Thursday, December 29, 2011

What a Mouthful!

I'm on record as saying that the site is a nice addition to the squash world's relatively paltry offerings for news. I make it a point to visit "the Report" after first checking out SquashSite. I definitely recommend lovers of squash bookmark both sites....

The Report does, however, have its quirks. The daily news is posted in the morning, so anything newsworthy that happens during the day will not appear until the next morning. So when Willstrop won the Punj Lloyd PSA Masters tournament, and thereby ascended to #1 player in the world rankings, there was nothing on the Report's site until the next day. But okay, fair enough, I'm sure the folks putting the Report out have other things to do during the day, and aren't sitting around a desk waiting for squash news to come drifting in. 

Another quirky thing about the site is the writing of Rob Dinerman. I've never met the man, but having read his articles over the years you can draw a few firm conclusions: he is a hardball fanatic, is not a fan of US Squash (probably because of its embrace of softball), and is not a fan of the common period.

He writes enthusiastic reviews of professional doubles tournaments, in particular those played under the ISDA banner. He also recently picked what he considered the most important squash performances of 2011 in an article he wrote for his site, and of the 8 players highlighted, 5 were squash hardballers -- a disproportionate number, surely. But again, to each his own. If the Report wants to be mainly a venue for original articles about squash doubles, that's fine, although certainly limiting.

But of enduring interest is what appears to be Mr. Dinerman's antipathy towards the period -- a/k/a the full stop. He doesn't seem to like them, sometimes going to seemingly extreme lengths to avoid their use. Here is a wonderful example, from his recent article about the ISDA tour:

When Manek Mathur and Yvain Badan posted sequential victories over first Damien Mudge and Ben Gould (rupturing their 46-0 skein) and then Matt Jenson and Clive Leach, the top two ranked teams on the ISDA tour, in the final two rounds of the Briggs Cup, the last and most lucrative pro hardball doubles tournament in calendar 2011, they completely upended the prevailing status quo, generated the most noteworthy accomplishment in the nearly nine years since Leach and Blair Horler dethroned reigning champs Mudge and Gary Waite in the final of the April 2003 Kellner Cup (on a daring Horler reverse-corner at 14-13 in the fifth), became the first team in the 12-year history of the ISDA to win a tournament in which they faced match-point-against in the third game of their semi and culminated a meteoric ascent from having to hack their way through the qualifying rounds as recently as this past January to winning an event of this magnitude less than a year later.
When I first read this paragraph I searched desperately for a period, but only at the very end of the paragraph, spent and exhausted, did I find one.

It's clearly Dinerman's writing style, which he has honed over many years. I am a writer and an editor, and frankly I wouldn't write that paragraph that way, but clearly Mr. Dinerman is just exercising his own artistic license, and I'm all for artistry. 

I was curious, though. There are ways of judging the difficulty in a written sample, and it has become something of a science. I am occasionally called on to write at a 6th grade level, for example, because I need to convey in layman's terms rather complicated things about medicine that need explaining, but big words cannot be used. Well, there is a site for figuring out grade-level reading abilities. WordsCount analyzes text through various means and can estimate the level of education one must have in order to understand it. So by copying the above sentence-paragraph into the readability calculator, I was able to get an approximation of the grade level one would need to understand the text. 

The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level was 65. 

Not 6th grade, but 65th grade. What the hell is that, anyway?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Smart Move

The Pro Squash Tour, Joe McManus' let-shunning sports creation, has just made a very smart move, decreeing that as of the new year all players must wear eye protection.

It's been worrying me that in a no-let tournament players will be more likely to accidentally hit unprotected eyes as they scramble to get around the other player. I felt there was an accident out there waiting to happen.

It turns out McManus must have been thinking the same thing. And now he's fixed the problem. Players will probably whine a bit, but after awhile it will become part of the deal: If you want to play PST, you have to don the glasses. Easily enough done.....

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Old Farts Play On, Despite All

I ain't no spring chicken, so the prospect of playing 4.5 league ball with those who are often 3 decades younger than I can often be discombobulating, disheartening, and disagreeable, leaving me disgruntled. That's just the way it goes when you are an athlete who's beginning to age out of the standard competition.

So here's a thought. Let's start new, age-based league divisions, starting at about 55 and going up by decades.

The Official League Denoting the Fellowship of Aging, Rheumatologic, Tragicomic Squash players -- The OLD FARTS -- could play once a month (not every week; we need time to recuperate). We might all chip in to have an orthopedist on hand in case something untoward happens. 

Or maybe a cardiologist.

Who's in?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Willstrop or Won'tstrop?

James Willstrop, current world #2, can attain the #1 ranking if he wins the Punj Lloyd PSA Masters tournament, which starts tomorrow. I hope he does it.

I've always been of the opinion that Willstrop is just too damned tall to be the best of the best, and yet the guy, to his immense credit, keeps trying to do just that. He's just come off two very successful tournaments, winning both the Hong Kong Open and the Kuwait PSA Cup. For some reason nobody has yet told him that he is too tall to play top squash. He's proven me wrong about my prognostications about his height and i'm both happy for and impressed by him.

He's only 28, so he still has some good years left, but this may be his best opportunity yet. With all the effort he has put in, I want him to be able to look back and say he made it to #1. Best of luck, Mr. Willstrop!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

This happened to a friend of mine. He told me this.

