My son and I have been playing squash every early morning for a number of years. It is to put it politely all out war. The competition is fierce, arguments often break out, and to the casual onlooker you would think its trench warfare. But it's all contained within the class backed court enclosure. We also train together and will do endless rotating rails and boast drives, believe it or not, equally competitive. I'm often the walking wounded because it takes its toll.
Three years ago, in the midst of one of our morning battles, I looked through the glass backed court which overlooks this airplane hanger like gym floor and noticed this elderly man, very fit, with thick leather gloves sitting on the sit up bench. He was smiling and seemed quite amused by our play. I was a bit annoyed with the old guy because I thought to myself "you get out here old man and see how it feels to be run around by some kid until you're ready to collapse". But I was again focusing on the game and went back to the court battle. When we came off the court the old man was gone.
Next morning, again the old man was watching us play, again the same smile. That day I wasn't playing all that well and was REALLY annoyed with his smile. I decided to take a break between games and walk off the court and get a drink. My son always made a point between games to continue hitting the ball, I always thought, to show me the game we just played didn't phase him at all -- which it didn't of course. I followed suit and didn't want him to know I needed water, to sit for a minute, and to catch my breath. But that day I went out to get a drink and nodded to the old guy and he smiled and said "you're giving it a good try, he's just younger and quicker." While I was taking my drink at the water fountain, I thought, that's a really nice thing to say. Yeah, he's right, I'm giving it my all -- hey, if I were just 20 years younger.
I introduced myself and my son to the old man. His name was Arti Locker. Over the course of the next few years we came to know Arti and his lovely wife Lola. Each morning they came to watch us, they always put their bets on my son to beat me. I didn't mind; fans are fans. Arti played handball on the streets of Queens and Brooklyn and kept playing into his adult years. He found squash and handball had some similarities. Arti would train in the gym by pulling heavy weights with chains wrapped around his shoulders. He was a storm trooper during WWII and you could tell he was strongand very fit.
My son and I grew to really like this old guy with the sly sense of humor. We always listened to his stories and I used to love getting him talking about terroism. He was so indignant that these terrorist could do what they do -- it wronged his sense of justice and manner that they were cowards. Most of his comrades died in the war during combat and he always felt it was a miracle he lived. This is, in Artis mind, how wars should be fought -- not as terrorists but as soldiers.
This past spring we knew Arti was ill but then he told us he was diagnosed with cancer in his sinus regions. He had surgery but the cancer was malignant. The diagnoses was grim, when he told me I just didn't know what to say. We saw more of Lola in those days than Arti. She kept us up-to-date about his illness. Finally, I think the reality set in he was terminal and she said they gave him a few months to live.
When he passed away recently I was very sad, I missed him. I had only known him a short time but he was someone I just really liked. And he was a squash fan too. I had a dream recently that he was thin and ill but sitting in his usual spot on the sit up bench, just smiling like he did. His smile seemed to say more than it used to, this time he was saying, "it's all okay."
I don't see Lola much, she and Arti were married for so many years, the adjustment to life without him must be hard. I send her emails to check up on her since I rarely see her at the Gym. I hope Arti is playing handball again or even catching some squash matches as well. In the end, as it turns out, it was I who became a fan of his.