathy and got loving messages like, “We’ll call you Popeye!” My ego was spared further bruising as Murray and Teymuraz Gabashvili, an unseeded Russian ranked 53rd in the world, took the main court and began to play.

Laura and I had been expecting your average first/worst blowout, but after five games, only our expectations had been blown out: Gabashvili was leading, 4-1 and took the first set, 6-4. In the second set, Murray started to look more like himself, but though he won it, 6-4, he never seemed quite in command. The third set started out close. When Murray pulled ahead 5-4, we thought the natural order was on the verge of restoration. Murray probably thought so, too, but no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t close it out. The score was tied at 6-6 and Gabashvili won the tiebreak, 7-4.

Just like that, Andy Murray was knocked out in the very first round. Apparently I wasn’t the only one feeling the sting at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center. My pain had subsided when I woke up this morning, but I bet Murray will be feeling that one for a while.

Not a bad seat in the house at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center.

A writer looks at 43

I turned 44 a month ago and, like Jimmy Buffett taking a pirate’s look at 40, I’ve decided to take a writer’s look at 43.

I considered doing one of those 360-degree assessments beloved by Corporate America, but since I’ve reached an age where I’d just as soon ignore the view from behind, I’ve decided to go old school and treat it like a standard six-subject report card. I’ve replaced math and science—subjects I excelled at but disliked—with subjects I like and actually encounter in daily life but perhaps do not excel at, such as “love life.”

  1. Health/Sports: 95. If the human body were a house, the major systems in mine are all still humming along after 43 years. If the body were Planet Earth, continental drift has not occurred…yet. And because my parents sprang for extended warranty coverage on my joints at birth, this year’s athletic pursuits included running the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler and doing the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim with four awesome dudes on a team called Capital Punishment. (Capital Punishment is poised to make its triumphant return, by the way, so stay tuned.) I continued to captain the hapless, but not entirely winless, Smash Hits. We even managed to soldier on when our beloved CeCe passed away unexpectedly, though that’s one loss from which we’ll never recover.
  2. House: 71. My home behaved like a high school senior whose college acceptances have already rolled in. It performed solidly for the first three quarters and then just gave up altogether, ending the year by leaving me with a basement that required major waterproofing and an oven that needs a neurologist.
  3. Writing: 100. I finally wrote a book, fulfilling my lifelong dream (and my family’s worst nightmare). Few things rival the joy of holding a bound volume of words you wrote, but pretty much everything beats the pants off of actually writing those words. The process stinks, and anyone who tells you it doesn’t is either lying or not really a writer. But just like going to the gym, if you do it with consistency, you get better (usually), and the results make the grueling, painful, sweaty agony worthwhile. Almost.
  4. Travel: 88. My book dragged me all over the lower half of the East Coast. It connected me with readers at a beer garden in Arlington and a book festival in Charlottesville, as well as bookstores in D.C., the Northern Neck of Virginia, and Elizabeth City and Charlotte, North Carolina. That last stop was a doozy for two reasons. First, it was the backdrop for a reunion with my beloved elementary school librarian, who just happens to live in Charlotte. It is one thing to hold a bound volume of words you wrote; it’s another altogether to read those words to a woman who helped you learn to love and aspire to great writing. My event at Park Road Books also created an unexpected opportunity to get in touch with my Jewish side. I expect to release Mazel Tov With That Thing You’re Doing any day now.
  5. Absurdity: 100. By any measure, Year 42 should have set the high water mark. Any year during which two single men materialize from the ivy in your fenced-in backyard is going to be very tough to beat. Not only that, but that same year I took a trip to Alaska with my parents, both of whom are in their seventies. Over the course of that trip, the three of us went whitewater rafting (referred to more accurately as “getting a glacial facial”), flew in a tiny plane that set us down at the base of Denali, and zip-lined in the treetops of Skagway. You haven’t lived until you see your parents outfitted in construction helmets and a harness that looks like a seatbelt diaper. It had taken some convincing to get Dad to go on that last excursion because he’s afraid of heights. (Every Yankosky fears heights, but Dad’s got it really bad.) Naturally, he was the only one of us to wind up stuck mid-zip, dangling like the lone grape on a vine. Against that backdrop, you’d think 43 wouldn’t have stood a chance, absurdity-wise, yet it met the absurdity challenge admirably. In August of 2014, I got ordained by the Universal Life Church and presided over a wedding. Not only that, but the blog post I wrote about the whole experience led the ULC to contact me. The ULC has a pretty great sense of humor as churches go – disorganized religions are smart enough not to take themselves too seriously –so a fun correspondence began, as a result of which I was featured in the ULC blog, keeping company with ordained elites like Lon Burns, “America’s Favorite Jewish Cowboy Minister.” (And High Priest of Niche Marketing, apparently.) I’ve made new friends in high places, at least latitudinally speaking. My other favorite absurdity from last year? A copy of the book I wrote that started out in the hands of my oldest sister wound up in a sewer, from which it was rescued by my 16 year-old nephew.
  6. Love Life: 53. A score like that would have led my elementary school teachers to dub me “remedial,” but it might not be as bad as it looks. I went on lots of dates last year, and many of them were even with the same person for a stretch. Though nothing fit quite right, articles like this remind me that my struggles in this area are far from uncommon and lead me to view this much like the scores I got on practice tests I took before the bar exam: anything over 50 is quite respectable, and nobody’s acing it.

