Tuesday, 3 November, Enfield Tennis Academy: A.M. drills, shower, eat, class, lab, class, class, eat, prescriptive-grammar exam, lab/class, conditioning run, P.M. drills, play challenge match, play challenge match, upper-body circuits in weight room, sauna, shower, slump to locker-room floor w/ other players.
‘… to even realize what they’re sitting there feeling is unhappiness? Or to even feel it in the first place?’
1640h.: the Comm.-Ad. Bldg.’s males’ locker room is full of clean upper-classmen in towels after P.M. matches, the players’ hair wet-combed and shining with Barbicide. Pemulis uses the comb’s big-toothed end to get that wide-furrowed look that kids from Allston favor. Hal’s own hair tends to look wet-combed even when it’s dry.
‘So,’ Jim Troeltsch says, looking around. ‘So what do you think?’
Pemulis lowers himself to the floor by the sinks, leaning up against the cabinet where they keep all the disinfectants. He has this way of looking warily to either side of him before he says anything. ‘Was there like a central point to all that, Troeltsch?’
‘The exam was talking about the syntax of Tolstoy’s sentence, not about real unhappy families,’ Hal says quietly.
John Wayne, as do most Canadians, lifts one leg slightly to fart, like the fart was some kind of task, standing at his locker, waiting for his feet to get dry enough to put on socks.
There is a silence. Showerheads dribble on tile. Steam hangs. Distant ghastly sounds from T. Schacht over in one of the stalls off the showers. Everyone stares into the middle distance, stunned with fatigue. Michael Pemulis, who can stand about ten seconds of communal silence tops, clear his throat deeply and sends a loogie up and back into the sink behind him. The plate mirrors caught part of its quivering flight, Hal sees. Hal closes his eyes.
‘Tired,’ someone exhales.
Ortho Stice and John (‘N.R.’) Wayne seem less fatigued than detached; they have the really top player’s way of shutting the whole neural net down for brief periods, staring at the space they took up, hooded in silence, removed, for a moment, from the connectedness of all events.
‘Right then,’ Troeltsch says. ‘Pop quiz. Pop test-question. Most crucial difference, for Leith tomorrow, between your historical broadcast TV set and a cartridge-capable TP.’
Disney R. Leith teaches E.T.A.’s History of Entertainment I and II as well as certain high-level esoteric Optics things you needed Permission of Inst. to get into.
‘The Cathodeluminescent Panel. No cathode gun. No phosphenic screen. Two to the screen’s diagonal width in cm. lines of resolution, total.’
‘You mean a high-def. viewer in general, or a specifically TP-component viewer?’
‘No analogs,’ Struck says.
‘No snow, no faint weird like ghostly double next to UHF images, no vertical roll when planes fly over.’
‘Analogs v. digitals.’
‘You referring to broadcast as in network versus a TP, or network-plus-cable versus a TP?’
‘Did cable TV use analogs? What, like pre-fiber phones?’
‘It’s the digitals. Leith has that word he uses for the shift from analogs to digitals. That word he uses about eleven times an hour.’
‘What did pre-fiber phones use, exactly?’
‘The old tin-can-and-string principle.’
‘ “Seminal.” He keeps saying it. “Seminal, seminal.” ’
‘The biggest advance in home communications since the phone he says.’
‘In home entertainment since the TV itself.’
‘Leith might say the Write-Capable CD, for entertainment.’
‘He’s hard to pin down if you get him on entertainment qua entertainment.’
‘The Diz’ll say use your own judgment,’ Pemulis says. ‘Axford took it last year. He wants an argument made. He’ll skewer you if you treat it like there’s an obvious answer.’
‘Plus there’s the InterLace de-digitizer instead of an antenna, with a TP,’ Jim Struck says, squeezing at something behind his ear. Graham (‘Yard-guard’) Rader is checking his underarm for more hair. Freer and Shaw might be asleep.
Stice has pulled his towel down slightly and is fingering the deep red abdominal stripe a jock’s waistband leaves. ‘Boys, I ever become president, the first thing to go’s elastic.’
Troeltsch pretends to shuffle cards. ‘Next item. Next like flash-card. Define acutance. Anybody?’
‘A measure of resolution directly proportional to the resolved ratio of a given pulse’s digital code,’ Hal says.
‘The Incster has the last word once again,’ says Struck. Which invites a chorus:
‘Halation,’ Rader says. ‘A halo-shaped exposure-pattern around light sources seen on chemical film at low speed.’
‘That most angelic of distortions.’
Struck says ‘We’ll be like vying for the seats all around Inc tomorrow.’ Hal shuts his eyes: he can see the page of text right there, all highlighted, all yellowed up.
‘He can scan the page, rotate it, fold the corner down and clean under his nails with it, all mentally.’
‘Leave him alone,’ Pemulis says.
Freer opens his eyes. ‘Do a dictionary-page for us, man, Inc.’
Stice says ‘Leave him be.’
It’s all only half-nasty. Hal is placid about getting his balls smacked around; they all are. He does his share of chops-busting. Some of the littler kids who take their showers after the upperclassmen are hanging around listening. Hal sits on the floor, quiescent, chin on his chest, just thinking it’s nice finally to breathe and get enough air.
The temperature had fallen with the sun. Marathe listened to the cooler evening wind roll across the incline and desert floor. Marathe could sense or feel many million floral pores begin slowly to open, hopeful of dew. The American Steeply produced small exhalations between his teeth as he examined his scratch of the arm. Only one or two remaining tips of the digitate spikes of the radial blades of the sun found crevices between the Tortolitas’ peaks and probed at the roof of the sky. There were the slight and dry locationless rustlings of small living things that wish to come out at night, emerging. The sky was violet.
Everyone in the locker room’s got a towel around his waist like a kilt. Everyone except Stice has a white E.T.A. towel; Stice uses his own sort of trademark towels, black ones. After a silence Stice shoots some air out through his nose. Jim Struck picks liberally at his face and neck. There are one or two sighs. Peter Beak and Evan Ingersoll and Kent Blott, twelve, eleven, ten, are up sitting on the blond-wood benches that run in front of the lockers’ rows, sitting there in towels, elbows on knees, not taking part. So is Zoltan Csikzentmihalyi, who’s sixteen but speaks very little English. Idris Arslanian, new this year, ethnically vague, fourteen, all feet and teeth, is a shadowy lurking presence just outside the locker-room door, poking the non-Caucasoid snout in occasionally and then withdrawing, terribly shy.
