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An American at Davis Cup in Oz 2016 Part II

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 10/03/2016 Lawrence Diller, M.D.

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In Part I of An American at Davis Cup in Oz 2016, I reviewed the history of the Davis Cup, the structure of the team matches and the outcome of this first round tie in the international division between the U.S. and Australia at Kooyong Stadium in Melbourne. The Americans won 3-1.
But now for some personal stuff at this Cup from yours truly: Kooyong was a wonderful choice because much tennis history took place at Kooyong. Like Forest Hills which preceded Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing Meadows, Queens for 70 years, Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club hosted the Australian nationals for a similar period before Rod Laver Stadium was built. The Kooyong stadium holds only about 8,500 spectators. Kooyong allowed for a much more intimate spectator environment to watch the drama close up compared to either good Laver or terrible Arthur Ashe stadium.
A Davis Cup is drama -- at least for tennis. Unlike tournament matches where tennis etiquette restricts the amount of cheering or partisanship, virtually anything can be yelled or acted out between points at Davis Cup. The nationalistic aspects of the matches bring out the best and sometimes worst in the crowd. The visiting team often has to endure screams and shouts against them -- for example the crowd cheering the visiting players' double faults. This would be considered very, very bad form in a regular amateur or professional tennis match -- but is okay at Davis Cup.
At Kooyong, an organized cheering section of about 30 people all dressed in yellow (the Australian color) tee shirts shouted out coordinated cheers and songs between and just before points would begin. They also had a trumpet, trombone and snare drum accompany the cheers as well. They sounded like a down and out U.S. college marching band. But they were very funny and the crowd loved them. I'm not as certain if the American players felt the same.
Besides the opportunity to really let go at a tennis match, I felt it my patriotic duty as an American living in Melbourne, to go out and support the boys playing the Australians on their home turf (literally). Little did I know that I would be one of ten visually or vocally visible Americans rooting for the U.S.A. in a crowd of eight thousand five hundred very excited, partisan Aussies.
I, of course, thought of bringing an American flag. I have an American flag that I keep for July 4th at my Piedmont home but didn't think to bring it with me to Oz. I thought perhaps I might be able to buy a flag at Kooyong (actually they were giving away Australian flags for free but there were no American flags). But then I got a better idea. I would make a sign. Again signs and banners are permitted, even encouraged with Davis Cup play.
But what would the sign say? "Go USA!"? I thought I could do better. I don't know when it hit me but probably all the primary stuff going on in the States had something to do with my state of mind when I came up with "Isner for President" Of course I knew Isner was only in his mid-twenties and too young to be the President, but I thought it would be funny, topical and show support for him. I decided, the other side of the sign would say "Sock for President" so I could hold either side depending on which match was going on.
I was able to print out 500 point colored letters from my printer and stick them appropriately on a thicker sheet of flexible poster board using scotch tape. I thought the sign looked pretty good. But I had no clue as to the reaction the sign would generate at Kooyong. I thought there'd be other signs. Mine turned out to be the only one.
Many people (all Australian) spontaneously came up to me primarily to comment about their unhappiness and disgust about the Trump phenomenon. They asked me was it possible he could win the presidency. What were Hillary's chances? I got a few comments regarding a general disappointment about the Obama years. The Australians had hoped for more. So did I. But I tried to explain to them how the checks and balances in the U.S. government don't allow for much change unless a super majority of sixty senators are in agreement to end a filibuster.
As mentioned, I thought there'd be many more Americans present in their supporting their countrymen (likely thousands of Americans live in Melbourne alone). Five were collected in a group that managed some reasonable counter cheers to those of the far more numerous Aussies. Needless to say, my sign stood out, as did my "C'mon John!" "One more, Jack. You can do it!" stentorian encouragements from the stands.
On the second day, I eschewed the sign. I had considered "Twins for President" but felt challenged by the renewed labor and my printer had run out of colored ink. Instead I endeavored to find some American flags in Melbourne on a Saturday -- which wasn't easy. The closest flag stores were a 30-minute car ride into the suburbs and were closed on Saturday. I had contacted the U.S. Consulate which was close to my house. They were sympathetic but could not offer me any American flags to buy or borrow. They generally only had extra flags for the Fourth of July.
