Aside from people asking
me if I once had a relative
named Max (my last name is Baer; Max Baer was a
famous Jewish boxer), I never really thought about the influence my
people had on athletics. That is, I never really thought
about their influence beyond what I as an agnostic but cultural
Jewish self-identifier gleaned from "Great
Jews in Sports," perhaps the funniest book in the world, which was given to
me as, it was to many a doughy
as a tacky Bar Mitzvah gift so new men might read about
Sandy Koufax and dream of being more than violinists, lawyers, studio heads, and writers. At last, however, "Orthodox Stance," Jason Hutt's
documentary about Ukranian
Orthodox Brooklyn Jew Dmitry Salita proves that I don't have to return to old
stories about Rod Carew to get inspired about an athlete
who knows his Torah. The film, which opens tomorrow at LA's Laemmle
Theater, follows the 21-year-old from the Starret City boxing club as he and his 80-year-old African-American trainer move from relative obscurity to a deal with boxing impresario Lou DiBella
and an honorary mishpucha that
includes Hasidic musician Matisyahu.
the film doesn't explore—why this mild-mannered kid with friends of all
and colors turned to a conversion-happy chabad and extreme boxing
discipline in the
wake of his mother's sudden death to cancer, and why his brother and father
aren't really a)
religious or b) a part of the story—seems to hang in the air like an
matzoh ball. But the boxing footage is fantastic. Dmitry, a
dress like any hood from Brighton Beach,
but he lays into his opponents with the passion of a young Sylvester
also good fun to watch Dmitry scuffle with his extremely stoic brother:
he shouldn't wear a
wrinkled suit to a press conference ("But it's DKNY," his brother
And it's cool to know that a pro boxing outfit will delay your matches
beyond Shabbat so you don't have to piss off God just to knock down
another heathen. Of course, the flick's no "Rocky Balboa." It's much
more real and hence mildly dry. But in an age when a
Hasidic actor's shunned by his Williamsburg
community for attempting
to act in a film with Natalie Portman, it's cool to see a present-day
Great Jew in Sports balance his jabs and High Holiday prayers.
"Orthodox Stance" opens April
11 at Laemmle's Music Hall. 9036 Wilshire
Blvd (Doheny) Beverly Hills, CA90211. 310-274-6869. www.laemmle.com
A little birdie tells me that an awesome new anthology of writing edited by Shallot supporter and writer extraordinare Bonnie Tsui will make its way into stores this April. The book is called "A Leaky Tent is a Piece of Paradise," and it will feature an essay by yours truly on tennis courts, their identities as built landscapes, and how they can serve as stages for people to play out social dramas. Want more info?
Here's the catchy description:
Warning: This is not your parents' nature writing! A distinctly
contemporary take on the genre, "A Leaky Tent Is a Piece of Paradise"
features original essays by twenty gifted writers, all 30 and under,
whose strong and diverse voices redefine nature writing for the 21st
century. Editor Bonnie Tsui's cast of accomplished contributors wrestle with
integrating nature into daily life while putting down roots—often in
urban environments. Included here are The New Yorker's Andrea Walker on
learning to hunt with her father; noted fishing author and painter
James Prosek on the mythology and mystery of eels; writer Hugh Ryan on
being taught how to pitch a tent by a six-foot-tall drag queen at a
Radical Faeries camp in Tennessee. Other stories are unusual in subject, like Christine DeLucia's
meditation on life cycles in Massachusetts's Mount Auburn Cemetery, and
Adam Baer's argument that the outdoor tennis court -- carefully
constructed as it is in a natural surround -- is the built environment
in which is he is allowed to be primeval and, at last, to grow into a
man. Theirs and the other writings in this collection illuminate questions
about self and place, belonging and rootlessness, and the meeting of
created and natural landscapes. Brimming with insight and humor, "A
Leaky Tent Is a Piece of Paradise" rewards us with new perspectives on
personal identity in relation to nature, and on the impact of landscape
and place on our lives.
Want more? How about an excerpt from my piece? Oh, fine, you convinced me.
