Saturday, 7 January 2012

I love You Lleyton Hewitt

Summer. Uggh.
I’ve lived in this part of the country for a long time. You’d think I’d be getting the hang of things by now. But no. The specifics of the seasons continue to surprise and unnerve me. And by ‘surprise and unnerve’ I mean ‘make me feel suicidal/homicidal of a morning and, as my energy levels drop through the afternoon, wearily nihilistic by nightfall. So, summer. It just gets so goddamned HOT. Even if you’re lucky enough to lose consciousness at some point you eventually come to feeling like your internal organs have undergone a session in a thermally-heated slow-cooker, which in a way they pretty much have. The punishing nature of my work means that I am left devoid of the energy and inclination to do anything much of, oh, say, anything other than watching boxed sets of HBO television series and reading four and five day old newspapers with that kind of glazed immobility that comes over you when you are bone weary busted.
Summer is not the ideal season for those of a morose persuasion. All those people who seem to be inexplicably enjoying themselves? It’s irritating. No, summer is not for me. I prefer cooler weather. I can coat myself in goose fat and legitimate my melancholia.

I live in a town that fills with people from Melbourne’s outer suburbs over summer. Bogans. They swarm in and set up elaborate camps all over the banks of the Murray and amuse themselves hurling their obnoxious water crafts over the water at high speeds. Occasionally they crash them; run them up banks or wrap them around submerged trees and such. This leads to deaths and various forms of paralysis but it never seem to thin out their ranks any. Every year, more and more holidaying bogans; they come and they come. And every year the town runs out of meat and ice and bait and parking spaces. They all seem to have a terrific time, crashing about in the bush and crashing about on the water and drinking like fishes and emptying the town of its vital supplies.
Because I work outside every day under the brain-boiling sun of the punishing nature of my work out under the sun I tend to look at their zealous commitment to al fresco leisure as the last word in lunacy. I stagger to the supermarket after work looking like a walking autopsy and am made twitchy by plague proportions of boardshort wearing bogans exuding their special kind of frenetic, abrasive energy; buying huge quantities of sauce and Reef tanning oil and pre-mixed pasta salad and, out in the car park, staggering and reeling under the weight of the two or three slabs piled against their chest and obstructing their vision and mobility. Good people.
In any case, total respect to those who take charge of two tonnes of speeding metal over the Christmas and New Year’s period to drive hundreds of miles across the country in an insane pursuit of holiday happiness. Props. Also, I like people who appreciate inland beauty. This obsession Australians have with the coast perplexes me. The Murray is in something of a ragged and shabby state but it has a kind of faded elegance; it’s wide and serene and quietly majestic and goes about its timeless business of just rolling on and that’s about all you can ask of a river, isn’t it? There’s something to be said for people who chose to take their holiday somewhere out in the continental vastness, in indeterminate farming country, in the stinking summer heat, far from the cool afternoon sea breeze that blows over places like Lorne and Portsea of an afternoon.

Bill Bryson wrote something about the days before air-conditioning came along in America, and the special kind of grimy summer heat that used to characterise American cities, and how
“people spent every waking moment trying to alleviate it – wiping their necks with capacious handkerchiefs, swallowing cold glasses of lemonade, lingering by open refrigerators, sitting listlessly before electric fans.
The world has changed a lot since those days, of course.
Everywhere you go is air-conditioned, so the air is always as cool and clean as a freshly laundered shirt. People don’t wipe their necks much anymore or drink sweating glasses of lemonade, or lay their bare arms gratefully on cool marble soda fountains, because nowadays summer heat is something out there, something experienced only briefly when you sprint from your parking lot to your office or from your office to the luncheon counter down the block.”
I don't know about you but Bill Bryson has the uncanny knack of making me feel nostalgic, homesick, even, for a time and a place that I've never known. I'm not entirely sure I even know what a soda fountain is but he has me and my bare arms right there on it. Remarkable.
HOWEVER. January sees my horizon expand to such a degree that I have  Something! To Look! Forward To! I know. Talk about insane optimism. If that sounds like it's the sun-baked delerium taking hold and warping my perspective, you're only partially right, because January is also the time that the Australian Open comes to town.
I look forward to the Australian Open with a fervor that is vaguely religious in scope and intensity. Strapping athletes straining through a series of intense and increasingly grueling encounters and Andy Roddick throwing a series of strops is a perfect accompaniment to the rigorous do-nothingness that summer afternoons, evenings and nights demand. I have a very real and personal appreciation the opportunity it affords to sprawl hypnotized in front of the box for hours on end watching that little ball being pinged back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. It’s immeasurably soothing. It is cool balm for my fevered forehead. Sometimes it puts me into a state of almost narcotic bliss. What happens here is that sets and then games blend together so that they have no start or finish but are just continuous, like time. It's lovely. It's how I imagine heroin must feel.
I also appreciate the Australian Open for bringing John McEnroe back into our midst. That naff advertisement for his up-coming commentary role on Fox Sports? The one where he’s screaming “You have got to be KIDDING ME” at his answer phone - the veins of his forehead lively - as his agent leaves a series of messages suggesting increasingly ludicrous but kind of cool (“McEnroe – the musical”) career options? It excites my imagination every time. I know. My brain wants nothing to do with reason. It never has, especially during the summer months. Ergo: I look forward to Jim Courier, too. I like his egotistical waffle and his quiet but lacerating disdain for most things un-American and his poorly timed and mostly mediocre anecdotes. It goes without saying that I also like his carefully styled hair. I find it vulgar and tragic and perfectly suited to a man of his character and temperament – ie. a man who would greet friends and strangers alike with a non-traditional handshake. Yes, a knob.  
But you know what I look forward to the most? Lleyton Hewitt getting into the commentary box. My Hewitt-love is nothing short of strenuous. The poor bastard has had a torrid time of it, what with being cast by large portions of the population and media as a thorn in the side of the Australian psyche. This has always been unwarranted. God love him, though, he’s always stayed faithful to his own universe. It had long been my belief that Hewitt, along with Laurie Daly, is in possession of one of the sharpest sporting minds in Australia. This was brought home with some force last year when he did guest commentary at the Open and startled , oh, I don’t know; EVERYONE with the skillful truth, charm, grace and intelligence of his observations. Let me tell you something. There’s a reason that Hewitt and Daly have those sharp and darting laser-like eyes, and that reason is that they have spent their entire athletic careers seeing shit that other people - those in possession of slower-moving, bovine-like eyes - routinely overlook or misread. Fundamental truth #1. 

Being misunderstood was all part of his package as a player, but it would be lovely if the weak chinned cowards with ashtray eyes to whom his singular, seagull-eyed intensity posed innumerable threats could see him as the huge-hearted fighter that he is and thereby marinate in their own uniquely Australian blend of guilt and hypocrisy for a while. That would be nice.

Fundamental Truth #2:

“It’s hard to be a decent person when you have your boot on someone’s neck”
– some old saying: origins unknown (to me at least.)
In any case, I am very fucking keen for the Australian Open to begin so that I can 'slip into something more comfortable' - ie. a glassy-eyed horizontal tennis-trance.

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