This happened to a friend of mine. He told me this. I know this friend very well.  He was playing in a 4.5 league match against the smarty-pants over at Harvard. You know those types, the 1%-ers, probably. They play with their noses in the air. Anyway, he shows up, gets himself all psyched up, and onto the court he strides, awaiting the arrival of his adversary, warming up furiously before the battle is waged.

His opponent does show up, a little late, about a foot shorter than he, but in great shape and seemingly quite confident. The opponent warms up very quickly and then, without further ado, says, “Let’s play!” And play my friend does, as hard as he can muster, but the opponent holds the T awfully well, and there is something about my friend’s backhand that night, and I, I mean my friend, can’t seem to find a good range. The opponent senses this and starts firing away into his backhand, and all his return shots seem to end up in the middle of the court, and damn, the opponent’s dropshots are working great.

Game 1 to Harvard.

Next game my friend, the guy who told me this tale of woe, hunkers down and tries to relax a little, and ends up taking the game into overtime, but two nervous shots later, it was game 2 for Harvard, 12-10. 

Jesus mother of god… 

At this point, alarm bells are screaming away in this guy’s head, and a decision is made, no matter what the cost, no matter how devastating the injury, he is going to do whatever it takes to dig out every ball possible, no excuses. Flying around the court, all arms, legs and racket, he fights and fights and fights, and lo and behold, squeaks out an 11-9 win. Game score 2-1.

New game, new focus, my friend must tie the games up to have a chance at a win. First things first. So he tries to change his approach a bit, sets up some lobs to change the rhythm, but damn if the opponent’s overhead is working great, and damn if my friend’s backhand is still as bad as ever, and the plan backfires, and he goes down ignominiously in the fourth. Match to Harvard. 

So he went over and shook her hand. “Nice game, miss,” he said. Ouch.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

First Non-Urban Urban Squash Program Starts on Nantucket

I happened upon this great video, the work of videographer and producer Joanna Hay and Kevin Luzak, who use interviews with many squash luminaries to discuss the growing list of urban squash programs that help underprivileged city kids learn squash and, more importantly, focus on education and citizenship.

There are several interviews that will make any squashist smile, as many of the speakers discuss the central importance that the sport has had on their lives.

The purpose of the video is to introduce a new squash-centered educational effort, called Nantucket Student Squash, whose exemplary goals are the same as the other urban squash programs, but with one singular exception -- the venue is not urban, but the seemingly tony island enclave of Nantucket.

But the program isn't for the rich summer people. It is a shock to hear on this video that Nantucket island has one of the highest suicide rates for high schoolers in the entire country. The truth is that the year-round population is not wealthy at all, and in fact times can be pretty tough during the winter. Thus the idea was born to create the first non-urban urban squash program.

This is a great video that is over 26 minutes long. It is time very well spent. Congratulations to Ms. Hay and Mr. Luzak. I hope my readers will consider a donation, small or large.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Chelsea Piers Gets Something To Boast About

I have to confess I've long cast a malignant eye over to Chelsea Piers on New York's West side. Chelsea Piers is a huge mega-monster sports center which houses just about every sport you can dream up, including basketball, boxing, cycling, rock climbing, fitness centers, track, hockey, a golf driving range, even sand volleyball -- but no squash. I could never figure out how they could be so myopic not to see that squash should be part of their huge urban sports complex. I once went there for a corporate event and asked a guy working there, "Where are the squash courts kept?" I got a befuddled look....

But it turns out that someone over at Chelsea Piers was paying attention. Squash in the US is a growing phenomenon, and a huge sports emporium like Chelsea Piers must include squash on its menu. And now they will. 

Not in New York City, at least not yet....

But Chelsea Piers is building another sports megalopolis in Stamford, Connecticut, scheduled to open next summer. And true to their formula, they are building a whopper: 400,000 square feet of sports facility housed in 7 separate sports arenas covering 18 sports that will doubtless dominate the sports-seeking public in the area. Included are daycare, restaurants, and pro shops. (I could easily live there: I'm wondering if they need an official resident?)

They will have their usual mix of athletic pursuits, but this time they are adding 11 singles and 1 doubles squash courts. That's a pretty dozen. And to top it off, they have hired former world #1 Natalie Grainger as their squash director. Natalie has been both a fantastic player and tireless proponent of the sport for many years, highlighted by her 8 years as head of WISPA, and her presence seals the deal for me.....

I forgive you for your transgressions in New York City.

Welcome to Stamford, Chelsea.

(Here's the floor plan of just one mega-floor: Can you spot the squash courts?)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Let Please Let Please Let Please Let Please Let Please Let Please

The Pro Squash Tour and its merry band of squash infidels are now well into their tournament season, the details of which are located here.

I’ve noted before in this space how the PST has offered an important innovation by recognizing the mind-numbing qualities of the overabundance of ‘Let-No Let’ calls in tournament play. There is nothing like having a long and creative rally be nullified by a ‘Let’ call to suck the air right out of the room. Observers will often sigh when that happens. “Aw…,” says the crowd.

The PST recently noted in one of their squash e-zines that British reporters counted the number of Let-No Let-Stroke decisions at the 2007 Bermuda World Open. The numbers were even higher than I would have imagined.

In the entire tournament there were 31 matches, 116 games, and 1917 points played. In all of those matches, referee decisions were required 959 times, which is a fraction over 50% of the total points. That averages out to 31 decisions per match and 8 decisions per game.

Of the decisions made, 706 (74%) were Lets, 111 (12%) were No Lets, and 145 (15%) were Strokes. In just one match, between Wael El Hindi and Eric Galvez, there were a mind-altering 76 referee decisions made.