Each E.T.A. player in 18-and-Unders has like four to six 14-and-Unders kids he’s supposed to keep his more experienced wing over, look out for. The more the E.T.A. administration trusts you, the younger and more generally clueless the little kids in your charge. Charles Tavis instituted the practice and calls it the Big Buddy System in the literature he sends new kids’ parents. So the parents can feel their kid’s not getting lost in the institutional shuffle. Beak, Blott, and Arslanian are all in Hal’s Big Buddy group for Y.D.A.U. He also in effect has Ingersoll, having traded Todd (‘Postal-Weight’) Possalthwaite to Axford off the books for Ingersoll, because Trevor Axford found he so despised the Ingersoll kid for some unanalyzable reason that he was struggling against a horrible compulsion to put Ingersoll’s little fingers into the gap by the hinges of an open door and then very slowly close the door, and came to Hal almost in tears, Axford had. Though technically Ingersoll is still Axford’s and Possalthwaite Hal’s. Possalthwaite, the great lobber, has a weird young-old face and little wet lips that lapse into a sucking reflex under stress. In theory, a Big Buddy’s somewhere between an R.A. and a prorector. He’s there to answer questions, ease bumpy transitions, show ropes, act as liaison with Tony Nwangi and Tex Watson and the other prorectors specializing in little kids. Be somebody they can come to off the record. A shoulder to climb up on a footstool and cry on. If a 16-and-Under gets made a Big Buddy it’s kind of an honor; it means they think you’re going places. When there’s no tournament or travel, etc., Big Buddies get together with their quar-to-sextet in small-group private twice a week, in the interval between P.M. challenge matches and dinner, usually after saunas and showers and a few minutes of sitting slumped around the locker room sucking air. Sometimes Hal sits with his Little Buddies at dinner and eats with them. Not often, however. The savvier Big Buddies don’t get too overly close with their L.B. ephebes, don’t let them forget about the unbridgeable gaps of experience and ability and general status that separate ephebes from upperclassmen who’ve hung in and stuck it out at E.T.A. for years and years. Gives them more to look up to. The savvy Big Buddy doesn’t rush in or tread heavy; he holds his own ground and lets the suppliants realize when they need his help and come to him. You have to know when to tread in and take an active hand and when to hang back and let the littler kids learn from the personal experience they’ll have to learn from, inevitably, if they want to be able to hang. Every year, the biggest source of attrition, besides graduating 18s, is 13–15s who’ve had enough and just can’t hang. This happens; the administration accepts it; not everyone’s cut out for what’s required of you here. Though C.T. makes his administrative assistant Lateral Alice Moore drive the prorectors bats trying to ferret out data on littler kids’ psychic states, so he can forecast probable burnouts and attritive defections, so he’ll know how many slots he and Admissions’ll have to offer Incomings for the next term. Big Buddies are in a tricky position, requested to keep the prorectors generally informed about who among their charges seems shaky in terms of resolve, capacity for suffering and stress, physical punishment, homesickness, deep fatigue, but at the same time wanting to remain a trustworthy confidential shoulder and wing for their Little Buddies’ most private and delicate issues.
Though he, too, has to struggle with a strange urge to be cruel to Ingersoll, who reminds him of someone he dislikes but can’t quite place, Hal on the whole rather likes being a Big B. He likes being there to come to, and likes delivering little unpretentious minilectures on tennis theory and E.T.A. pedagogy and tradition, and getting to be kind in a way that costs him nothing. Sometimes he finds out he believes something that he doesn’t even know he believed until it exits his mouth in front of five anxious little hairless plump trusting clueless faces. The twice-weekly (more like once-weekly, as things usually pan out) group interfaces with his quintet are unpleasant only after a particularly bad P.M. session on the courts, when he’s tired and on edge and would far rather go off by himself and do secret stuff in underground ventilated private.
Jim Troeltsch feels at his glands. John Wayne is of the sock-and-a-shoe, sock-and-a-shoe school.
‘Tired,’ Ortho Stice again sighs. He pronounces it ‘tard.’ To a man, now, the upperclassmen are down slumped on the locker room’s blue crush carpet, their legs straight out in front of them, toes pointing out at that distinctive morgue-angle, their backs up against the blue steel of the lockers, careful to avoid the six sharp little louvered antimildew vents at each locker’s base. All of them look a bit silly naked because of their tennis tans: legs and arms the deep sienna of a quality catcher’s mitt, from the summer, the tan just now this late starting to fade, but feet and ankles of toadbelly-white, the white of the grave, with chests and shoulders and upper arms more like off-white — the players can sit shirtless in the stands at tournaments when they’re not playing and get at least a bit of thoracic sun. The faces are the worst, maybe, most red and shiny, some still deep-peeling from three straight weeks of outdoor tournaments in August-September. Besides Hal, who’s atavistically dark-complected anyway, the ones here with the least bad piebald coloring are the players who can tolerate spraying themselves down with Lemon Pledge before outdoor play. It turns out Lemon Pledge, when it’s applied in pre-play stasis and allowed to dry to a thin crust, is a phenomenal sunscreen, UV-rating like 40+, and the only stuff anywhere that can survive a three-set sweat. No one knows what jr. player at what academy found this out about Pledge, years back, or how: rather bizarre discovery-circumstances are envisioned. The smell of sweat-wet Pledge out on the court makes some of the more delicately constituted kids sick, though. Others feel sunscreen of any kind to be unconscionably pussified, like white visors or on-court sunglasses. So most of the E.T.A. upperclassmen have these vivid shoe-and-shirt tans that give them the classic look of bodies hastily assembled from different bodies’ parts, especially when you throw in the heavily muscled legs and usually shallow chests and the two arms of different sizes.
‘Tard tard tard,’ Stice says.
Group empathy is expressed via sighs, further slumping, small spastic gestures of exhaustion, the soft clanks of skulls’ backs against the lockers’ thin steel.
‘My bones are ringing the way sometimes people say their ears are ringing, I’m so tired.’
‘I’m waiting til the last possible second to even breathe. I’m not expanding the cage till driven by necessity of air.’
‘So tired it’s out of tired’s word-range,’ Pemulis says. ‘Tired just doesn’t do it.’
‘Exhausted, shot, depleted,’ says Jim Struck, grinding at his closed eye with the heel of his hand. ‘Cashed. Totalled.’
‘Look.’ Pemulis pointing at Struck. ‘It’s trying to think.’
‘A moving thing to see.’
‘Beat. Worn the heck out.’
‘Worn the fuck-all out is more like.’
‘Wrung dry. Whacked. Tuckered out. More dead than alive.’
‘None even come close, the words.’
‘Word-inflation,’ Stice says, rubbing at his crewcut so his forehead wrinkles and clears. ‘Bigger and better. Good greater greatest totally great. Hyperbolic and hyperbolicker. Like grade-inflation.’
‘Should be so lucky,’ says Struck, who’s been on academic probation since fifteen.
Stice is from a part of southwest Kansas that might as well be Oklahoma. He makes the companies that give him clothes and gear give him all black clothes and gear, and his E.T.A. cognomen is ‘The Darkness.’
Hal raises his eyebrows at Stice and smiles. ‘Hyperbolicker?’
‘My daddy as a boy, he’d have said “tuckered out”’ll do just fine.’
‘Whereas here we are sitting here needing whole new words and terms.’
‘Phrases and clauses and models and structures,’ Troeltsch says, referring again to a prescriptive exam everyone but Hal wishes now to forget. ‘We need an inflation-generative grammar.’
Keith Freer makes a motion as if taking his unit out of his towel and holding it out at Troeltsch: ‘Generate this.’
‘Need a whole new syntax for fatigue on days like this,’ Struck says. ‘E.T.A.’s best minds on the problem. Whole thesauruses digested, analyzed.’ Makes a sarcastic motion. ‘Hal?’
