In 1967, the Curse of the Jayvee Scar touches not just me. My best friend on the crew, Bob Harrison, who in Napoleonic fashion that very year has crowned himself "Mr. Bulk-Giant" in honor of his prowess pumping iron, Bob is demoted from First to Second Boat along with me, he being replaced by a sweet beanpole of a fellow named Henry Ingersoll, part of my 145-pound Undine Eight in Canada, the other half of the former Third Boat stern-pair with Joe Lehman. It seems that Henry and Joe come as a matched set . . . as do Bob and I. And so Harrison and Mallory, the two strongest weightlifters on the squad, find themselves replaced by Lehman and Ingersoll, co-stars of the movie Weak and Weaker.
I wanted an explanation
I wanted an explanation! But none was forthcoming. I couldn't accept that, and thus I continued my soon-enough-to-be-decades-long quest for an answer, an explanation . . . for peace, resolution, redemption.
And now you know why I am writing today.
"My pathway led by confusion boats
Mutiny from stern to bow.
Ah, but I was so much older then.
I'm younger than that now."
- Bob Dylan
But I can't leave 1967, my senior season at Penn, without telling you how it all turned out. You know, maybe I was wrong about Joe Lehman and Henry Ingersoll. With them in stern pair, the Varsity Eight was absolutely terrific on that first day of the Jayvee Scar and only got faster.
At the beginning of the season the Cornell Lightweights come to Philadelphia to race us on the Schuylkill River. Their First Boat arrives hungry, having lost to Harvard in the previous year's Eastern Sprints. Harvard went on to win the Thames Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta in England, the goal of all American collegiate lightweight rowers. That cup should have been Cornell's cup! They had previously been undefeated since the end of the 1964 season.
My old prep school friend, Chris Williams, is now stroking their 1967 Varsity Eight. Joe, Henry, Captain Larry and the rest of the Penn Crew give them a Hell of a race and lose by just over a length only in the last 200 meters. History will reveal that no one else that year will come as close to this determined Big Red boat.
Bob Harrison and I have sulked a bit in our new roles in the Greek chorus, exiled to Elba, as it were, but by the time the stitches are removed from my thigh, we have both knuckled down to the job at hand. On this day of the first race of the season, we row out to the start line against the Cornell Jayvee with the words "Lightweight Rowing's Strongest Weight-Lifting Pair" written in magic marker on white athletic tape and stuck to gunwales of our Pocock shell next to our seats. Classy! At least we still have our overly-inflated egos intact . . .
Despite (?) our best efforts in the 5- and 6-seats, the Jayvee doesn't swing very well. We haven't been particularly close to the Varsity in practice, and so in our race we are quite pleased when after 1,500 meters we have only fallen three-quarters of a length behind the mighty Cornellians. During our entire college careers, none of us had ever been anywhere near this close to the men from Ithaca this late in a race. And so with 500 meters to go we are quite comfortable with losing . . . but excited about finishing respectably. Our coxswain, Saul Berman - Yes, Saul, too, has made that sentimental journey to the Jayvee. It appears my illness, my condition, is infectious! - Saul calls for a perfunctory sprint, and, what the Hell, we give him a perfunctory response.
Well, what do you know? We come flying up on Cornell and lose by only a foot at the line. Who'd a thunk it? We are absolutely astonished . . . too astonished to be disappointed that we have come so very, very close without actually winning. This day after our race with Cornell we return to the Penn dock to a pretty happy Fred Leonard. Two narrow losses in the Varsity and Jayvee, and our freshmen have actually won. Against Cornell!! Oh my! Good start to the season. No question about that!
Now, as I have already mentioned, every collegiate race in the country includes a traditional wager, every member of the winning crew receiving as booty the racing shirt worn by the corresponding member of the losing crew. In a three-boat race the winners receive two shirts each. In a championship, the winners can go home with a whole caboose-full.
With the gift of hindsight, I can report to you that in my life I never won a Cornell shirt. Supplied Penn shirts to a host of Cornellians over the years, starting in 1964 with that fellow I would later run into in Yosemite, and ending on this particular weekend my senior year. Chris Williams comes over to me as I am stripping off my racing shirt and handing it to my victorious Cornell Jayvee counterpart, a pleasant fellow named Billy Brown - sounds like Buster Brown's little brother, better yet a kid in the 1930s Little Rascals comedy shorts, don't you think? One of Spanky's buddies.
Anyway, Chris compliments me on our performance but says that a couple of his Varsity teammates are interested in discussing with Bob and me this "Strongest Weight-Lifting Pair" sign of ours. He is about to call one particular fellow over when I beg him to allow Bob and me to preserve our fantasy. For Heaven's sake, it's all we have left! Chris acquiesces, and so I will have to wait twenty-two more years to meet Eric Loberg, who spent his high school days in Ithaca beating Martin Dominguez in tennis and is spending his college days beating Martin Dominguez in crew. Is this a small world or what? (If only I could have seen the future, I would have set aside my ego and shaken Eric Loberg's hand that very day!)
That Jayvee crew of ours turns out to have a very satisfying season. We come to look forward to, believe in and rely upon that sprint. Yessirree! We don't lose another race after Cornell, and later in the season we actually catch M.I.T. after falling a full two lengths behind.
I remember in particular one happenstance from our second race when it is the Yale and Columbia Jayvees' turn to fall victim to our newly-recognized withering sprint. And so I win a Yale shirt and a Columbia shirt, but that's not the interesting thing. The interesting thing is the Columbia guy who hands me his shirt is none other than James Simon Kunen, who later will write The Strawberry Statement, Notes of a College Revolutionary, a very entertaining book about how he used sneak out of the university president's office where he was participating in the Columbia student occupation and sit-down strike, how he used to sneak off campus through underground passages . . . to go to crew practice! Look at the cover! Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. approved of his book! I love this guy! They even made a movie out of his book featuring several young actors before they made names for themselves. My movie review book gives it two stars out of four.
When I won his shirt that day in 1967, neither of us realized that we would eventually get around to writing books involving rowing. Too bad. I'm sure we would have had a lot more to say to each other that day . . . if we had only known. Is this a small world or what?
By the way, occasionally you can still find a copy of The Strawberry Statement on the internet. I recommend it. "Jim, my fellow Ivy Leaguer, fellow oarsman and fellow scribbler, call me. I'm in the phone book. La Jolla, California. We have a lot of catching up to do, us being authors and all."
To be continued . . .
|Log in to comment|
There are no Comments yet