Sojourning in the nation’s capital has made me slightly more attuned to the political, despite the quirky fact that because I live in the District of Columbia I do not have the right to vote. (This taxation without representation system is still happening at home two hundred and twenty-four years after the Boston Tea Party.) One thing I have seen closeup is that The West Wing was a very strong television show, at least because it covered squash.
Covered might be a little strong. There were three mentions. West Wing started seven years ago last month, and today is the four-year anniversary of the original airing of one of West Wing’s great episodes: “The Dogs of War.” It was season five, episode two. Ryan Pierce made his appearance as Josh Lyman’s intern. Pierce was played by Jesse Bradford, a young actor most well-known for Steven Soderburgh’s King of the Hill from 1993 and Flags of Our Fathers from 2006 (he also appeared in Presumed Innocent in 1990 with both Bradley Whitford (Josh) and John Spencer (Leo), which is presumably how he made his way to West Wing a decade later).
Pierce tried to ingragiate himself with Josh by playing the name game from their mutual alma mater, Harvard. He mentioned Elliott Cabot and then Hamilton Pew. Ham Pew, he said, played on the squash team. “Ham’s squash team went 9-0 in ‘89. Ham was All Ivy three years in a row.” Josh said, “I wasn’t much into squash.”
Not to parse this too much, but Harvard, which lately has had the leanest schedule in college squash, usually has more than nine dual matches in a season (last year they played eleven matches; most teams play about thirteen or fourteen; Trinity plays more than twenty). In addition, the real kick is All American, as being All Ivy has never really been the resume headliner, especially in the past Trinity-dominated decade when it has been a serious consolation prize. And Harvard did not go undefeated in 1989, losing to Yale in a celebrated match at the nationals.
In two episodes from season six, squash reappeared. (In a October 2004 episode, there was a quick mention of squash in a much different context. When the White House was trying to get the Palestinian Authority president to arrest a terrorist named Nasan, Toby said: “He’s not going to punish Nasan. He’s rounded up terrorists before. He walks them past Al Jazerra for show and then puts them under house arrest in a palace with a squash court and high-speed internet access.”) In December 2004 a writer, Roger Grant approached Squash Magazine about getting squash lingo for a March 2005 episode. Amy Duchene, Will Carlin and I shoveled a truckload of verbiage, slang and nomenclature his way. Will even turned his offerings into one of his back-page columns for the magazine.
The episode, “A Good Day,” featured Mark Feuerstein (Princeton, ‘93) as Clifford Calley. Clifford and the Speaker of the House had a regular Thursday squash game. In the first scene, Clifford says “This won’t affect my serve. I’m going to slaughter you tomorrow—straight games.” A little clunky, but okay. (The Speaker replies, “Save it for the court, dude.” Now THAT is more typical.)
The second scene has Clifford and CJ laying out the plan to fool the Speaker. “This is where squash comes in,” says Clifford.
“The sport or the vegetable?” says CJ. (Is that joke old enough by now?)
“I punish the Speaker every Thursday in a standing match…I shut him out with my awesome forehand….Here’s how it will go: ‘Oh, nice nick’—squash talk.”
“He says, ‘thanks, let please,’—I played a little squash….Might work—going to have to let him win a game.”
Yes, funnelled from the great minds at Squash Magazine right into the first great show of our new century. Ah, squash talk.
Jim McQueenie died last month at the age of seventy-four. Like Doug McLaggan, who died in April, McQueenie was another product of the Edinburgh Sports Club who worked as a squash pro at clubs around the U.S. and Canada. Born in Long Niddrey, Scotland, McQueenie ended up at the Indianapolis Athletic Club, one of the great Midwest clubs (it hosted both what is now the U.S. Open and the Tournament of Champions in the mid-1960s; it has struggled to overcome a 1992 fire).
McQueenie was a very good player (he was a top-ten professional on the hardball circuit for more than a decade), but he will be remembered more for his efforts in bridging the age-old divide between amateurs and pros. As president of the North American Professional Squash Racquets Association (which became the WPSA which amalgamated with the pro softball tour to become the PSA), he elected women members for the first time and helped secure the Bancroft contract for the USSRA in 1975, the first corporate sponsorship deal in the history of the USSRA. Most of all, he became the first pro to be elected to the USSRA executive, in 1979, a watershed moment for the American game.