One semion that still works fine is holding your fist up and cranking at it with the other hand so the finger you’re giving somebody goes up like a drawbridge. Though of course Hal’s mocking himself at the same time. Everybody agrees it speaks volumes. Idris Arslanian’s shoes and incisors appear briefly in the doorway’s steam, then withdraw. Everyone’s reflection is sort of cubist in the walls’ shiny tiling. The name handed down paternally from an Umbrian five generations past and now much diluted by N.E. Yankee, a great-grandmother with Pima-tribe Indian S.W. blood, and Canadian cross-breeding, Hal is the only extant Incandenza who looks in any way ethnic. His late father had been as a young man darkly tall, high flat Pima-tribe cheekbones and very black hair Brylcreemed back so tight there’d been a kind of enforced widow’s peak. Himself had looked ethnic, but he isn’t extant. Hal is sleek, sort of radiantly dark, almost otterish, only slightly tall, eyes blue but darkly so, and unburnable even w/o sunscreen, his untanned feet the color of weak tea, his nose ever unpeeling but slightly shiny. His sleekness isn’t oily so much as moist, milky; Hal worries secretly that he looks half-feminine. His parents’ pregnancies must have been all-out chromosomatic war: Hal’s eldest brother Orin had got the Moms’s Anglo-Nordo-Canadian phenotype, the deep-socketed and lighter-blue eyes, the faultless posture and incredible flexibility (Orin was the only male anybody at E.T.A.’d ever heard of who could do a fully splayed cheerleader-type split), the rounder and more protrusive zygomatics.
Hal’s next-oldest brother Mario doesn’t seem to resemble much of anyone they know.
On most of the nontravel days that he doesn’t Big Buddy with his charges, Hal will wait till most everybody’s busy in the sauna and shower and stow his sticks in his locker and stroll casually down the cement steps into E.T.A.’s system of tunnels and chambers. He has some way he can casually drift off and have quite a while go by before anyone even notices his absence. He’ll often stroll casually back into the locker room just as people are slumped on the floor in towels discussing fatigue, carrying his gear bag and substantially altered in mood, and go in when most of the littler kids are in there peeling Pledge-husks off their limbs and taking their turn showering, and shower, using one of the kids’ shampoo out of a bottle shaped like a cartoon character, then hike the head back and apply Visine in a Schacht-free stall, gargle and brush and floss and dress, usually not even needing to comb his hair. He carries Visine AC, mint-flavored floss, and a traveller’s toothbrush in a pocket of his Dunlop gear bag. Ted Schacht, big into oral hygiene, regards Hal’s bag’s floss and brush as an example to them all.
‘So tired it’s like I’m almost high.’
‘But not pleasantly high,’ Troeltsch says. ‘It’d be a pleasanter tiredness-high if I didn’t have to wait till fucking 1900 to start all this studyin’,’ Stice says.
‘You’d think Schtitt could at least not turn up the juice the week before midterms.’
‘You’d think that the coaches and the teachers could try and get together on their scheduling.’
‘It’d be like a pleasant fatigue if I could just go up after dinner and hunker on down with the mind in neutral and watch something uncomplex.’
‘Not have to worry about prescriptive forms or acutance.’ ‘Kick back.’ ‘Watch something with chase scenes and lots of stuff blowing up all over the place.’
‘Relax, do bongs, kick back, look at lingerie catalogues, eat granola with a great big wooden spoon,’ Struck says wistfully.
‘Get laid.’ ‘Just get one night off to like R and R.’ ‘Slip on the old environmental suit and listen to some atonal jazz.’ ‘Have sex. Get laid.’ ‘Bump uglies. Do the nasty. Haul ashes.’ ‘Find me one of them Northeast Oklahoma drive-in burger-stand waitresses with the great big huge titties.’
‘Those enormous pink-white French-painting tits that sort of like tumble out.’
‘One of those wooden spoons so big you can barely get your mouth around it.’
‘Just one night to relax and indulge.’
Pemulis belts out two quick verses of Johnny Mathis’s ‘Chances Are,’ left over from the shower, then subsides to examine something on his left thigh. Shaw has a spit-bubble going, growing to such exceptional size for just spit that half the room watches until it finally goes at the same moment Pemulis breaks off.
Evan Ingersoll says ‘We get off Saturday for Interdependence Day Eve, though, the board said.’
Several upperclass heads are cocked up at Ingersoll. Pemulis makes a bulge in his cheek with his tongue and moves it around.
‘Flubbaflubba’: Stice makes his jowls fly around. ‘We get off classes is all. Drills and challenges go merrily on, deLint says,’ Freer points out.
‘But no drills Sunday, before the Gala.’ ‘But still matches.’
Every jr. player presently in this room is ranked in the top 64 continentally, except Pemulis, Yardley and Blott.
There’d be clear evidence that T. Schacht’s still in one of the toilet stalls off the showers even if Hal couldn’t see the tip of one of Schacht’s enormous purple shower thongs under the door of the stall right by where the shower-area entryway cuts into his line of sight. Something humble, placid even, about inert feet under stall doors. The defecatory posture is an accepting posture, it occurs to him. Head down, elbows on knees, the fingers laced together between the knees. Some hunched timeless millennial type of waiting, almost religious. Luther’s shoes on the floor beneath the chamber pot, placid, possibly made of wood, Luther’s 16th-century shoes, awaiting epiphany. The mute quiescent suffering of generations of salesmen in the stalls of train-station johns, heads down, fingers laced, shined shoes inert, awaiting the acid gush. Women’s slippers, centurions’ dusty sandals, dock-workers’ hobnailed boots, Popes’ slippers. All waiting, pointing straight ahead, slightly tapping. Huge shaggy-browed men in skins hunched just past the firelight’s circle with wadded leaves in one hand, waiting. Schacht suffered from Crohn’s Disease, 43a bequest from his ulcerative-colitic dad, and had to take carminative medication with every meal, and took a lot of guff about his digestive troubles, and had developed of all things arthritic gout, too, somehow, because of the Crohn’s Disease, which had settled in his right knee and caused him terrible pain on the court.
Freer’s and Tall Paul Shaw’s racquets fall off the bench with a clatter, and Beak and Blott move fast to pick them up and stack them back on the bench, Beak one-handed because the other hand is keeping his towel fastened.
‘Because so that was let’s see,’ Struck says.
Pemulis loves to sing around tile.
Struck’s hitting his palm with a finger for either emphasis or ordinal counting. ‘Close to let’s call it an hour run for the A-squads, an hour-fifteen drills, two matches back to back.’
‘I only played one,’ Troeltsch injects. ‘Had a measurable fever in the A.M., deLint said to throttle down today.’
‘Folks that went three sets only played one match, Spodek and Kent for an instance,’ Stice says.
‘Funny how Troeltsch how his health always seems to rally when A.M.
drills get out,’ Freer says.
‘— like conservatively two hours for the matches. Conservatively. Then half an hour on the machines under fucking Loach’s beady browns, sitting there with the clipboard. That’s let’s call it five hours of vigorous nonstop straight-out motion.’
‘Sustained and strenuous exertion.’ ‘Schtitt’s determinated this year we ain’t singing no silly songs at Port Washington.’
John Wayne hasn’t said one word this whole time. The contents of his locker are neat and organized. He always buttons his shirt all the way up to the top button as if he were going to put on a tie, which he doesn’t even own. Ingersoll’s also getting dressed out of his underclassman’s small square locker.
