Fire on K-2
From high in Asia's Karakoram range last week came a terse but jubilant message: after 76 days of climbing, an Italian expedition led by Professor Ardito Desio of Milan had succeeded in reaching the 28,250-foot summit of Mount Godwin Austen (K-2)—a peak never scaled before (though six have died in attempts) and after Everest the loftiest in the world.
It is in order, therefore, to print again a piece of wisdom that helps to answer the question of why a man climbs a mountain. The words are those of Walter Lippmann and actually they were written after Amelia Earhart was given up for lost in her attempt to fly the Pacific, but they go well with the news from K-2:
"The world is a better place to live in because it contains human beings who will give up ease and security in order to do what they themselves think worth doing. They do the useless, brave, noble, divinely foolish and the very wisest things that are done by man. And what they prove to themselves and to others is that man is no mere creature of his habits, no mere automaton in his routine, but that in the dust of-which he is made there is also fire, lighted now and then by great winds from the sky."
August 15, 1954
Man and the amoeba
Among the simplest of living things is the amoeba, which does not play games.
This microscopic, nucleated mass of protoplasm, perpetually changing its shape by protruding portions of its body, nourishes itself by enveloping minute organisms. It does not fuss over cuisine. Furthermore, when an amoeba wants to reproduce it splits in two. This is the amoebic way of achieving immortality and is the best an amoeba can do.
But on the higher levels of life the animals enjoy special sauces and play games. Kittens, puppies, bear cubs, fox pups and, very likely, adolescent whales are sportive beasts. Dogs preserve the sporting instinct beyond youth and thus are especially dear to man, and so do horses. Man has therefor revered both dog and horse as "noble" animals, a term he does not apply to cats or cows.
Insects, which lie in the scheme of things somewhere between the amoeba and man, are despised, even abhorred. They enter the adult stage instantly, and since they never experience youth they never play. All things are clear to an ant from the moment he comes out of the egg. He knows what he must do and how to do it, and he does it.
The theory that kittens play at chasing spools so that one day they may be expert at chasing mice is easy and may even be true. Laboratory tests show, however, that kittens who never have seen a mouse have chased spools and that these same kittens in later years have refused to hunt mice. The theory that man likes to hit a ball with a club because it revives pleasant atavistic memories of a time when he thus dealt with his enemies may be true, too, but it is a good idea to suspect it.
Hitting something with a club is a very simple business, like chasing a spool. Up to a point, and on occasion, it is a satisfying thing to do. There are golf driving ranges and baseball-throwing machines which do a good business serving men and women who want to hire a club and something to hit with it. This is a pastime rather than a sport, however, and few would bother to go to a driving range except to improve themselves at the regular game of golf, which is a complex, highly organized amusement, and this fact supplies a clue to a fundamental difference between man and the amoeba.
Both man and the amoeba have a common, overriding problem—control of their environment. The amoeba has kept his problem minor by being easily satisfied. Almost any old wet place will do for him and he takes such food as comes along, never sending anything back to the kitchen. His reproductive method works fine. Everything comes out even. You divide one by two and you get two. The amoeba does not have to prove to himself that he is a good amoeba, good at controlling his environment.
But men do have to prove that they are good. They do not reproduce by splitting themselves in two. Theirs is a more complicated arrangement, involving partnership deals and provision for proper rearing of the young. Very often the world environment, as the afternoon papers are quick to point out, is not suited to this purpose. The business of living is likely to raise doubts, fears and anxieties in the higher animals, whereas the amoeba is always supremely confident of his ability to handle any situation. He is suited to his way of life and he is immortal.
But move up the evolutionary scale a bit and you find that there is constant need for reassurance. A dog requires a bit of applause when he has done a good job of bringing in the bird. To another animal this might be a poor, reward for giving up a duck dinner, but a dog understands glory.
It is an artificial arrangement, this business of a man shooting a bird and a dog retrieving it for him, and that is what makes it a sport. A sport is a design for living in an artificial environment, hedged with self-imposed disciplines and filled with the fear of failure and the hope of success.
