Squash Prodigy, Novelist Ivy Pochoda Writes About Heights Casino in NY Times Magazine

The New York Times Magazine features a short piece by former Brooklyn Heights resident Ivy Pochoda about her time as a squash prodigy via the Heights Casino. It’s an interesting peek into the culture of this neighborhood institution:

NYT Magazine: The Brooklyn of the Heights Casino was not the bohemian and streetwise borough of Jonathan Lethem’s “Fortress of Solitude” or the offbeat intellectual world of Noah Baumbach’s “Squid and the Whale.” In my early days at the Casino, a few women wore elephant lapel pins in solidarity, one told me, “with my husband’s party.” They shopped at Ann Taylor and signed their kids up for ballroom dancing. This was Brooklyn as a true suburb of Manhattan, offering a more casual version of the country-club life of Greenwich or Rye.

Pochoda now lives in Los Angeles and published her novel, The Art of Disappearing: A Novel” target=”_blank”>The Art of Disappearing, in 2010. Her next effort, Visitation Street, is scheduled for a July 2013 release.

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  • Meruvian

    Something about the Casino always makes me think of the guillotine…

  • QfwfqfwfQ

    testing 123 testing

  • HeightsResident

    As someone who grew up in Brooklyn Heights at the same time as Ivy, and also played squash with her at the Heights Casino, I read the article with mixed emotions. While the Casino was, and remains, a private club, it offered the country club atmosphere of Rye and Greenwich to people living in NYC. Like all private clubs, the Heights Casino has a membership process that, for better or for worse, dictates who can join. Despite one’s opinion of such a system, no one can argue against the fact that the Casino offered the opportunity for hundreds of young boys and girls to learn the game of squash and carry it forward in life. The Casino provided the platform for many of them to became top juniors and travel the country and world participating in squash tournaments. That in itself is enough, but an added benefit was of mastering a skill that strengthened their college applications. I wonder, where would Ivy , and many others including myself, had ended up without having played squash? An Ivy League School? Maybe…maybe not. And the lessons she learned at Harvard, would they have been as instructive and strong at a different school had she not played squash and not been admitted to Harvard? Did squash have any impact on opening doors for her (as it did for many of us) that would not have been available if she had said good riddance to the Casino at age 12 and not become a top junior? Would Ivy been able to travel as a professional squash player throughout the world, and experience the joy of meeting so many people from different backgrounds, if she had not played squash every morning at 6:00 am at the Casino with 50 other motivated young kids followed by lessons after school? Who knows, but the Casino to me and many other kids taught us a life skill on and off the court…how to prepare for competition, how to deal with losing, how to master a skill…and remains a game you can play for life. Is the Casino or any other private club perfect? No. At the time Ivy and I were growing up the game squash was only played at private clubs. For the most part that is still true, but various programs that Ivy mentioned, such as the urban squash programs City Squash and Street Squash, have thankfully opened up the game to kids outside the private club arena. Because of these programs, more and more kids are playing around the country who 15 years ago never would have played squash. This is great news! The “elitist” members of clubs like the Casino give back in innumerable ways to these programs both as mentors and teachers, not to mention financially. I have many friends who volunteer and donate their time and money to these organizations because they know how much it will help the lives of these kids. But to toss the Height Casino and basically all private clubs aside with only negative commentary makes me feel that Ivy has little appreciation for her junior coaches, the lessons she learned, friendships made, and the doors that opened for her before and after her professional career ended.

    Finally, comparing fans at a professional adult squash event in the Winter Garden to those at a junior event being played by an 11 year old girl or boy is silly. As a junior who played in over 100 junior tournaments, I was never told to not cheer but rather to be respectful spectator….to not cheer when someone makes an error, to applaud good effort, and to respect an opponent. Call me crazy, but I think these are good things to teach our kids. And should we really have our young players aspire to head butting and verbal abuse?

  • Gerry

    We are members of the Heights Casino. I have been called an elitist by blogers here and by people from other walks of life. Yes its true i am an elitist.

  • harumph

    @HeightsResident thank you for sharing your story – as I have 2 kids that are playing squash, and we are not a member of any club, your viewpoint is a more realistic and thoughtful view on squash. I have many Casino member friends, and while I have no desire (nor money) to join, I don’t really think this excludes me or my children from the world of squash. Tennis use to be viewed this way as well – and it has been decades and decades since we have considered tennis a privileged sport. For the author, it is time to grow up and move on, we all have.