Stice says ‘Except they seem to forget we’re still in our puberty.’
Ingersoll is a kid seemingly wholly devoid of eyebrows, as far as Hal can see.
‘Speak for yourself, Darkness.’
‘I’m saying how stressing the pubertyizing skeleton like this, it’s real short-sighted.’ Stice’s voice rises. ‘ ’m I supposed to do when I’m twenty and in the Show playing nonstop and I’m skeletally stressed and injury-proned?’
A curled bit of cloudy old Pledge-husk and a green thread from a strip of GauzeTex wrap are complexly entwined in the blue fibers of the carpet near Hal’s left ankle, which ankle is faintly swollen and has a blue tinge. He keeps flexing the ankle whenever it occurs to him to. Struck and Troeltsch spar briefly with open hands, feinting and bobbing their heads, both still seated on the floor. Hal, Stice, Troeltsch, Struck, Rader, and Beak are all rhythmically squeezing tennis balls with their racquet-hands, as per Academy mandate. Struck’s shoulders and neck have furious purple inflammations; Hal had also noticed a boil on the inside of Schacht’s thigh, when Ted’d sat down. Hal’s face’s reflection just fits inside one of the wall-tiles opposite, and then if he moves his head slowly the face distends and comes back together with an optical twang in the next tile. That post-shower community feeling is dissipating. Even Evan Ingersoll looks quickly at his watch and clears his throat. Wayne and Shaw have dressed and left; Freer, a major Pledge-devotee, is at his hair in the mirror, Pemulis also rising now to get away from Freer’s feet and legs. Freer’s eyes have a protrusive wideness to them that the Axhandle says makes Freer always look like he’s getting shocked or throttled.
And time in the P.M. locker room seems of limitless depth; they’ve all been just here before, just like this, and will be again tomorrow. The light saddening outside, a grief felt in the bones, a sharpness to the edge of the lengthening shadows.
‘I’m thinking it’s Tavis,’ Freer says to them all in the mirror. ‘Where there’s excess work and suffering can fucking Tavis be far behind.’
‘No, it’s Schtitt,’ Hal says.
‘Schtitt was short a few wickets out of the old croquet set long before he got hold of us, men,’ Pemulis says.
‘Peemster and Hal.’
‘Halation and Pemurama.’
Freer purses his little lips and expels air like he’s blowing out a match, blowing some tiny grooming-remnant off the big mirror’s glass. ‘Schtitt just does what he’s told like a good Nazi.’
‘What the hail is that supposed to mean?’ asks a Stice who’s well known for asking How High Sir when Schtitt says Jump, now feeling at the carpet around him for something to throw at Freer. Ingersoll tosses Stice a woppsed-up towel, trying to be helpful, but Stice’s eyes are on Freer’s in the glass, and the towel hits him on the head and sits there, on his head. The room’s emotions seem to be inverting themselves every couple seconds. There’s half-cruel laughter at Stice as Hal struggles to his feet, rising in careful stages, putting most of his weight on the good ankle. Hal’s towel falls off as he does his combination. Struck says something that’s lost in the roar of a high-pressure toilet.
The feminized American stood at a slight angle to Marathe upon the outcropping. He stared out at the dusk-shadow they were now inside, and as well the increasingly complicated twinkle of the U.S.A. city Tucson, seeming slackly transfixed, Steeply, in the way vistas too large for the eye to contain transfix persons in a kind of torpid spectation.
Marathe seemed on the edge of sleep.
Even the voice of Steeply had a different timbre inside the shadow. ‘They say it’s a great and maybe even timeless love, Rod Tine’s for your Luria person.’
Marathe grunted, shifting slightly in the chair.
Steeply said ‘The sort that gets sung about, the kind people die for and then get immortalized in song. You got your ballads, your operas. Tristan and Isolde. Lancelot and what’s-her-name. Agamemnon and Helen, Dante and Beatrice.’
Marathe’s drowsy smile continued upward to become a wince. ‘Narcissus and Echo. Kierkegaard and Regina. Kafka and that poor girl afraid to go to the postbox for the mail.’
‘Interesting choice of example here, the mailbox.’ Steeply pretended to chuckle.
Marathe came alert. ‘Take off your wig and be shitting inside it, Hugh Steeply B.S.S. And the ignorance of you appalls me. Agamemnon had no relation with this queen. Menelaus was husband, him of Sparta. And you mean Paris. Helen and Paris. He of Troy.’
Steeply seemed amused in the idiotic way: ‘Paris and Helen, the face that launched vessels. The horse: the gift which was not a gift. The anonymous gift brought to the door. The sack of Troy from inside.’
Marathe rose slightly on his stumps in the chair, showing some emotions at this Steeply. ‘I am seated here appalled at the naïveté of history of your nation. Paris and Helen were the excuse of the war. All the Greek states in addition to the Sparta of Menelaus attacked Troy because Troy controlled the Dardanelles and charged the ruinous tolls for passage through, which the Greeks, who would like very dearly the easy sea passage for trade with the Oriental East, resented with fury. It was for commerce, this war. The one-quotes “love” one-does-not-quote of Paris for Helen merely was the excuse.’
Steeply, genius of interviewing, sometimes affected more than usual idiocy with Marathe, which he knew baited Marathe. ‘Everything reduces itself to politics for you guys. Wasn’t that whole war just a song? Did that war even really take place, that anybody knows of?’
‘The point is that what launches vessels of war is the state and community and its interests,’ Marathe said without heat, tiredly. ‘You only wish to enjoy to pretend for yourself that the love of one woman could do this, launch so many vessels of alliance.’
Steeply was stroking the perimeters of the mesquite-scratch, which made his shrug appear awkward. ‘I don’t think I’d be so sure. Those around Rod the God say the man would die twice for her. Say he wouldn’t have to even think about it. Not just that he’d let the whole of O.N.A.N. come down, if it came to that. But’d die.’
Marathe sniffed. ‘Twice.’
‘Without even having to pause and think,’ Steeply said, stroking at his lip’s electrolysistic rash in a ruminative fashion. ‘It’s the reason most of us think he’s still there, why he’s still got President Gentle’s ear. Divided loyalties are one thing. But if he does it for love — well then you’ve got a kind of tragic element that transcends the political, wouldn’t you say?’ Steeply smiled broadly down at Marathe.
Marathe’s own sbetrayal of A.F.R.: for medical care for the conditions of his wife; for (Steeply might imagine to think) love of a person, a woman. ‘Tragic saying as if Rodney Tine of Nonspecificity were not responsible for choosing it, as the insane are not responsible,’ said Marathe quietly.
Steeply now was smiling even more broadly. ‘It has a kind of tragic quality, timeless, musical, that how could Gentle resist?’
Marathe’s tone now became derisive despite his legendary sangfroid in matters of technical interviews: ‘These sentiments from a person who allows them to place him in the field as an enormous girl with tits at the cock-eyed angle, now discoursing on tragic love.’
