Tuesday, February 26, 2013


In the Los Angeles and Irvine area on light business, playing squash everyday.  One club didn't offer squash, but they let me and my racquet use the racketball courts for wall practice, to the odd stares of others.  There's something about racketball's stumpy racket and rambunctious, boisterous ball that seems inelegant.  I can't place it.  The squash clubs are busy, though.  No monochromatic clothing requirements here, but a good group of folks with competitive spirits.  I know, I'm being a snob.  A few posts ago, I showed a busted racquet, and I got a ton of emails about squash.  Unfortunately, the days of handsome squash sweaters are long gone due to heated buildings.  Sorry, lads.

A typical racquet and ball.
Squash (photo source here)

The History of Oversized Racquetball Rackets
Racketball (photo source here)

Squash teams and clubs are statistically rare in the US, but around the world, you will find thousands.  Trinity College in Hartford had a 10 year winning streak, but there are families in India, Egypt, and Pakistan with generations of champions.  In Boston almost ten years ago, my (now) wife took me to the US Squash Open at Symphony Hall.  They set up a clear-walled squash court in the center of the hall, surrounded by risers and bleachers, and ultra-intense competition in the transparent court with 180 degree viewing (they did the same in Grand Central). 


That year, Peter Nicol (ENG) was the one to watch, and he had the court style of a fencer against the Aussie opponents who were slightly less graceful but more athletic.  It was thrilling to watch, and some of the players could move faster with their entire bodies than most people could just following the ball with their eyes.  If you do attend a high-level match, be ready for great action, astounding athleticism, blindingly fast agility, and the disgusting smearing of sweaty hands on walls and doors.

As always, there is even a myth around squash concerning the clothing.  Like modern tennis, there are nearly no V-neck tennis sweaters, and the audience tends to be dressed in everyday garb as well.  Sweatbands, bandannas, Lycra, and synthetics are the norm.  While only a few clubs require white clothing (or 50% white, meaning the top or bottom garment in white) and collars on shirts, the overwhelming majority do not.  Sport and competition are the focus, and clothing is either purchased by the players or given to those on the circuit by sponsors.  As far as it being seen as a more exclusive sport, ask any professional squash player how many times they have had to sleep on the floor of the court itself during tournaments in their earlier days.  Or on couches, or in locker rooms, or on buses, or in cars.   The meritocracy of squash mostly levels it all out, and it tends to reward the singularly-minded, the relentlessly competitive, and the helplessly smitten.  Playing squash is good for friendships, good for spouses, good for parents and their children, and good for the lungs.  In a dispute, it also beats flipping a coin.   

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Reading Blogs

None of it in jest
Photos, phrases offered up
Oh my. Serious.

There is  a sinking feeling one gets the moment you realize that the blog you've been reading is not self-satire, is not ironic, is not a brilliant parody or astute study, but is offered up as is. Genuinely. Earnestly and unblinkingly serious. My God, they mean it. They really mean it.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Touch of Death

About a year ago, I posted about Windsor Button, a relic of a shop in Boston where brass blazer buttons sat in bins by the mile and a reliable source for almost every tailor in the city. In the same post, I mentioned Locke-Ober, and then this happened:

I had mentioned it in several other affectionate posts as well.  Friend and frequent squash opponent Philip also alerted me to the closing of Windsor Button. I mentioned two great businesses in the same post and now they both will be gone.  I mentioned the town of Mammoth Lakes in another post, and it went bankrupt a few weeks later.  Obviously, I have magical powers.  Occasionally, I have used these powers for good, like when I caused Ralph Lauren to discontinue Rugby simply by mentioning it in a blog post.

You're welcome.


To All Our Valued Customers,
They say that all good things must end someday. Sadly, it seems the time has come for us to say goodbye. After more than 75 years of providing sewing, knitting, and needlework supplies to the Boston community, Windsor Button will be closing its doors. We have lost our lease, as our landlord plans to renovate our space.
We realize that Windsor Button holds a special place in the hearts and minds of many New Englanders. Over the years many of you have shared stories and reminisced about shopping at Windsor Button with your mother or grandmother, working at one of the 10 stores, or buying your bridal veil at Windsor. Almost every day, someone will say “I don’t know what I’d do without you”.
The Boston store was the original, and has been the only remaining Windsor Button for the past 20 years. When we purchased the shop in 1998, yarn was not even in the product mix. Look how far we’ve come! We’ve evolved into a full-service knitting shop and have taught countless numbers of you to knit and/or crochet. It has been a journey that has at times been trying, but also intensely rewarding. We have lived, laughed, and of course knitted and crocheted together. We’ve shared joys and heartbreak with many of you and forged friendships along the way.
We ask for your continued support as we sell off our extensive inventory. Please tell your friends, co-workers, family, fellow commuters, and everyone you meet. They will thank you for sharing the news. We appreciate your support and will miss you.
Please join us for one last trip down memory lane!
Susan & Stanley Baker

All of my blazers and probably 75% of my jackets have benefited from Windsor Button.

