The GOAT

The Labor Day weekend heat wave in southern California is everything you’ve heard about and more.

Yes, it’s been hotter.   But 99+ degrees in the first week of September means your dog is panting on their morning walk about 30 seconds after you exit your front door. 

Oh what a world!

Also, the breeze from the trees feels like inescapable flames of hell in your face, even worse than those perpetrated on the news nightly right now by former POTUS #45.

Hell would truly be either one of these things continuing on much longer, especially the latter.

I spent this weekend, as did so many of us, watching and paying tribute to the GOAT of women’s tennis, and perhaps of all tennis – Serena Williams.

We love you Serena!

There’s a debate over what the “Greatest Of All Time”in a sport truly means.  Are you the greatest because you have the most wins; or can beat anyone who has ever played the sport in an imagined one on one matchup?

Or does being the GOAT also include your effect on the game generally and how your participation upped the ante, opened doors and/or overall changed the sport for the better?

This is the stuff that keeps sportswriters, aficionados and fantasy leagues of all kinds alive and afloat. 

In short, it doesn’t interest me.

This is because I, like many gay men of a certain age (Note: Ugh, not all of us – of course, not all of us!!!!), have a complicated relationship with sports.

How I normally think of the word GOAT

I wasn’t much good at it, was made fun of for what I lacked, was seldom chosen and, to top it off, it generally had little interest to me.  This was not so much because of my skill level or rejection rate but more that from a very young age I recognized sports occupied a huge, oversized (note: in my mind) space in the American psyche.

What was so f’n interesting?

Pretty much sums it up

Despite all the intellectual answers I now fully understand, sometimes I still don’t get it.

Yet for some reason tennis was always the exception, especially women’s tennis.

I came to realize this is because a) tennis is generally not considered to be a team sport (Note: Forgive me, doubles players), and b) it’s not violent.

Once you get in the arena, it’s a one-on-one matchup of personal athleticism, psychology, endurance and smarts. 

Also, it’s always felt to me that overall, with a few exceptions, as cutthroat as tennis could be it evoked sportsmanship. 

Or sportswomanship? 

I like what you did there Chairy!

Well, whatever is the proper way to put it, I think you know what I mean. 

As a kid in Queens, I was initiated into the sport in the 1960s by watching a bespectacled woman on TV named Billie Jean King become an unlikely hero to so many of us who wore glasses and longed to excel in ANYTHING athletic.

Ms. King’s endurance, grace under pressure and sheer skill and power as both player and speaker, impressed me to no end.  It felt to me that despite people laughing at her, somehow she was cool enough inside to know how to remain calm, lock out the noise and give the doubters a huge middle finger by doing nothing more than demonstrating her talent center stage.

Yes Billie!

It didn’t feel like she was showing off or proving anything.  It was simply taking the stage when it was her turn and doing the best that she could.  Which was, well, great.

There have been many players since who have caught my fancy but none like Serena Williams.  To witness her final match at almost 41 years of age at the US Open in round three on Friday night was to understand what it means to be a champion.

You don’t have to be a tennis fan to watch ONE GAME go on for 15 minutes and wonder, how is she doing this, why is she doing this and gee, maybe she CAN indeed do this, forever.

No, thank YOU serena!

I get that fans of sports teams might feel the same way and that is their right.  But watching Serena work I kept thinking: how does she keep the physical and mental going after all these decades (Note: Over 27 years).

Not to mention, how did she ever manage to take one of the whitest and most sexist sports in the world and lead its transformation into a multi-cultural sociological international happening every time she steps on the court?

Well, there are a lot better writers than me who can talk about her final appearance in my hometown of Flushing, Queens, site of the US Open, from a sports perspective, a tennis perspective and a feminist perspective.  They include:

The LA Times

The Washington Post

ESPN

But what I can tell you is that this level of skill, determination, grit and total, unadulterated dedication to putting everything one has into something one clearly loves doing despite the odds of succeeding, is so rare in today’s world that the very attempt would seem enough to make that special someone at the very least GOAT of the day.

Of course, it’s not.

The end of an era

Because the essence of Serena and the few of any discipline of any kind at her level, means that they put all of their GOAT-ness on the table each and every time they play or exercise their talents.

Some days are better than others, some matches are losers and sometimes their lives suck just as much as ours do, perhaps even more. (Note:  Hard to believe, but my limited interactions with several of these uber dedicated tell me this is true).

This kind of transformational person has a way of setting it aside and showing us, yeah, it can be done if I dream it, so watch me and I WILL prove it to you.

No one gets there every time.  But even in her final match, which she lost, Serena hit so many mesmerizing winners, so many times, against so many odds, you couldn’t help but feel like she was victorious.

That’s because ultimately she was.  In every game she played, regardless of the score.

You can watch the up and down highlights of that final match here:

Getting Schooled

As a student who attended a tuition-free city college in NYC and a private, tuition-heavy graduate school university in the Midwest, I have experienced the cost of higher education from both sides.

And let me tell you as a middle class kid, one side is A LOT more comfortable than the other.

So I was more than thrilled when this week Pres. Biden announced a plan to provide $10,000-$20,000 in debt forgiveness to roughly 43 million Americans drowning in student loans.

