Tuesday, June 28, 2016
I never could get Reilly on the squash court. She was a sweet girl, portly, short legged and always greeted me and my son early in the morning when we were headed off to the squash courts at LA Fitness for our training. She would take early morning walks with her mom, Robin, and over the years my son and I grew to love her like she was our own. We would jokingly tell her, "come with us, Reilly, we have extra rackets, you don't need shoes, and we could probably fit you for protective eye wear." We even went so far as to point out that squash would get her seriously fit. Walking with her mom must have been very special, because Reilly was content to walk around our complex and, in all the years, never took us up on our offer. Even some nice crispy breakfast biscuits wouldn't entice her to join us. When we came back from our training, there was Reilly and Robin, still walking about and exploring the early morning. They had been out the entire time we were at the courts. I would remark to my son, "can you imagine how good we could make her? Look at her low gravity, and her grace, and dedication, for a kid that big to move around like that is something." He would just remind me that not everyone and everything in the world wants to play squash. I would look at him, not really understanding what he could possibly mean. He would just shrug his shoulders and I would go on about maybe Reilly and how she could be a champion some day. In retrospect, I might have succeeded if I had convinced Robin, her mom, to join us on the court. Surely, Reilly would have wanted to join in. The two were inseparable. Sometimes, if Robin had to travel, Robin's sister, Lisa, would take care of Reilly. I could tell if Robin wasn't around, because Reilly didn't have the same spring in her steps, she seemed sad. I would always try and cheer her up, "Reilly girl, you look sad, Mommy will be home soon, don't you worry, she always comes home." I would jokingly remark to Lisa, "What are you, Gals, feeding this girl?" I made sure Reilly never really heard me because I'd never want to hurt her feelings. But, in retrospect, Reilly was confident and you could tell she was brought up to love herself and didn't adhere to any of the usual body images of svelte young things plastered on the Purina and Pedigree bags of food in the store. She never fell for that. I miss you, girl, you could have been a champion, don't tell Robin that, you were always her champion. I don't go in the early mornings with my son anymore to train for squash, he's in law school now, and Reilly has passed, but I go to a different club, and I still leave in the early morning to go and do a bit of coaching and playing. With Reilly gone, I don't see Robin much. Reilly is the one that got away, I guess. She had all the makings of something really great, it didn't take squash to do that, but it would have been nice to have given squash that opportunity. She didn't pass because of her weight, she ate well, she was a bon vivant, but it was some strange disease, called leptospirosis, Lisa told me, that is deadly to dogs. Robin always scolded Reilly for eating the grass at times (call it mother's intuition), who knew such a disease was in the grass, raccoon or rodent urine and droppings. It took me awhile to get over the shock that the old girl is gone, but I found solace in getting on court and hitting countless rails, always thinking what might have been and what once was. Someday, I might just get her on that big court somewhere and I bet she'll be running diagonals, as if she was born to it. She really did have the life of Reilly, even without ever having set foot on the squash court.
Monday, June 6, 2016
As much as I admired and loved Mohamed Ali, I wonder would he have achieved a similar greatness if he had other opportunities open to him other than just boxing? Our country has a way of deifying those we once exploited, killed, slaughtered or crucified. The Buffalo, whom we systematically slaughtered (30 million in a matter of years) we put on our nickel as an endearing American icon. The American Indian, whom we committed enormous acts of genocide against (Hitler's Holocaust pales by comparison), finds it way as an American icon at so many different levels. And then there is Ali, whom we paid to watch him fight others, white audiences, watching him beat another black man to near death, and himself, later on, taking terrible beatings. We remember him in his passing heroically. The very same man we imprisoned and stripped away his titles and the basic right to earn a living --we've now come full circle, from vilified to deified. What would Ali have done on that fateful day, when, as a young boy, he had his bicycle stolen and instead of being near a boxing gym, he was nearby a public squash court, and someone, maybe a club player, a coach, a mentor, had given him a squash racket and told him squash will make your day, will make you forget your stolen bicycle and will make you great in some way? What would he have done with that instead of entering a boxing gym? Would he have achieved the same level of greatness and notoriety? My guess, yes. He would have been the "greatest" at whatever he did. He would have gone to the public squash court in Louisville, Kentucky, picked up a racket and never let it go for the rest of his life. I imagine him coming up through the professional ranks on the courts against the likes of Jonah Barrington and Geoff Hunt, running them around as if he were playing a game of fetch. He would be like nothing they'd ever seen, footwork like we'd never seen, and his racket skills to match. Most of all, how many more inner city kids would he have inspired to play squash? Can you imagine Sugar Ray Leonard playing squash and not boxing, not detaching his retina, or Jerry Quarry, who ended up in diapers and thoroughly punch drunk, appearing alongside all the old grand masters of squash reminiscing about a bygone era. And of course, big George Foreman, how could you forget him in the World Open or British Open, against Jansher Khan. George Foreman in his early 40's, not upsetting boxing champion Michael Moore, but upsetting Khan in the finals to become the oldest World Champion in the history of the game. For me, Ali was always a calm voice in the storm of so much madness. He would move around the court like a butterfly and sting his opponents with perfect length, or a subtle head fake, or a perfectly placed drop shot. He would be known for leaving his opponents just shaking their heads. Ali and Squash, now that would have been something great. I am almost certain Squash would be an Olympic sport, I am almost certain there would be 100's of public courts just like the ones New York Public Squash is trying to build. I can almost hear him predict it, I can almost hear him say, when it comes to Squash, the court doesn't care whether your Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Black, White or anything, just how you play the game. I am almost certain he would still be around, and the El Shorbagys, the Ashours, the Willstrops and Matthews, would all come and meet with the great man, the "greatest" Squash player ever; and you would see his familiar and great face on the pages of the Daily Squash Report every day. You would see him visiting the Zimbabwe Squash Academy, somewhere, in the far reaches of the planet, opening, yet another, Squash academy. You would see him dedicating public courts around the world. And he would be heard to say, Squash doesn't define him, it's just a platform from which he would deliver his message. But he would be heard loud and clear, he would hold his still, formidable racket, with a steady hand, and, of course, would keep his eye always on the ball. He'd be known for being funny, witty, wise and he'd occasionally host the PSA Live play-by-play with Joey Barrington and Paul Johnson. He would be Ali, the "greatest" player in a game loved and played by millions around the world.