"But it looks like macadam."
"It is. So?" He was getting irritated at my snobbishness.
"So nothing." I pulled at the beer, beginning to regret the whole venture.
The court was indeed made of the stuff of most county roads, but the lines seemed accurate enough, although there were only four feet of clearance between baseline and fence. This would hardly be acceptable even on clay or Har-Tru; on macadam one was in constant contact with the fence. Go bounce a tennis ball on a Michigan county road sometime. It lifts an amazing distance off the surface, and this is true for flat serves and ground strokes of the most ordinary kind, to say nothing of lobs and smashes.
The fence itself was another wondrous work to behold. I examined it while Harrison lit a cigarette, found a shady spot for the beer and settled into his meditation exercise, "B.P." (before playing). The fence was Red Rooster Brand chicken wire stapled to creosoted two-by-fours. The chicken wire had come in a three-foot width, and it had been overlapped half way up. This, I was to find out, presented a problem. When a bouncing ball hit the fence behind the baseline, it invariably found the overlap and squirted outside the fence, trickling off into the puckerbrush and Christmas trees. Christmas tree ranches are big business in Leelanau country; one doesn't say "Christmas tree" merely because he doesn't know the right name of the tree. I found the fence weird, to say the least. Almost as weird as Harrison's meditation, which was done in a half-lotus that resembled a self-administered half nelson, while smoking a cigarette and pausing for pulls at the Stroh's.
Finally ready, we began warming up.
Harrison's outfit that day is de rigueur for the game: a padded snowmobile outfit as a warmup suit, which when removed reveals backpackers' shorts, with those extra pockets on the front that can hold nothing but your Sierra Club card, and a Norwegian fishnet undershirt—the kind you can see through but don't want to. At various times during play, Harrison also showed a flair for originality by soaking the Holiday Inn towel in a nearby creek and wearing the thing over his head, yelling, " Lawrence of Poland—add in!" As Harrison did that day, many men in rural tennis wear Peds, those half-socks for women with the fuzzy ball on the heel to keep the sock from slipping into the shoe. This is not some odd, transsexual dress code of the North Woods, but comes from the fact that, for some years, rural tennis was considered less than manly; hence girl friends and wives have the best equipment and more of it, with the result that their clothing and equipment are often borrowed by the men. But it's not wise to snicker at a 200-pound ex-farmer in Peds.
As for the game itself, I discovered that nine beers prevent certain nerve synapses, like the ones for judging distances, from operating properly. Within minutes all our balls were somewhere outside the chicken wire, lost to the incredibly high bounce. Then began the big ball hunt.
In rural tennis the big ball hunt is at once one of the most terrifying and rewarding aspects of the game. It is terrifying because nameless things await one out there in the puckerbrush, rewarding because living through it will make you a better man, or at least a wiser one.
Harrison stood with his fingers clawed into his fishnet undershirt.