My average? 84. Not bad, but it makes a pretty good case for staying in school.

karen and mom

I failed to mention that Mom, my #1 fan, was there to watch me get my Yiddish on at Park Road Books.


Season’s Beatings

As a blogger I’m on a constant quest for easy content. As the Captain of the Smash Hits, I’m always looking for new and entertaining ways to write match reports.

I thought I could kill two creative birds with one stone by writing a match report modeled after Clement C. Moore’s “A Visit From Saint Nick.”

This combination proved better in concept than reality, much like every blind date I’ve ever been on.

The first few lines came to me easily, allowing me to forget that the original poem is FIFTY-TWO LINES LONG. That’s as many lines of poetry as there are weeks in the year.  Isn’t this a bit much for a pagan holiday paean? If you ask me, which you should, this could easily have been dealt with via haiku.

Red-suited fat guy

Breaks and enters by chimney

Ho ho hum, I say.

But I forged ahead, enduring forgotten couplets like that one about wild leaves getting hurled into the sky by hurricane-force gales, and weaving in bits of team history where I could.  Without further ado, I bring you the report from last night’s semi-finals:

‘Twas the night before Finals, when I and the Smashes

Went from 7th to semis – a Phoenix from ashes.

Our rackets had hung by the chimney, whose fires

Posed less of a hazard than CeCe’s front tires.

The ladies had settled into their bath tubs,

Where visions of aces replaced those of flubs.

And Mom in a helmet, even off the court,

Because life, just like tennis, is a contact sport.

When out at Four Seasons spread all kinds of rumors:

“Who are these Smash Hits? Where’d they buy those bloomers?”

We walked on the courts, with the cool poise of Federer,

And with serves just as good as Nadal’s, if not betterer.

The lights cast a glow, oh so faint from above

That I wanted to yell, “Buy new bulbs, for the love!”

When what to my wondering eyes should show up

But Cupcake white wine, in a red sippy cup.

(As captain, I now and then turn to the sauce.

It cheers when we win and it soothes after loss.)

More rapid than eagles, far cuter they came,

My eight Smashes. I hooted and called them by name.

“Margie, Kate, Telma, Betsey and Leticia,

Mary Beth, Rebecca and CeCe and Lisa,

From the top of your stick to the soles of your shoes,

Remember my motto: ‘Don’t come home if you lose!’

As high-seed teams into the post-season sailed,

By my Cinderellas they were abruptly derailed.

Down to the L bracket those top teams they went,

“Who designs your unis?” they asked us on descent.

Last night, I watched, eyes and ears trained with aplomb.

What was that on Court 2, did I hear an F-bomb?

As I sucked in my breath and lowered my head,

My face had the hue sometimes called cherry red.

My girls, with demure skirts and tops made by tailors

Can curse with the skill seen most often in sailors.

A bundle of games one pair lost in a minute.

“What the F&^$’s going on, aren’t we trying to win it?”

My Smashes, they huddled. I knew they were plannin’

And the next serves they hit were shot straight from a cannon.

Ready to strike, coiled up like a snake,

Our pair notched set one without a need for tiebreak.

All four matches were close, a nailbiter for sure.

Or it would’ve been, but for my French manicure.

The tension, it hung, palpable as a noose.

I tried to think happy: Kevin Bacon, Footloose?

My Smashes leaned in as the going got tough.

They gave it their all,  which was more than enough.

Now don’t mind the score, it’s as mad as a hatter.

All those numbers and letters, are they really what matter?