In my cyber search for an American flag in Melbourne, I encountered an internet chat between someone looking for a Greek flag and a respondent who suggested a Greek food store. A light bulb went off in my head. I remembered hearing of an American food store in the Melbourne suburb of Moorabbin (only 20 minutes away). They were open on Saturday. I called up USA Food and indeed they had a couple of small to medium sized American flags for sale. I hurried down before the beginning of the Saturday doubles match and picked up two flags (and a package of Aunt Jemima Original Pancake Mix and a bottle of pure maple syrup -- items unobtainable elsewhere in Melbourne).
My flags came in handy in my cheering during the most dramatic match, the critical and crucial doubles rubber which the Bryan twins won. They are identical except that Mike plays with a right-handed forehand and Bob is a lefty -- I had to look this up on Safari on my phone at the match because I couldn't shout out individual cheers without knowing who was who. I can't imagine what it's like playing doubles against two guys who are mirror images of each other.
The biggest surprise for me was on Sunday, the day the tie was to be decided. I taped the two flags to my Isner for President/Sock for President sign. They were each going to be playing the reverse singles: Isner going first against Tomic. I also hand wrote in on both sides, "Trump can't serve." and "Trump double-faults." I must acknowledge, Denise, my wife, came up with the second tennis double-entendre.
I was able to park close to the stadium. The minute I moved away from my car, someone wanted to photograph the sign (and me). I was stopped repeatedly on the short walk to the stadium with people who wanted a picture of the sign -- many to send to relatives living (and voting) in America. Virtually all the Aussies were anti-Trump. Only one relatively drunk 20-something bogan type (a true bogan wouldn't come to the Davis Cup) came up to me somewhat confrontationally and told me that he would vote for Trump if he ran in Australia. If you're a regular reader of the Letter you would know that a bogan is a certain type of white Australian -- an American red neck would come closest in meaning.
I had probably between thirty and forty photos taken overall. A TV cameraman said they were glad to have my sign to shoot because there were so few visual elements of American resistance and support in the crowd. My good tennis playing Aussie buddy, Hayden, later confirmed that the sign was included in the sports highlights of the Cup coverage on Channel 7 Melbourne News.
But my greatest thrill of the day was meeting Isner and Jim Courier as they were walking from the stadium court to the clubhouse. I happen to be talking to my friend, another American, Karen, when she pointed out to me they were walking by. Isner is very hard to miss because he's six foot six (198 centimeters). Anyway, I turned so they could see my sign. They signaled me to come over and I congratulated Isner for a great match. He thanked me and shook my hand. Courier, a former number one in the world and the current coach of the American team, smiled at my sign. Karen snapped the picture that documented this encounter I will never forget.
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But now, I want to get serious for a moment about the primary elections. I have mentioned that Denise and I feel so lucky that we've been 7000 miles away from the presidential marathon madness. Australian media generally filters our news from the U.S, though both of us read The New York Times on line regularly. The Trump madness and even the Sanders success reflect the electorate's total disenchantment and anger. The two mainstream parties have failed to change virtually anything, as income and standard of living disparities between the rich and middle class have grown and grown.
Trump's success is built on an exploitation of people's fears and greed -- a strategy that the Republican Party has successfully employed for thirty-five years. Like an out of control rich family in therapy (I have had some experience with those situations) ultimately things spin out of control with behavior that can no longer be accepted or hidden. I read that a columnist in the Washington Post could now better appreciate how the German people elected Hitler. Trump raising his right arm as he asks others to do the same in a pledge of fealty to his campaign reminds me of similar fascistic salutes of the 1920's to 1940's.
It's a good time to be in Oz. We are coming back in July so we will get to vote. It's a sad time for America. The whole world is watching. I sincerely hope our country can heal after this election is over.
I almost forgot our fortnightly Australian language class. Here we go:

  • puggle: a baby echidna or platypus (this wasn't easy for me to confirm because most of the online entries were for a type of dog) but far down at the bottom of the page was small print that sent me to a page that confirmed puggle is a legitimate Australian word
  • wagging: slang for "cutting school" (I noticed a number of teenagers at the Davis Cup and asking them if they were "playing hookey" drew a blank look. One parent who had lived in America said, "Oh you mean wagging") -- confirmed online
  • tip: (covered before in another Letter) is a garbage dump or landfill
  • to nobble: (British) to disable a racehorse by drugging ("The grass courts...was never going to be so effective in nobbling the Bryans.")
  • sparkie: an electrician
  • journo: a journalist

That's all for this Letter. Until next time.

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