I went downtown to Katz’s the other day and had a pastrami sandwich that made me want to shout. God, it’s good to be bad and eat bad, but not necessarily act bad. That’s the trouble nowadays. People take care of their health, eat properly, exercise obsessively, do mental gymnastics such as crossword puzzles, and then go out and act like slobs, use the F-word non-stop and talk with their mouths full. If I hear one more time that 60 is the new 40, I will punch the first octogenarian, male or female, who crosses my path. Some buffoon who recently took up tennis has written a book about how this might stop him from getting cancer. I said might, because the poor man doesn’t guarantee anything, especially being able to get down and scoop up a drop-shot. The drop-shot, incidentally, is the stroke most employed in veteran tennis. I gave up the game about five years ago because of arthritic ankles and back. Judo and karate I can practise without too much pain, but not tennis. Mind you, after reading about this man’s quest to become Federer in his mid-sixties, I think I might pick up a racket again.
The trouble with tennis is that it’s a difficult game. If it’s windy it becomes really hard to enjoy. If one’s opponent has a clumsy sort of game, ditto. Veteran tennis is cagey and I always had trouble getting into the groove because oldies don’t provide the pace that is a prerequisite for a counter puncher like myself. The game at the highest level is now a bore: bang, bang, bang — and more bang. Unless they speed up the courts, which will encourage players to start crowding the net, the game has lost one veteran viewer, yours truly.
Along with the EU and the UN, the most useless body of well-paid sycophants is the Tennis Integrity Unit, the anti-corruption body that has come under increased scrutiny this year on account of its ineffectiveness and obfuscation. Well, like the farmer’s naughty daughter, perhaps it can’t help it. There is no way a player can be caught throwing a match unless he admits to it. One can miss the easiest of set-ups — as the Swiss ace Wawrinka did recently when it cost him the match — and it can happen non-stop, and still the player must be judged innocent. I’ve seen Lew Hoad, a double Wimbledon champ, miss something like ten set-ups in a row — he was in love at the time — and, as everyone knows, Lew Hoad would rather fry in hell than throw a point.
In the old shamateur days, lots of players threw matches in order to get to the next tournament and collect twice. No longer. It’s the results that count now. According to the TIU, fixed matches take place every day, and the way it figured that out was by following the betting. But the burden of proof is impossible: even if an unranked player beats a highly ranked one, and there are thousands of dollars wagered on him, the loser has to be given the benefit of the doubt. There is no other game, apart from golf, that can drive a top player to make as many elementary mistakes as tennis can. Just imagine if the book were to be thrown at a loser who had simply had a bad day at the office.
The integrity unit is useless as long as betting on tennis is allowed. Heavy, lopsided betting draws suspicions, but doesn’t constitute proof. In my not so humble opinion, the unit should turn to doping and weed out the Sharapovas of this world, whose lawyers and sponsors I predict will get her the minimum of suspension time. So, here we are: if you want to be cancer-free, take up tennis. According to this American, who also announced that his backhand volley had improved. (The backhand volley is the most fluid of strokes, incidentally; hitting away from one’s body makes it as easy as looking at Keira Knightley.)
I don’t know why reading about lung capacity being in steady decline gets on my nerves so much. Or heart capacity ebbing. Or eyesight getting worse. All three are happening to me, yet my karate, I am told, has never been better. What worries me most is my recent inability to remember names, even those of girls I have pursued and failed to land. (One never forgets those.) As for the prefrontal cortex: fuggedaboutit.
But back to the pastrami sandwich that was so good it made me want to shout. Katz is a New York institution that has resisted selling out to the highest and greediest bidder, so when I have time I always take a taxi downtown and order the Katz speciality, the pastrami sandwich. It’s a family-owned deli that sold two neighbouring properties and its air rights, but has retained its soul and its grubby and lovely interior. New York City, as we old-timers knew it, is rapidly disappearing. Katz opened in 1888, and is now a symbol of Jewish culinary history. As the man told my Italian friend Roffredo when he was asked if the pastrami was good, ‘If you like pussy, you will love pastrami.’ Very bad manners but very good pastrami.