It’s not as generous a plan as I would like (Note: We’ll get to that in a moment) but it’s a start.  It also seems fair that these breaks are capped to individual incomes of $125,000 per year and in two-income families $250,000 per year.

I also figured, quite wrongly as it turns out, that the vast majority of Americans would be behind this. 

I mean, it’s hard enough to get out of college and pry your way into the job market but imagine doing it being so deeply in debt at such a young age?

Facing reality

You don’t even get make the mistake of taking a frivolously expensive trip, overpaying for some crappy used means of transportation or impulse buying some gold/diamond something or other.

Or maybe you do that or worse, as young people are wont to do, and it makes everything that much more horrible.

How much more horrible can the world seem in your late teens or early twenties than it ever did?

I don’t want to even think about that.

Life is hard

Granted, I got my B.A. at Queens College, CUNY in the 1970s when it cost exactly $69.25 tuition per semester. I remember the figure well because I had to pay for that AND my books with my part-time job and was damn proud of that.

Especially because it left me room to squander extra money on big platform shoes to make me look taller, and in my mind much more desirable, to whatever I was trying to attract at the time. 

Those shoes, alas there were three or four pairs, proved to be the first of many financial mistakes I would make since they netted nothing in the romance department and would be hopelessly out of style, nee useless, within a year. 

This was fashion

But at 20 years old, at least I had fun with them and the very occasional bag of bad grass I managed to purchase and pay for on my own when I split it with a friend.

But let’s not digress to the good old days that I only wish I knew were as good as they were when I was living through them.

The point is, all these decades and experiences later I very wrongly assumed the vast majority of adults in this country, having been young and likely financially strapped and dumb the way I once was, would embrace the idea, if not the details, of Biden’s new plan to give college students and the families that manage to put up with them, just a touch of a break.

Well, it’s not the first or even 10 millionth time I’ve been wrong about my fellow Americans.  And clearly, if history is any indication, it won’t be the last.

Truly in the Twilight Zone!

The sheer hysteria over supporting the education of our young (Note: A $1.6 trillion debt forgiveness as opposed to the $2 trillion plus in tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy that contributed to the US deficit) sent shock waves out across the country, especially among members of the GOP

I won’t quote them all, but the basic gist was Why should I have to pay for your education; Maybe you should learn to manage your money better; and my favorite, I PAID MY LOANS, NOW YOU PAY YOURS, FREELOADER!

So, my first thought: 

But I censored myself and instead posted the following on Facebook and Twitter:

If you’re so small minded that you are having a tantrum over young people having some of their college debt forgiven, you don’t deserve all the great things this next generation will do. And you’re a selfish assh-le.

My husband publicly jibed me for blithely calling people I don’t know A-holes on social media but at the end of the day he realizes this was harmless compared to what I wanted to say and still could be saying. 

Surprise!

There is no irony lost on me that we both work for a private college that charges a lot more tuition than I paid.  But it is one that also offers A LOT more scholarship money than most schools do, and most especially did in my day.

This is why the Biden plan is a start to a more just world when learning at the college and university level doesn’t feel out of reach when you’re not wealthy.

I say feel out of reach because lots of students these days who go to college and beyond do so knowing it is a given they will be moderately or perhaps severely in debt. 

Well, it is a given – like a not-yet out short-ish gay kid buying 3-4 pairs of platform shoes he couldn’t afford back in the 1970s,  but nowhere near as embarrassing.

Do not bring the 70s back, please.

Most adults nowadays do NOT get just how much the financial realities of where they once were as college kids have changed since they were in school. 

So rather than quote a lot of general statistics, here’s a simpler and more personal example of how it’s different.

Back in the mid-seventies it cost me $138.50 for one year’s tuition at Queens College.  The cost now, in 2022, is $7538.00 per year. 

Without factoring in living expenses and books, materials, etc. that’s a more than 5300% increase!

I made $4.25 per hour, almost double the minimum wage at the time, working at a part-time job typing health insurance claims into what was then a very, very early and large computer terminal.

I can’t say how well I did (Note: Not very but I was game) but my pay for an 18-hour week was $76.50.  I had my yearly tuition, books, etc. covered in less than a month of take home pay.

OK, staying with me

Minimum wage today in NYC is $15 per hour.  So let’s say a college kid gets lucky and makes $25 per hour (Note: Good luck!) close to twice the minimum.  That’s $450 per week before taxes. 

Do you know how long it will take that kid to cover tuition for two semesters?  That would be more than EIGHTEEN MONTHS after taxes are taken out. 

So it takes today’s college student at the same place and location I was at EIGHTEEN TIMES longer than me to pay off just one year of school at one of the less expensive but decent colleges in the state.

And this is WITHOUT food, room, board or…..  Certainly it doesn’t factor in platform shoes or even a bottle of wine or beer or anything else (Note: Ahem).

THE.     DECK.      IS.       STACKED.

a heavy load

No matter how imperfect my math or comparisons might seem to you.

Tell your friends, relatives and followers who don’t like the idea of giving the next generation some loan forgiveness to save their temper tantrums for something that counts.   

Like the future of democracy.

And if that doesn’t work, see every edited curse word above and add many more of your own.

Because they will all deserve it.

ABBA – “Money, Money, Money”