Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wishing you lots of love during the holiday season

Thanks to everyone who reads this blog. I appreciate you more than I probably make the time to say.

o those who celebrate Christmas, may your day be merry, cheery and bright , and may all your Christmases be loving.

To those who celebrate Hanukkah, may your days be filled with the loving light that triumphs over darkness.

And to those who celebrate Kwanzaa, may you fulfill all the aspirations of this special celebration.

To those who celebrate nothing, well... enjoy your day off!

And please, be safe out there. Everyone knows not to drink and drive. But did you know that it is more dangerous to drive while tired? Rest first before you hit the road. I want you back alive and well, and of course reading my blog!

I hope that 2009 brings everything that you need and many things that you want.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The 2008 Top Men of Tennis – Limerick Style

Current Rankings from the official site for men's tennis:

1. Nadal, Rafael (ESP) [1335]
2. Federer, Roger (SUI) [1061] {photograph below}

3. Djokovic, Novak (SRB) [1059]

4. Murray, Andy (GBR) [744]

5. Davydenko, Nikolay (RUS) [543]

6. Tsonga, Jo-Wilfried (FRA) [410] {middle photograph}

7. Simon, Gilles (FRA) [396]

8. Roddick, Andy (USA) [394]

9. Del Potro, Juan Martin (ARG) [389] {top photo}

10. Blake, James (USA) [355]

# 10 James Blake

He’s good friends with that douche named John Mayer

And once dated a blonde called Jennifer

His go-for-broke style

Butt bouncing all the while

Only confirms he’s an overa

# 9 Juan Del Potro
A breakout star this American summer

Four titles after Stuttgart, what a winner!

José Acasuso,

Nalby, Chela, Gaudio

All replaced by a new son for Argentina

#8 Andy Roddick

It’s unfair to blame it all on the model
‘Decker does B-Rod', so not a good title
But with Mandy Moore

Who had class galore

He was more focused, committed, and subtle

# 7 Gilles Simon

There is an old saying in France

"À jeune chasseur, il faut vieux chien"
In Thierry Tulasne
Simon found the right man

Who could help him learn victory’s parlance.

# 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
“My dear President Elect Obama”,

Wrote Jo Wilfried’s maman, Mme. Tsonga.

“What you pulled off was great

I really do appreciate

But did you have to steal all my son’s thunder?”

# 5 Nicolay Davydenko
His relief was utterly satisfying

Having faced accusations of gambling

In their eyes he could look

And say, see, I’m no crook

Now if he only he could just halt the balding

# 4 Andy Murray

“Get over it”, he shouted, “I am Scottish!”

The press slammed him for being so piggish
But it was just a joke

Or a
pig in a poke
From his teeth everyone knows he’s English

# 3 Novak Djokovic

A proud son of the Serbian soil

No one doubts that he’s willing to toil

But the ceiling won’t pop

He’s shut out of the top

Federer and Nadal make his blood boil

# 2 Roger Federer
Of his year I have no idea what to make

Losses to Sampras, Fish, and ouch Blake

When I kneel down in prayer

I say “God, please, next year
A fourteenth Slam for goodness sake!”

# 1 Rafael Nadal

Part superstitious belief, or just fear

Some think coaches should be changed every year

But when you have the best

And beating all the rest

Uncle Toni’s not going anywhere

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Who goes nude to promote a PG movie?

I don’t get it. Why did Jennifer Aniston take off all her clothes to promote a movie that is rated PG? I’m sitting here scratching my head and wondering at the insanity of this woman’s decision-making. This is a PG-rated movie about a dog. And as part of promoting this movie, she took off all her clothes and appeared on the cover of GQ.

She didn’t shed her clothes when she was promoting the R-rated “Derailed”, a movie in which she did sexy things with Clive Owen. She didn’t take her clothes off when promoting the headache-inducing “Break-Up”, a movie in which she strips naked and cavorts in front of Vince Vaughn. But she gets stark nake
d to promote her latest, a PG-rated movie about a dog?

Am I missing something here or does this woman seriously have a screw loose?

I didn’t want to seeMarley and Me” before she took her clothes off and I certainly don’t intend to see it now. But this is not really about the movie per se, but about the messages implied in the approach taken to market it. Are we really still stuck in a time when women are so disempowered that the best we can do to get what we want is to take our clothes off? Honestly, I thought that the women’s movement had pushed us past that.

