Pop quiz: When you hear the term “PSA,” what comes to mind?
Many people will answer: Public Service Announcement. For men of a certain age, another likely response is more ominous (prostate-specific antigen, to be precise). Only a select few will say “Professional Squash Association,” which refers to the organization that oversees squash, a fiercely competitive racquet sport played in an indoor court with a squishy little black ball that goes up to 170 miles per hour.
In the United States, squash remains pretty obscure, but it has a realistic chance of becoming an Olympic sport, and the PSA sponsors a tour, organizing more than 200 tournaments annually all over the world. Last week, the tour found its way to Charlotte, North Carolina. In an act of extraordinary generosity, the promoters invited me to participate as a wild-card entry.
In plain English, “wild card” is shorthand for “not good enough to qualify on one’s own merits.” To be sure, my participation wasn’t entirely random. When Richard Nixon was president, I competed in national junior tournaments, and during the Ford Administration, I played on a national championship team in college. (To give some idea of how long ago this was, in our triumphant year, “Afternoon Delight” was the national champion of songs.) After a hiatus of about 15 years, I fell head-over-heels in love with the game again in 2008—with its breakneck speed, its emphasis on both power and skill, its grace and sheer physicality, and, above all, its constant demand for immediate decisions. In squash, it’s not unusual to have five apparently reasonable options from which to choose in less than a second—with two leading to victory and three to catastrophe. The most common question: Play it safe, or take a risk?