Friday, October 7, 2011

The Competitiveness Gene

Many people have told me they are amused by my “coat of arms” and its heraldic saying: “Insufferable in victory, surly in defeat.” I’d like to take credit for that, but in fact it was my father who came up with it. 

My father was a tough competitor. He hated to lose, and rarely did. He grew up in a farm community in Northwest Ohio and, while very good at several sports, was even better intellectually. He told the story of how he was given scholarships at a multitude of schools, including Ohio State and Harvard. He wanted to go to Ohio State, because several of his friends were going there, but that’s when my grandfather stepped in and said, “Guess what? You, son, are going to Harvard.” This was back at a time when upper-crust families tended to get their smart kids into Harvard and smart middle- and lower-class kids would have to really stand out before they would let them in. The Ivy League schools were not as generous with aid back then….

But he did stand out, and then later he went on to Harvard Medical School—not that he wanted to…. The day after Pearl Harbor, he and many of his Harvard College classmates stormed down to the Boston recruiting office for the army and demanded to be let into the armed services immediately. Many were let in straightaway, but they first interviewed everybody, and when they asked my father what he was studying at that fancy college, he said he was a premedical student. “Forget it kid,” the interviewer said, “something tells me we’ll need you more as a doctor than a soldier.” So he trudged on back to Harvard, and then on to medical school. He eventually headed up the burn unit at Fort Sam Houston during the Korean War.

Once there was a strike at Harlem Hospital, where he briefly had admitting privileges (most of his patients were at Columbia Presbyterian) and where he had a very sick patient. That patient was getting worse, but the strike had turned ugly and there was a barricade of hospital workers surrounding the hospital, refusing to let anyone in. This pissed old dad off, in a big way. He went down to the door and started jaw-boning the head union guy and his minions, who in turn argued that the patient would be alright, there were other doctors inside, and he couldn’t go in. His response: “Oh realllllly?!” he yelled, and socked the union guy in the mouth. He then ran into the hospital and took care of his patient. The union members left him alone, figuring he was nuts.

One more story to tell you how competitive and intense he was: My wife and I were visiting my parents in suburban New York many years ago, and that Saturday night we decided to play a game of Trivial Pursuit, that once very popular game in which arcane facts are answered, helping you move a game-piece around the board. Before the game, which pitted my parents vs my wife and me, my father warned that all answers had to be exactly correct, precisely as they appear on the game’s answer cards.

It wasn’t long before the level of precision was tested. We were asked a question whose answer was JESUS CHRIST. It was obvious, a slam-dunk, and I was already reaching for the dice to roll again. “Hold it!,” he said, a bit too loudly, “that’s wrong, it’s JESUS CHRIST OF NAZARETH.” I stared open-mouthed, but knew my father well enough to know the man was serious. My wife was beside herself, not being able to believe this was happening.

But later we got our revenge. My father rolled and was asked a question whose answer was the REVEREND MARTIN LUTHER KING. My father thought about this for a minute, because he remembered there was something tricky about King’s name…. What was it? Oh yes, he had a doctorate in philosophy and included that in his name. He answered “THE REVEREND DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING.”

I studied the answer card, pretending to read it carefully, all the while knowing what I was about to say would cause quite a big kerfuffle. “No! Close but not quite right. It’s THE REVEREND DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JUNIOR!” At which my father got up, steaming, and marched out of the room. (This is where the “surly in defeat” part of the motto comes from.)

Ah, family…. The memories….

My father was actually a wonderful influence, and that extended to my interest in squash. As a family we would always play tennis, but my speed, which was never a problem, often seemed to outdo my stroke mechanics. I would be immediately on the ball and then naturally undercut it, since I had found through experience that in my verve I tended to overhit unless I undercut. When I was in my mid-teens I was about to go away to a school where squash was offered as a sport, and I remember my father strongly advising I should check squash out right away. “You’re a natural, trust me.” He had played it while at Harvard, and he was right; I loved it from the very first second, and love it still.

Later on in his life we would occasionally still get to play tennis when visiting on weekends. Despite being into his senior years, he was still pretty good, and always very wily. My full-time focus on squash had meant that my tennis game really amounted to squash shots played on a tennis court, so my father would regularly win these matches. Up to a point. But one day we were out there and I realized he had slowed, and that his shots weren’t coming so hard anymore, and that I would win. But towards the end of the set I started thinking that this competitive man would be truly aggrieved to lose, and it seemed almost unfair of me to go through with it. So I didn’t. A couple of theatrically placed shots that were just wide, some heart-breaking shots into the net, and a double-fault or two, and there it was, a victory for dad. 

I guess the competitiveness gene runs a little weaker in my DNA. I never ever let myself beat him in tennis.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

My 9/11

The media is in a frenzy this weekend over remembrances of 9/11. My natural inclination is to not spend too much time and emotional energy looking backward; I like to keep my gaze straight ahead. But it is certainly appropriate to reflect at least a little on that dreadful day, but for me, a little is plenty. I will largely avoid the replaying of footage of the tragedy, because I personally don't want to go back and experience the whole awful thing all over again. But some reflection; yes, I will do that. 

My 9/11 a decade ago started early, getting to work at my office, a few miles from the World Trade Center, around 7 am. I was going to go out on the town that night with my wife and friends, leaving just about at 5 pm, so I wanted to get a full day's work in. I was in my office typing away on the computer when someone ambled by and said a plane had hit one of the towers. I thought it was probably an accident, or a suicide. I had no idea it was a full jet. I continued working. A little while later I got up to go to the copy room, and someone then told me excitedly that another plane had hit the other tower, and they had seen it live on TV. 