Then again, I’ve written before about this new brand of feminism that advocates a woman’s embracing her inner slut. In this new re-working, Ms. Aniston would have bared all not because she’s a desperate talentless hack who happened to marry lucky and clearly isn’t over it, but because she is an empowered woman and her nudity is a statement of her power.

I continue to be offended by this debasement of women’s historical struggles. It really irks me that the women’s movement in some respect has been reduced to a woman’s right to be a slut. Or to act or look like one. In the same week that Ms. Aniston elected to bare all to sell her movie, so too did another of Kardashian sisters – the one that looks like Yeti. Or a little bit like Jennifer Aniston, now that I think about it. These are the women that take their clothes off – the talentless ones who lucked out and attracted some paparazzi attention, and then go nude to exploit this. There is nothing feminist about their base manipulations. But these are the role models to which impressionable young women are constantly being exposed.

The actresses whom I admire and whose movies I never miss, never seem to believe that they have to strip naked to promote their craft. I’m talking about actresses like Cate Blanchett, Catherine Keener, and Frances McDormand. From another era, Vanessa Redgrave never disappointed. Natalie Portman and Marion Cotillard take risks in some of the roles they accept that few others would dare. But none of them have posed naked on the cover of a men’s magazine as part of promoting a movie, even an R-rated one.

And of course, the goddess of them all is Meryl Streep, who has throughout her career, focused on improving her craft. When she is in a movie, you know that there is a solid chance that it’s going to be excellent. And while excellent actresses like Susan Sarandon and Toni Collette have not been shy about portraying sexuality on screen or stage, neither of them has allowed themselves to be photographed spread-eagled on the cover of a men’s magazine in order to promote an upcoming product.

One can only wonder what went into the decision-making by the 39-year-old Aniston. Was she under the influence of pot when she took this decision? Is she so frightened about turning 40 that she wants to pretend that youthfulness and sex appeal are still within her grasp? But is it really youthfulness when it requires massive amounts of airbrushing in order to maintain the illusion? Is Ms. Aniston really such a non-person that she would rather live with an illusion than face her own reality?

The interview that accompanied the photographs was also quite disturbing. Ms. Aniston did of course talk about the movie. The one about the dog. The one that is rated PG. But she also continued to ruminate about her ex-husband and at one point made a disturbing joke about spending vacations in the Hamptons with her ex, his new lover, and their children. She joked about carrying Zahara on one hip and Knox on the other. Can we spell stalker anyone? Things that make you go ewww.

Ms. Aniston has since claimed that by posing nude, she was not making a statement. Oh, OK. What was she doing then? Getting a tan? In the middle of winter? Is this woman stupid or just insane? It certainly takes a tremendous amount of shallow narcissism for her to not be able to contemplate the inappropriateness of this choice. Or maybe it’s just a desperate attempt to compete with her ex-spouse and his younger lover, both of whom have enjoyed significantly more personal and career success.

Perhaps Ms. Aniston has come to realize that she can only remain relevant by keeping the non-existent “love triangle” alive. Nothing else explains why she is still harping on it four years later. Whatever the heck is going on, one thing is crystal clear – this is no feminist role model.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Who knew I had an inner Kanye?

I am in the middle of a fight with the USTA. Well actually the fight is over and I won and the loss is all theirs. I don’t know if the experience speaks to a level of disorganization within the organization responsible for managing tennis. Or if it was just a fluke incident that really should not be over-interpreted. I really don’t know. I’d like to believe that tennis USA is in good hands. But honestly I’m not so sure.

What happened is this. I decided to renew my membership this summer when I went to the US Open. In fact, I renewed it for three years. You see, that’s how serious I am about supporting tennis. And let me make something immediately clear. I do not and have never participated in any USTA tennis leagues. I decided years ago that I was only going to play tennis for fun. This has been a source of frustration for various league managers over the years who have tried to recruit me to their teams because, even if I do say so myself, I have a good game. I have pissed off more than a few league recruiters by nicely saying, “No”. So, in other words, the USTA has really not done anything for me. Other than of course, functioning as the organizing body in the USA for the sport I love.