While the chancelleries strive to control the world environment of man, individual man can make a world of his own—in the shape of a baseball diamond, a football field, a tennis court or a golf course. There he observes the special rules of artificial life and death. He lives to glory if he breaks par and then, refreshed with intimations of immortality, returns to his desk and the problems of the real world, purged for a little while of doubt and fear, pleasantly aware that there are areas where be is master of his fate and captain of his soul.
This is all based on the assumption that the greens committee is not a pack of idiots.
That which diverts
Since the word sport means, among other things, "that which diverts and makes mirth," it is a pleasure to salute Christopher John Chataway, runner extraordinary, partaker of the good life and sportsman.
Chataway is the orange-haired young Englishman who paced Roger Bannister to the first sub-four-minute mile and then chased John Landy to a time that was even better than Bannister's. Without detracting from the skills and accomplishments of either Bannister or Landy, it must be pointed out that appreciation of their deeds is inextricably bound up with knowledge of Bannister's utter exhaustion and his wry comment, "I had no idea it would be so hard," and with Landy's gaunt face and frame and his almost fanatic racing campaign. The over-all effect is one of labor, effort and fatigue. Chataway, while one of the world's great distance runners in his own right (especially at two and three miles, has a casual, almost carefree approach to the whole business of running.
Chataway does not neglect to train. But he smokes (generally under half a pack a day during training, somewhat more in the winter) and he does not deny himself an occasional drink. The day after he paced Bannister, he wasn't quite sure what might be his normal pulse rate—which more dedicated runners virtually chart. He lacked the vaguest idea of his chest expansion. All in all, he seems to keep before himself the fact that he is a man who wrorks for a living (he's a junior executive with the Guinness brewery people in London) and who runs for the hell of it.
In the three-mile event at Vancouver last week, after running most of the race at an almost leisurely lag, Sportsman Chataway turned on his kick and won in 13:35.2 for a new Empire Games record and a dandy little gold medal.
In Louisville at Derby time, tradition is clasped in every mint julep, felt in every note of My Old Kentucky Home, sensed in the unbroken line of Derbies run on the same track every year since 1875. In Goshen at Hambletonian time, tradition hangs as heavy as the elm branches, but it is emotion in a low key, love without tears.
The race itself is not old. It startles people to learn that the Hambletonian—which sounds like 1850—was first run in 1926. That was the year Gene Tunney beat Jack Dempsey in Philadelphia. But Orange County, of which Goshen is county seat, is as steeped in the lore of the harness horse as Boston and Philadelphia are in the lore of the Revolution. Hambletonian, the sire from whom almost all trotters and pacers stem, and for whom the race is named, was foaled in Chester, just five miles from Goshen, and stood at stud there from 1852 to 1875. Goldsmith Maid, the most famous of all harness horses (see page 142), began her career at Goshen in 1865. In Goshen people talk of trotters and pacers the way people elsewhere talk of batting averages. In Goshen the harness-horse men, the lean, leathery men of the tilt-hat-and-squint-eye school, seem perfectly at home.
Last week at Good Time Park on Hambletonian Day a man said, "Big crowd." An old man nearby nodded.
"Big crowd," he agreed, "but it ain't a money crowd. They don't bet much. Down at Yonkers, that's where they bet. A million dollars a night. I don't know where they get all that money."
He looked across the track, across the green infield to the white rails beyond, and beyond the rails to the trees and hills, and he smiled.
"The people that come here," he said, "they don't come to bet. They come to see the horses and all." He waved his hand. "To see the spectacle."
But spectacles are not enough, and traditions die. Two days after the Hambletonian was run, Bill Cane, the tough-minded old man who took the race to Goshen in the first place, announced that next year's race may be the last Hambletonian to be run there. The Hambletonian Society will meet in October to decide. Probable new site? Bill Cane's new gold mine, Yonkers Raceway.
