Drinking Game

Thursday, February 25, 2010 /by

Elegant-martini Few recent developments in the game have been hailed as heartily and unanimously around the offices of Tennis Magazine as the ATP’s new $70 million title-sponsorship deal with Corona. You might have thought that a contract linking the healthy sport for a lifetime with the producer of an addictive depressant might have been approached with some degree of trepidation. But no, Pete Bodo praised its raffish populism as he happily hiccupped his way through a recent podcast, while James Martin stated, with Olympian simplicity and assurance, that “beer is good.”

I agree, beer is good, especially after work. And especially in the morning after work. During the dark days of the Clinton era, when the rest of the world was getting rich on Internet stocks and wolfing Ecstasy to celebrate, I worked a night shift job as a proofreader at an investment bank in Manhattan—just for fun, of course. I went in at midnight and rode the subway home to Brooklyn at 8:00 A.M. I learned right away that it’s a disturbing, but also perversely exhilarating, feeling to get off a train at that hour, a train populated by a few scattered, snoring homeless people, and see hordes of upstanding humans waiting on the other side of the platform to begin their day, after what I imagined to be a perfect and peaceful night of sleep. As I passed them, I prayed to God that someday I would be brought in from my nocturnal exile and allowed to join them. I didn’t care what job I would eventually get, I just wanted to work in the daytime. Still, for that one brief moment I had the advantage. These daylight people were heading for work, while I was heading to the 24-hour bodega on my corner, where I could buy a six-pack of Budweiser cans and sit down to drink a couple of them immediately, without a shred of guilt, while watching Good Morning America. After a week or two of this, the gruff Italian guy at the counter started to give me an odd look. Then it came to me as I lugged the beers down the street: “He must think I’m the world’s biggest alcoholic, up at the crack of dawn for six more.” But no, that’s not what it was. The next day he looked at me and said, “You work the night shift? I used to do that. It’s tough.” Granted, he likely operated a forklift while I was checking for spelling mistakes on financial documents, but there was some working-stiff bonding there. 

Beer is also good at the beach, which I found out again last summer when I spent a few days at a share house on Long Island with a couple of friends. One of those friends brought a party pack of Schaefer cans down to the water. This is a brand of American swill that I normally cannot stomach, even though I always admired the modesty and honesty of their old ad slogan: The beer to have when you’re having more than one. But at the ocean, in the sand, under the sun, Schaefer was perfect; anything stronger or better would have been too serious, a drag. When my friend cracked the first can open and we heard that familiar, frothy, de-pressurized burst of noise around the tab, he looked up at the sky and said, “The sound of victory.”

And, of course, beer is good for college students, though the crazed obsession with it that seems to overwhelm kids in this country from ages 18 to 22 is hard to explain. I was reminded of that a few years ago when I was riding up in a hotel elevator. With me were four scruffy kids in their late teens. They looked unhappy, frustrated, a little desperate. Finally, when I got to my floor, one of them stopped me and asked, “Do you have any beer?” It was as if he thought everyone on earth must have a keg with them wherever they go. If you’re over 21, how could you not be drinking beer every minute of the day?

OK, but the question we’ve been posed by the ATP is this: Is beer the best drink to have when you’re watching tennis? I believed this to be so when I attended my first U.S. Open as an employee of Tennis Magazine a dozen years ago. With no real responsibilities other than to watch matches, I grabbed a free cup of Heineken in the press room and headed for the media seats in Ashe Stadium. There I was quickly spotted by a grizzled veteran of the tennis press sitting three rows ahead of me. On the first changeover, he walked back to my row, leaned down into my face, and informed me that I was “disgracing the media.” I took the (rather strong) hint and got rid of the beer. And went to another stadium.

Since then, I’ve restricted my blending of alcohol and tennis-viewing to the privacy of my apartment. At the same time, I’ve moved on from the easy, youthful, screw-the-top off-the-bottle-and-go pleasure of beer for the more potent qualities of the Martini. This year I found that one—or OK, maybe two—of these little triangles to be the ideal accessory for evenings spent watching the Australian Open. Beer bloats and blurs, while gin, in the right quantity, can make you feel sharper even as it sands down the anxious edge of your mind. (Of course, in the wrong quantity, it can make you want to smash your TV set in, but that’s a story for another day . . .) It’s not just the drink, but the process, the ritual of making it that counts. The sound of ice cubes cracking out of their holder, clinking against the glass, being swirled by a spoon. And then you end up with the high metallic sheen of the gin itself in the glass, a single olive at its bottom. It’s a hard, minimalist-aesthetic drink for a hard, minimalist-aesthetic sport.

So as a tennis viewer, I suppose I have left beer behind. A Martini, like a cup of coffee, can heighten my appreciation of a match. But what about as a tennis player? That’s where Corona makes sense. This may not be true for Roger Federer—I like to imagine Rog celebrating a Grand Slam win by doing a shot of Jack Daniels with Mirka in the back of the limo while they bang their heads to AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” and flash each other the sign of the devil (unlikely, I know, though remember that the stylish family man was once a Metallica fanatic). But a beer makes sense for me. There really aren’t many better feelings than running hard on a tennis court in the hot sun for a couple of hours and then finding a cold beer waiting for you in your fridge when you get home. Pull the tab off the can or the top off the bottle, and even if you’ve lost the match, at least you get to hear the sound of victory.

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