Uh oh. That was obviously no accident. 

We turned on the big TV in our conference room and, like just about everyone else in the world, watched the incredible images that just hours before would have seemed only possible in some big-budget Hollywood production.

I was antsy. What to do? We then started hearing that other planes were aloft and possibly part of this attack, and before I knew it confirmation came on the air that a plane had hit the Pentagon. I found out later that my nephew was in a meeting at the Pentagon and had only minutes before left that part of the building, which ended up being crushed in the crash. Some of the meeting attendees didn't make it out.

At some point someone suggested that we might be able to see the towers from the roof of our building, so I and a few others went up there. Sure enough, there they were. Again, the cinematic unreality of what I saw was striking. We weren't up there more than 5 minutes when the first tower fell. This huge structure didn't go down with a high-decibel crash; it let out the faintest of moans.

Clearly, any plans for the night were scratched, and I realized I had to get home to my family. But it turns out the authorities had decided to stop all trains leaving from Manhattan, so I was stuck in the city. Some time went by, and I either watched the news on TV or surfed on the internet trying to get the latest news. There was another plane that had crashed in Pennsylvania, they said. 

My club at the time was the Princeton Club, right near Grand Central Station. It sounds odd, I realize, but I thought that I might go over there and play a game of squash, since I was stuck, and there I could await the restarting of the train service in relative comfort, getting quickly to the station as soon as possible. But the thought came and went quickly. It was an old impulse -- I have free time, I should get a match in! But who the hell could concentrate on a game when all this was happening....

So a decade has gone by; a lot has happened, some not so pretty. One of the early reactions to the tragedy was to blame Muslims, which is ridiculous and untenable. We should blame religious zealots, that's who we should blame, and there are plenty to go around from all religions. There are Christian nuts and Jewish nuts and Muslim nuts and...., etc. Sadly, we still have a few thoughtless boobs out there whose bias against Muslims, formed 10 years ago, remains strong. 

With the exception of my personal physician, who is a Muslim, every other Muslim I've ever had more than a passing conversation with I've met on the squash court. I just played a Lebanese last night, as it happens, and like all the others I've met, he was smart, funny, and urbane. 

I was going out that 9/11 a decade ago because 9/11 happens to be my birthday. That birthday certainly sucked, but the rest have been good. And I think it is important to remember that no one has stolen a day off the calendar and declared that from now on it is to be a sorrowful day. It has that aspect to it, true, but there are also little babies being born all over the world, to the great joy of their families; people exulting in their private and public successes; engaging conversations crackling between interesting people; great ideas occurring to brilliant minds; sparkling art illuminating unusual viewpoints.... It's life out there, not death. That's what I celebrate on my 9/11.    


Monday, August 29, 2011


I've been playing strangely well lately. I've been thinking better and not rushing my shots. Not banging away as my default approach to the game, but really trying to think of every shot, even when under stress. 

I recently added a note on my smartphone, called Squash, Remember. I tried to write down all the things I should do but don't necessarily do regularly, so that right before I go out on court, I look at the note to remind my spongiform brain to keep these concepts actively in mind. I guess these reminders are working....

Here for your edification is my note to myself:

Remember to:

  1. move up
  2. volley
  3. keep him back
  4. watch
  5. even breathing
  6. hold your shot
  7. split step every time
  8. matches more often lost from mistakes than won from shot-making!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Degradations of Time Among the Static Crowd

I have played squash for a little over 30 years. I've made it a central element of my existence. It's one of the things I do, reliably. It burns off the detritus of life and allows me to function. 

Every now and again I'm struck how others in this world have not made exercise -- any variety, not just squash -- part of their life, and as I get older I'm beginning to see the effects of their nonathletic lives. I know people at work, in my community, friends of friends, who are my age or less and they seem to me very much older. They look older, they move older, and I wouldn't be too surprised if they think older. Invariably those people are the ones whose idea of sport is a bag of chips and the telly tuned to the weekly football game.

I know this sounds self-congratulatory, and I guess in a small way it is, but it has become increasingly obvious that the 'exercise effect' is medical fact. A recent study comparing exercisers to non-exercisers in The Lancet was notable for its sheer size. Researchers in Taiwan followed 416,175 men and women (in about equal numbers) with an average followup of over 8 years. They looked at weekly exercise rates and placed the participants in 5 exercise categories, from very high exercisers to those who did absolutely no exercise. 

Among their findings was this: that those who were in the 'very low exercise group', meaning they exercised an average of 15 minutes a day, had a 14% reduction in mortality compared with the non-exercise group, and -- astonishingly -- enjoyed a 3-year longer life expectancy. So for just 15 minutes a day you win 3 years over the couch potatoes. That's amazing. Benefits increase as exercise increases, so all you squashists out there should feel damn good about your health.

A highly demanding cardiovascular sport like squash does carry a small risk of a cardiovascular event occurring during play. It happens from time to time. I think all squash clubs should do what schools in the US are doing. In the US, about 100 athletes will die annually from sudden heart failure. That ends up being a 1 in 40,000 chance, so not much, but the chance is there. Clubs should have automated external defibrillators readily available and either staff or coaches should be trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation. It's not hard and could save a life.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Footnotes From a Book Unknown

Ripped away from what was apparently a booklet about squash, your reporter found the following footnotes in the trash, which are offered verbatim:

1. The term 'nonmarking soles' is accurate, but it implies that there is no transfer of material from the shoe to the floor. That is not the case, as bits of gum rubber flake off under duress. Players have reported a burnt rubber smell, both from hot balls that have warmed up and from their feet after scratching across the floor at high speed. It was only discovered later, at a toxicology lab in Middlesex, that the aerosolated rubber from the balls was highly toxic and potentially carcinogenic, leading to the on-going squash ball scare.