On Sundays from now through early fall, sportsman divers wearing air tanks will be slipping off a bait barge into the deeps of Lake Hopatcong in northern New Jersey. At 35 feet they will hit a layer of chill, turbid water that, for clarity, resembles Creole gumbo. This layer, scientifically speaking, is the "thermocline," where the temperature drops sharply. Then, passing through a clearer layer of 56° water called the "hypolimnion," at 55 feet they reach bottom. One diver anchors himself and sits—or more correctly, hangs—for 30 minutes in a numbing but rather beautiful world of brown silt, soft amber light and glinting beer cans. Others head out across the lake, prowling through the thermocline and the hypolimnion.
Surface fishermen, of course, view this diving at Lake Hopatcong with suspicion: the underwater crowd up to another bit of tomfoolery, behaving like a pack of deranged lemmings hellbent for the bottom of a fjord. Actually there is a purpose and a system to it, under the direction of the Fisheries Laboratory of New Jersey's Fish and Game Division. The divers are volunteer fish watchers. They are, in fact, down there chilling their marrow to make happier times for the fishermen overhead.
In Hopatcong the fish watchers are searching specifically for the alewife, a four-inch landlocked species kin to the herring. Find the alewife and they have the missing link in a chain leading to better fishing in some 40 north Jersey lakes. The alewife is the choice diet of bass, pickerel and other sport fish; most of the season a bait dealer can net 5,000 a day. But in July and August when fishermen are most numerous, wouldn't you know it, the alewives disappear.
New Jersey suspects that the alewives may be down deep. An electronic detector can spot fish schools, but it can't tell an alewife from a yellow perch, so the Fisheries Lab called in fish watchers. "They've got to be down there somewhere," says Biologist Dick Gross, director of the alewife hunt. "We may not find alewives, but I can already tell you what brand of beer is most popular on the lake."
In a spirit of learned devil-may-care, Howard Chace, language teacher at Miami University, Ohio, rewrote a familiar fable in what at first looks like gibberish but on closer study proves to be honest English. A year ago it got printed in Gene Sherman's column in the Los Angeles Times and was picked up by the San Francisco Chronicle. Since then, it seems to have moved in more exclusive circles, often by the hand-to-hand of connoisseurs. It turned up a week ago in Nantucket, just about as far east as it could get, in a party of idling summer sailors and golfers. They found the group-deciphering and reading of it as delightful as any parlor sport they had all summer.
Clue: for "Wants pawn term" read "Once upon a time." It gets harder:
Wants pawn term, dare worsted ladle gull hoe lift wetter murder inner ladle cordage honor itch offer lodge, dock florist. Disk ladle gull orphan worry ladle cluck wetter putty ladle rat hut, end fur disk raisin pimple colder Ladle Rat Rotten Hut.
Wan moaning Rat Rotten Hut's murder colder inset: "Ladle Rat Rotten Hut, heresy ladle basking winsome burden barter end shirker cockles. Tick disk ladle basking tudor cordage offer groin murder hoe lifts honor udder site offer florist. Shaker lake! Dun stopper laundry wrote! Dun stopper peck floors! Dun daily-doily inner florist, an yonder nor sorghum stenches dun stopper torque wet strainers."
"Hoe-cake, murder," resplendent Ladle Rat Rotten Hut, end tickle ladle basking an stuttered oft. Honor wrote tudor cordage offer groin murder, Ladle Rat Rotten Hutmitten anomalous woof. "Wail, wail, wail," set disk wicket woof, "evanescent Ladle Rat Rotten Hut! Wares or putty gull goring wizard ladle basking?"
"Armor goring tumor groin murder's," reprisal ladle gull. "Grammar's seeking bet. Armor ticking arson burden barter end shirker cockles."
"O hoe! Heifer blessing woke," setter wicket woof. Butter taught tomb shelf, "Oil tickle shirt court tudor cordage offer groin murder. Oil ketchup wetter letter. End den—oh bore!"
