Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Like a Man Possessed

Quite a while back I published a post on Arti Locker, my son's and my favorite fan, who passed away last August. Arti used to watch us play squash at our LA Fitness club in Lake Success, Long Island. He always bet on my son and I used to jokingly tell him, "Arti, stick with me, one day I'll win a game..."

His wife, Lola, the sharpest and prettiest senior around, and whom I check in with periodically to see how she's getting along in life after Arti, invited me over to her house because I showed an interest in learning to play the card game, Bridge. Arti, she told me was very good, and I thought it would be fun to have her teach me.

I had no idea about Bridge, but I know that many people play it and as you progress in life it's important to work your mind and memory the way you conitnue to work your body and heart. So I thought why not give it a try we spent weeks trying to coordinate our schedules -- last night I finally arrived at her home and I could tell she was eager to teach, I was hoping that I could keep up with her instruction and explanation to this very complex game.

When I arrived at her house she had lots of photographs of her wonderful familiy, including pictures of Arti. The ones she had of him playing handball years and years ago in Brooklyn (where American squash great Victor Niederhoffer used to play), taken sometime in the 50's showed a stocky and extremely muscular youn man in his late 20's or early 30's striking the ball...the pose reminded me of the Ancient Greek scuplture, The Discus Thrower. Arti, to his last days, was etremely fit.

Bridge is really hard, I can only equate it to squash. By evenings end my mind was exhausted and Lola only covered the first chapter of her introduction to this card game. But this post insn't really about learning Bridge or the comparisons to squash. It's about how I left Lola's house last night and on the drive home heard Arti's voice in my head and saw his face in my memory of him. I thought, how could it all have passed from that photo taken of him on the handball court in Brooklyn to now, simply memories among the people that knew him. I knew him only within a certain context and in the later years of his life, but for whatever reason, his impression on me has been lasting.

This morning my son and I went to the courts, we were both stiff and sore from a lot of weekend squash. We warmed up, we stretched, we did star drills and then played one game. What a game it was. My body was like air, my feet light and swift, my head was completely clear, no frustrations no over thinking my mistakes, not a care in the world, as if this game was outside of time,as if I was born to play it -- and I saw every ball no matter how fast the pace like we were playing in slow motion. My son dominated the points and the pace as usual, in the early going some long rallies but I kept it close. At 4-4 he hit some bullet crosses that I step up and cut off and cross nicked. It wasn't my intention, I wasn't even thinking, except for the thought who is this guy hitting the ball this morning. At 7-4 I nicked a serve into the backhand corner, I could hear my son mumbling that this is just luck 3-4 nicks. He started mounting his come-back, I felt no pressure even though he was running me around, I was retrieving anything and everything. Then, as I was up 9-8, he hit a cross-nick that rolled out -- but lo and behold, I was so quickly on it that as it came out ever so slightly I turned on it and ripped a low hard shot down the rail that he couldn't get a racket on. At game ball, a few shots into the rally, he hit a loose shot that I held and dumped ever so lightly into the forehand front nick. Game over. My son, who has never complimented me in any of my squash, was a bit stunned but recovered and reminded me it took 4 nicks to get it done.

Coming off the court there was Russ Feinberg, one of my son's students waiting to get on the court with a lesson with him. I looked over at him, I had to tell someone, and just pumped my fist and said I took a game! But the person I really wanted to tell wasn't there, the fan who for so many games watched me lose again and again, and who would just smile and say youth takes over, wasn't there -- maybe Arti wasn't on the bench just watching, maybe this day he was right on the court playing through me, forever the young Brooklyn hand baller; afterall, I did play like a man possessed.


Unknown said...

Wow! Thank you so much for such a wonderful and heart warming blog. It would be an honor for me to come and watch you and your son play squash some day. Not quite like my father, but in his memory.

Your story of you and your son playing squash and the competition reminded me of the day I was able to out ski my father. It was a sad day since I always thought my dad was my Superman. He always has been and always will be my rock of Gibraltar. I am sure your son has felt the same.

Just from one blog, I can tell that you have the same inner strength and character that made my dad such a good person.


Khandroling Paper Cooperative said...

Great story, Will

Unknown said...

Great Blog!!

Loved reading it as a big Squash Fan from England.

Would love to hear your views on Squash style match-ups....if you're a boxing fan at all you'll know that the different player styles can mean that sometimes player A is favoured against B, B against C yet C against A. I find this is also true in Squash.

I find Willstrop a great tactician and controller of the game and this calmness profits against Ashour. Ashour's flair when on top form i (grudgingly as i'm a big Matthew fan) find can triumph over Matthew's tenacity and likewise Willstrop struggles to deal with the insane recoveries of Matthew. I don't think its as strong as Boxing but i do think this strange sporting phenomenon is present in Squash.

P.S Would be great to hear some more scholarly musings too!