2. There are of course many benefits to aerobic exercise. They include reduced cholesterol and blood pressure, reduced body fat, increased metabolism, improved endurance, and toned musculature. Aerobic activities strengthen the heart and lungs and make them more efficient. Aerobic exercise improves the strength of bones, and – barring injury ligaments and tendons. Aerobic exercise burns away calories and trains your body to use fats and sugars more efficiently. Aerobic exercise reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and reduces stress and alleviates depression. And, since squash is in fact one of only a few anaerobic sports, all the above is magnified.

3. The following quote was also attributed to the former number-one, but he disavowed it later, saying it was ‘equivocal’ and not really what he meant: 

“It’s summer, so it’s no wonder my balls are so hot. When you are playing on 90+-degree courts, you know these balls will get hot, and mine certainly are. This observation is certainly obvious, but it is worth repeating: I mean, they are almost too hot to touch, my balls, and because of that I try to avoid touching them. But they are hot, that’s for sure. I can avoid touching a ball for an entire match, it’s easy to do, but if you were so inclined, what the heck, touch them and see for yourself. I’m not dreaming this stuff up…. Well, it’s summer. Some people don’t play squash during the summer for this very reason, because their balls get too damn hot in the summer. But I don’t mind; they’re hot balls, big deal.”

4. There is one unique injury that squash players suffer that other athletes do not:
Elite players, after years of play, can develop hip arthritis in a degenerative pattern that is not found in any other sport, including other racket sports like tennis. There is global, as opposed to partial, cartilage loss caused by frequent lunging. Hip arthroplasty is often the end result.

5. So called ‘endurance squash’ was an idea that sprung up as a result of the change to point-a-rally best-of-5 matches. Many matches against unequal players were over in less than a half hour, some even under 20 minutes. The old warrior ethos of squash demanded endurance, but the new scoring system took that important element away in many matches. So… endurance squash, with its own set of tournaments and trophies, was born, adopting a best-of-9 format.

6. Squash was proposed for inclusion many times in the roster of Olympic sports, but apparently no one was ever brash enough to bribe the members of the Olympic committee. “It’s all about money for them,” laughed Tony Dunsmore, head of golf’s Olympic study group.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

People Are Crazy All Over, Alas

This week we learned the terrible news that people are crazy all over, alas. The carnage in Norway is still hard to believe, but there it is, pictures of bombed out windows and shocked, crying children, and sensible people can only shake their heads in disbelief. 

One of the understandable thoughts that kept coming up by numerous commentators was disbelief that that could happen in a place like Norway. We are used to carnage in the United States, because we have absolutely inane gun-control laws that allow pistols of all types, automatic or not, which can be concealed or slung on your hip like a desperado from the wild west. Since our country is so stupid about gun control it is no wonder that from time to time someone goes nuts and blasts a few innocent people in anger. In fact, it happened just when we were hearing about the atrocities in Norway: some well-armed nutjob killed 6 people at a roller rink down south. In this country, that's not terribly unusual or even all that interesting. The story came and went in a day. 

Norway has more stingent gun control laws but, apparently, even there they can fall into the wrong hands. People are crazy, alas. 

People are nuts in Washington, DC, too. In fact, in their case, it might be better if they WERE all armed. It would get messy quick, but then some sensible people might come in after the gunfire and clean the place up. While the world awaits a resolution to the debt-ceiling debacle, the politicians there are still intent on playing their games. Real leadership seems to be as rare as gun control legislation in that town. 

And I too am nuts, i'm afraid. 

Or at least I was last week. I played two matches last week in the midst of boiling temperatures in New York City. When you walked outside your office building you were hit by a wall of 100-degree heat and monstrous humidity. In this record-breaking heatwave I kept my appointments to play these matches, but I had a feeling I was in trouble when I walked on the court. It didn't seem to be much cooler than the outside temperature. Certainly, within about 5 minutes, the court's air temperature was in the 90s and the ball was hopping around like one of those dense rubber super-balls. 

I got hot, and quickly. I think I developed the world's first case of squash-induced thermocephalia. My brain got mushy, my thought processes -- always with me a dicey notion -- degenerated into what I can only describe as a gloppy bowl of mashed potatoes. I did stupid things, crazy things. I lost both matches, and the proof of my pathetic physical condition was the fact that I really didn't care. I was happy to be alive.

I am desperately sorry about the events in Norway, I'm getting more and more angry about the events in Washington, and I'm looking forward to a better outing on the squash court this week. The latter is insubstantial compared to the first two items, I know. I'm not that crazy....

Friday, July 8, 2011

Strange Night in Suburbia

Last night was odd.

About three times a week I get up super-early -- specifically, 4:40 AM -- to be able to catch the early train into the city in time to change and be ready on court to play squash at 6:30. It's crazy, I know, but I never promised anybody normality in this blog, now did I?

The timing works better for me, and I've gotten used to it.

So last night, about 10:30 PM or so, I laid my weary head down to rest on my soft pillow and prepared to slumber 6 hours or so before the next day would start with my alarm clock's annoying caterwauling. And restful sleep I did have ... until 1:10.

