The Last Tennis Boutique

Things are gloomy at Mason’s Tennis Mart. The sign above the front door is missing an “N.” The store, which has been located on Seventh Avenue at 58th Street for 24 years, has lost its lease (a caviar shop is moving in) and will soon be moving to East 53rd Street. But what really frustrates the shop’s owner, Mark Mason, is that Manhattan has lost its taste for tennis.

“Tennis was a very social sport in the 70’s,” Mr. Mason said. “That was the way you met women. We were all single. There were so many tennis clubs. There were no aerobics. Tennis was the fun way to stay in shape. All the Italian tennis fashion that was so interesting and so beautiful came over to the U.S. and became streetwear. Customers would come in, people who didn’t play tennis, and buy the clothing.”

In the days of Bjorn Borg and Chris Evert, boutiques like Tennis Lady, Feron’s, Cutler-Owens, Court Set, the Racquet Shop, Courts and Sports, and Tennis in the 70’s were almost as common in Manhattan as Gap stores are today. Now Mason’s is the last one left. And the celebrities just aren’t stopping by the shop the way they used to.

“Robert Duvall used to be a very good customer, and we used to play together. Fun guy to play with. Walt Frazier used to shop here, but he was always worried about someone touching his Rolls-Royce, which he parked outside. Kim Basinger used to come in, with her first husband, who was a big player. She was shooting 9 1Ú2 Weeks . He was a nice guy, but I could feel that it was a very tough thing being married to Kim Basinger.”

At 51, the slender Mr. Mason looks young enough to be Anna Kournikova’s prom date. If only tennis had aged as well in Manhattan. Now New Yorkers with money have turned to golf and “extreme” sports. When they shop for sporting gear, they do it at EMS, New York Golf Center or Toga Bike Shop. Leafing through a Manhattan Yellow Pages from 1976, one finds 20 listings for “tennis court construction,” and 31 for “public tennis courts.” In the most recent edition, the numbers are 3 and 16, respectively.

The United States Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, Queens, may be sold out for the last days of the U.S. Open, but it’s a safe bet that few fans will be rushing out to purchase the outfits the players are wearing. Mr. Mason recalled the days when “people would grab the clothes right out of the box, before we had a chance to unpack them.” By now the white-hot fervor for Fila and Ellesse has ended. “When department stores stopped carrying tennis gear, it meant that tennis was no longer, in any respect, a hot category,” he said.

At least one aspect of the business has stayed the same over the years. “We sell a can of tennis balls for $3,” he said. “They have not gone up at all. We could go up to $4 a can, but then we wouldn’t sell any tennis balls.”

-Daniel Green

The Spacey Method

“Most of the women I know haven’t heard about the article. If they have, they know not to believe what they read. Then there are a few women who think the article might be true. It’s a challenge for them: They want to be the ones to turn me around. I let them.”

–Kevin Spacey, in an interview in the October Playboy magazine, on how women have reacted to the 1997 Esquire article that strongly hinted he was gay

Hugh M. Hefner

Editor, Playboy

Dear Hugh:

Thanks to your magazine, my run as a man who pretended to be gay has finally come to an end. Of course, I have mixed feelings about this. As I’ve been telling my friends-and I look at them real serious when I say I it-“The biggest trick this horndog ever played was convincing the world he didn’t exist!” In fact, on the set of my new movie, American Beauty , I told that one to Annette Bening. How she laughed! And while she was laughing, I looked down her shirt. I did!

I may be presumptuous in trying to teach the master, but have you ever thought of following my lead? It’s simple, really, and I can’t imagine it would impinge too much on your lifestyle. Those silk bathrobes, after all …

Here’s how you do it. Do learn to sing a few Marlene Dietrich songs. Do notice what color walls are painted and be able to identify all the colors in the Ralph Lauren palette. Do pretend to get chills every time somebody mentions Steve McQueen. And do buy some expensive German furniture. But, for goodness sake, don’t let anybody abbreviate your name. A James must be James. Not Jim or Jimmy. Although “Hef” may be a hard habit to break, Hugh is a very, very lucky name to have.

Then, just when the babe thinks she’s got a special shopping buddy who shares her fascination with shoes- whammo! -sneak up behind her and slip your tongue into her ear. Just like that! Their knees buckle every time, Hugh. Trust me.

Of course, as I remarked in my interview, I have nothing against homosexuals. (After all, without their help, I’d be just another David Paymer!) In fact, on recent trips to Central Park, I’ve noticed that Legacy-my black Labrador retriever-has been known to do some off-leash same-sex “cruising.” I certainly do not hold this against Legacy. He is still my dog, and I love him, although I can assure you that after watching him in action, my dog is not faking being gay. He loves it!

You may have noticed my picture on the cover of New York magazine. There I am, letting my hetero flag fly on a Harley-Davidson. Oh, well. Since my secret seems to be permanently blown, I guess I will finally be able to engage in my private habits publicly. Finally, a live Jets game!

Your bud,

Kev

P.S. I hear you’re still throwing those parties at the Mansion-parties I have fantasized about ever since I was a youngster. Can you get me on a list or something? And does Barbi Benton still come around?

-Andrew Goldman

Morning’s Makeover

Cock-a-doodle-doo? Apparently, morning isn’t just for breakfast anymore.

A grab-bag coalition of cultural activists, image-makers and hip trendsetters are working to rid morning of its old workaday image and replace it with something racier and zestier for the new millennium.

“Morning starts at midnight,” said Ted Coster, director of the Morning Council, “and midnight is sexy. This old idea of morning as the start of the workday just doesn’t cut it anymore.”

In these days of increased “flex time,” say activists, the notion of morning as something that occurs between the hours of 5 or 6 A.M. and noon may have run out of time.

“Think about it,” said Donald Forster, a Web site designer based in Manhattan. “At best, afternoon covers a five-hour period, from noon to 5 o’clock. But with morning, you get a full 12 hours, midnight to noon.”

Dr. Claude Westgate, a cultural anthropologist at Gettysburg College, said the long-dominant view of morning goes back hundreds, even thousands, of years. “It’s really an agrarian model,” Dr. Westgate said. “For hundreds of years, farmers got to work at first light. Night was what happened when it was dark outside and they were sleeping.”

But here on the cusp of the 21st century, with Internet I.P.O.’s proving far more lucrative than collecting eggs from the henhouse, sunrise has been known to mark the end, not the beginning, of the workday for some.

“I go to bed at 6 A.M. and wake up at 5 in the afternoon,” said Chloe Barnes, a Web site designer based in Manhattan. “At 2 A.M., I’m hard at work. Does that make me a morning person? I’d like to think so. Unfortunately, not everyone is willing to go along with that.”

Abdul Sharma works at a 24-hour delicatessen in Greenwich Village. “People come here 1 in the morning, 2 in the morning, 3 in the morning, 4 o’clock, 5 o’clock, 6 o’clock,” said Mr. Sharma. “I get customer each hour. They buy condom, newspaper, mango. I don’t care.”

Some traditionalists are resisting the change in morning’s image, however. “I’m a night person,” said Jane Stewart at a downtown bar at 1 A.M. “I smoke my cigarettes, drink my booze. Don’t tell me it’s morning. I’m grouchy in the morning, and I don’t want to be grouchy now.”

-Jim Windolf