Steeply, impassive and slackly ruminative, picked at the lipstick of the corner of his mouth with a littlest finger, removing some grain of grit, gazing out from their shelf of stone. ‘But sure. The fanatically patriotic Wheelchair Assassins of southern Québec scorn this type of interpersonal sentiment between people.’ Looking now down at Marathe. ‘No? Even though it’s just this that has brought you Tine, yours for Luria to command, should it ever come to that?’
Marathe had settled back on his bottom in the chair. ‘Your U.S.A. word for fanatic, “fanatic,” do they teach you it comes from the Latin for “temple”? It is meaning, literally, “worshipper at the temple.” ’
‘Oh Jesus now here we go again,’ Steeply said.
‘As, if you will give the permission, does this love you speak of, M. Tine’s grand love. It means only the attachment. Tine is attached, fanatically. Our attachments are our temple, what we worship, no? What we give ourselves to, what we invest with faith.’
Steeply made motions of weary familiarity. ‘Herrrrrre we go.’
Marathe ignored this. ‘Are we not all of us fanatics? I say only what you of the U.S.A. only pretend you do not know. Attachments are of great seriousness. Choose your attachments carefully. Choose your temple of fanaticism with great care. What you wish to sing of as tragic love is an attachment not carefully chosen. Die for one person? This is a craziness. Persons change, leave, die, become ill. They leave, lie, go mad, have sickness, betray you, die. Your nation outlives you. A cause outlives you.’
‘How are your wife and kids doing, up there, by the way?’
‘You U.S.A.’s do not seem to believe you may each choose what to die for. Love of a woman, the sexual, it bends back in on the self, makes you narrow, maybe crazy. Choose with care. Love of your nation, your country and people, it enlarges the heart. Something bigger than the self.’
Steeply laid a hand between his misdirected breasts: ‘Ohh… Canada….’
Marathe leaned again forward on his stumps. ‘Make amusement all you wish. But choose with care. You are what you love. No? You are, completely and only, what you would die for without, as you say, the thinking twice. You, M. Hugh Steeply: you would die without thinking for what?’
The A.F.R.’s extensive file on Steeply included mention of his recent divorce. Marathe already had informed Steeply of the existence of this file. He wondered how badly Steeply doubted what he reported, Marathe, or whether he assumed its truth simply. Though the persona of him changed, Steeply’s car for all field assignments was this green sedan subsidized by a painful ad for aspirin upon its side — the file knew this stupidity — Marathe was sure the sedan with its aspirin advertisement was somewhere below them, unseen. The fanatically beloved car of M. Hugh Steeply. Steeply was watching or gazing at the darkness of the desert floor. He did not respond. His expression of boredom could be real or tactical, either of these.
Marathe said, ‘This, is it not the choice of the most supreme importance? Who teaches your U.S.A. children how to choose their temple? What to love enough not to think two times?’
‘This from a man who —’
Marathe was willing that his voice not rise. ‘For this choice determines all else. No? All other of our you say free choices follow from this: what is our temple. What is the temple, thus, for U.S.A.’s? What is it, when you fear that you must protect them from themselves, if wicked Québecers conspire to bring the Entertainment into their warm homes?’
Steeply’s face had assumed the openly twisted sneering expression which he knew well Québecers found repellent on Americans. ‘But you assume it’s always choice, conscious, decision. This isn’t just a little naïve, Rémy? You sit down with your little accountant’s ledger and soberly decide what to love? Always?’
‘The alternatives are —’
‘What if sometimes there is no choice about what to love? What if the temple comes to Mohammed? What if you just love? without deciding? You just do: you see her and in that instant are lost to sober account-keeping and cannot choose but to love?’
Marathe’s sniff held disdain. ‘Then in such a case your temple is self and sentiment. Then in such an instance you are a fanatic of desire, a slave to your individual subjective narrow self’s sentiments; a citizen of nothing. You become a citizen of nothing. You are by yourself and alone, kneeling to yourself.’
A silence ensued this.
Marathe shifted in his chair. ‘In a case such as this you become the slave who believes he is free. The most pathetic of bondage. Not tragic. No songs. You believe you would die twice for another but in truth would die only for your alone self, its sentiment.’
Another silence ensued. Steeply, who had made his early career with Unspecified Services conducting technical interviews, 44used silent pauses as integral parts of his techniques of interface. Here it defused Marathe. Marathe felt the ironies of his position. One strap of Steeply’s prostheses’ brassiere had slipped into view below his shoulder, where it cut deeply into his flesh of the upper arm. The air smelled faintly of creosote, but much less strongly smelling than the ties of train tracks, which Marathe had smelled at close range. Steeply’s back was broad and soft. Marathe eventually said:
‘You in such a case have nothing. You stand on nothing. Nothing of ground or rock beneath your feet. You fall; you blow here and there. How does one say: “tragically, unvoluntarily, lost.” ’
Another silence ensued. Steeply farted mildly. Marathe shrugged. The B.S.S. Field Operative Steeply may not have been truly sneering. The city Tucson’s lume appeared a bleached and ghostly white in the unhumid air. Crepuscular animals rustled and perhaps scuttled. Dense and unbeautiful spider webs of the poisonous U.S.A. species of spider Black Widow were beneath the shelf and the incline’s other outcroppings. And when the wind hit certain angles in the mountainside it moaned. Marathe thought of his victory over the train that had taken his legs. 45He attempted in English to sing:
‘ “Oh Say, Land of the Free.”’
And they both could feel this queer dry night-desert chill descend with the moon’s gibbous rise — a powdery wind down below making dust to shift and cactus needles whistle, the sky’s stars adjusting to the color of low flame — but were themselves not yet chilled, even Steeply’s sleeveless dress: he and Marathe stood and sat in the form-fitting astral spacesuit of warmth their own radiant heat produced. This is what happens in dry night climes, Marathe was learning. His dying wife had never once left southwestern Québec. Les Assassins des Fauteuils Roulents’ remote embryonic disseminatory Ops base down here in Southwest U.S.A. seemed to him like the surface of the moon: four corrugated Quonsets and kiln-baked earth and air that swam and shimmered like the area behind jet engines. Empty and dirty-windowed rooms, doorknobs hot to touch and hell-stench inside the empty rooms.
Steeply was continuing saying nothing while he tamped down another of his long Belgian cigarettes. Marathe continued to hum the U.S.A. song, all over the map in terms of key.
‘Because none of them really meant any of it,’ Hal tells Kent Blott. ‘The end-of-the-day hatred of all the work is just part of the work. You think Schtitt and deLint don’t know we’re going to sit in there together after showers and bitch? It’s all planned out. The bitchers and moaners in there are just doing what’s expected.’
‘But I look at these guys that’ve been here six, seven years, eight years, still suffering, hurt, beat up, so tired, just like I feel tired and suffer, I feel this what, dread, this dread, I see seven or eight years of unhappiness every day and day after day of tiredness and stress and suffering stretching ahead, and for what, for a chance at a like a pro career that I’m starting to get this dready feeling a career in the Show means even more suffering, if I’m skeletally stressed from all the grueling here by the time I get there.’