When the clock struck eleven, we still didn’t know-

Tied up, two matches each.  Where’s the chart for that flow?

To decide: Total games? Sets? Quadratic equation?

I’m a lawyer: From all math I take a vacation.

I turned to my girls, to my team gave a tally

Then away they all flew, like line drives down the alley.

They shouted, while flooring it, tires all burns,

“Merry Christmas, dear Smashes, and blazing returns!”

The league coordinator confirmed this morning that we Smashes lost, based on total number of games each team won.

But, as the girls and I reminded each other, it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose: It’s how you look on the court. And we looked Smashing.

Last night’s scores…Carry the one…

Greatest Hits

Regular readers know that I play on a women’s tennis team called the Smash Hits. The Smashes recruited me in the spring of 2012 out of sheer desperation, the very same force that led them to make me their captain this fall.

Given our team motto (“If you can’t be good, look good”), you might infer that the Smashes don’t win all that often. You would not be wrong.

I’m not saying we aren’t competitive, but our collective killer instinct is more likely to come out in the shoe section at Nordstrom than on the tennis court.

The regular season ended late this Thursday night, and we found ourselves in seventh place.  Out of eight.  Having produced such lackluster results, I felt certain the Smashes were going to fire me so I began to work on my resume.

All talk of personnel changes evaporated when the league coordinator sent an email informing us that the Smashes had made the playoffs!  As it turns out, all eight teams reached the playoffs, which pretty much makes them “play-alls,” but that didn’t dampen my enthusiasm.

I rallied the troops and we showed up Friday night at the Four Seasons in Fairfax to take on the #2 team. Excitement was high and expectations were low.  As anyone who plays sports can tell you, this combination can be quite dangerous.

Here’s the match report I sent out late Friday night.  (I put way more effort into the report than I do, say, lineup selection. It often gives me a chance to hone my fiction writing skills):

Yes, Smashes, there is a Santa Claus, and he filled our team stocking with an epic upset –

We knocked off the Ms. Hits by a score of 3-1!

The Smash Hits are now the talk of Las Vegas, having destroyed the over/under for bettors everywhere.

“Who is this Cinderella team?” the bookies ask.  “And Uggs? Really? What happened to glass slippers?”

Here’s to keeping ‘em guessing, ladies.

Speaking of guessing, let me take a shot at what happened tonight, more or less.

Court #1 featured a mystery pairing. And no, I don’t mean the appearance of a rogue Bordeaux during the cheese course at dinner, I’m talking about Betsey and Leticia, who’d never even met, much less played before. As it turns out, they have more in common than a wicked tennis game: both are vegans. And I’m here to tell you, they take no meat, no dairy, and no prisoners. They were down 1-5 in the first set, and things looked grim, but the Dy-no-meat Duo was not about to take it lying down. They brought the set to a tiebreak. Though they lost the first set, the momentum had shifted (probably thanks to all those vegetables). They took the second set 6-1 and won the tiebreak to win the match. They enjoyed a hearty soy milk toast as they walked off the courts.

On Court #2, Kate and Telma (aka KaTelma) showed ‘em who was boss. While they could have won 6-0, 6-0, they turned to each other and said, “You know, it *is* Christmas, after all.  We should probably give them a few games.”  And that’s how they ended up winning, 6-2, 6-4.

On Court #3, Mom and I played yet another match where the score (6-3, 5-2) doesn’t tell the whole story.  If the score were more forthright, it would have said, “I am sick and tired of deuce. Don’t you people know any other words?” Though nearly every game went to deuce 462 times, we weren’t about to quibble because, for once, the score spun things our way.

Mary Beth and Liz played the Grinch Match on Court #4.  When time ran out, the Grinch’s heart had only grown twice its size instead of the required 3, which meant the Ms. Hits ended up with the W and sadness reigned in Hooville.

But not for long, because WE GOT THE WIN!!!

You all, dear Smashes, didn’t just make it into the post-season, you are in the SEMI-FINALS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  (I’d better add “exclamation marks” to my Christmas list ‘cause I’m burning through ‘em, here.)

The winning lineup and the final scores, blogged for posterity.

The Smashes continue our quest for post-season glory on Tuesday night when we take on Lots of Lob. I don’t know about you, but my money’s on the Smashes.




Fair and Balanced Reporting

Despite being mired in a daily blogging brawl, Philippa and I are on the same side when it comes to at least one thing: exercise.  We know it’s crucial to our physical and mental health, so we stay as active as possible.