At about 1:10, somewhere down the block where I live, a dog decided to announce its presence to the world with a mournful howl. This wasn't terribly interesting to my sleeping ears, but to my dog this was very interesting indeed, so he let out a series of full-throated, amply decibelled masculine barks to let the other dog know that he was there and he felt his pain.

I woke up and looked at the clock: 1:10 AM.

Oh shit. There are nights when my brain will unnecessarily switch on and I can't get the darn thing to shut off again. I briefly thought about all the work that is piling up in my office, but quickly got on to a much more interesting topic, and that was the match I would play later in the morning. In a few short hours, in fact.

My opponent has been giving me a hard time. He's not significantly better, but he has a few nice shots that have been troublesome to me, so I go over things I should do to avoid putting him in position to pull those shots on me. And then I go through a variety of ways that I might recover from trouble should I find myself subjected to these annoying shots of his. This occupies my mind, even while in the back of it, somewhere just to the left of the occipital lobe, I am telling myself that I have to shut my brain up and go back to sleep.

I toss. I turn. I notice that my nice soft pillow is beginning to bug me. Is it too damned soft? or maybe I could use a little more cottony bounce to it? Is this the pillow that I like that we got from LL Bean last year, or did my wife steal it again?

I replay an interesting point from the other day when an attacking boast caught me off-guard and I was barely able to move a muscle it happened so quickly. I told myself I have to bend down more and split-step for every shot, not just the ones I think may prove troublesome. I can't get lazy, I say to myself, no sir. And look, dammit, always.

I turn to stare at the clock. It's big digital face announces that it is now 2:20.

What?! 2:20 already? I've been up for more than an hour! All because of that damned dog outside.... That dog should be inside someone's house, like my two dogs are. My dogs are so coddled that they even go to a daytime doggie fun-park where other spoiled 4-footed big-nosed terrors get to run around and have a gas all day long. I briefly envision such a concept, but for humans, where adults could go and chase one another around in circles and play tag games and run for balls and things. God what fun we would have, why is that sort of thing limited to dogs and kids, anyway?

I replump my pillow and think of the match I'll be playing soon. I have to remember to bring a new knee strap as my usual one is getting frayed. I also must buy new squash shoes soon as the current ones are getting old and shoes that slip can be dangerous. We don't want to suffer a tear of the ACL just because we got cheap with the shoes, now do we? I think perhaps I could suggest we play with the pro ball I have, you know, the white one. It's hard to see on a normal court and that might give me an edge... Hmmm, only problem with that is it might also completely screw me up; better not.

I look at the time. WHAT?! 3:30? That can't be, please god say it isn't so, I can't freakin' believe this! This has got to stop! Please, please, stop all the pig-slop in your head and get the hell to sleeeeeeep!

Oddly, out there in the neighborhood, I smell the odoriferous remains of a skunk having protected its turf by wielding the one weapon god in his wisdom decreed to it. The smell is gentle, so the skunk must have done his thing farther off. Maybe he nailed that howling dog from earlier, I think. I ponder the skunk smell a bit and realize it's really not so bad at this intensity; kinda smells like summer. Hmmmm.....

Eventually I must have dozed off. For the next thing I know the clock is caterwauling at me and it says it is 4:40 am. Wakey-wakey time in suburbia. I struggle up from the horizontal and prepare an extra-strong thermos of coffee.

I don't know why I looked at the clock last night at 1:10, then 2:20, then 3:30 and then 4:40. It was a little trick that was played on me I guess; a strange night.

I actually didn't play too badly, either, oddly enough. Although that aggressive boast of his still won him the match.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tics, Anyone?

As I've noted before in this blog, it sure is something to listen to the professional women tennis players at Wimbledon grunting catharticallly after every stroke. The men either don't do it or do it only occasionally, and at reduced volume. Somehow or another, the high-decibel grunt has become part of the culture of women's tennis, kind of like human vuvuzelas trumpeting their presence to the assembled throng. 

I've also noted the manic pre-point dance that the women do. It's called 'happy feet,' and the idea is to keep those feet moving at all times so that no inertia sets in.

There is no more manic happy-feet dancer than Marion Bartoli, a Frenchwoman whose obvious hyperactivity disorder is apparently mixed in with a strong obsessive-compulsive streak, since her pre-point dance involves wild flailing of the arms following ritualized movements. You have to see it to believe it.

All of which got me thinking about movements made by athletes when they are not actually playing the point. What if we were to take some of these actions and put them on the squash court, what would we have?

Well, in the case of Bartoli, her spastic pre-point dance on a squash court might actually put her opponent at risk, since she violently swings her racket on the forehand and backhand side as she is pogo-ing around the court. Her opponent might very likely run off the court, terrified.

Another stylized tic that tennis players have is to reach behind them and grab a towel to wipe off their face. Apparently it is uncool to wear a headband or bandanna in pro tennis. The reality is that they are using the 15-20 seconds it takes to do this to catch their breath, so you'll see a lot of face-wiping in the latter stages of a tennis match. But could you imagine that on a squash court?

Even a mild motion would just not work in squash. Derek Jeter, the Yankees' fading shortstop, always walks into the batter's box and puts his rear hand up, signalling to the umpire that he is not yet ready and to hold the game until he is. It's a totally unnecessary thing for him to do, but he's been doing it anyway his entire career. If a squash player were to hold up his hand as he prepared to receive a serve, his opponent and everyone watching would view him as a madman.

