01.10
Lost boy

The muscular ball boy (ball man would be more apt) casually drew back his left arm and launched the tennis ball from one corner of the court to the other. It soared over Venus Williams, straight into the waiting hands of another man-child. Something wasn’t quite right. Tennis balls are supposed to be rolled in a genteel manner alongside the tram-lines as part of an elaborate relay around the court, not to become projectiles passing through the airspace above it. (The direct route is for crows, not tennis balls at a major tennis tournament. On such a trajectory and at that velocity it could easily have interrupted a passing crow. ‘As the crow flies’, until taken out by a tennis ball travelling at Mach 9, and then ‘as the crow plummets’).

‘That’s not cricket’, as they say back home.

And where was the grass? I could smell it in the air, but it wasn’t under feet as it was supposed to be. And what was with the huge screens replaying points, blasting out pop music between games and zoning in on celebrities in the crowd? And come to think of it, what on earth were we doing there at ten thirty in the evening? Tennis, along with Croquet and Earl Grey, is for lazy (rainy) summer afternoons. And whatever happened to the dress code? As Venus Williams entered court in her pink sequinned outfit, the little girl behind us said, “Look Mummy, she’s got her party dress on.” She certainly had. I guess she wanted to go clubbing after the game without all that palaver of changing costume. Sister Serena, in her thigh length black leather boots, looked as if she was dressed for a post game stretch at one of New York’s S&M clubs. I can’t imagine what the old codgers at The All England Club would make of it all. Probably become horribly disorientated, thinking they were already ensconced in their local brothel.

Why do Americans throw balls when we kick them? If an Englishman happens upon a stray ball his inclination is to kick it. An American in the same situation would pick it up and throw it. (Possibly bouncing it couple of times first, while shouting something self-motivational to himself). They might kick ass, but they certainly don’t kick ball. Are we born to react differently? Or is our response to spherical objects socially conditioned?

An English toddler will kick at a ball that crosses his path. (Just think of the archetype, Wayne Rooney). They do this because throwing it would betray a hopeless lack of coordination. The ball will either slip from their grasp and roll pathetically across the floor, or it’ll take out a vase immediately behind them as they forget to let go in time. Throwing is not a movement that comes naturally to the English. Conversely, almost every American toddler is capable of making an inch-perfect sixty-yard pitch. Watching Jay’s soccer match this last weekend I was struck by how many of them wanted to take the throw-ins. Americans are designed to throw balls. This is why they can’t be doing with the dainty Wimbledon procedure of rolling tennis balls. I think it also explains why they don’t get cricket. It’s not natural, they will argue, to have to keep a straight arm and then hurtle the ball as hard as you can towards the ground.

Whenever I’m out in the park and a stray baseball lands near me I become terribly self-conscious about returning it. It’s the same as not wanting to expose my yellowed teeth when talking to an American. These are the things that mark you down over here. It feels as if time stops still in the park as everyone turns to watch the Limey try to throw a ball. I could swear the birds paused mid-song and even the fish in the pond came closer to the surface to catch a glimpse. Kicking it back was out of the question. Kick a baseball with your flip-flops on and not only would you be carted off to intensive care, but you would also confirm everything that Americans have always thought about the British. I read the other day that Americans think we put our accent on. That it’s just an act. They can’t believe that anyone would ever talk like that for real. They believe that, when we’re behind closed doors and amongst ourselves, we sound just like them.

I acquitted myself acceptably with my throw. Okay, it was only half as far as that toddler could have achieved, and I put my back out for the whole of the following week, but I think I got away with looking casual enough despite putting every last molecule of strength behind what was a Herculean effort. The ball rolled the last ten yards, having not quite made the distance, but at least it got there. I was cordially thanked for what was taken to be a simple everyday action. Child’s play, in fact. Fortunately they had turned back to their game and so didn’t see me being helped back to the car by our tiny Yorkshire Terrier. Who would have thought one throw could cause so much incapacitation?

I’m clearly not cut out to play baseball.

Neither, it seems, am I cut out to be a Connecticut Mom. I’ve just found out that I’m to be relieved of my duties at the end of the year and transferred to somewhere more appropriate. I thought I’d done quite a good job. I’ve mastered the school run, I’ve organised the occasional play date; I’ve invited people to stay (sometimes more than the house can take all at the same time; we all make mistakes – but we’re not all married to Ros, who prefers not to have to share her bed with the family of a dim and distant school-friend I happened to invite to stay at the same time as three other families. “Where’s your Black Hole of Calcutta spirit?” I said, only to find myself out on my ear sharing Splodge’s purple plastic home that night); I’ve cooked for the children (bacon for breakfast, burgers for dinner, five days a week, fifty-two weeks a year – they’re happy, who needs variety?); I’ve attended two coffee mornings; I’ve washed dishes; I’ve done some dusting. I think I’ve made a pretty good hat of it (is that a proper colloquialism or am I writing gibberish?). But, despite my valiant efforts, it’s been decided to move me on.

We’re leaving the land of Stepford Wives and walking on to the set of The Untouchables.

Chicago is rooted in entrepreneurialism, fancy buildings, crime and the blues. It’s a sharp place for people on the make. It’s my kind of town. I’m done with the pinafore, the manicured lawns and the house-husband bit. I want the all-night blues bars, the concrete, the steel and the glass. I’m not beautiful enough to do anything more than pass through Connecticut. But in Chicago I can hide my baldness under a beanie, swap my New England slacks for some ripped denim and slip unnoticed into the urban milieu.

They’ve found a job for the wife over there and sugared it up a bit by calling her President. I suggested Prime Minister would be more fitting. ‘President’ has a debased quality to it in this neck of the woods. I’m buggered if I’m going to address her as President though. While she’s getting all these airs and graces, I’m determined to regress into infantilism. Ros and I are the microcosmic consequence of female emancipation: a ruling class of competent and successful women, and an underclass of blokes with nowhere to turn but the streets.

I can’t throw a ball and I’ve failed to keep home in Connecticut.

There’s nothing left, but to become a lost boy in an urban jungle, far, far away.

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