As all the speakers at athletic banquets tell us, the great athletes set a standard of conduct for the rest of us to follow. This path has always been a difficult one, but lately it has become more so. Now we have to learn how to quit.
The quitting thing has been coming on slowly for some time. Wilt Chamberlain has, of course, regularly quit at contract time, and Gump Worsley quits at airports. Rudy La Russo quit to go into stocks and bonds, Tom Meschery quit to go into the Peace Corps, Timmy Brown quit to go into show biz, but they all unquit when they were traded to new teams. Bobby Hull quit for awhile, and Mickey Mantle quit after they sold a few more season tickets.
Now suddenly quitting has really become the rage. Donn Clendenon quit, and then Rusty Staub said he would quit if Donn Clendenon's quitting affected him. Ken Harrelson quit because he was traded, and Maury Wills quit because he wasn't. Even Jose Azcue quit. Bill Russell was rumored to be quitting a couple of weeks ago, and Jerry Lucas is supposed to be about to make his announcement. At this point there are only two formalities for quitting: 1) calling a press conference, and 2) crying. Joe Namath, of course, probably did it best. Everyone is learning how to get the most out of quitting.
In fact, right after Harrelson quit, I told Clarissa, my wife, to get dressed because we were going to the Mundys for drinks. My wife said: "I won't go."
"What do you mean?" I said. " 'I accepted the invitation for you. The husband has this right, and you are bound to go to cocktails with me."
"I have nothing against the Mundys," Clarissa explained. "Their hors d'oeuvres are always good, their stereo is excellent and the drinks are strong. I have nothing against the Mundys at all, but I have a good thing here. I have some frozen banana daiquiris on ice, an air-conditioned room with a chaise longue and I have a good dirty book to read. What do I need with the Mundys?"
"I appreciate that the Mundys' party will upset your arrangements," I said with compassion, "but, as is my right, I have accepted their invitation. Also, because I did, the Mundys then went and invited the Reeses. If you don't come, the Reeses will have to go a great distance just to see the Mundys."
"The last thing I want to do is to inconvenience the Mundys or the Reeses," Clarissa replied. "But I must do what is best for me in the long run."
"All right," I said, "I'm sorry, but I must order you to go. I never thought it would come to this, but I must call your attention to the marriage contract which stipulates etc., etc. and obey. Now, Clarissa, put on your new uniform—I mean your new dress—and let's go."
"No, I won't go," my wife said firmly. "I am afraid that I will have to quit."
"Quit!" I cried. But it was too late. She was already out the door and had told the paper boy to round up the neighbors. A tense crowd quickly gathered.
"I want to make it plain," Clarissa began, "that my quitting marriage should cast no aspersions on the Mundys. I hope, in fact, to visit the Mundys sometime in the future. It is just that now, at this time, it is not good for my situation to visit the Mundys."
"Does this mean that you are through with marriage for good?" asked Roger Hooker, our next-door neighbor.
"I am afraid so," my wife said. "As much as I regret it, I don't see any other way, since principle is involved. This will, of course, mean a great sacrifice to me. I may have to go to work."
Clarissa began to sob softly at this point as Dutch Bailliere, from two houses down, approached with his new Polaroid, and Jack Winter, from across the street, began to roll the Super-8.
At last, desperate, I brought in my mother-in-law, the former Doreen Wrath of suburban Missoula, Mont. We huddled, and the situation was not improving until my mother-in-law wondered if the guarantee of a new bedspread might expedite matters. Clarissa was unmoved by that proposal, but hinted (through her counsel, cagey Louise McAdams of the Bridge Club) that materialization of the long-promised new living room suite might loosen the logjam. I balked at this, but a promise of one bedspread and one sofa seemed to satisfy all parties. Soon thereafter, at the Mundys, Clarissa was able to commandeer a coffee table long enough to apologize for the difficulty she had caused and to assure all assembled that she would not let what had happened in any way detract from the rest of her performance at the party. "I am back in the swing," she told a spokesman.
We hardly got home that night before the word was out that Maury Wills was quitting an $85,000-a-year contract and that Majestic Prince was quitting the Belmont. The house was curiously quiet, and I found my 8-year-old son in a darkened living room, staring at a vase.
"What is it, Trevor?" I asked.