But despite this, I have remained a member of the USTA. I decided years ago that I would always support tennis, and if that means paying for a three-year membership in the organization that represents my favorite sport, well so be it. As part of the membership package, one receives “Tennis” magazine as well as the USTA magazine on an almost monthly basis. In a good month I simply scan them both – once you’ve been reading “Tennis” for some time, many of the articles start to feel recycled. And even that too is OK.

In exchange for prompt payment on the spot, the woman at the USTA booth assured me that my magazines would appear in “about two weeks”. I could live with that.

September came and went, no membership card, no magazines. October came and went, nothing. November – same stupid story. So then I got angry and I went all Kanye in their backside. I sent an ALL CAPS email asking them to send me back every last penny they had taken from me and immediately cancel my membership.

I received a response claiming that they had already sent me a “Tennis” magazine so they would issue me a pro-rated refund. Well that sent my inner Kanye FLARING, and I responded again in ALL CAPS that I had not received a SINGLE magazine and that I therefore expected to receive a FULL AND PROMPT REFUND!!!!!

I eventually received a contrite letter of apology assuring me that I would be fully refunded. And in all fairness, let me state clearly that the entire sum was refunded to me on December 8th, exactly three months and one week after they accepted my payment for a three-year renewal.

And then today, I received a copy of the November/December issue of Tennis magazine. The magazine normally comes in clear plastic. This one came in a white manila envelope. Somebody somewhere in their marketing division must have decided to make true on their claim to having sent me a magazine. So now I can truly say that they have. Needless to say, I instantly sucked my teeth in irritation. Who are these stupid people?

I must admit that I got further irritated when I saw the cover with the caption, “Serena Williams, No. 1 Again”. It took me a few moments before I realized that they were talking about the results of the US Open. Three months after the fact. Three months after Jelena Jankovic has trumped Serena into second place, leading her by almost 1000 points. Three months after Jankovic has been seen training her ass off in Mexico with Pat Etcheberry, running sprints with the marathon winner German Silva, so serious is she about remaining No. 1. In the meantime, Serena withdrew from the Hopman Cup.

I know that the USTA is not directly responsible for Tennis magazine (although they are clearly in each other’s pockets which is why “Tennis” is included as a bonus for USTA membership). Tennis magazine is put out by the Miller Publishing Group, which also used to own Vibe and Spin, both of which they sold off in recent years. Apparently they’ve elected to keep Tennis magazine. Cool. I’m down with that. But we are facing a period when the Internet is giving print a serious challenge, so much so that magazines and newspapers once thought to be impervious to change, indestructible really, now find themselves either downsizing in order to survive, or closing up shop altogether.

Is it then asking too much for the publishers of Tennis magazine to keep up with events occurring in the world of tennis? Is it too much to expect that the USTA will offer the kind of excellent organization that support like mine and thousands of other individuals have paid for? Apparently it is. And that’s why neither one will be getting a dime more of my hard-earned money.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

When promise is mismanaged

I never liked Jelena Dokic’s game. I don’t enjoy watching what I call go-for-broke-on-every-damn-shot kind of tennis. You know, where the player hits a flat ball as hard as possible into the deuce court and then you can predict without fail that no matter what the opponent does, the player will respond by going for an all-out-win by hitting a flat ball as hard as possible into the ad court. This pattern is repeated ad infinitum or for as long as it takes for the opponent to (a) make an error, (b) run out of steam, or (c) lose the match. It’s boring as hell to watch but, when done well, it works. And there was a time when Jelena Dokic was the best at this type of play.

Side-to-side, go-for-broke-on-every-damn-shot tennis works best when the player is at the top of her fitness because it demands a lot of the body. In fact, it is an aggressive type of play most frequently associated with injury. This is partly because it demands the ability to redirect the ball accurately and aggressively no matter how hard your opponent responds. It demands a great deal of speedy footwork and flat out sprinting. It requires an enormous lung capacity, an unwavering attention to ball placement, and an unerring focus. And there was a time when Jelena Dokic had all of these gifts and more.

Dokic used to make an odd nasal sound when playing that either added to her charm or served as an irritant depending on how you felt about her. The sound irritated me but I was already irritated by the predictable side-to-side-to-side, go-for-broke pattern of a game with no variation, no creativity, no alternative plan, no spin, few drop shots or lobs, mainly an unrelentingly flat pounding of the ball from one side of the court to the other, back and forth, on and on. So when you added the little nasal whinny, I often turned off the volume whenever Dokic played.

