April 30, 1952, on "Ted Williams Day,"before 24,767 at Fenway Park, the "Kid" plays his final game before going to Korea as a Marine fighter pilot. In his last-at-bat, Williams hits a game-winning, two-run homer against Detroit's Dizzy Trout to give the Red Sox a 5-3 win.
There was another machination in play that day which caused quite a tradition-shattering event on the Harvard milieu. It involved me, then a junior at the college and bursting with the "everything is another chapter in the magical book of life" proclivity, which has has shaped and molded me for my entire life, for better or worse. But what a way to live---tackling every challenge as a romantic adventure which cannot spawn a loser, even if things go a bit awry. My rose colored glasses, you see, are quite permanent. Viva la venture!
The idea hit me the night before--a romantic, challenging adventure from which, once conceived, there was no turning back. The lure of the risk was intoxicating and therefore irresistible. The instant my brain began its incubation, I was hooked and seat belts were fastened.
The trigger for this foray into madness was a remark made by a classmate, the involuntary commitment of whom became my life's ambition which , as I look back on things, was accomplished with the haste necessary to afford my sadistic glands complete satisfaction.
One balmy day, as I was walking in the Haavaad Yaad, (having already paaked my caar)---this bobo, a math major doomed to crash and burn, announced to one and all that the odds of Ted Williams hitting a home run in this farewell game were 20 to 1. What this cast -member of Deliverance, one pump short of being born an ape, failed to realize was that these hefty odds applied to each time Williams came to the plate----not for all of his game at-bats. This crucial distinction passed right through me, laxative style. In any event, I, probably attempting to prove the superiority of my intelligence over that of Willie Sutton---(ask your grandparents, my chilluns), spread the word throughout the student world that I would immediately accept bets of $20 and lay 20 to 1 odds against the Splendid Splinter hitting a homer in any of his trips to the plate.
The student body, already half-nuts, ran to their stashes (not pot, you fool, but cash--although probably to both) and a long line began to form at the entrance to Dudley Hall, the Commuters' Center, home to all the poor students who couldn't afford to live at one of the Houses on campus. No bitching here, because, to me, hanging with these Townies enriched my "college education" ten fold. These were the guys who had gotten the message and been around the block a few times. Solids.
At game time , I had collected $300, creating an exposure of $6000 which was not embraced by my investment portfolio. I could only pray that Teddy Ballgame would not hit a home run, and decided to watch the game from my family apartment where I would not be embarrassed by using a pacifier to control my hysteria.
The first three times at the plate, Williams smacked solid hits but no home runs. One more at-bat to go. My hands were glued, clench-style, to the arms of my chair as the Thumper came to the plat for the last time in the game. What happened next has, over the years and despite several shock treatments whose purpose was to permanently erase painful memories, never lost any of its horror and terror of specific recall. Williams blasted the ball out of the park and it was last spotted floating aimlessly in the atmosphere by George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. I owed 6 grand.
As soon as the ball left the park, my phone began ringing. All I could hear was screaming, joyful yelling and people wanting to know when I was going to pay up. What was I to do? Headlines like "Killed By Classmates" kept imploding across my brain. This was serious shit, Man! The bettors were out for blood. Gotta get outta town, Tonto, and fast! I put my head in my hands and searched for an escape route. And then, a plan for survival began to formulate and I realized that desperation could spawn the seeds of salvation.
I called my friend, Nick.
Nick was the left tackle on the Harvard football team. But he was more than that. He was a brute---275 pounds of muscle and a unique brain that brimmed with love for me. He would always be in attendance when I would frequently do stand-up shows in the Dudley Hall common room, laughing at every joke. And he had been one of the $20 bettors in my retarded Williams debacle.
I explained everything to him including a just-hatched scheme in which he was to be the prime mover. He listened intently, especially when I acknowledged the validity of his bet. He was to get $400 post haste. He agreed to save my life for the duration of which I agreed to worship the ground he walked on.
As I emerged from the subway at Harvard Square the next morning, my fellow commuters who now comprised a swelling manhunt, began bellowing victory chants as they escorted me on the short walk to the commuters' center. They brought me into the dining hall and hoisted me onto a table, all united in their screaming demands for money. When I saw Nick standing next to the table, I re-believed in a higher power. I addressed the throng in quivering voice, feeling like Spartacus looking up and trying to ascertain whether the Emperor's thumb was up or down.
"I want you all to know that I took your bets with a complete understanding of my potential liability. But, as I watched the game on TV, it seemed to me that Dizzy Trout had served up a nothing-on-it hitter's pitch to Williams. He grooved it for him to hit it out of the park. And so, to be fair, I contacted Dizzy Trout and laid it on him. Not only did he admit it but, in an effort to let the truth be known, he provided me with a letter admitting what he had done. (I was holding a paper in my trembling right hand.) The fair thing to do, therefore, is to return your bet money to you."
At this point, an ugly, negative roar began to emanate and steadily grow. I looked around. There was no way I could make a run for it, so I continued.
"This will all be handled by Nick, here. Any questions, take them up with him."
The ugly roar committed suicide. I jumped from the table and Nick, with whom I was beginning to fall in love, shielded me with his hulk as he just about carried me to safety in his arms. Rescued from the heathen savages!
It took several weeks for the uproar to die down with many days spent almost exclusively in the company of Nick, to whom I decided to give an extra $100. Is my soul not permeated with kindness and good will?
The whole deal eventually was forgotten (forgiven?) and, at the very least, everybody was refunded his original bet. No winners but no losers either. When my contemporaries reminisce about it today, they laugh when they remember, for those were "college days" when the world seemed tamable and our hearts were young and gay.
I sometime wish, for an instant, that I could revisit that period when we didn't appreciate how lucky we were. But that would be against the natural order of things, for who I am today is the result of my life's experiences, some good--some less than good. It's part of the molding process. We are what we've gone through, and now, in the September of my years, I look back and remember.
And when I do, I always sport a smile.