"I'm quitting, Dad," he said.
"You are sure?"
"Yes, I'm ending my career of watching television."
"Is this an irrevocable decision?"
"Yes, the way I feel now," he said, "although, in some future time slot I may change my channel."
"What's the matter, son?" I cried. "Didn't we get you the color set you demanded?" I asked. "Didn't we get you the remote-control gadgets? Didn't we get you the Cablevision? Don't we spell out the words phonetically for you in the TV Guide so you can deal with written English? Didn't we agree to your demands to increase your viewing time from a minimum of 18 hours a day to 20? Didn't we put the Sony portable in the bathroom? Didn't we take you out of what you called the 'live-audience' school and let you major in the 6 a.m. Spanish lessons on Channel 79? And now, with the reruns coming on in legion, when we need all the help we can muster before the set, now you quit."
"It wasn't an easy decision," he said, "but I believe it is best for all concerned."
Later, in prime time that evening, Trevor spoke to the other youngsters from the neighborhood who had gathered at our door. "I don't want to let anybody down," he said, sobbing. "I'm still only 8, and I thought that I had a lot of good years of watching ahead of me, but overnight, my eyes seemed to go."
"Are you sure," asked little Walter Lippincott, "that you aren't getting out now for a while, but will be back fresh later on in the season when all the big specials come on?"
"Getting out?" Trevor cried. "Why would I want to get out? This has been my whole life, watching television. I don't want to quit. What else can I do? I don't move about very well, I am losing my peripheral vision, and while I am still only 8 years old, I sound like the voice-over for the Eastern Airlines ads. Besides, although I speak beautiful Spanish, I am otherwise totally uneducated. Sabe usted?"
It was a moving scene, and 6-year-old Dede Whitaker asked me for my views. "I know that Trevor has not been at his best lately," I began, draping an arm about my son's shaking shoulders. "Sure, he's been in a slump, but part of the trouble has been in the set, and you can't blame that on any one viewer. I'll take the blame for that. Me and the missus have been burning the wires trying to get a repairman who can improve this set, but nobody is offering the kind of deal that can help this family. We're going right down to the shopping center to buy Trevor a new set."
"Do you think?" ponytailed Hope Carroll asked, "that if you were shifted to another set, Trevor, you would reconsider your quitting?"
"Absolutely not," Trevor quickly replied. "The rumors that I am just looking for a new set are totally unfounded. The set here is not going real good now, but the family has been good to me, and I just wouldn't want to go anywhere else."
Trevor moped about that night, staring at the rotisserie and manipulating Venetian blinds, listening to the audio from our TV room. We could sense how hard it was for him to be on his own after all those years. I was not too surprised the next afternoon at the office when I picked up the phone and heard my child's authoritative baritone voice. (One had to recognize Trevor's voice, because he never identified himself at the beginning of a conversation, waiting—in the style of news commentators—until the end before giving his name.)
"After thinking over my decision and reconsidering all the implications about quitting," the resonant voice said, "I have decided, at this time, that it would not be wise to quit. A 36-inch screen has been my dream. And the sequined dials are beyond belief. Therefore, I am asking to be reinstated, effective immediately. This is Trevor, home news, speaking direct from family central."
Although I was relieved that one more quitting had been reversed, I was sorry about the news that followed that Joe Namath had quit, too. The office was still buzzing over that later in the day when I was called in to see Mr. Tarpaulin, the boss. He informed me that I was spending too much time on coffee breaks and would have to cut it out, especially since it had also been noticed that I was ogling the new pool secretary, Miss Trimble.
I immediately agreed with Mr. Tarpaulin, but later, I rethought the matter and decided instead to call a press conference for the next morning around the water cooler. Crying unobtrusively, I filled in my position. "I have no personal bone to pick with Mr. Tarpaulin," I said. "He is certainly entitled to his opinion in this matter. I don't want to leave the Tarpaulin Grommet Company. Being involved with the production of grommets is something I have loved for many years. But, when it comes to a matter of principle, I am forced to quit."
Luckily, although it is sometimes whispered that you cannot compromise principle, we found a way out. What happened was, Mr. Tarpaulin got a good look at Miss Trimble, so he invited both of us to join him in his private office for all coffee breaks. And it was just great until Miss Trimble quit.