Ten on Sunday: The Secret Life of Men

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9780743442145: Ten on Sunday: The Secret Life of Men
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A moving, lyrical, eye-opening look at the true nature of intimacy among men.
The L.A. riots had an indelible effect upon the city of Los Angeles, upon the wider debate in this country about race, and especially -- in the pages of this wonderful memoir -- on ten weekend basketball players. After the riots, and once he'd fled his mid-city home for the relative safety of suburban Santa Monica, Alan Eisenstock at last found himself with a driveway that was big enough for a weekly basketball game. For years he'd yearned for this; now all that stood between him and the zone defense was the fruits of the carob tree that fell on the driveway and threatened to ruin the game. Once the surface was clear, however, Sundays were given over to a raucous, competitive, and hilarious series of ball games. But what began as a recreation soon became a chance to shatter the Boy Code once and for all.
So here they are: doctors, lawyers, writers, construction guys -- some single, some married -- all, however, committed to the game they're playing, and to the deepening of friendships the time together engenders. Along the way there's a fight and a falling-out; the tragic death of one of the guys' wives; a trip to Mexico that's right out of a buddy movie, except that these early-middle-aged men end up in bed by 9:30 P.M.; a laugh-out-loud karaoke session that has to be read to be believed; and more bagels than any book should ever be able to bear.
Holding it all together is Alan Eisenstock himself. His own personal journey from unhappy, stressed-out screenwriter to full-fledged, fulfilled book writer is the story of a man risking his financial and emotional life in order to follow his heart. And what begins as a weekly ritual of game-playing becomes, over five years, a meaningful exchange on marital issues, money worries, and the onset of various midlife crises. The result is a lovely, whimsical, and hilarious book about guys and what they talk about when their better halves are not around.

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About the Author:

Alan Eisenstock is the author of Sports Talk and Inside the Meat Grinder. He lives in Los Angeles, California.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One: Home Court

Los Angeles is burning.

It is spring of 1992. Even though a videotape clearly shows four Caucasian police officers brutally beating and kicking an African-American man named Rodney King, the all-white jury delivers a verdict of not guilty. The four officers are freed. Outraged, people in South Central Los Angeles begin to burn the city down. They set fires and loot stores in their own neighborhoods, then head north toward other areas, such as Hancock Park, where I live.

Less than a mile away from me, buildings burst into flame, windows exploding, panes of glass dissolving into powder. Looters lug television sets out of the rubble that was once an appliance store and dodge police in riot gear. Fear grips my street. People I know, friends and neighbors, reveal that they are armed with handguns and rifles. They are going to keep watch at their front windows and they are going to wait.

"Lock and load," a neighbor tells me.

I have no weapon. I stand guard in my living room, staring in disbelief at the news on television. In the sky above me, helicopters hover, circling rooftops with flames that lunge at their metal bellies. Samy's Camera, five blocks away, shines fiery in the moonlight as a throng of rioters tromp through what was once the showroom, hauling off the entire contents of the store. I move outside to my driveway and watch white ash from Samy's flutter onto the hood of my car like snowflakes.

While my children sleep, I pace, ears cocked to the sound of sirens and blasts I'm sure are gunshots. In the morning, an eerie silence shadows me as I crunch across small hills of glass along the curb. Every car parked on my street has had its windows smashed. I decide to take my family -- my wife, two children, and my cousin -- and flee. I call for hotel reservations in Santa Barbara. Every hotel is booked. My last call is to the Pancho Villa, a sprawling Spanish hacienda on several rolling green acres.

"I need a room. Do you have anything available?"

"You're in luck," a sweet female voice says. "We have one room left. It's five hundred dollars for the night."

I'm desperate and I'm scared.

"I'll take it," I say.

In Santa Barbara at noon, nursing a margarita, shell-shocked from the city, my home, that smolders two hours away, I consider my life. All of those sure things I once held so tightly in my grasp feel as if they are skittering away. I am forty-three, careening toward midlife. All around me I see other men I know becoming clichés. They are leaving their cushy corporate jobs and taking up carpentry or an Eastern religion, forming forty-something rock bands or training for triathlons. They are buying vintage red two-door Mercedes coupes and having affairs with twenty-two-year-old flight attendants. They are putting everything at risk.

I have tempted fate in my own way. Just a month ago, my wife and I bought a house in Santa Monica, a big house, an expensive house. We looked for two years. We settled on a two-story New England farmhouse, originally built by the Borden family of Borden Dairy fame. The house has a newly remodeled restaurant-style kitchen and a master bedroom suite comparable to what you'd find in a five-star country inn.