Blott’s on his back on the shag carpet — all five of them are — stretched out splay-limbed with their heads up supported on double-width velourish throw-pillows on the floor of V.R.6, one of the three little Viewing Rooms on the second floor of the Comm.-Ad. Bldg., two flights up from the locker rooms and three from the main tunnel’s mouth. The room’s new cartridge-viewer is huge and almost painfully high-definition; it hangs flat on the north wall like a large painting; it runs off a refrigerated chip; the room’s got no TP or phone-console; it’s very specialized, just a player and viewer, and tapes; the cartridge-player sits on the second shelf of a small bookcase beneath the viewer; the other shelves and several other cases are full of match-cartridges, motivational and visualization cartridges — InterLace, Tatsuoka, Yushityu, SyberVision. The 300-track wire from the cartridge-player up to the lower-right corner of the wall-hung viewer is so thin it looks like a crack in the wall’s white paint. Viewing Rooms are windowless and the air from the vent is stale. Though when the viewer’s on it looks like the room has a window.
Hal’s put on an undemanding visualization-type cartridge, as he usually does for a Big Buddy group-interface when they’re all tired. He’s killed the volume, so you can’t hear the reinforcing mantra, but the picture is bright and bell-clear. It’s like the picture almost leaps out at you. A graying and somewhat ravaged-looking Stan Smith in anachronistic white is at a court’s baseline hitting textbook forehands, over and over again, the same stroke, his back sort of osteoporotically hunched but his form immaculate, his foot-work textbook and effortless — the frictionless pivot and back-set of weight, the anachronistic Wilson wood stick back and pointing straight to the fence behind him, the fluid transfer of weight to the front foot as the ball comes in, the contact at waist-level and just out front, the front leg’s muscles bunching up as the back leg’s settle, eyes glued to the yellow ball in the center of his strings’ stencilled W — E.T.A. kids are conditioned to watch not just the ball but the ball’s rotating seams, to read the spin coming in — the front knee dipping slightly down under bulging quads as the weight flows more forward, the back foot up almost en-pointe on the gleaming sneaker’s unscuffed toe, the no-nonsense flourishless follow-through so the stick ends up just in front of his gaunt face — Smith’s cheeks have hollowed as he’s aged, his face has collapsed at the sides, his eyes seem to bulge from the cheekbones that protrude as he inhales after impact, he looks desiccated, aged in hot light, performing the same motions over and over, for decades, his other hand floating up gently to grasp the stick’s throat out in front of the face so he’s flowed back into the Ready Stance all over again. No wasted motion, egoless strokes, no flourishes or tics or excesses of wrist. Over and over, each forehand melting into the next, a loop, it’s hypnotizing, it’s supposed to be. The soundtrack says ‘Don’t Think Just See Don’t Know Just Flow’ over and over, if you turn it up. You’re supposed to pretend it’s you on the bell-clear screen with the fluid and egoless strokes. You’re supposed to disappear into the loop and then carry that disappearance out with you, to play. The kids’re lying there limp and splayed, supine, jaws slack, eyes wide and dim, a relaxed exhausted warmth — the flooring beneath the shag is gently heated. Peter Beak is asleep with his eyes open, a queer talent E.T.A. seems to instill in the younger ones. Orin had been able to sleep with his eyes open at the dinner table, too, at home.
Hal’s fingers, long and light brown and still slightly sticky from tincture of benzoin, 46are laced behind his upraised head on the pillow, cupping his own skull, watching Stan Smith, eyes heavy too. ‘You feel as though you’ll be going through the exact same sort of suffering at seventeen you suffer now, here, Kent?’
Kent Blott has colored shoelaces on his sneakers with ‘Mr.-Bouncety-Bounce-Program’-brand bow-biters, which Hal finds extraordinarily artless and young.
Peter Beak snores softly, a small spit-bubble protruding and receding.
‘But Blott surely you’ve considered this: Why are they all still here, then, if it’s so awful every day?’
‘Not every day,’ Blott says. ‘But pretty often it’s awful.’
‘They’re here because they want the Show when they get out,’ Ingersoll sniffs and says. The Show meaning the A.T.P. Tour, travel and cash prizes and endorsements and appearance fees, match-highlights in video mags, action photos in glossy print-mags.
‘But they know and we know one very top junior in twenty even gets all the way to the Show. Much less survives there long. The rest slog around on the satellite tours or regional tours or get soft as club pros. Or become lawyers or academics like everyone else,’ Hal says softly.
‘Then they stay and suffer to get a scholarship. A college ride. A white cardigan with a letter. Girl coeds keen on lettermen.’
‘Kent, except for Wayne and Pemulis not one guy in there needs any kind of scholarship. Pemulis’ll get a full ride anywhere he wants, just on test-scores. Stice’s aunts’ll send him anywhere even if he doesn’t want to play. And Wayne’s headed for the Show, he’ll never do more than a year in the O.N.A.N.C.A.A.’s.’ Blott’s father, a cutting-edge E.N.T. oncologist, flew all over the world removing tumors from wealthy mucous membranes; Blott has a trust fund. ‘None of that’s the point and you guys know it.’
‘They love the game, you’re going to say.’
Stan Smith has switched to backhands.
‘They sure must love something, Ingersoll, but how about for a second I say that’s not Kent’s point either. Kent’s point’s the misery in that room just now. K.B., I’ve taken part in essentially that same bitter bitchy kind of session hundreds of times with those same guys after bad P.M.s. In the showers, in the sauna, at dinner.’
‘Very much bitching also in the lavatories,’ Arslanian says.
Hal unsticks his hair from his fingers. Arslanian always has a queer faint hot-doggish smell about him. ‘The point is it’s ritualistic. The bitching and moaning. Even assuming they feel the way they say when they get together, the point is notice we were all sitting there all feeling the same way together.’
‘The point is togetherness?’
‘Shouldn’t there be violas for this part, Hal, if this is the point?’
‘Ingersoll, I — ’
Beak’s cold-weather adenoids wake him periodically, and he gurgles and his eyes roll up briefly before they level out and he settles back, seeming to stare.
Hal creatively visualizes that Smith’s velvety backhand is him slo-mo slapping Evan Ingersoll into the opposite wall. Ingersoll’s parents founded the Rhode Island version of the service where you order groceries by TP and teenagers in fleets of station wagons bring them out to you, instead of supermarkets. ‘What the point is is that we’d all just spent three hours playing challenges against each other in scrotum-tightening cold, assailing each other, trying to take away each other’s spots on the squads. Trying to defend them against each other’s assaults. The system’s got inequality as an axiom. We know where we stand entirely in relation to one another. John Wayne’s over me, and I’m over Struck and Shaw, who two years back were both over me but under Troeltsch and Schacht, and now are over Troeltsch who as of today is over Freer who’s substantially over Schacht, who can’t beat anyone in the room except Pemulis since his knee and Crohn’s Disease got so much worse, and is barely hanging on in terms of ranking, and is showing incredible balls just hanging on. Freer beat me 4 and 2 in the quarters of the U.S. Clays two summers ago, and now he’s on the B-squad and five slots below me, six slots if Troeltsch can still beat him when they play again after that illness-default.’
‘I am over Blott. I am over Ingersoll,’ Idris Arslanian nods.
‘Well Blott’s just ten, Idris. And you’re under Chu, who’s on an odd year and is under Possalthwaite. And Blott’s under Beak and Ingersoll simply by virtue of age-division.’
‘I know just where I stand at all times,’ muses Ingersoll.
