I was how old? Fourteen? Fifteen? Anyway it was just enough to
qualify for the New England swimming championships in Worcester, Mass.,
many years ago. I don’t know how we do it these days, but then we had
“age group” swimming and I was fast enough to win the backstroke event
for 14-year-olds (or 15). The next year I was bored by swimming (and
still am), a lousy sport in which — eyes blinded by chlorine — you
can’t even see your competitors. (This was before they’d invented those
swimming goggles, which they use now.)
The next year, solicited by the coach, I tried diving, at which I won
nothing, and decided that this was boring too. Actually this time it was
really sincere boredom. Because it was like being scored for
ballroom dancing. Everything depended on your rhythm and posture, and
whether you won or lost depended on a micrometer this way or that, and I
decided it wasn’t a manly sport. Although the year after that I dated a
pretty girl, who, as it turned out, had seen me win an event in swimming
(“her” sport) when I was 15, which is pretty young to win a girl’s
heart, and I’ve always remembered it in my dealings with females and
retained a soft spot for girls.
A year or so after that, when I was a freshman at Harvard, I was
solicited by the coach of the swimming team who’d heard I was some kind
of whiz. But I told him I’d outgrown swimming, having taken up boxing,
which God knows is a manly sport. Actually I was never defeated,
although I only boxed three or four bouts, after which I promptly broke
my collarbone at gymnastics.
This was really stupid, as the Naval Academy left us unmonitored, and
it seemed to me that I could teach myself everything I needed to know
about a pansy sport like gymnastics. I was wrong. Then I was foolhardy
enough to show off by taking a flying leap from the top bar to show my
audacity and heard an audible “pop” when my collarbone broke. As far as
the Navy was concerned, it was a good move, however, as I made a point
of being upright and manly as I marched about in a cast, and was made a
company commander (of the 16th company if you keep up on those things).
Did I flinch when injured? Not on your life.
But there I was with a broken collarbone just as they began allowing
us to take shore leave and come in after midnight on Saturday night.
And, to have an athletic replacement, I began to score girls on their
kissing. I gave them high grades for energy, and this was varsity
kissing, to be sure. It was a worthy sport, I decided. It was very
interesting socially, too. I don’t want you to think I was frivolous.
One girl tried to convert me to Lutheranism, a venture I received with
great respect. We began every evening with the Apostle’s Creed.
And I am reminded deeply of all this by our vice-president, Al Gore,
whose kissing, I have decided, is in an Olympian category. He surprised
the hell out of me at first. When he first kissed Tipper I suppose I was
expecting a polite, circumspect kiss, and it was only when he really
threw himself into it that I felt this was his try for an Olympic medal
in kissing. It wasn’t that the kiss was very beautiful. Actually it was
too muscular for my taste, a bit like wrestling in the lighter weights.
I knew Al would win the first fall. But I didn’t expect him to put up
such a fight. The tension lines in his mouth and lips bore eloquent
testimony to his fighting spirit, and the only thing in the Olympics
that could compete with the Gores for fight was the Turkish wrestlers.
And Al held on for so long! Whether Tipper was struggling to get away
from him, I couldn’t see, as it almost looked as if Al, taking
Australian crocodiles as his model, was trying to eat her. And he
outweighed her. That’s for certain.
I’m all for including kissing as an Olympic event. But we’d have to
have different weight classes. Look at the difference that two inches in
the height of the bar made in women’s gymnastics. Two inches lower and
the Romanian girls made a clean sweep (gold, silver, bronze).