Sue and Stan Baker are liquidating their inventories, and if you want to buy beautiful and rare brass buttons in bulk, now is the time.
35 Temple Place, Downtown Boston   617-482-4969

Monday, February 11, 2013

Creating Racket and Panic

I'd prefer to tell you that the racket broke from a diving save on a fast volley, or at least an epic tantrum following a heated dispute with a game-changing "no let" judgment.  Unfortunately, it was from a relatively light hit on a ten year-old racket.  Nothing sexy.  Friend (and regular commenter) Phillip pressed me all over the court during that game.  Two days later, I brought a panicked and unsteady snow-bound neighbor to the ENT doctors at Mass. Eye & Ear, and there was a young man from MIT who was the recipient of a squash ball directly to the eye.  He was still in his court garb with his racket over his shoulder.  Goggles aren't fashionable, but they sure as hell work.

A relatively insane brass shop on Charles Street gleams with Dickensian warmth and polish.  Their hours are narrow, but you can find anything there.  Correction: THEY can find anything there, YOU and I have to ask.  The prices will cause shortness of breath and near-panic.

We took the sleds down Anderson Street for three long blocks of fast street-sledding.  No traffic at all, and a luge-like track of hard-pack untouched by snow plows.  Very fast and very fun.  Near-panic for the very young ones who are used to the shorter run at the Boston Common.  All ages, and the adults took turns pulling the wee ones up the hill each time.  Faith in humanity restored.

A couple feet of beautiful snow.  The state government tried its hardest to ruin it for us.  As a private citizen, I can be charged with inducing panic, yet our leaders and the media get awards for it. 

Used ZipCar  to get out of town when all other garages were blocked.  Visited the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester.  Speaking of panic, the satellite radio tricked me into thinking that it was a weather alert on the display: "ALERT?  CODE 81?" I thought.  I nearly panicked.  Mrs. told me that it was the name of the song playing, and that it was from 1981. "Oh... yeah, I knew that.  I was joking."  She wasn't fooled.  Anyway, at the armory museum, they have one of these:

Source of this Photo
Panic if you're in the flock.  
I hadn't visited in over a decade.  When I was younger, (I did the Big Brother program) I took a group of young boys from the city there in the 1990's.  As you can imagine, it was a homerun for all of us.  This weekend, it still was.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

LL Bean Travel Briefcase and the Farm Upstate

Around the globe several times.  Almost a million domestic miles.  This LL Bean bag was my sidearm/briefcase/work horse for about seven years.  I bought it new at the (now closed) Portland, Maine outlet.  Mrs. and I would get on the Downeaster at North Station and ride comfortably for $22 from Boston to Portland and spend a nice weekend eating, drinking, and puttering in and out of shops and tea houses in the dead of the Maine winter.  At one restaurant, the waitress asked me how I wanted my eggs.  Then she asked me if I wanted to have a drink with my coffee.  I indicated that it was only 9am and I would not be drinking.  She delivered the eggs and a small glass of nice Brandy, letting me know that I would be charged for it if there was anything left in the glass, but that it was gratis if consumed fully.  My wife snickered at the jab and seemed to take the side of the waitress against me when the phrase "If you're up to it" was floated.

Back to the bag.  It was there during many critical and pivotal career moments, it was at the hospital when Jr. was born, it was an overnight bag for single-night trips, and it plagued me with connectivity during vacations and trips to otherwise pleasant locations.  It wasn't stylish and it seemed to attract stains.  The black smears on the leather cover were from ink drops out of a broken ballpoint pen that Jr. had turned into a missile.  The inside had pen marks, rips, abrasions, my name and phone number in permanent marker, and a small assortment of travel and business items like tea, ink cartridges, and pink tablets in case of food-poisoning.

I took it to LL Bean last week to request a replacement of a broken brass fitting that seemed to be beyond repair capabilities of the local brass andiron experts (yes, Boston has several).  They said no, but if I gave it to them, they would give me a gift card (generously) worth the full original amount, and not the (fractional) amount I paid at the outlet.

As usual, the customer service was excellent, but I'm always torn between nostalgic thrift and the consumeristic "just get a new one if you're not completely satisfied".  I was satisfied with the bag and didn't want a new one, but they are mostly unwilling to make repairs.  "Why would you want to pay for a repair if you can just get a new one for free?" she asked me.  Reluctantly, I surrendered it, thinking of all of those trips (both good and bad) and how it partially symbolized our family's steadfast cohesiveness throughout the challenges of frequent absences from business travel.  With the fanfare of flushing a toilet, the clerk threw it into a bin behind the counter.

"Did they repair your bag?" asked Mrs. later that day.

"No, but they sent it to live on a farm upstate where it'll be much happier" I said.