She surfs, does power yoga, and walk-talks (something I probably couldn’t do without injuring myself).  I swim, run, take boot camp classes, and play tennis.  In fact, I had a match just last night.

Regular readers know that I play in a doubles league on a ladies’ team called the Smash Hits.  The Smashes are a terrific group of women ranging in age from 25 – 70, and one of them just happens to be my mom.

The United States Tennis Association has a ranking system that’s used to group players, teams and leagues based on skill.  The USTA scale goes from 1.5 – 7.0, where 1.5 means “knows the difference between a tennis racquet and a poolstick” and 7.0 means “Rafael Nadal.”

According to the USTA, the Smash Hits are a 3.0 team.  Despite our fair-to-middling ranking, the Smashes are formidable, racquet-wielding gladiators, as evidenced by our team motto: “If you can’t be good, look good.”

I joined the Smash Hits in April of 2012, mainly because I was in the middle of a move and would have done just about anything to avoid unpacking.  Less than two years later, the Smashes made me their captain.  I’d like to tell you that I earned the job through stellar play, but the truth is that I lost a bet.  

As captain, I manage the match schedule, set the six or eight-person lineups and report the results of the match to the whole team afterwards.

Based on our motto, you may have inferred that the Smashes tend to lose at least as often as we win.  Since it’s my job to keep team morale high, I work especially hard at writing upbeat match reports after a defeat.

Early on in the season, I got into the habit of writing post-loss reports using the good news/bad news format, thinking I’d never struggle to find something positive to say.

And I was right, at least at first.  But as the season progresses and we’ve notched more “L”s than “W”s, finding positive things to report keeps getting harder.

After another difficult loss last week, I sent a team-wide email proclaiming the following good news:

  • All 8 of our players showed up at the right courts at the right time, eclipsing our previous record of 6. Way to go! This was an especially impressive feat considering that CeCe ran over her tennis racquet.
  • We got a really great space in the club parking lot!”

When it turned out that we not only looked good, we actually were good last night, I was relieved! The only problem was I’d grown so accustomed to the good news/bad news format that I hardly knew how to write the report this morning.  I present the fruits of my struggle here, with minor edits (so let’s call it the “Evening Edition”):

Good morning, Smashes!

Had I gone to journalism school, they’d have taught me not to bury the lead so I’ll just come out with it: WE WON!! And by a decisive score of 3-1, to boot. I could stop there and leave you with the impression that we trounced the Toss-Ups, but the truth is that almost every match came down to a tiebreaker and this time, the Universe decided that just about all of them should break our way. Here’s how it went down, more or less.

  • On Court #1, Kim and Prudence played the “We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ First Set” match.  The first set somehow managed to fly under the radar and sneak right past them, taking all 6 games with it.  Once they realized what happened, they were on the lookout for the second set.  As soon as they spotted it, they went ahead and won it and the tiebreaker that followed.
  • Major drama ensued during the “Cirque du Soleil” match that Mary Ann (aka Mom) and Kate played on Court #2.  It was a close match where every point counted, which is what sent Kate diving for a shot.  She managed to transition the dive into a triple salchow, but ultimately the point was lost. As was the match, also in a tiebreak. Though the Universe was kind to us overall, I take serious issue with it here.  If you’re over 50 and you perform on-court acrobatics, you should win the point and the match, regardless of whether you stick the landing.
  • Match 3 found me and Leanne playing the “Mrs. Magoo” Match. We won the first set, 7-6, and were down 3-4 in the second when time ran out.  Since the second set didn’t have enough games to be considered valid, the “W” went to us for our work in the first set.  The winning point in that first set came when the other team served up a double-fault. No one wants to win a set that way, but both Leanne and I called it like we saw it: Out. The other team didn’t so much like that call, or several others, apparently.  We realized this only after the match had ended and, instead of shaking hands, they handed us coupons for a free visit to MyEyeDr.
  • On Court 4, CeCe and Jennifer, our newest Smash, played the “Who the &$#@ are you?” match.  Because CeCe referred Jennifer to me, I had assumed they knew each other, which was reason enough for me to put them together when I devised the lineup.  As it turns out, they’d never met.  But that didn’t stop them from pulling off a win in…you guessed it…a tiebreak.

This smashing result says so much about our team, our tenacity and, above all, our tumbling skills. Way to go, ladies!

We play again on Sunday night and I’m hoping for more good news. Until then, everyone, play hard, play nice, and remember: If you can’t be good, look good.