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Reveries of an old man

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POSTED July 25, 2014 12:27 a.m.

I dream of being Roger Federer. I always watch his matches and cheer out loud as if it would make a difference in his play.

The great tennis player just reached the finals at Wimbledon, but lost in a close, exiting match. Why Federer? It’s more than his skill as a player. As an old man, I feel a great affinity for this so-called old man of tennis. Would that we, as old men, could age to gracefully, so effortlessly and be so good.

Federer, 33 next month, seems to be aging as beautiful as the finest Napa cabernet.

One friend asked, “What do you see as the difference between Federer and the other great players? “Some may be more athletic, but only Federer is more balletic.

I enjoy reading Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times who often uses Federer as a metaphor:

“I have always enjoyed watching Federer, being awestruck by the complexity of his game, felt privileged to have followed the Open (U.S.), when he won it at his peak. Yes, tennis is frivolous, but we rarely get to see anyone do anything so well. And at his best, Federer’s game is heartbreaking beautiful. This accounts for the disturbance we feel when it goes off, as if to borrow a metaphor, “the order of the world has been ever so-slightly upset.

“But its heartbreaking to watch, too, because we intuit the fragility of perfection, its evanescences.”

Federer lost to Novak Djokevich, a great player and all-around nice guy. But “Nole,” as he is called, lacks the grace and finesse of Federer.

I’m realistic to know those have never been my attributes. More than twice Federer’s age, I still dream of playing tennis again, with a full, sweeping backhand, forehand and backhand slices, and topspin. I envision throwing the ball high and then coming down on it for an ace, my opponent shaking his head in wonder.

J.Walter Mitty Bookman. Tennis is only one of my reveries. For years, I have seen myself doing the tango. I am thin once again. My hair is slicked down in a perfect part. I wear a black vest over a billowy white shirt. I move my partner into a lovely one, two, quick step. We repeat to the side, look quickly left and then back to face each other once again. We sweep across the floor in perfect harmony. As the music ends, we separate still holding hands and bow in unison as onlookers applaud. 

I dream of proficiency in languages. Latin in high school, which I took for some obscure reason, left me wanting. I recall Caesar’s commentaries and “Veni, vidi, vici,” I came, I saw, I conquered, said after brushing aside some small Gallic tribe. And, how can a Latin student forget, “Omnia Gallia en tres partes divida est,” all Gaul is divided into three parts, part of any Latin grammar study worth its salt.

Then there was French. I took an introductory six-session course at the Berlitz School of Languages, priced to pique interest in higher priced lessons. The beauty of the French language swept over me like a warm seduction.

Our instructor, a gawky Frenchman with fake hair and teeth, spoke slowly as a bell tolling for the loss of empire.

“Repetez s’il vous plait, un deux, trios. Un, deux, trios.

After six lessons came progress reports.

“Mademoiselle Pompadour,” he said to an attractive classmate, wearing a come-on smile and his voice dripping with lust. “You have such a charming accent, tres bien. I just love it.”

“Monsieur Bookman, You should be proud. You receive an average grade, tres bien.”

Average? Average? Jen ne comprends pas. I don’t understand. I have a vision of Madame Lafarge knitting my shroud as I go to the guillotine. It was hardly the best of times, but the worst. I left my French behind, taking with me, “ Parlez vous Francais? Do you speak French? Je m’appelle Phillipe.” My name is Philip. “Je suis Americain.”

Well, I had to think of Espanol.

I am traveling in Puerto Rico and in a rented car, lose my way to the airport. At a stoplight, I roll down the window and call to a taxi driver, “Donde esta el aeropuerto?” He looks at me, raises an eyebrow. “I sorry. I no speak English.”

We live in Costa Rica. I am determined. I buy books. “350 Spanish Verbs, Latin American Spanish, Dictionario de Espanol. My last purchase is, “Complete Idiots Guide to Learning Spanish.”

I study hard. Finally, I think I am ready. I approach my 6-year-old Costa Rican godson.

“Ola, Jose Ignacio. Como esta usted?” Hello, Jose Ignacio. How are you?

He looks at me. “Don Filipe. No comprendo. Better you speak in English.” 

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