The CE 10: Equinox Edition
We’ve reached the real New Year, the Equinox, September 22. On this day the world teeters, precariously, between the khaki shorts, dangerous tans, and Margaritas of a summer gone by, and the fuzzy sweaters, dark bars, jukeboxes, and evenings with Brent Mussburger that autumn brings. Here are 10 items to celebrate, or at least consider, at this momentous juncture.
1. Juan Martin Del Potro: Did I say I wasn’t ready to put this guy in the Top 10? I guess I better get ready. He’s No. 13 now, and after this weekend looks set to take David Nalbandian’s place as his country’s resident Davis Cup hero. Del Potro, who turns 20 tomorrow, beat two tour veterans from Russia, Nikolay Davydenko and Igor Andreev, by identical set scores: 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 and 6-4, 6-2, 6-1, respectively.
On Sunday, he walked into a difficult situation. Nalbandian had finally buckled under the weight of too much work, fading late in his singles match after having lost in five sets in doubles the previous day. When Del Potro came on court against Andreev, the life had been sucked out of the always-boisterous Buenos Aires arena. There had already been a ton of tennis played in chilly weather, and the team's once-sure victory had become much less sure. Even the makeshift marching band that had beaten its drum since Friday sounded a little weary.
The key came early in the match. Del Potro broke a nervous Andreev in the first game, but faced break points right away in the second. If he’d lost his serve, Andreev could have settled in—they would have simply traded nervous opening games. But Del Potro, insistently calm between points and patiently aggressive during them—he's one guy who is willing to bide his time—eventually held off four break points, one with a second serve ace. In the process he made it clear that he wasn’t starting nervously. Andreev never got a foothold. Del Potro wouldn’t face another break point until he was up 4-1 in the third.
2. Rafael Nadal: He didn’t look too tired on Sunday, did he? By the end of the first set, Nadal was playing his best tennis since the Olympic final, stepping into his backhand at important moments and wrong-footing Roddick seemingly at will. For his part, Roddick seemed resigned to defeat from about 4-3 in the first set on. His loss to David Ferrer Friday 8-6 in the fifth must have been a little shell-shocking.
Spain vs. Argentina in Buenos Aires could be dirtball gone nuclear, if Argentine captain Alberto Mancini decides to go that way. It's a tough call: Argentina has never lost on clay at home, but this time Rafa is coming to town. Either way, it will be a fitting cap to remarkable seasons for both Del Potro and Nadal. It will also cap a thoroughly unremarkable season for Nalbandian. Which is also fitting.
3. My Bloody Valentine: This Brit band, part of the long-kaput and long-forgotten “shoegazer” movement in Britain in the early 90s (so named for the direction in which the musicians looked while they were onstage), is playing NYC after 16 years of mysterious absence. I saw what I believe was their last New York show, in 1992 at what was called the Ritz (it had been Studio 54 in a previous lifetime and is something else entirely now). Let’s just say they played loudly. Not ear-ringingly loud or “please turn it down” loud or “I can’t hear myself think” loud. They played I-feel-something-in-my-chest-and-it's-scaring-me loud. The whole event seemed to be a dare to audience members, as if the band was saying, “Our ears are already blown (all of them had tinitis by that point), so we can do this as long as you can stand it.”
Or as long as you can stand up. My main memory is of people either crumpling slowly to the floor or walking, very briskly, out of the room. I stuck it out, but regretted it. Every time I heard even one note from their great album, Loveless for the next six months, I almost crumpled to the ground myself.
4. David Foster Wallace: The memorials and testimonials continue:
ESPN the Magazine (“Hey, I’m the guy who made the Federer article happen!”)
I have to admit, it still probably won’t be enough to get me to try Infinite Jest. If only it were a little, well, shorter.
5. Dinara Safina: Another win, in Tokyo, and more motivation just when she seemed ready to come down to earth, after the Open. This from a Japanese paper:
"I don't know, something clicked here," Safina said about the tournament. "I came here and really from the first day, I was playing really good tennis.
"Especially yesterday and today, I played my best tennis so far," said the Beijing Olympic silver medalist and French Open runnerup, who won the fifth all-Russian final on the WTA Tour this year
She said a mental boost from coach Zeljko Krajan snapped her out of a funk. "When I won the match against Kanepi, he was a little bit like, 'You still have so much more inside you. Go out there and just play your game, because if you play your game, it's so difficult to compete with you.'
"And from yesterday, I was a completely different player. Even he said, 'OK, I just have to sit and enjoy your [semifinal] match. There was nothing to say to you[.]'"
6. Mad Men. I’d heard that this journey back to Cheever country was essential viewing. I tried it over the weekend. I’m hooked. It may go a little out of its way to prove to us that life was different in 1960—housewives needed to have two stoves!—but it makes for a nice balance to my other favorite show, Gossip Girl.
7. Angry Samoans: Thinking about My Bloody Valentine makes me understand again that I’ve lost track of new music. I swore it would never happen to me, that I would always keep current, but the only “new” bands I listen to are the great ones I happened to have missed in the past. Fortunately, that well doesn’t appear to be even close to dry. This summer I dipped in and came back up with Great Plains, a nervy, witty Columbus band from the 1980s, and the Angry Samoans, a Cali punk band from earlier in that decade. (And we thought the 80s were the end of civilization as we knew it! Makes me wonder what great things I’m missing right now, when civilzation seems to be ending all over again.) The Samoans made harsh language and teasing nihilism into the closest thing I can think of to a poetry of the 'burbs. Their way non-PC lyrics wouldn’t be accepted today, which makes them all the more poetic.
Oh, one other song I've returned to recently, though it may be the opposite of poetic: "Summer of '69" by Bryan Adams. Pleasures don't come guiltier, or more pleasurable.
8. Masters of Understatement: Leave it to a London headline writer to keep a Davis Cup loss in perspective and make an unlucky British player feel better.
9. Yankee Stadium: Joe Louis-Max Schmeling, Colts-Giants ’58, Reggie and Ruth and DiMaggio and Gehrig saying he was the luckiest man in the world, Oscar Gamble and Mike Mussina. I went to seven or eight games each year at the Stadium and always looked out over the field and thought: Did all those things really happen right here? The walkways were gross, the bathrooms much worse, but the dark blue seats and nonstop hostile roar of the fans gave the place a distinctly intimidating feel. You knew you were somewhere.
10. Memorial Day: Every year summer ends and I wonder where it went. This time I vowed not to let that happen, so I tried to fill my schedule from the start, thinking that enough enforced activity would keep me from squandering my weekends. It worked: The season’s beginning, Memorial Day, seems an eternity ago. That weekend I went to the beach in Rhode Island, where it was sunny and unseasonably warm. The sand was covered with tattoo-sporting, football-throwing goons and the bellybutton-pierced young ladies who watched them. The parking attendant at our hotel was a skinny, pomaded gold-digger straight out of Caddyshack or some other summer teen movie. There were small, dark, excellent restaurants in the neighboring, out of the way seaside towns. There was a pristine, red-and-white lighthouse jutting out from the end of the beach. I had my iPod and a long book. It was the start of a very good season.