But there are problems. As you walk in, the living room, as long as a bowling alley and as wide as a tennis court, veers off to the left behind haughty French doors. Once inside the vast room you become aware of the slope of the floor, discolored and wobbly beneath a carpet destroyed by the former owners' pets, and you pull your collar up against the room's permanent chill.

"Needs work," I mutter to the empty room, as Bobbie, my wife, entranced by the New England charm, wanders away.

The upstairs master suite sells us. Bigger than our first apartment, it features beamed ceilings of golden pine, a fireplace, a bathroom with double sinks, a bidet, an oversize tub with a Jacuzzi, and behind another French door, a walk-in closet, formerly a bedroom. The only blemish is the hot-pink carpeting, which reminds me of a costume worn by the star attraction in a show I once saw in Vegas called "Eros on Ice."

"That carpet's a do-over," I say, and this time Bobbie shakes her head and utters a tiny "Duh."

There are other obvious trouble spots, including a postage-stamp-sized third bedroom, which will need to be opened up and redone for our daughter, and a guest apartment over the garage, which will have to be gutted and converted into my office. I have no vision for makeovers, can't imagine how this will all turn out. I'm ready to walk away.

"We've found it," my wife says.

The search is over, I guess, but I'm not sure. I do love the location. Santa Monica is on the ocean, ten degrees cooler than Hancock Park, with noticeably less smog. I have had my fill of choking on muddy brown air so thick I have to push it away as I jog daily down Fourth Street, toward downtown. I'd much rather run by the beach in the crisp salt air. Maybe take up rollerblading. I said maybe.

Then there is the upstairs factor. I have always dreamed of living in a two-story house. As a child of the early sixties, I escaped nightly into the sitcom households of Ozzie and Harriet and Leave it to Beaver. In fact, I wanted Ozzie to adopt me. I wanted a father with infinite patience, an appreciation for rock 'n' roll, and a great sweater collection. But that wouldn't be the best part of being a Nelson; the best part would be at the end of the day. I would say good-night to my doting, well-dressed parents and my ultracool, ultrapopular brothers, and I would go upstairs to bed. Yes, I am forty-three, and I have never gone upstairs to bed. I want that. I will pay for that.

But mainly this house is about the driveway.

As we stand together, facing the two-car garage, Bobbie slips her hand onto my arm.

"Room for a hoop," she says.

I nod, taking it in, scrunching my mouth like an architect, surveying a high stucco wall on the right side and the open expanse of the backyard lawn on the left. In front of the wall are five equally spaced maple saplings, providing, I'm told by the Realtor, a splash of color in the fall. Behind us is a large, intriguing tree, a carob, its trunk and branches twisted in intricate pretzel shapes. Occasionally, a half-mooned carob pod whaps onto the concrete, leaving a small chocolate blotch. I turn back to the garage, squint up at the apex of the roof.

"We could hang the backboard there," Bobbie says.

"Uh-huh."

"Or" -- her favorite word -- "we could drive a pole right here."

She mashes her foot into the cement as if she were putting out a cigarette. I nod and smile. This could work. I have wanted my own hoop forever.

Again.

***

I grew up in a small mill city in western Massachusetts with a hoop attached to my garage. It wasn't a fancy hoop; it was crude and a little too high. My father hammered the rim into a large square of plywood that he'd painted white then drilled into the garage to serve as a backboard. Two houses away, Joey Leighton's father had gone to a sporting goods store and purchased a basketball hoop with a fiberglass backboard, which he had installed by two burly men wearing shirts with their names stitched over their pockets. When these guys were finished, Leighton's hoop protruded perfectly from his garage, the backboard gleaming in the midday sun, held in place by a spiderweb of metal supports, beams, and extensions. From my house, his driveway looked like the Boston Garden. The problem was that Leighton's driveway was narrow, barely big enough for a one-on-one game. My driveway began thinly, then widened out to accommodate a three-car garage. He had the better hoop but I had the better court. No contest. We always played at my house.

There were a couple of hazards. The worst was the left side of my driveway, which dropped five feet straight down into the Zwirkos' backyard. If you attempted a fadeaway jump shot on the left and you faded too far away, you'd suddenly sail out of sight and plummet down, as if you were falling off a cliff, and land with a clunk in the Zwirkos' trash cans.

Facing the hoop from the right side were my back steps, which descended from our closed-in mud porch. A ball clanking off the rim, bouncing toward the porch, had a fifty-fifty chance of shattering one of the windows and a 100 percent chance of bringing my grandmother out of her downstairs apartment. Her name was Gussie. I called her Nana. She was short, buxom, and built like a linebacker. She was from strong Russian stock and regarded every first-generation American with suspicion. She would clomp down the back steps on arthritic knees, grab the ball, hold it tight against her aproned hip, shake her fist at me, and scowl.