Soda wicket woof tucker shirt court, end whinny retched a cordage offer groin murder, picket inner window an sore debtor pore oil worming worse lion inner bet. Inner flesh disk abdominal woof lipped honor betting adder rope. Zany pool dawn a groin murder's nut cup and gnat gun, any curdle dope inner bet.
Inner ladle wile, Ladle Rat Rotten Hut a raft attar cordage an ranker dough ball.
"Comb ink, sweat hard," setter wicket woof, disgracing is verse.
"Oh, grammar," crater ladle gull. "Wart bag icer gut!
"Buttered lucky chew whiff, doling," whiskered disk ratchet woof, wetter wicket small.
"Oh, grammar, water bag noise! A nervous sore suture anomalous prognosis!"
"Buttered small your whiff," inserter woof, ants mouse worse waddling.
"Oh, grammar, water bag mousey gut! A nervous sore suture bag mouse!"
Daze worry on forger nut gull's lest warts. Oil offer sodden throne offer carvers an sprinkling otter bet, disk curl an bloat Thursday woof ceased pore Ladle Rat Rotten Hut an garbled erupt.
Mural: Yonder nor sorghum stenches shut ladle gulls stopper torque wet strainers.
Put out more flags
Along time ago, during Prohibition in fact, a yachtsman put in at Abercrombie & Fitch's eighth floor, where they sell fishing tackle and camping and yachting supplies to New Yorkers who want to escape. The yachtsman wanted A & F to design him a signal flag which would advise his friends in the fleet that he was serving drinks aboard, something he could run up whenever he felt lonely.
Mr. Ray Langan, who manages the floor, designed a simple little thing—a green highball glass on a white field—and then, thinking it might interest other yachtsmen, asked the originator if he would let the store use his design. The man said no, explaining that he wanted the particular design to be his exclusively, but added that A & F might adapt the idea.
After some discouraging talk with other A & F executives, who felt that few Prohibition-day yachtsmen would be likely to advertise the presence of liquor aboard their vessels, what with lurking Coast Guard cutters and all, Mr. Langan stubbornly brought forth a cocktail flag, showing a red cocktail glass "emblazoned on a white field, giving somewhat the effect of a Jack Rose.
It was thought not seemly to advertise or otherwise promote the flag and so it was laid quietly on a counter, where people passing by might inquire about it if they liked. During the first year 1,700 yachtsmen, and possibly some fraternity houses, bought the flag.
In the years since then the cocktail flag has been a steady seller and has become an international symbol of seagoing hospitality, as familiar to the Riviera as on Montego Bay. A convention has grown up whereby the flag, flown upside down as a distress signal, means "Who's got a drink?"
Last year Mr. Langan came up with a beer flag, showing an old-fashioned beer mug with foaming head rampant on a field of blue. Seen from a far distance on a clear day, the blue fades into the sky and one gets the impression that a cool mug of beer is riding-over the waves. It is very attractive and could have been used by the Lorelei.
A & F sells other such advisory flags, among them one which signals that the owner of the yacht is aboard but sleeping and would rather not be disturbed. This one bears a symbol which looks like two fat commas embracing—the Yang and Yin sign.
Early this spring Mr. Langan was appealed to by a customer with a problem. The customer, for reasons best known to himself, wanted a flag which would signal that his wife was aboard. A & F asked no questions but designed one for him. It shows a red battle-ax on a blue field and is selling like crazy.
THE RAREST TROPHY IN U.S. GOLF
There is the Walker Cup, the Ryder Cup, the Curtis Cup and a score of other coveted cups. But no trophy in all of golfdom is so prized by the few who have it as this one: the President's golf ball; value $1.10.
Only a handful of golfers have ever seen this ball in action—for not many have had the chance to play golf with the President of the U.S. Eisenhower's ball, a Spalding Dot, is 1.68 inches in diameter, weighs 1.62 ounces, like the thousands of other golf balls being chipped, chopped and whacked around the U.S.'s 5,056 public and private courses. The big difference—which makes it a prized memento—is the legend in tidy red letters: MR PRESIDENT.