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.   


  1. Well written YWP. Kudos.

  2. At my Club...Germantown Cricket, white is required....

    1. Lets have a game, ol' friend. We can bet a bottle on the outcome.

  3. Believe it or not, I saw an older gent the other day in all white coming from, I think, tennis, including a white squash-ish sweater over a collared shirt. He looked great, though I'm sure he was playing indoors and ditched the sweater during said activity. Pros dressing poorly for squash, or tennis, is totally unsurprising: like the Ivy League, the demographics changed when the gates were opened, and that meant losing a lot (though not all) of what made both attractive and special in the first place. After all there are many other means of running around thwacking a ball, but not as many with an elite association so as to fill so many Trinity kids (i.e., upper middle class kids too dumb to get into a good school) with self-satisfaction. (No, really: I've been told by more than one that their school *actually* had a *squash* team, with an accompanying expectant pause for what I assume was supposed to be my impressed reaction.) Though I am not a squash fan, watching a bunch of grown men run around in tight capris and sweaty tee shirts while playing tennis every year for a few months makes me appreciate some of the outmoded gentility of racquet sports.

  4. You know, I've never played squash, but I can't think why. Always considered it a genuine test of skill, endurance and competitive spirit. I shall have to rectify this oversight.

  5. Anonymous, you intrigue me: when were the gates thrown ope for squash and tennis, thus losing a lot (but not all!) of what made them attractive and special? Are we talking Arthur Ashe? I guess I shouldn't complain, as a Catholic from the countryside who snuck his way in Harvard for a few degrees. And it is true that while I was in Cambridge, relatively few of my fellows had been to the hoarier private schools like Trinity, and those who did have since worked and married no differently from those of us who attended public high schools.

    Now, I would consider sending my future children to one of the old private schools, as I find their charm highly increased after their liberation from direct connection to political and economic power-- the outmoded part of the gentility you mention. Also I would rather have my kids deal with the former PhD-student bums who staff such places than with the crap shoot of people who teach at public or lesser private schools. I imagine the liberation from power and the oddball constituency are also among the reasons why YWP likes squash. Of course, I also work in New York, where everyone who can possibly afford to keep their kids out of the public schools does, a sad state of affairs. If I move somewhere else, I'll keep the cash and send young Wilbur off with the hoi polloi, thanks. Maybe it will toughen him up.

    But speaking of outmoded gentility (the only kind worth having) and the clothing that is its cipher, my own preposterously tweedy and shawl-collared professorishness passes part of YWP's sniff test in that the climate control in the 19th century building where I work is iffy at best, and layering remains advisable. But I would dress that way even if this wasn't true, I suppose.

    1. I was under the impression that the Trinity reference was to Trinity College in Hartford, a place with which I have a lot of experience, none of it positive. I have no position on private schools, having attended a public one but having friends who went to very good boarding and day schools and who ended up as successes or failures, personally and professionally, in roughly the same proportion as did my public school milieu. If I were in New York I would probably send my kid private (if he weren't able to get into one of the top public schools, of course).

      The convoluted point I was failing to make was that the appurtenances of activities that were once elite (Ivy League: khakis instead of ripped skinny jeans; Racket sports: whites in non-synthetics instead of bandanas and black) are mostly gone and sorely missed. The reason why they are gone is obvious. As it relates to this entry: Yes, people wear all kinds of ugly crap in which to play sports; I wish that they did not.


Let's keep it clean... but if you DO have to get foul, at least give it a bit of wit. Also, advertising disguised as comments will be deleted, unless it is clever.