Today I played squash. Or rather, I practiced squash. Or more specifically, I stood on a squash court with a racquet and goofy goggles mostly wondering why the hell the little rubber ball wouldn’t go where I wanted it to go. That’s about as close as I got to anything resembling a sport.
It’s the first time I attempted squash, and the results were decidedly mixed. I thought I might be able to pick it up, because I played an awful lot of racquetball a few centuries ago in my youth, and the games look pretty similar. Which is just about as stupid a way to choose something as there exists.
My wife looks a little like Alyson Hannigan, for instance. That doesn’t mean that we get royalty checks from American Pie, or that she can introduce me to Barney Stinson.
(Although my wife was in band camp, back in high school. And she played the flute. Coincidence?
No idea. I’m afraid to ask.)
Anyway, back to safer topics. Like squash.
To prepare for my foray into a new sport, I went out and bought the cheapest racquet I could find. Which turned out to be the only racquet I could find. Squash isn’t going to challenge football or baseball as ‘America’s Sport’ any time soon, it would seem.
“If racquetball is like trying to hit a tennis ball with a platter, squash is like swinging a spatula at a marble.”
It took me three stores to locate the one racquet I did come across, and that came with a whole starter kit — a flimsy bag, two balls, a pair of goggles and a helpful-looking brochure entitled ‘How to Play Squash‘. Not knowing how to play squash, I thought this sort of information would be right up my alley. Fully prepared to soak up helpful tips and strategy, I dug in. Here’s one sentence from the booklet:
‘Squash is a game played on an indoor court between two people.‘
That’s the lead sentence of the third paragraph. On the second page. Of a four-page pamphlet. I’ll admit I may be a slow learner, but this is a little ridiculous. When the ‘big reveal’ at the end is that there’s a ball involved (“SUPPLIES!“), I might just be ready for the advanced class.
Frankly, though, I never made it to the end of the booklet. For starters why, here’s the sentence immediately following the one quoted above:
‘One needs to get started are a racquet, a ball, proper eye-protection and non-marking court shoes.‘
It’s a grammatical nightmare, but I can mostly get the gist of it. And everything but the shoes came in my ‘Baby’s First Squash Set’ kit, so I was all set there. The brochure continued:
‘The object of the sport is to win the “match” by winning the best of five “games”.‘
That’s as far as I got. Again, I’m no expert, but if they’re introducing concepts like “match” and “games” halfway through the instruction manual, I doubt there’s much help given in the last couple of pages. And if I’m supposed to whip out the finger quotes every time I’m out there in a “match” or playing a “game”, then I’m done already. I’ll return the racquet and take up bocce. At least I already know there’s a ball involved in that. Or a “ball”. I should probably pick up a brochure, to be safe.
Anyway, I decided to trudge ahead and give it a go. I got to the gym and on one of the courts, I found a pair of older gentlemen beating the living hell out of the ball and scurrying back and forth with every point. They looked a lot like the dusty old farts who’d school me in racquetball at the YMCA growing up. Fine. So that much hasn’t changed in twenty years or so. Peachy.
I picked out an open court and tried hitting the ball around. There were only three things standing in the way — those twenty years of age I just mentioned, twenty extra pounds (fine, probably more) accumulated in that time, and physics. Three teensy little hurdles is all.
Actually, it wasn’t all of physics working against me. I’m sure Newton’s Law was mildly in my favor out there, and I don’t recall having any trouble with the weak or strong nuclear forces. But I was gravity’s bitch in a number of ways, the biggest of which was that squash balls don’t behave anything like racquetball balls — or softball balls, or billiard balls, for that matter — so my frame of reference for bouncing and thwacking them was way, way off.
It doesn’t help that squash and racquetball racquets are pretty different. What little muscle memory I have left from the old days tells me that the meaty part of the stick in my hand starts about three inches from my fingers, and gets wide really quickly, like a serving platter. This new model is probably a little longer than my old equipment, but it’s significantly narrower, and tapers really slowly from the neck to the heart of the racquet. If racquetball is like trying to hit a tennis ball with a platter, squash is like swinging a spatula at a marble. Which is what I looked like I was doing, for much of the session. If the spry old guys in the next court were watching, I’m sure they were appalled.
Still, I managed to meet my three criteria for a successful first attempt at a new sport — I didn’t hurt myself, I didn’t break the equipment, and I wasn’t escorted off the premises. So later this week, I’ll don the stupid goggles again, break out the spatula and give it another go. Maybe by then I can find a new manual. Or a store that sells those bocce balls. At least I wouldn’t look quite as stupid playing that.
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