SyberVision edits its visualization sequences with a melt-filter so Stan Smith’s follow-through loops seamlessly into his backswing for the exact same next stroke; the transitions are gauzy and dreamlike. Hal struggles to hike himself up onto his elbows:
‘We’re all on each other’s food chain. All of us. It’s an individual sport. Welcome to the meaning of individual. We’re each deeply alone here. It’s what we all have in common, this aloneness.’
‘E Unibus Pluram,’ Ingersoll muses.
Hal looks from face to face. Ingersoll’s face is completely devoid of eyebrows and is round and dustily freckled, not unlike a Mrs. Clarke pancake. ‘So how can we also be together? How can we be friends? How can Ingersoll root for Arslanian in Idris’s singles at the Port Washington thing when if Idris loses Ingersoll gets to challenge for his spot again?’
‘I do not require his root, for I am ready.’ Arslanian bares canines.
‘Well that’s the whole point. How can we be friends? Even if we all live and eat and shower and play together, how can we keep from being 136 deeply alone people all jammed together?’
‘You’re talking about community. This is a community-spiel.’
‘I think alienation,’ Arslanian says, rolling the profile over to signify he’s talking to Ingersoll. ‘Existential individuality, frequently referred to in the West. Solipsism.’ His upper lip goes up and down over his teeth.
Hal says, ‘In a nutshell, what we’re talking about here is loneliness.’
Blott looks about ready to cry. Beak’s palsied eyes and little limb-spasms signify a troubling dream. Blott rubs his nose furiously with the heel of his hand.
‘I miss my dog,’ Ingersoll concedes.
‘Ah.’ Hal rolls onto one elbow to hike a finger into the air. ‘Ah. But then so notice the instant group-cohesion that formed itself around all the pissing and moaning down there why don’t you. Blott. You, Kent. This was your question. The what looks like sadism, the skeletal stress, the fatigue. The suffering unites us. They want to let us sit around and bitch. Together. After a bad P.M. set we all, however briefly, get to feel we have a common enemy. This is their gift to us. Their medicine. Nothing brings you together like a common enemy.’
‘Dr. Tavis. Schtitt.’
‘DeLint. Watson. Nwangi. Thode. All Schtitt’s henchmen and henchwomen.’
‘I hate them!’ Blott cries out.
‘And you’ve been here this long and you still think this hatred’s an accident?’
‘Purchase a clue Kent Blott!’ Arslanian says.
‘The large and economy-size clue, Blott,’ Ingersoll chimes.
Beak sits up and says ‘God no not with pliers!’ and collapses back again, again with the spit-bubble.
Hal is pretending incredulity. ‘You guys haven’t noticed yet the way Schtitt’s whole staff gets progressively more foul-tempered and sadistic as an important competitive week comes up?’
Ingersoll up on one elbow at Blott. ‘The Port Washington meet. I.D. Day. The Tucson WhataBurger the week after. They want us in absolute top shape, Blott.’
Hal lies back and lets Smith’s ballet de se loosen his facial muscles again, staring. ‘Shit, Ingersoll, we’re all in top shape already. That’s not it. That’s the least of it. We’re off the charts, shape-wise.’
Ingersoll: ‘The average North American kid can’t even do one pull-up, according to Nwangi.’
Arslanian points down at his own chest. ‘Twenty-eight pull-ups.’
‘The point,’ Hal says softly, ‘is that it’s not about the physical anymore, men. The physical stuff’s just pro forma. It’s the heads they’re working on here, boys. Day and year in and out. A whole program. It’ll help your attitude to look for evidence of design. They always give us something to hate, really hate together, as big stuff looms. The dreaded May drills during finals before the summer tour. The post-Christmas crackdown before Australia. The November freezathon, the snot-fest, the delay in upping the Lung and getting us under cover. A common enemy. I may despise K. B. Freer, or’ (can’t quite resist) ‘Evan Ingersoll, or Jennie Bash. But we despise Schtitt’s men, the double matches on top of runs, the insensitivity to exams, the repetition, the stress. The loneliness. But we get together and bitch, all of a sudden we’re giving something group expression. A community voice. Community, Evan. Oh they’re cunning. They give themselves up to our dislike, calculate our breaking points and aim for just over them, then send us into the locker room with an unstructured forty-five before Big Buddy sessions. Accident? Random happenstance? You guys ever see evidence of the tiniest lack of coolly calculated structure around here?’
‘The structure’s what I hate the most of all,’ Ingersoll says.
‘They know what’s going on,’ Blott says, bouncing a little on his tailbone. ‘They want us to get together and complain.’
‘Oh they’re cunning,’ Ingersoll says.
Hal curls himself a bit on one elbow to put in a small plug of Kodiak. He can’t tell whether Ingersoll’s being insolent. He lies there very slack, visualizing Smith pounding overheads down onto Ingersoll’s skull. Hal some weeks back had acquiesced to Lyle’s diagnosis that Hal finds Ingersoll — this smart soft caustic kid, with a big soft eyebrowless face and unwrinkled thumb-joints, with the runty, cuddled look of a Mama’s boy from way back, a quick intelligence he squanders on an insatiable need to advance some impression of himself — that the kid so repels Hal because Hal sees in the kid certain parts of himself he can’t or won’t accept. None of this ever occurs to Hal when Ingersoll’s in the room. He wishes him ill.
Blott and Arslanian are looking at him. ‘Are you OK?’
‘He is tired,’ Arslanian says.
Ingersoll drums idly on his own ribcage.
Hal usually gets secretly high so regularly these days this year that if by dinnertime he hasn’t gotten high yet that day his mouth begins to fill with spit — some rebound effect from B. Hope’s desiccating action — and his eyes start to water as if he’s just yawned. The smokeless tobacco started almost as an excuse to spit, sometimes. Hal’s struck by the fact that he really for the most part believes what he’s said about loneliness and the structured need for a we here; and this, together with the Ingersoll-repulsion and spit-flood, makes him uncomfortable again, brooding uncomfortably for a moment on why he gets off on the secrecy of getting high in secret more than on the getting high itself, possibly. He always gets the feeling there’s some clue to it on the tip of his tongue, some mute and inaccessible part of the cortex, and then he always feels vaguely sick, scanning for it. The other thing that happens if he doesn’t do one-hitters sometime before dinner is he feels slightly sick to his stomach, and it’s hard to eat enough at dinner, and then later when he does go off and get off he gets ravenous, and goes out to Father & Son Market for candy, or else floods his eyes with Murine and heads down to the Headmaster’s House for another late dinner with C.T. and the Moms, and eats like such a feral animal that the Moms says it does something instinctively maternal in her heart good to see him pack it away, but then he wakes before dawn with awful indigestion.
‘So the suffering gets less lonely,’ Blott prompts him.
Two curves down the hall in V.R.5, where the viewer’s on the south wall and doesn’t get turned on, the Canadian John Wayne’s got LaMont Chu and ‘Sleepy T.P.’ Peterson and Kieran McKenna and Brian van Vleck.
‘He’s talking about developing the concept of tennis mastery,’ Chu tells the other three. They’re on the floor Indian-style, Wayne standing with his back against the door, rotating his head to stretch the neck. ‘His point is that progress towards genuine Show-caliber mastery is slow, frustrating. Humbling. A question of less talent than temperament.’
