Not long ago, borrowed racquet in hand and completely ignorant of the spot’s history, I walked up to the Vermont Canyon Tennis Courts
(2715 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz, 323-663-0740
), inhaled the heated sage and pine and smelled sanity for the first time in months.It was late summer, and I was in the middle of a “minor” nervous breakdown. (Minor only because I couldn’t swing the hospitalization or shock treatment of a “major.”) I was severely depressed, adrift and stupendously broke . . . in short, life sucked.I spent weeks writing Dostoyevsky-esque essays and chain-smoking in my Los Feliz apartment until my friend Bill called. It was about as close to divine intervention as I’ve ever experienced.Bill: “We’re gonna play doubles up in the park — you know how to play tennis, don’t you?”Me: “Uh . . . it’s been a long time . . . I don’t even own a racquet.”Bill: “No prob. Vermont Canyon courts — 5 o’clock.”Nestled behind the golf course just a few hundred yards east of the Greek Theater, the 12 courts are surrounded by shade trees and notched into a beautiful, semi-arid hillside, making them easy for the uninitiated to miss. But the initiated come in all ages, stripes and species: the Hollywood hopefuls facing off before morning script meetings, kids brushing up on ground strokes after school, tough-as-nails octogenarians dishing out cagey spins all day long. It’s a far cry from the stuffy, WASPy environs one usually associates with tennis facilities — places where you’re not likely to see red-tailed hawks and turkey vultures strafing the area for rodents and rattlesnakes, or scruffy coyotes and hungry-eyed men in tight shorts trolling the chaparral for “snacks” of their own in the early evenings.To be clear, it wasn’t really the tennis that saved my ass — it was just as much the snakes, the bush-hopping John Rechy fans, hipster kids with thrift-store racquets and retirees puffing Kools between sets. And, above all, there was the park’s history. Just before Christmas in 1896, Colonel Griffith J. Griffith, a rich Welshman married to an L.A. society girl, bequeathed to Los Angeles a parcel of land previously known as Rancho Los Felis “to be used as a public park for purposes of recreation, health and pleasure for the use and benefit of the inhabitants of the said city of Los Angeles, forever.” What a guy. Yeah, well actually, the colonel liked his whiskey and, in a fit of drunken paranoid delusion, shot his wife, who he was convinced was conspiring with the Pope to poison him.The fact that Vermont Canyon Tennis Courts worked like a salve on my insanity made perfect sense — the whole damn park is named after an insane guy and the tennis courts are just as loony.