You hit the wall, bam, curtains. It is a grim picture, and it has been waking me up every morning at dawn. But I never remember the split second before the smash-up. I do not know what I am riding, if anything. I just know it wakes me up at dawn. I know it is dawn because of the light outside, but just to be sure I check the daily weather news for the time at first light and sure enough, I am on the button every time.
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Oumi — that is my sweetie and my better half — has been nice about it, tactful, “yos’eepokayebaybe,” no question mark, that upbeat lilt that, even whispered, comes maybe from a childhood near the equator. This time she knows she must say something.
“You and that wall, you have a problem. The two you, yo ’aven’ ta’k. You better go, baby. You an’ the wall.”
I had tried a few times in April. The Rose Park wall is fine, but it is a social wall. I reply, “You are right, Oumi. I shall do that. I shall drop you off and then drive over there. The one that knows.”
“I think you should, Rogerkaplan,” because that is what she calls me when she is happy to win her point. “Tonight I will walk home for exercise and then cook for you, for you are my husband and I know you will be hungry. You will be hungry and tired and you will not dream of walls.”
It is in the old neighborhood, other side of town. Due east, a bit south, past the hospital, past Catholic U, Brookland, Franklin Street, South Dakota Avenue, almost to the District line. It is a fine quiet ride, the streets deserted as the authorities delay the reopening of the capital city. Some think it is better thus for the country.
Hagans Park, off Fort Lincoln Drive, should be quiet in a nice way on a pleasant May morning, retired folks working out, mothers and children. They are not here. Squirrels, a couple deer.
For a tennis player, a wall is like a batting cage.
This is a fine park, built by a great Washingtonian, who, in fact, was going to save, redevelop, this whole neighborhood before he died in an accident. Others picked up the torch. This is the recreational space, eight courts with lights for summer nights, swimming pool always packed, except now. Two baseball fields. Charming picnic areas.
Beautiful spring day. Deserted but for a few guys playing handball on the south side of the wall. Watch them, listen to the trash talk, it’s part of the sport. A few words hello, take the north side, hit. Hit again, start hitting.
For a tennis player, a wall is like a batting cage. It’s always the same, and yet some feel better than others. Maybe it is familiarity. The pool on one side, the courts on the other, the playing fields behind — you can imagine the kids, imagine their shouts and yells. I never get into a rhythm on that Rose Park wall, but here at Hagans, it comes quickly, I can see the swimmers diving and splashing, the players grunting and slicing.
“Take that!” you say out loud, and it answers, Sure, so only you hear it. “Okay, this one!” and it replies, Sure, if you really want to run sideways for it. It tells you when your shots are stupid. It tells you when they are true.
Not a wall to hit your head against. It tells you what you say and do. Holds up a mirror to you, understands.
Hit to the square and it comes right back. Same square, again. Five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, the wall sends the balls right back to the right, forehand, your arm is ready, bam, eleven, back, bam, twelve, if you change where your arm reaches or touches the ball, the wall knows, knows your angle even before you do. Go to twenty and then move a step or two to hit flat and the wall returns your shot to the left, backhand now, one, bam, follow through, arm back, two, bam, three, follow through, four, five, you hit the target and the wall sends it back, right there to your left. You get what you give, the wall knows.
This is much better than talking to a wall. When you talk to a wall, which you often feel these days trying to talk to people, you exhaust yourself to no purpose. But here you hit without knowing you are trying, and you always get your answer, and it depends on what you asked — on the way you hit the ball. You hit the wall. It gets the message. Sends one back to you.
Be smiling with Oumi later. She was right, as usual. She knew.