But Dokic’s nasal whinny was the least of the distractions around her back then. In late ‘90s, Dokic’s career was being managed by her father, the infamous Damir Dokic. My absolutely favorite Damir Dokic story involved his getting kicked out of the 2000 US Open after making a scene over the price of a salmon plate, accusing the WTA management of being gangsters and criminals. (I must admit that I felt the same way this summer after paying for overpriced Heineken and pesto cheese sandwiches, but I knew better than to go all Damir Dokic up in there.)

Whatever laughter was triggered by this particular Damir Dokic story quickly subsided the following day as I read news reports of his daughter sobbing the translations of her father’s Serbo-Croat tirades to the media over the telephone. She translated statements about having to fight the Jews in New York, and not caring if they put a bomb on the plane. Episodes like this and the one in which he was he was ejected from Wimbledon following a drunken outburst in which he allegedly broke a journalist’s phone, confirmed that Mr. Dokic was a loose canon. It was not long before his daughter’s career imploded.

Jelena Dokic owed a great deal of her success to an investment in her promise by Tennis Australia. The Dokic family had fled their war-torn homeland, and, by age 11, Jelena had been awarded Australian citizenship. No doubt Tennis Australia had detected the promise that, by 1998 saw Jelena become the #1 Junior in the world. She remained the darling of Australia when she teamed up with Australian Mark Philipoussis to win the Hopman Cup in 1999. She received a wild card into the Australian Open that same year and lost in the third round to then world #1, Martina Hingis.

Jelena Dokic's star continued to rise as she qualified for Wimbledon and avenged the loss against Hingis, spanking her 6-2 6-0 in the first round. I remember that match. Hingis seemed completely out of sorts and stories later emerged about her being distracted by a fight with her coach-mother. But Dokic’s domination that day was unquestioned. Dokic went on to beat Mary Pierce, then seeded 9th. Dokic eventually lost in three lop-sided sets to Alexandra Stevenson who was also enjoying a breakout year, and whose career would also soon deflate. More promise mismanaged but that’s for another column.

Things started unraveling for Dokic when she lost in the first round of the 2000 Australian Open to Rita Kuti Kis of Hungary whom she narcissistically dismissed as someone who “will never be a player”. For these statements she was roundly roasted by the media. But all eyes remained on the antics of her father who protested by returning his family to Belgrade, denouncing Australia as not having been supportive enough of his daughter. The narcissistic fusion between father and daughter was disturbing to watch. By early 2001, Dokic had registered for the Australian Open as a Yugoslav citizen. When she lost in the first round to Lindsay Davenport, Damir Dokic alleged that the draw had been rigged against his daughter. Lost in the chaos were his daughter’s statements of a similar belief and a threat to never again set foot on Australian soil.

In fact, Damir Dokic’s massive presence has always overshadowed his daughters’, and has distracted from her own erratic temperament and questionable decision-making. I have long believed that Jelena Dokic needs to be held more accountable for the mismanagement of her own promise.

In 2003, Dokic parted ways with her father and started being coached by Croatian Borna Bikić whose brother (Tin) she was also dating. By mid-2004, she had returned to her family but the transition was difficult and for a 4-5 month period in 2005/2006, reports claimed that she had literally disappeared. She resurfaced in Australia in 2006 requesting a renewal of her Aussie citizenship. She denied claims by her father that she had been kidnapped by her boyfriend. But her career has continued its downward slide, in part because of frequent injuries. Her attempts to rebuild her career have been encouraged by an inordinate number of wildcards. But she withdraws from as many matches as she actually plays. And she continues to complain about feeling inadequately supported, statements for which she has had made to apologize to Tennis Australia.