"Alan!" she'd scream.

"Sorry, Nana."

"If you break window again, you be sorry! You pay this time!"

"Fine, I'll pay." I just wanted the ball back and for Nana to go inside.

My friends, the other five neighborhood kids my age -- Leighton, Kirkhoff, the Zwirko brothers, and Dean Nowak -- were staring at me, staring at her. I was eleven and this was humiliating.

"Can I have the ball, please, Nana?"

She tucked it tighter against her hip. "No. You no play. Tell them go home. Go to school."

"It's Saturday," I muttered. "Give me the ball, please."

"Acchh," Nana uttered in disgust, and dropped the ball in front of her like a rotten cabbage. It rolled over to me, and without a word about my grandmother, we continued the game. Nana stood on the steps and watched for a moment, hands on hips. I took a shot. Banked it in.

"Echhh." She shrugged, apparently satisfied that I was at least here, in my driveway, and not roaming the streets with a gang of hoodlums. she turned around and trudged back into her kitchen, where she would oversee three dishes cooking at once -- a pot of shav (spinach borscht), simmering on the stove next to a tall pot of red cabbage leaves stuffed with hamburger meat, and inside the oven, a slab of flanken, a round cut of roast meat stewing in its own juices -- all of which she'd force me to eat an hour before my mother served me dinner upstairs.

Nana died at 103. My parents eventually sold the house. I was long gone. I was slowly making my way across the country, beginning in Amherst, Massachusetts, for college, then Ann Arbor, Michigan, for graduate school, then on to Los Angeles, carrying with me the odd dream of wanting to get paid to make people laugh. At some point, though, that dream became lost. I'm not sure where or how. Drowned out perhaps in a cacophony of compromise and Hollywood politics and the relentless pursuit of lifestyle instead of passion, recognition rather than art.

But if I focus on the reason I came to L.A. and embrace that I am standing here, seriously contemplating buying this four-thousand-square-foot house with six bathrooms and a driveway wide enough for a three-on-three game, I must remember that my dream has come true.

"What are you thinking about?" Bobbie asks me, brushing my sleeve.

"A hoop. I've always wanted to have my own hoop."

"I know. I want you to have one. It's the family game."

I press my thumb against the garage door and, my back to my wife, I wonder, "What are they asking for this?"

She tells me. Seven figures plus.

"And it needs work," Bobbie reminds me.

"Well, sure, what do you expect for that kind of money?"

She grins. "Maybe they'll come down."

They do. They come down more than $200,000. We jump at it. We put 30 percent down in cash. That plus the mortgage on the Hancock Park house leaves us with two mortgages totaling in excess of a million dollars.

It's okay. I can afford it. I'm coexecutive producer of a hot new sitcom and the money is rolling in, no end in sight.

What I can't admit yet, what I don't actually know yet, at least not consciously, is that I am miserable.

It's not because of the two mortgages lashed to my back like two grand pianos. There is something deeper, a hole inside me, related to the midlife crisis I am facing and the numbing sense that, despite all the financial success I have achieved, I have, in fact, achieved nothing at all. The work I do, the television show I produce, and the more than one hundred television shows I have written and produced before, throb through my skull in a low-level hum, accompanied miraculously by an obscene amount of money that I receive every week, an amount that no one could possibly deserve. It's like some crazy game that I've gotten stuck in. I really don't want to do this, but I keep playing and they keep paying and I am scared to death to stop. Because if I stop, I'm afraid I will have to give up everything else in my life. I will have to live my life on spec.

These thoughts come to me in daydreams, mostly when I'm shooting baskets alone at Fairfax High. When I was a kid, shooting baskets in my driveway, my hoop dreams were ambitious fantasies, graphic afternoon novels. In them, I was a college phenom, some days a tricky point guard, other days a slashing forward, sometimes even a lithe and powerful seven-foot center. I would see myself in March Madness, driving and spinning to the hoop, stopping on a dime, spotting up. Swish! I was unguardable. I'd score the winning basket in every game, usually at the buzzer. My fantasies took me as far as my rookie season in the NBA, where in my first game I scored fifty against Larry Bird, held him scoreless, and left him shaking his head, gaping at me, wondering aloud, "Who is this guy?"

A couple of Sundays before the riots, while shooting hoops at Fairfax, I rewind the tape of my life, stopping at the point where Bobbie and I made the decision to move out West. The choice was either graduate school in Minnesota and settling into academia or moving to California to pursue the Hollywood high life. We went Hollywood. Promised to give it five years. Within a year, I was a writer on Sanford and Son and Bobbie was pursuing her Ph.D. at USC.

