Tennis Anyone?


The phrase “tennis anyone” is associated with juvenile roles played by Humphrey Bogart on Broadway during the 1920’s. The phrase had variants: “tennis anybody?” and “anybody for tennis?”  According to Bogart, it was a method of getting some of the characters off stage so the plot could continue.

A long time ago in a country far away, in a poor desert town that was only beginning to see some tourism because of the Nazca line drawings in the undisturbed desert, there was a German woman in her 70’s:  Maria Reiche.  At that time she was the curator of the lines drawn by an ancient culture in a 500 sq km area of desert. She was blind and her health was fading. I was sent to “pick her brains” so to speak–to gather as much information as I could on her 40 years of studying the drawings. Because, in all that time, she had published very little.

Maria was a mathematician and she distrusted archaeologists and always sent them packing. I showed up in Nazca on “holiday”–it was Holy Week (Easter).  By the end of my first day there, many in the town knew an archaeologist from the USA was in town and rumors were flying that I would be taking over the curatorship from Maria. The next day, Maria Reiche asked me to work with her on the line drawings. It was that simple: the people in town had given me a good reference.

As I said, this was a poor town. Not because of the town itself, but because at that time Peru was suffering. Years earlier, a military coup was followed by the expulsion of Western countries such as the USA, which took with it its technology, cattle, and even American jeans. By the time I was there, Peruvians couldn’t buy decent jeans with workable zippers. Of course, this didn’t count for the upper classes. They just picked them up on their visits to Miami. The poor had to rely on safety pins or take their chances crossing into Chile and buying American jeans and smuggling them back into Peru as contraband.

Now one morning Maria and I were walking in town, on the sidewalks that were a good 8 inches higher than the streets. Maria was blind as a bat but didn’t want anyone to know how blind, so I described everything around us as we walked, including people who she needed to greet.  Suddenly, I stopped Maria in her tracks. I could not believe what I saw. I described him to Maria and she and I laughed so hard we had to sit down on the curb. Maria threatened to pee her panties.

There, standing on the corner, was “Ken” of “Barbie and Ken”, only, a Peruvian Ken. In the dusty and dirty streets used for the collection of garbage, stood a young Peruvian male in white tennis shorts, a white polo shirt with appropriate branding, white socks and glaringly white tennies. Oh, don’t forget the white sweater with the arms tied around his shoulders and the expensive sunglasses. He was also sporting a shoulder bag.

Maria and I were so busy laughing, we didn’t notice he had crossed the street and was standing over us, asking what was so funny. Being the rude American I can be, I tried to explain the “Ken” comparison. Well, I got to know him while I was in Peru that year, and I learned you just can’t explain Barbie and Ken. Oh, by the way, he was a Peruvian federal agent.

“Tennis anyone?”

9 thoughts on “Tennis Anyone?

    • I suppose I could have stood in for Barbie, but that would have been a stretch. He just stood out not like a sore thumb but more like a bright, freshly pressed, clueless, white elephant
      Thanks for coming by. Lucy

  1. Mark’s comment has me singing “Secret Agent Ken” instead of “Secret Agent Man”. Great.

    Can you imagine? “For this assignment, we need you to act casual.” Suuuure. 🙂

    • Actually, these agents consider themselves a combo of our FBI with CIA. Most Peruvians get a kick out of them because they dress at night like the Men in Black, sunglasses and all.

      I never thought about, but, he may have been undercover at the time. Yeah, act casual. Lucy

  2. Humphrey Bogart – he always played those early parts well. ‘Tennis, anyone?’ I must use that the next time I want to exit stage – although I suspect the people around me will really think I’ve gone to play tennis.

    I wonder at your past, Lucy. Anthropologist? In NM? I suspect you have an interesting story.

  3. I lived that first time a year in Peru. I was in and out of that country for many years, doing my research–mostly in the Amazon. And that Ken doll I met on that first stay–the federal agent–became my boyfriend for several years. I turned him down for marriage over and over again. No regrets on that part. Lucy

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