Oct. 04, 2009
Those who can't do, they say, teach. Well, those who can't do either write adventure articles.
Today, I'm trying on the tennis-instructing shoes of Mark Feinsod, whose sense of humor is even more twisted than his backhand spin. Feinsod has told three of his students that I'm a junior development evaluator for the United States Tennis Association. I've flown here from Estonia, my home base, to judge how net-worthy Feinsod's instruction is.
Feinsod says the charade -- cleared with the students' parents in advance -- is perfect because "no one knows where Estonia is."
In case of any doubt, I am wearing official USTA wristbands.
The first doubt is raised by the second of my serves to sail over the head of James Dixon, a 16-year-old Desert Oasis High School senior, and out of bounds.
"He's got a different playing style," Feinsod tells him.
Feinsod, 30, has had a lifelong love of tennis and mischief. He grew up worshipping John McEnroe -- a god of both -- in suburban Great Neck, N.Y., just beyond the shadows of the US Open. In 1985, Feinsod and a friend sneaked in for 15 days straight.
"Through the back gate where the employees go through," he says in an accent thick with New Yawk. "Back then, it was easy."
At York College in Queens last year, Feinsod made team co-captain and was ranked eighth in the eastern division for Men's 25 Singles by the USTA -- the organization I apparently work for.
"There's nothing better in the world than good tennis," Feinsod says.
And there's nothing further in the world from that than what's happening on the courts of Desert Oasis this morning. Dixon is now cracking up at the Maria Sharapova grunt I add to every serve and which, I kid you not, a neighborhood dog answers in the same pitch.
"Are you serious?" he asks me.
Come to think of it, I received a similar reaction the last time I played tennis -- at Merrick Woods Day Camp when I was 11.
Earlier, Feinsod busted out some psychology along with some fuzzy green balls. Before I helped Dixon with what he identified as his weakness (backhand follow-through), I helped Feinsod with his.
I could feel my reputation building as Dixon watched me correct his instructor's open-stance forehand -- a swing whose existence I only learned of six minutes earlier.
"You're moving your feet," I told Feinsod, mimicking what he told me. "You need to keep them perfectly planted."
Last December, Feinsod moved to Las Vegas to pursue a master's degree in athletic administration. To pay the bills, he privately coaches about 25 students -- mostly teenagers referred by Desert Oasis, where he volunteers in the athletic department.
The racket racket used to pay about $80 per hourlong session. But, in today's economy, Feinsod charges $40 to $50. He also recently was hired as the tennis instructor for Sunset Park.
"I enjoy helping kids get better on the court," Feinsod says. "And sometimes I feel I can help them make the right decisions off the court, too."
Plus, he adds, "I like looking at hot moms -- only kidding!"
Right now, the Feinsod Tennis Academy is just a name on his outgoing voice mail. But Feinsod hopes to grow it into his own indoor/outdoor tennis complex -- a colossal domed building with a gym, computer room and dozens of courts.
"That's my ultimate dream," he says.
Dixon appears to be searching for Ashton Kutcher and the "Punk'd" crew as Feinsod tries explaining away the fifth of my serves to land nowhere near the inside of a white line.
"The courts in Estonia are longer," he says.
"Uh-huh," Dixon replies. "Are they wider, too?"
Fear and Loafing runs on the first Sunday of every month in the Living section. Levitan's previous adventures can be found at www.fearandloafing.com.