Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day 2006

Labor Day in America; the last pure day of summer. For some Americans this holiday consists of many hours stuck in traffic or airports, for others it’s a time to pack up and close the summer house or simply take a free day to do nothing at all. I had completely forgotten it was the end of summer in America. Living in Germany I am beginning to loose track of the holidays of my homeland and it wasn’t until I happened to turn on the television and saw Andre Agassi play his final game of professional tennis at the Arthur Ashe stadium in Queens, NY that it hit me. Had it not been for live coverage of the US Open by the cable TV channel Eurosport, I might have missed the whole holiday, as well as Agassi’s departure from the game. But it wasn’t Andre Agassi’s retirement that moved me yesterday, although I must admit that I was impressed with his performance as he struggled valiantly but unsuccessfully against the younger, stronger German player Benjamin Becker. It was the peculiar perspective I had on the match, there was the German player, Becker, playing against an American tennis icon who is married to one of the greatest tennis players of all time, Steffi Graff. So my head is spinning; I’m in my living room in Cologne, Germany watching the US Open being broadcast live from my former hometown of New York City, and I’m seeing it on German TV where all the play-by-play is in German (not that you need much help to understand a tennis match) and the players are either German or live in Germany or have German families or something that makes this whole event a sort of German-American end of summer backyard barbeque. I find myself recalling the times I took the subway out to Queens and sat in the stands at the US Open and watched some of the best tennis in the world and the far more numerous Labor Day weekends when I sat in front of an over-heated television set for hours on end and drank beer and ate take-out food and watched some of the best tennis in the world.

This Labor Day, the one I nearly missed, was a little different. First there is His Holiness, the biggest difference of them all for me, and the reason that the last two Labor Day weekends are just a blur – he was born one week before Labor Day. This weekend I tried to coax him into watching the matches with me curled up on the couch but he wouldn’t have any of that sitting quietly in the lap business and was soon climbing me like a jungle gym, jumping from my shoulders to the couch seat and laughing uproariously, “do it again, papa – do it again” and so I did, again and again and again. Then I got all focused and serious and nearly teary-eyed and ordered him to settle down as Agassi left the court for the last time. HH didn’t understand that sports history was unfolding before my eyes and my patience began evaporating in equal measure to the rising level of his voice until I snapped and removed him from the room. I watched until Agassi gathered up his gear and made his way off the court and into retirement and then I went into the next room to find HH standing at the door giving his own teary-eyed performance, protesting his expulsion from the game. I picked him up and carried him back into the living room where I tried to explain why I had wanted to listen to the TV but he couldn’t have possibly understood and probably chalked up my performance as another example of irrational behavior by Papa brought about by some unfathomable cause.
Reflecting on the events of this Labor Day weekend, I think Mr. Agassi and I probably have more in common than I might have imagined just twenty-four hours ago. Now I have never given much thought to Andre Agassi and certainly not to any similarities between us, but the fact is we have both stepped off the main stage – although there is no comparing his platform with mine - and moved on to personal challenges as grand and perplexing as anything our professional careers might have offered. During yesterday’s match the cameras now and then shifted from the action on the court to the coaches and families of the players and there in the shadows were Andre’s wife and children and I wondered as the crowd roared and stood to honor his father, if Andre’s young son Jaden had any idea what was unfolding on the court just below him, or if he was thinking about how he wanted nothing more than to get home and climb onto his Papa’s shoulders and fly off onto the couch, again and again and again.