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Courting derision
Contrary to popular belief, squash is actually the most macho game ever invented
BY STEVE ALMOND

IT IS DIFFICULT to explain to those who donít play squash how truly manly the sport is. In fact, the general reaction when I tell people that I play squash is sustained laughter.

There are also a few people who ask questions, such as: Oh, is that the one with the ribbons? And: Do you also cross-stitch?

Yes, my sport appears to have gained an unfortunate reputation as the designated hobby of the wealthy, white, and wimpy. While it is inarguably true that I am white and wimpy, the only people who would consider me wealthy have already died of hunger.

In fact, according to a study conducted by the American Association for the Advancement of Effeminate-seeming Sports, squash is second only to badminton in overall machismo.

The reasons for this are simple:

1) Both players are armed with racquets.

2) The standard squash ball is very hard.

3) The game is played in an enclosed box.

If I may quote Dr. Peter Johnson, an avid amateur player who has written extensively on the subject: "Injuries that do occur are often of a severe nature, consisting, in the main, of acute or traumatic events." (Italics mine.)

Squash, in other words, is basically the preppy version of a Texas Cage Death Match. For further evidence, I would direct you to the contusion on the back of my left thigh, which is the size and color of a mature eggplant. This injury was the direct result of a ball striking my leg at an approximate speed of 271 miles per hour.

You might also inspect the subdural hematoma (which Iím pretty certain is the medical term for a fat lip) that I suffered when the titanium frame of my opponentís racquet smacked me in the mouth.

It would be fair to ask, at this point, just who these opponents are.

Let me begin with Alec Wysocker, a strapping, six-foot-five beast of a man who goes by the nickname Reverend Bubkis. I have been playing the good Rev for four years now, and I can honestly say that I have yet to feel entirely safe in his presence.

Oh, sure, off the court heís a vegetarian pacifist who looks docile enough in a pair of PETA-approved Birkenstocks. But ó like a lot of squash players ó once he steps onto the court, heís licensed to kill. If you have ever faced one of the Revís Forehands of Death, you know everything you need to about whatís it like to be under enemy fire.

Which brings us to Zach "The Truth" Leber. The Truth is less physically imposing than Alec, but he has more than compensated for his stature by developing an arsenal of debilitating mind games. These include (but are not limited to) long periods of inexplicable silence, sudden passive-aggressive verbal assaults, and frequent wardrobe changes.

I once saw the Truth end one promising young playerís career by earnestly explaining, after the kid mistakenly whacked the back wall, that "neurological damage can often affect depth perception."

Unfortunately, squash ó by far the most vicious of the racquet sports ó continues to be seen as a sissy game. Part of this has to do with misconceptions about its lineage.

Contrary to popular belief, the sport was not dreamed up by a bunch of colonial poofters. Just the opposite: it was actually invented in prison, specifically Fleet Prison, in London, where, sometime early in the 19th century, the convicts took their exercise by hitting a ball against a wall, of which there were many.

It is unclear precisely how the sport made its way into the elite boarding schools of England, but the basic motive was totally obvious: a bunch of rich boys played it as a way of trying to "keep it real."

From the beginning, squash has been all about street cred. Not a lot of people realize this, but a good deal of the friction between the Crips and Bloods back in the early í80s arose from a series of beefs over squash matches.

The mainstream press wonít touch this story, of course. But I myself have been working on a comprehensive history of squash-related homicides, tentatively titled Racquetology: Guns, Gangs, and the Game.

I donít mean to suggest, of course, that all squash players are dangerous criminals. Or that all dangerous criminals are squash players. That would be stereotyping. All Iím saying is that a really large percentage of squash players carry illegal firearms, drink 40s, smoke blunts, and shoot shit up for fun. This is just how we represent.

At the same time, I want to emphasize that squash is also a wholesome recreational sport and a great form of exercise.

To quote James P. Conover, the Headmaster of St. Paulís School in Concord, New Hampshire, and one of the earliest American champions of the game, in the 1880s: "It is the universal experience that for health and for the highest perfection in the game, the average boy or man should play but one rubber a day."

More than one rubber a day, and youíre playing with fire.

This brings me to a crucial, final point about squash: its unbelievable sex appeal.

Again, in this area there have been some woeful misconceptions.

The fact is that the standard male squash physique ó which has often been incorrectly identified as scrawny ó is, in fact, a model of perfection.

The most striking feature of the squash bod is an abnormally large forearm muscle on the swinging arm. I have a tendency to show off this muscle by wearing short-sleeved shirts. Women are generally impressed. Some are even a little frightened. And then there are those who ask, "Is that a tumor?"

Squash players of both sexes also tend to develop prominent gluteal muscles as a result of the lunging the sport requires. I have been less successful at showing women this muscle, particularly in public.

The important thing to remember, obviously, is that squash is just a game, like basketball or football or rugby. Except that those games are played by total wusses.

Those who would like to challenge Steve to a rubber may do so at bbchow.com


Issue Date: April 15 - 21, 2005
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