Every Spring, tennis players in New York City who want to play on the city courts have to buy a tennis permit. The Parks Department doubled the price this year to $200 for an adult permit. Seniors only pay $20 . If I can pass for 62, I’ll save $180. I'm unemployed.
The first time I tired to pass as a senior I told the young man at Paragon Sporting Goods that I was 62. He asked me for ID. I said I didn’t have any on me. He asked me what year I was born. This is where my math skills messed me up. Even though I’d prepared for this question with a pen and paper before I’d gone to the store to try to save on my tennis permit by adding five years to my age, I gave him the wrong answer.
I said I was born in 1950. He punched a few keys on his computer and looked puzzled at the result. “It says you’re only 61,” he said.
I was sweating already because I’m out of practice lying to authorities. True, it wasn’t like lying to the IRS or unemployment, but still I was out of practice.
“Oh, so I’m too young? I asked him.
“Yeah,” he said.
My friend Trevor from the East River Park courts told me about the scam and said it was easy to pull off because you didn’t have to show any id. Plus the Paragon clerks who you have to fool didn’t care much one way or the other. The other thing that made it such an easy hustle, although I’d just blown it, was that for anyone in their teens or twenties, the difference in looks between anyone over 45 and a tennis player who has reached the magic age of 62 is indistinguishable.
I knew I’d never be as cool as my 57-year old English buddy, Trevor, from the courts under the Williamsburg Bridge. He is the charming scoundrel type of sometime painter, sometime photographer, sleazy in the best way, émigré artist type of New Yorker who’s scraped out a living in the city for the last few decades. He lived in the Chelsea Hotel, dated Madonna before her career got off the ground, and won a huge settlement from his landlord after not paying rent for years.
Now he works as a bartender at the hottest restaurant in the West Village, runs an antique lingerie web site and spends a few hours in the middle of most days at the East River Park tennis courts, or as he calls it, the East Village Country Club.
I think he is impressive in his way. And it is an approach that as we boomers get closer and closer, some of us are already there, to not having to scam for the geezer version of the city’s tennis license, that is disappearing. Trevor is a throwback to the Max’s Kansas City era and some of the more glamourous scenes from the city’s past. Plus he’s an expat who stayed, which to someone like me, who barely made it out of Jersey, also has a kind of allure
One of the things about aging is if you miss that chance to date Madonna in the 70's or to play in the NFL, Brett Favre aside, the opportunity, like all the years that add up to only having to pay $20 for your permit, is gone.
So while some of Trevor’s accomplishments are out of reach, no matter how much I might want to emulate his sleazy brand of cool, his reinvention of himself as a sophisticated, expat New Yorker, I thought, couldn’t I at least pull off his tennis permit ruse?
I did the math again. If I was going to be 62 in May 2011, I would have to be born in 1949.
This time at Paragon, there was a young woman running the permit desk. I said I wanted to buy a senior tennis permit. She asked me for ID. I said I didn’t have any on me. She asked me to spell out my name. She asked me when my birthday was. “November 2, 1949"
After some more clicks on her computer, she asked me to take three steps to the left and stand on the red line so she could take my picture for the permit.
A few days later I ran into Trevor at the courts. I showed him the plastic id-like card. It wasn’t as good as dating Madonna. It wasn’t as good as running an antique lingerie web site. But it was OK for me, a guy from Jersey who passed for 62 on only his second try.
Brent Shearer is the book critic for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He is the only reporter to have been kicked out of the 2008 U.S. Open.