Point of View: An Exhilarating Game

In order to win you had to be calm on the outside and very angry on the inside

My son-in-law and I were treated to a squash lesson by the young Egyptian pro, Mohamed Nabil, at the Southampton Recreation Center recently. He was kind, kept feeding the ball back to us so that we could smash it crosscourt or down the rail, and it was a lot of fun, especially for one whom the game has long passed by. 

Squash, as Mohamed says, is “exhilarating” — that’s probably the best word for it. I liked it too when he said that in order to win you had to be calm on the outside and very angry on the inside. 

I suppose part of it is wanting to outdo your father — or stepfather, as in my case. It was he who taught me the game, in my early teens, when I was even more excitable than I am now. 

I was a terrible sport then, as now, and he was a Christian martyr to have put up with me. We played in the plastered courts at the Edgeworth Club, in the basement, beyond the duckpin bowling alleys, and the thwack, thwack, thwack sounds the hard, hot ball made as it came off the walls was . . . exhilarating. 

Later, he admitted to letting me win at times so that I wouldn’t go off in a huff. 

Much, much later in life I wrote him a letter thanking him, whose patience I must have tried many times, for always being there for me in trying times. He said it was the best letter anyone had ever written him. Though I had forgotten, he said, one thing. He had (pace A.R. Gurney) taught me how to play squash.

As I say, we played singles with the hard ball then (used only for doubles now), and, as must have been the case with most Americans before meters replaced feet, we — my college teammates and I — were dismissive of the squishy English ball that the rest of the world used. America was great then, remember?

Anyway, that squishy ball later became universally used, and the court was widened just a bit to make the game even more maddening for a prima donna such as I, who because squash has long passed him by limits his strutting now to tennis — an easier game if truth be told.

If you’re agile and you like getting your heart rate up and feeling marvelously exhausted after half an hour or so of all-out effort, during which you have repeatedly ripped the ball (which warms up after a while) down the rails, dinked it into the front corners, teased up lobs so that they die in the back, and ceaselessly stretched yourself full length in mad, exhilarating pursuit of your opponent’s shots, you should give it a try.

And here’s to you, Dad, for teaching me.