There is something about being in the same room with your opponent that cuts down on the crap. In squash, its two bats and a ball in a box. There's no room in there for bull.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Oh Squash God, Hear My Plea ...

Oh squash god! Hear my plea!
Fix forthwith my bum right knee.
With much sacrosanct piety,
And corporeal anxiety.
My knee, o lord, and thanks from me.

Knee cartilage wears down with the years,
My stomach grows larger with the beers,
Yet I still must beat my squashist peers,
But my balky knee adds to my fears.
Please squash god!

I swear I’ll return once more to church,
No more leaving god in the lurch,
Hell, I’ll feed Him some rainbow perch,
I’ll even fund sacerdotal research!
But please, seriously squash god….

I don’t mean to bug, protest or prod,
But I need that speed, not be a clod.
Hammies are good, plus left and right quad,
It’s just the right knee that needs fixing god.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

No It's Not, It's DEAD!

Because of the woeful inadequacies of the Google search engine, which are multiple yet obscure, I have noticed that I am receiving a lot of clicks on a blog I wrote last January about SquashZAG being up and running. I called it "It's Alive!" 

Unfortunately, soon after I posted that blog the site's owners apparently gave up on the site and it has lain fallow ever since. So no, it's not alive, and this time it is most assuredly dead. Stick a fork in it, it's done. It's time to de-bookmark it.

There, Google, stick that in your search engine!

Monday, June 6, 2011

In Your Face!

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: wear protective eyewear. If it can happen to these guys, it can happen to you....  This video is from PSA Squash TV's newly available archive.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Primum Non Nocere

One of the principal guiding rules of the medical profession is summarized in the Latin phrase above, which means "First, do no harm."

Hanging on the walls or glass doors of most squash clubs all over the world is the phrase, "Non-Marking Soles Only," a warning that not all sneakers are fit to play on a squash court. Every now and then some knucklehead will go onto a court, oblivious, and try out the game, leaving behind a bunch of burnt rubber streak marks that take time and money to remove.

Would it be excessive if I were to say these people should be shot? Maybe trampled upon by a thousand well-trod squashists fed up with such behavior? Perhaps just slapped around a bit?

As I panted outside a squash court recently following a match, I looked up and there was the sign. But in my delirium I thought it said "Non-Marking Souls Only."

That would be nice.... Non-marking souls non nocere.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Best Club in NYC? Quite Possibly.... Check out CityView

I just joined the Cityview Racquet Club, a relatively new club which boasts 7 Har-Tru clay tennis courts, 3 singles squash courts, and 1 doubles squash court. Not too long ago the venerable Printing House squash courts were torn to smithereens by uninformed jackanapes who double as executives at a fitness club chain. Long may they burn in hell.....

But I digress.

A goodly chunk of the Printing House players eventually gravitated over to the CityView club. As for me, I was looking for a club. I met one of the immigrants, who told me about it. I grew curious. I signed up. 

There is lots that is great about CityView. They have an active tennis program, which helps fund their nascent squash program. (There is a locker with an "A Roddick" nameplate, you dig?) The pro also happens to be John Musto, not only a great player but, more important, a very good pro. (There are a lot of clubs out there that have great players as their pros but many fewer clubs with great pros who are good  players.) The touring pro, by the way, is the stylish Egyptian Wael el-Hindi, currently ranked #13 in the world.

The club is artfully designed, really a beautiful club. It is also one of those clubs that knows how to have fun, with kids whose squash rackets are half their size running around excitedly swinging away, even before they get on court. I've been to plenty of clubs where the stiff-upper-lip attitude would never countenance a gang of young ruffians wreaking havoc. And that is much to their discredit.

The club also has an absolutely gorgeous lounge with a mesmerizing freestanding fireplace and great bar. You can hang out there and have a great time when the squash is over. And, during the summer, you can head on out to the huge balcony where, you guessed it, there is a great view of the City.

That's right, the view is so great of Manhattan because this terrific club is not in Manhattan, which is why it remains a bit undiscovered. It is actually only a few stops on the #7 subway line into Queens. I timed it; it's less than 10 minutes to travel from Grand Central Station to the CityView stop.

I just played a 4.5 squash tournament there and did well, considering my balky knees had to play 3 full and difficult matches in one day. The toughest match was the first, in which my opponent and I played one another to near exhaustion, but after about 70 minutes I finally won the match in 5. I was extremely lucky; my opponent had already played his first match so his energy finally ran out in the fifth. My next match was just an hour away and I felt thoroughly depleted, so went down ignominiously 0-3. My opponent later noted that I was tied with him in each game to about 6-all, when suddenly I started going for the cheap shot, which of course didn't work. I then had a 3-hour wait till my next match, which allowed me to rest up, and I won that contest by 3-0. Not bad, I thought, as I limped homeward.

Check out this club if you are in the New York area; it's damn good.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Another Home Run for US Squash

One of the interesting things about the game of golf is the fact that the scores are inputted following the round of play and one's handicap is calibrated accordingly. It means that a player knows exactly where he stands in relation to the rest of the golfosphere. That level of accuracy has always been missing in squash, until now. 

US Squash -- or USQ, as they like to be called -- has just instituted what I view as a game-changer in the world of squash, which drags our great sport into the modern era, kicking and screaming, so that we can also know in real time exactly where we stand. 

As part of USQ's Play Squash initiative, everyday club matches can be inputted into the association's website computer, thus influencing one's rating and ranking. If I play the same group of 3 or 4 guys 90% of the time, which I do, why not use those games to create a more accurate accounting of my level of play? Now I can do that.