A tennis court isn’t nature dressed up but nature objectified, manipulated, pounded even by bulldozers and will. .... A tennis court, explicitly manufactured—grass courts don’t look like grass, chain-link fences offer views of what's outside—feels open and closed. You can often see a tennis court's limits and setting at once. It’s an honest construct...A tennis court placed in the outdoors is as much a way to think about your place in the world as it is a space to think about your place in the service box. ...In the end, a tennis court is a metaphor for humankind’s progress and the limits of that progress: it’s a product of the industrial, and yet it’s most useful to people interested in accessing their primal selves... For all of their civility, tennis courts are revelatory, confessional spaces that, in their uncommonly organized nature, expose contradictory elements, forcing powers to struggle with one another or vibrate in rhythm, or both. Tennis courts are like music staffs. Systematic but open to invention, they’re breeding grounds for anomie and communion altars at once—natural imaging centers where you can’t help but submit to a CAT-scan of your spirit.
I've obviously left out all the juicy stuff: the blood and guts, the fights, the sex scenes. Pre-order the whole book for this story and a whole lot more from Bonnie's impressive karass!
How else to follow a philosophical post than with a guide to how to buy a tennis racquet? I don't know: There's something meditative about writing about tennis equipment. It could be all the physics: figuring out what produces more power, a tight or loose string pattern? Diving into the science of how the grommetless holes drilled into the sides of today's swankiest frames create catapult effects--or how carbon fiber nanotubes built into the composite of a frame stiffen the thing up. It's a little like chopping shallots and reading about string theory at once. While thinking back to those childhood days when I couldn't close my cabinet's doors because of all the Tennis magazine back issues clogging the thing up. I also couldn't let my guide go to print this year without a discussion of the new wood tennis revolution. Yes, people are playing it again. And not just to look like Ritchie Tenenbaum. So, as explained, the following piece isn't philosophy or creativity. But it's something I really enjoy doing every spring. And by all means, if you have any questions about what stick is right for you, send me an e-mail. I don't consider myself an expert on too much else.
From Maria Sharapova's revelatory blog, which should, I hasten to say, have been updated post-U.S. Open:
I also listen to my iPod all the time. I love music. The new Coldplay is sooo good. I can’t stop listening to that. Also, I’ve been into a lot of Dance and Club music. It keeps me moving. Sometimes I have to dance on the plane cause I can’t control myself.
What am I reading? Fashion magazines. Lots of them. All that I can get my hands on. After reading a good novel, it’s great to flip through magazines. As everyone knows I love fashion. I can’t get enough of it. It makes me want to go shopping. Doesn’t that sound fun?
Um, yes. But not as fun as reading her take on Tolstoy would be. That, not the new chicklit tome of the month, is what teenage Russian tennis stars built in Florida's Blonde Tennis Star Factory consider good novels, right? Let the gossip start here then. I'm breaking the NDA I signed with Sharapova Enterprises to leak to the world the luminary's newest media move: intellectual. Look for a 3,000 word Sharapova essay on Isaac Babel in an October issue of the The New York Review of Books. And remember, you didn't learn that here. Not unless you want a visit from Yuri and Slava.
Posted on September 13, 2005 at 08:37 AM|Permalink
I was a kid when I first saw Andre Agassi play. He was seven years older than me. He had long hair, denim tennis shorts, and girls throwing themselves at him. But even more exciting to me, he played tennis like a rockstar. He threw himself into his shots and his matches. He wasn't the "Rebel" Canon made him out to be, of course -- he always displayed respect for the game, and improvised on the fundamentals etched into the sport's history. But even then I understood why he was a marketer's dream. He infused youthful, brash life into a sport with cultural stigmas tied to class, age, and race. Today, Agassi drives a minivan, tousles the hair of his four-year-old son, and shares insightful comments with the press about world issues. And so be it. He's allowed. He's an adult now. Yet what I find so hilarious about the currently manic pop-culture tennis marketing machine that began to churn ever slow slowly the day Agassi hit the courts at 15 is that it never inspired a decent youth magazine about the sport.
Think all service journalism is useless? Read my new tennis racquet buying guide and please tell me otherwise. I've got to admit that this was one of my most fun and worthwhile assignments (right up there, ahem, with covering Bush v. Gore at the Supreme Court in 2000), and I don't mind that all I had to do in the course of it is test products. I adore tennis and take my racquet-buying very seriously. Which is why it's interesting that after messing around with all these new sticks, I like my old Head iRadical (see above) just fine. It's not that new racquet technology doesn't matter; it's just that I made the right choice for me two years ago and am not ready for a change. Make the decision for yourself and feel free to write with questions my FAQ may not answer. I'm high on racquet lingo these days and excited to babble about it as I sit out this Wimbledon on the DL. (What's next in my tennis journalism hopper? A far less service-y piece about a unique tennis travel experience. Stay tuned.)