Ten years later, Jelena Dokic is once again begging Australia for yet another chance to help her reclaim the promise that resulted in her becoming a citizen in 1998. But Australian Open tournament director, Craig Tiley, has made it clear that this time he is setting limits for the conduct of the now 25-year-old adult woman. There will be no handouts and no funding. And while her verbal statements of apology have been accepted, he expects to see them backed up with action including her giving back to some of the Juniors in the same manner in which her own promise had been nurtured years ago. It’s too bad this was not done years ago. Both Dokic’s career and her emotional development may have been better off for it.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

My Thanksgiving road trip

We left at 4am. We were driving to Atlanta for Thanksgiving. A friend had invited me to spend the holiday with her, and another friend and I decided to make a road trip of it. Sure we could have flown but the point of a road trip is to be out there on the open road, nothing but sky above you, solid road below you, and a white or yellow line to mark your way. A road trip can be a deeply spiritual experience. It can help to clear your head.

The last road trip I went on involved another friend and her dog which she loved beyond all reason and which I thoroughly hated by the time we made it to San Diego. The thing was a nervous mess and we had to stop every half-hour for it to pee after something or ot
her – a big truck, a loud car horn, me changing the station – had set off its hyperaroused anxiety meter. I had sworn off road trips with women ever again. Which is not to say that my luck is any better with men. The last trip I went on with a man ended up with our car floating gently down into a snow-filled ravine enroute to Montreal. It took another car floating down into the same ditch for us to get pulled out. The combined manpower of both vehicles did the trick.

Road trips are for me tests of endurance and patience. I have loads of the former but very little of the latter, a combination that can make travel at once both a joyous and an irritating experience. So I was both looking forward to and questioning the possible benefits of the drive to Atlanta. But my friend and I both needed to clear our heads, and short of sitting on a therapist’s couch, there is no better cure for a muddled mind than getting out on the road to anywhere, preferably somewhe
re far.

My friend had some issues with a man that she needed to sort out. I had my own man issues to resolve but wasn’t ready to talk them out loud with anyone. But I knew that the 14-hour drive would help clear my head and put some much needed distance between the male stimulus and my somewhat questionable emotions. It was a situation in which I had been thrown into contact with the same person repeatedly and we had enjoyed each other’s company so much that feelings were starting to develop. Except that, for a number of reasons, they should not have. So I needed to break it. Come to think of it, that is a perfect description of the situation my friend also faced. So there we were, two women wit
h man issues on the road on Thanksgiving Day, driving to Atlanta to clear our heads and sever budding bonds. Yes it was an ambitious plan but with Prince on the ipod and gas at affordable prices, it seemed doable.

My friend got to my house at 4am, as planned. The fog was thick in the early morning. Visibility was a few mere yards and the plan to drive at 75 mph had to be quashed. A more cautious 35 mph was called for. The result was that we eventually crawled into Baton Rouge somewhere around mid-morning.

At the start of the trip, I suggested that we purchase lottery tickets in each state along the way. I figured that if all else failed, I would settle for being a millionaire. And I knew that she would not blab and tell everyone that we were suddenly rich as dirt. Of course the problem with having a lot of money seems to be that some people think they can suddenly do w
hat the hell they want and live by their own rules. You know, such as breaking some of the norms that govern healthy relationships and crossing lines that you really shouldn’t. And maybe this is why I still haven’t checked to see if we won.

Along the way, I suddenly remembered a Caribbean superstition that says that if you want to break a pattern, it is necessary to cross water. I told my friend this and she got very excited and decided to give it a try. The next time we crossed a river, she called out the name of the man she was attracted to but shouldn’t be and asked him to set her free. I wasn’t ready to speak my situation out loud so I whispered the name of the man I had become attracted to but shouldn’t have. And so we went, she screaming, me silently whispering every time we crossed a bri
dge with water running under it.

I wish I had stopped to take more pictures of the swamps of Mississippi. There was one long bridge that went on for miles. Let go. Let go. I’m free. I’m setting you free. I whispered for miles. My friend became hoarse with screaming.

It started raining in Alabama. Darkness fell sharply, unexpectedly. It
became cold in the car, but turning on the heat made the air stuffy. I had done all of the driving. I love to drive so this was not a burden. But we were equally tired. Hunger made us irritable. Ten miles out of Montgomery, we decided we could not drive another mile. So we found a Hampton Inn off the highway and decided to crash for the night. I called my friend in Atlanta to give my apologies. And I fell into a sweet dreamless sleep, free of any thoughts of him and any feelings that I shouldn’t be having. Crossing water is magic.

My friend says that she has since broken things off with her guy. I can however speak only for myself when I say that I feel completely free. And for that, I am truly thankful.