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'Born At E.T.'s Knee'
Franz Lidz
May 16, 1983
Mark Talbott, who has just finished a magical season in squash, is out of this world on and off the court
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May 16, 1983

'born At E.t.'s Knee'

Mark Talbott, who has just finished a magical season in squash, is out of this world on and off the court

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In the mid-'60s Doug had trouble with drugs and liquor. He was in and out of treatment centers and lost his practice and his inheritance. "Mark took it all very hard," says Dave. "He blamed himself for what was happening to Doccy." But Doug recovered and moved to Baltimore. He lived by himself for a time, managing a clinic and two halfway houses for down-and-out alcoholics. Today, Doug runs a treatment center outside Atlanta for drug addicts and alcoholics and, with the help of Polly, 10 recovery houses for people suffering from these ailments. Doug and Polly have done well enough to afford a second home in the Keys, where they've installed what Mark claims is the southernmost squash court in America.

"Doccy's sickness brought us closer together," says Mark. "It made us realize how important the family is." Doug now keeps a daily journal in which he jots down such homespun homilies as: "Only Robinson Crusoe got things done by Friday," and "Even Jesus couldn't pick 12 good friends." He has them printed up every year in a pocket calendar that has A THOUGHT FOR THE DAY FOR THE TALBOTT FAMILY emblazoned in gold on the cover. Doug hands out copies of the calendar at Christmas. Mark carries his with him to tournaments. The entry on the eve of his match with Khan at the Canadian Open was: "You can tell more about a man in 30 minutes in a duck blind or a squash court than seeing him in the office for two whole months."

As a rookie on the tour, Talbott was devastated by the conduct of his fellow pros, i.e., the blocking, the lethal swings, the psychological ploys. After one particularly galling defeat, he told Dave, "I'm never going to lose to those bastards again. Squash doesn't have to be this way. I'm going to set an example."

And he did. "He's changed the nature of the sport," says Hilbert. "We used to scratch and claw for points. He brought sportsmanship and integrity to the court. His style of play has affected others."

On match point in the finals of one tournament this year, his opponent, second-ranked Ned Edwards, stopped after hitting a shot he thought was out. But Talbott played the ball and easily put it away. Realizing that Edwards could have gotten to the putaway if he had not stopped, Talbott insisted that they play the point over. He wound up losing the game—"I didn't want to win that way," says Talbott—but winning the match. Edwards, by the way, is the only player to have beaten Talbott this season. Edwards also happens to be one of his best friends on the tour. Talbott was magnanimous in that defeat. "I'm so pleased Ned won," he told Doug.

The three dozen players on the tour sometimes seem like an extended family, sometimes like warring clans. The 56-year-old World Professional Squash Association regulates the game and oversees events. Nevertheless, Mennen, the toiletry company, has been able to run an unsanctioned tournament in Toronto. For the last four years the WPSA has asked its members to boycott the event. Talbott was the first player to decline Mennen's invitation, and a sure shot at the $12,000 first prize. "It was a question of honor," he says. "Squash is an important part of my life, but not as important as my friends or family."

Talbott celebrated his brother Bob's birthday in February with an elaborate treasure hunt at their parents' house. The first clue, partly in Glinglish, was fastened to the back of a Grateful Dead button: "Her emporyous is surrounded by many brilliant knights. She sees as they grow and then retreats and gains strength."

That led to the front lawn, where another riddle was folded in the petals of a solitary daffodil. Bob and Sue, whom Mark calls the elfie stumpletons, which is long for "short elves," spent the next four hours wending through hills and glades outside Atlanta until they came to a ring of "power trees" on a ridge of Stone Mountain. Hidden in a mound of pine needles was a clue about a "stysle place" that pointed them back to the Talbott home. There, the final clue was tied with red cellophane ribbon to Zuma's tail: "My love for you blazes above all."

Buried under the gray ashes of the fireplace was a pouch bulging with silver dollars. Bob and Mark embraced and wept. It wasn't until after Mark left that the stumpletons counted their treasure—1,000 coins.

"Giving us silver dollars made it like it wasn't money," says Sue. "It's more like a toy."

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