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Thursday, June 13, 2002

June 13, 2002 - Jerry Dumas - Will Y's handball court exist only in dreams?

Will Y's handball court exist only in dreams?

After we had talked for a few moments, he revealed the main purpose of his call. He had, just before he woke up, a vivid dream. In it, he and I were playing racquetball on the Greenwich YMCA handball and racquetball court. We have actually done that quite often whenever he has managed to come home for a visit. He said that after we had finished a point, I walked away a bit unsteadily, mumbled something, then collapsed to the floor.

In the dream, he was now faced with a dilemma: Should he begin to work on me or should he call 911? The problem was that there was absolutely nobody else around, and he didn't want to leave me. But his training told him that he must call 911 and get an ambulance and equipment on the way, so he ran out of the handball court and up the stairs to the gym, where there were two guys playing one-on-one at the far end.

He says that he called to them to run to a phone, but the chilling part was that he wasn't sure they understood, or if the did, were going to bother to do anything about it. He then turned and started running back down the stairs, and that is where his dream ended, as those dreams usually do. Something in our brains switches off, not wanting anything to do with endings.

He realized, however, that the phone call to me was a sort of catharsis, a way of exorcising the dream; once he told me about it and heard my voice, he felt the whole thing was then finally concluded. And just maybe he had to find out that it has not really happened after all.

His right foot is in a cast at the moment, so he and I are unlikely to be playing any sports when he comes up from Florida this July. And I told him that by the time he gets up here a second time, perhaps sometime next year, there probably wouldn't be any handball-racquetball court. I said the YMCA had received permission from the town to double its size, and the court stood in the way of the proposed Olympic-sized swimming pool, according to the architect, and would have to be torn down.

"How can they do that?" John said. (I love this boy.) "Isn't it a historic court? Isn't the Greenwich Y court where racquetball was invented?"

I told him that he certainly brought up an interesting point. The YMCA had got permission to build a much larger structure than allowed because of something called "historic overlay." That is, the board of directors gets the rules bent in return for a promise to keep the existing historic structure as it is.

The main building is truly lovely and should be preserved at all costs. (I was a member of the YMCA board of directors 20 years ago when the board was split almost 50-50 between those of us who wanted to preserve and beautify the present structure and those who wanted to sell the building and its property to a developer for the now-mind-numbing sum of $2 million.) But I am not aware that anything historic ever happened in the beautiful main building. The only truly historic part of the YMCA is its almost 70-year-old handball court, and although many are not aware of it, that is the only part of the building scheduled for demolition.

The court is, incidentally, in wonderful shape, except for its somewhat subdued lighting. I once had the U.S. handball champion, John Bike, and the Canadian national champion, Danny Bell, come to play at the Y with us, and they later pronounced it one of the best courts they had ever played on. (They don't make 'em like this anymore, and all that.)

A new court, which will still be the only court in town, is earmarked for inclusion as part of the new gym, but it's anybody's guess whether the court will be strong and sound or flimsy and dead, or when it will become a fact.

In the end, I told John that I'm still here, and the historic court is still here. I told him to keep his fingers crossed for both of us.

Jerry Dumas, who lives in Greenwich, writes and draws the comic strip Sam and Silo and contributes gags to Beetle Bailey. His articles have appeared in Smithsonian, The Atlantic Monthly and other periodicals.

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