‘Is this right Mr. Wayne?’
Chu says ‘… that because you proceed toward mastery through a series of plateaus, so there’s like radical improvement up to a certain plateau and then what looks like a stall, on the plateau, with the only way to get off one of the plateaus and climb up to the next one up ahead is with a whole lot of frustrating mindless repetitive practice and patience and hanging in there.’
‘Plateaux,’ Wayne says, looking at the ceiling and pushing the back of his head isometrically against the door. ‘With an X. Plateaux.’
The inactive viewer’s screen is the color of way out over the Atlantic looking straight down on a cold day. Chu’s cross-legged posture is text-book. ‘What John’s saying is the types who don’t hang in there and slog on the patient road toward mastery are basically three. Types. You’ve got what he calls your Despairing type, who’s fine as long as he’s in the quick-improvement stage before a plateau, but then he hits a plateau and sees himself seem to stall, not getting better as fast or even seeming to get a little worse, and this type gives in to frustration and despair, because he hasn’t got the humbleness and patience to hang in there and slog, and he can’t stand the time he has to put in on plateaux, and what happens?’
‘Geronimo!’ the other kids yell, not quite in sync.
‘He bails, right,’ Chu says. He refers to index cards. Wayne’s head makes the door rattle slightly. Chu says, ‘Then you’ve got your Obsessive type, J.W. says, so eager to plateau-hop he doesn’t even know the word patient, much less humble or slog, when he gets stalled at a plateau he tries to like will and force himself off it, by sheer force of work and drill and will and practice, drilling and obsessively honing and working more and more, as in frantically, and he overdoes it and gets hurt, and pretty soon he’s all chronically messed up with injuries, and he hobbles around on the court still obsessively overworking, until finally he’s hardly even able to walk or swing, and his ranking plummets, until finally one P.M. there’s a little knock on his door and it’s deLint, here for a little chat about your progress here at E.T.A.’
‘Banzai! El Bailo! See ya!’
‘Then what John considers maybe the worst type, because it can cunningly masquerade as patience and humble frustration. You’ve got the Complacent type, who improves radically until he hits a plateau, and is content with the radical improvement he’s made to get to the plateau, and doesn’t mind staying at the plateau because it’s comfortable and familiar, and he doesn’t worry about getting off it, and pretty soon you find he’s designed a whole game around compensating for the weaknesses and chinks in the armor the given plateau represents in his game, still — his whole game is based on this plateau now. And little by little, guys he used to beat start beating him, locating the chinks of the plateau, and his rank starts to slide, but he’ll say he doesn’t care, he says he’s in it for the love of the game, and he always smiles but there gets to be something sort of tight and hangdog about his smile, and he always smiles and is real nice to everybody and real good to have around but he keeps staying where he is while other guys hop plateaux, and he gets beat more and more, but he’s content. Until one day there’s a quiet knock at the door.’
‘A quiet chat!’
Van Vleck looks up at Wayne, who’s now turned away with his hands against the door frame, shoving, one leg back, stretching the right calf. ‘This is your advice, Mr. Wayne sir? This isn’t Chu palming himself off as you again?’
They all want to know how Wayne does it, #2 continentally in 18’s at just seventeen, and very likely #1 after the WhataBurger and already getting calls from ProServ agents Tavis has Lateral Alice Moore screen. Wayne’s the most sought-after Big Buddy at E.T.A. You have to apply for Wayne as Buddy by random drawing.
LaMont Chu and T. P. Peterson are sending van Vleck optical daggers as Wayne turns around to stretch a hip-flexor and says he’s said pretty much all he has to say.
‘Todder, I admire your savvy, I admire a kid’s certain worldly skepticism, no matter how misplaced it is here. So even though it fucks me on the odds, so there’s now like practically no way I can come out square,’ M. Pemulis says in V.R.2, subdorm C, sitting on the very edge of the divan with a few feet of beige shag between him and his four kids, all cross-legged on cushions; he says, ‘I’ll reward your worldly skepticism this once by letting you try it with only two, so like I’ve got just two cards here, and I hold them up, one in each hand….’ He stops abruptly, knocks his temple with the heel of a hand that holds a Jack. ‘Whoa, what am I thinking. We all gotta put in our fiveski here first.’
Otis P. Lord clears his throat: ‘The ante.’
‘Or it’s called the pot,’ says Todd Possalthwaite, laying a five on the little pile.
‘Jaysus I’m thinking, sweet Jaysus what am I getting into with these kids that speak the lingo like veteran Jersey-shore croupiers. I got to be missing a widget or something. ’t the fuck, though, you know what I’m saying? So Todd man you choose just one of the cards, we got the clubby Jack and the spade Queen here, and you choose… and so down they go both of them face-down, and I like swirl them around on the floor a little, not shuffle but swirl so they’re in plain view the whole time, and you follllllowwwwwwww the card you chose, around and around, which like with three cards maybe I’ve got some chance you lose track but with two? With just two?’
Ted Schacht in V.R.3 at his giant plasticene oral demonstrator, the huge dental mock-up, white planks of teeth and obscene pink gums, twine-size floss anchored around both wrists:
‘The vital thing here gentlemen being not the force or how often you rotate to particulate-free floss but the motion, see, a soft sawing motion, gently up and down both ancipitals of the enamel’ — demonstrating down the side of a bicuspid big as the kids’ heads, the plasticene gum-stuff yielding with sick sucking sounds, Schacht’s five kids all either glazed-looking or glued to their watch’s second-hand — ‘and then here’s the key, here’s the thing so few people understand: down below the ostensible gumline into the basal recessions at either side of the gingival mound that obtrudes between the teeth, down below, where your most pernicious particulates hide and breed.’
Troeltsch holds court in his, Pemulis and Schacht’s room in Subdorm C, supinely upright against both of his and one of Schacht’s pillows, the vaporizer chugging, one of his kids holding Kleenex at the ready.
‘Boys, what it is is I’ll tell you it’s repetition. First last always. It’s hearing the same motivational stuff over and over till sheer repetitive weight makes it sink down into the gut. It’s making the same pivots and lunges and strokes over and over and over again, at you boys’s age it’s reps for their own sake, putting results on the back burner, why they never give anybody the boot for insufficient progress under fourteen, it’s repetitive movements and motions for their own sake, over and over until the accretive weight of the reps sinks the movements themselves down under your like consciousness into the more nether regions, through repetition they sink and soak into the hardware, the C.P.S. The machine-language. The autonomical part that makes you breathe and sweat. It’s no accident they say you Eat, Sleep, Breathe tennis here. These are autonomical. Accretive means accumulating, through sheer mindless repeated motions. The machine-language of the muscles. Until you can do it without thinking about it, play. At like fourteen, give and take, they figure here. Just do it. Forget about is there a point, of course there’s no point. The point of repetition is there is no point. Wait until it soaks into the hardware and then see the way this frees up your head. A whole shitload of head-space you don’t need for the mechanics anymore, after they’ve sunk in. Now the mechanics are wired in. Hardwired in. This frees the head in the remarkablest ways. Just wait. You start thinking a whole different way now, playing. The court might as well be inside you. The ball