My basketball dreams are gone, but as I brick one off the front of the rim at Fairfax and chase down the rebound, then pop it in from the left side, jingling the metal net, I fantasize about moving back to New England or taking a shot at New York City. Becoming a real writer, my friend Ken, a sitcom writer, calls it, referring to someone who writes articles or short stories or books. This has gone beyond fantasy for me; it is now a full-time ache. But I dare not speak it aloud, not with those two bone-crunching mortgages and my two kids in private school.

Bend my knees. Breathe. Dribble once, twice. Get into my rhythm.

Flash.

I'm sitting in my accountant's office. I'm nervous, uneasy, as he goes over the figures.

"You made a lot of money this year," he announces, pinching the fleshy area between his nose and his lip.

"What if," I say, squirming in my chair, "I decide to move to New England for a year and write a book?"

He blows out a laugh. "You can't!"

"I'm serious," I say.

"So am I," my accountant says.

I shoot.

Air ball.

I think about all of this as I stare at a surreal scene before me at the Pancho Villa in Santa Barbara. Twenty or so flabby, pasty-skinned tourists, all of a certain age, stand in a wading pool doing aquatic aerobics led by a twig of an instructor in a blue bathing cap. The people in the pool splash their fleshy biceps in and out of the bathlike water, oblivious or unconcerned, as ninety miles to the south, L.A. chokes on its...

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Book Description SIMON SCHUSTER, United States, 2003. Hardback. Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****. A moving, lyrical, eye-opening look at the true nature of intimacy among men. The L.A. riots had an indelible effect upon the city of Los Angeles, upon the wider debate in this country about race, and especially -- in the pages of this wonderful memoir -- on ten weekend basketball players. After the riots, and once he d fled his mid-city home for the relative safety of suburban Santa Monica, Alan Eisenstock at last found himself with a driveway that was big enough for a weekly basketball game. For years he d yearned for this; now all that stood between him and the zone defense was the fruits of the carob tree that fell on the driveway and threatened to ruin the game. Once the surface was clear, however, Sundays were given over to a raucous, competitive, and hilarious series of ball games. But what began as a recreation soon became a chance to shatter the Boy Code once and for all. So here they are: doctors, lawyers, writers, construction guys -- some single, some married -- all, however, committed to the game they re playing, and to the deepening of friendships the time together engenders. Along the way there s a fight and a falling-out; the tragic death of one of the guys wives; a trip to Mexico that s right out of a buddy movie, except that these early-middle-aged men end up in bed by 9:30 P.M.; a laugh-out-loud karaoke session that has to be read to be believed; and more bagels than any book should ever be able to bear. Holding it all together is Alan Eisenstock himself. His own personal journey from unhappy, stressed-out screenwriter to full-fledged, fulfilled book writer is the story of a man risking his financial and emotional life in order to follow his heart. And what begins as a weekly ritual of game-playing becomes, over five years, a meaningful exchange on marital issues, money worries, and the onset of various midlife crises. The result is a lovely, whimsical, and hilarious book about guys and what they talk about when their better halves are not around. Seller Inventory # APC9780743442145

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Book Description SIMON SCHUSTER, United States, 2003. Hardback. Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****.A moving, lyrical, eye-opening look at the true nature of intimacy among men. The L.A. riots had an indelible effect upon the city of Los Angeles, upon the wider debate in this country about race, and especially -- in the pages of this wonderful memoir -- on ten weekend basketball players. After the riots, and once he d fled his mid-city home for the relative safety of suburban Santa Monica, Alan Eisenstock at last found himself with a driveway that was big enough for a weekly basketball game. For years he d yearned for this; now all that stood between him and the zone defense was the fruits of the carob tree that fell on the driveway and threatened to ruin the game. Once the surface was clear, however, Sundays were given over to a raucous, competitive, and hilarious series of ball games. But what began as a recreation soon became a chance to shatter the Boy Code once and for all. So here they are: doctors, lawyers, writers, construction guys -- some single, some married -- all, however, committed to the game they re playing, and to the deepening of friendships the time together engenders. Along the way there s a fight and a falling-out; the tragic death of one of the guys wives; a trip to Mexico that s right out of a buddy movie, except that these early-middle-aged men end up in bed by 9:30 P.M.; a laugh-out-loud karaoke session that has to be read to be believed; and more bagels than any book should ever be able to bear. Holding it all together is Alan Eisenstock himself. His own personal journey from unhappy, stressed-out screenwriter to full-fledged, fulfilled book writer is the story of a man risking his financial and emotional life in order to follow his heart. And what begins as a weekly ritual of game-playing becomes, over five years, a meaningful exchange on marital issues, money worries, and the onset of various midlife crises. The result is a lovely, whimsical, and hilarious book about guys and what they talk about when their better halves are not around. Seller Inventory # APC9780743442145

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