If you were to look up my rating you would see only a handful of games, all played in 2009 during a time when I had an ongoing ankle problem (that eventually required surgery). My ranking went down and down through 2009, and that is where it has stayed, remaining idle because I have not played any sanctioned tournaments since then. But I've recovered since 2009 and played a lot of matches with friends, so my ossified rating now reflects the problems I had 2 years ago, not the present-day me. 

With the Play Squash initiative, that will change. I will start inputting all of the matches I have with players who are USQ members -- it doesn't work for non-members. And as I've opined before, if you are not a member of USQ then you are not supporting the sport and helping it advance -- with programs like this.  

Both players have to agree beforehand that this match will count -- and I bet the intensity level will ratchet up a notch or more because of that. The only other requirements are that the match must be best 3 of 5 and the approved Dunlop ball must be used.

So next time you are out on the court, ask your partner to play this match for real. No kidding around. Results go straight to your ratings, and from there on up to your ego. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Jag Resa Slutligen till Sverige - Inte!

Jag har noterat den här bloggen att min mor var född i Sverige och att jag är en elev i svenska. Mycket tyvärr dog min lärare i svenska, men jag fortfarande läser svenska, kallas oftast på en webbplats "8 Sidor" -

I ett desperat försök att besöka Sverige, försökte jag att vara en av ett några personer som valts att vara i en "reality TV show", kallas den Stora Svenska Adventure. Jag förstår att 1300 personer sökt, och jag överlevde till den sista 100 Men jag tror att det bara fanns 12 människor i slutet. Serien börjar filma i juni. 

Jag tror att det finns mycket att beundra om Sverige. Jag kommer att resa dit de närmaste åren säkert, och även jag hoppas kunna spela lite socialistisk squash.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The American Tennis and Paddle Tennis Association

England's National Racketball Championships will be held May 6 - 8 at the Edgbaston Priory Club!

Or so England's squash association tells us. That's because in England the squash association is called England Squash & Racketball. And therein lies the rub.

If I remember correctly, England's squash association decided only a few years ago to welcome lovers of racketball into their warm, suffocating embrace. I didn't understand why they did that then, and the rationale for it still eludes me. 

Racketball is a different game. It uses different rackets than squash and a different ball. It is played, in England at least, on the same court as squash, but that is its only similarity. True, squash players can readily pick up the game of racketball, and indeed the current top-rated men's racketballer in England is squash's own Daryl Selby. But this is akin to a top tennis player picking up a paddle tennis racket and having a go at it. Those are different games. No one has proposed incorporating the American Tennis and Paddle Tennis Association.

I think this is a question of a sporting association forgetting that, for the purposes of effective governance and good marketing, it needs to consistently tell a story to the public. What is squash's story? Why would England Squash want to bifurcate its message by throwing in another sport that is kinda like squash but not really?

I suspect there is money at the root of this issue, although I don't know what it is. I do strongly believe that it is not good for squash to have a national sporting association also promoting another sport. I think it's a really bad idea. 

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Honesty in Naming

If things were named honestly, that would be an improvement, yes? Take the West Side Highway, New York City’s major north-south roadway that lurches alongside the Hudson River. That should be renamed “Expect Delays.”

“Yeah, hi honey, I’m coming home, currently on Expect Delays, but I might be a little late because I, uh, am expecting a delay.”

Or perhaps my Jeep Wrangler should be renamed ‘Lucky to Make it to 100,000 Miles.’ My car is currently at about 80,000 miles and I can foresee trouble ahead.

Politicians could go by a number of names, but I want to keep this column suitable for family viewing, so most of them I’ll have to keep to myself. One appropriate one would be ‘At the Beck and Call of Lobbyists.’

“Hey Joe, did you hear what old Beck and Call did today? He passed that bill that everyone was up in arms about, y’know, the one that turns Medicaid into a voucher system and takes money away from grandma.”

What about renaming sports more honestly? Women’s beach volleyball would be named ‘It’s Really About the Skin’. Golf would be called ‘Is This Really a Sport?’ NASCAR would be named ‘BURP – Oh, Excuse Me.’

Squash would be named ‘Best Individual Sport Bar None.’

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Play and Pay

The world is an unfair place, and one place where the disparity between fairness and reality is painfully evident is in the paychecks of top athletes. 

"ESPN The Magazine" recently published a list of the best-paid athletes in a group of 30 sports, one of which is squash. Some of the findings you may know already. For instance, New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez gets $32 million. NBA star Kobe Bryant gets $24.8 million. Nick Matthew of squash fame made $166,926 in prize winnings in 2010. That doesn't include endorsements, which will up his income significantly, but it also doesn't include endorsements for Messrs. Rodriquez and Bryant, either. Matthew deserves significantly more, without a doubt.

Other entries are more surprising. The men's billiards champ made $118,494; the head bowler made $152,670; the top bull rider made a healthy $1,594,527, which will help pay for his extensive orthopedic bills; the top fisherman reeled in $915,500; the winningest poker player made $9,443,519; Lindsey Vonn skied her way to $509,542; and Rafael Nadal, everyone's favorite tennis-player-who-would-also-make-a-fantastic-squash-player, made $10,171,998 in prize money.
And then there's Joey Chestnut, at left, the top professional at Major League Eating, who gorged himself to $218,500, all earned one hot dog at a time. And then promptly regurgitated the whole disgusting mess out of view of the stage. Is eating really a sport?! Really?