Now, several years later, I wanted to ask him why it hadn't worked out that way, but at that moment the 8:10, which had been late for two weeks, came in on the button, and in the scramble for seats I lost track of Smith.
This was just as well. I really knew why. No matter what had stood to reason in the city, it had not worked out that way in the country. It was a problem with which I had become familiar.
As a city-bred citizen I had never given myself a chance to have fun at any sport. When I moved to the suburbs I thought, therefore, that it would be nice to make a change from the sedentary state in which I had spent the first three decades of my life to something more active.
Not being a very imaginative person, my mind turned to the obvious choices: tennis and golf. I soon discovered that the suburban resident's choice of a sport does not depend on his imagination. It depends on his neighbors.
I will never know whether I have the makings of a tennis player because, even though I have lived one-fourth of my life in a community as studded with tennis courts as Roy Rogers' gun belt is studded with hammered silver nailheads, I have never set foot on one of them. My neighbor, you see, is a yachtsman.
The suburban yachtsman, bent on rounding up a crew to help him indulge his passion, is as relentless, devious, ruthless, single-minded and, I regret to report, successful as was the British navy when it pitchforked us into the War of 1812 by impressing American seamen.
There have been summer days during the past dozen years when I have posted my children at the foot of our driveway with instructions to tell all visitors that the house has been quarantined because its head is down with scarlet fever. There have been cloudless Saturdays, perfect for tennis, when my wife, taking the inevitable early-morning phone call, has advised my neighbor that I will not be available because this is the day on which the doctor comes to give me my regular weekly rubdown with chaulmoogra oil. There have been blustery fall days when I have resorted to hiding in the cellar. All to no avail.
By 11 o'clock on every one of those mornings I have found myself somewhere on Long Island Sound, reopening all of last week's unhealed blisters by hauling on ropes as thick as copperheads that are supposed to hoist what looks like half a circus tent to the top of the jigger mast which, I always have to be told again, is fixed abaft the rudder post, which, nobody has to tell me, was purchased as scrap from the owners of the Empire State Building when they decided to dispose of their original zeppelin mooring mast to make way for a TV antenna.
Not all suburban yachtsmen, of course, are as addicted to the hard sell as my neighbor, but I have yet to meet one who is less devious. There are those who, taking a lesson from the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, have learned the advantage of wearing anything but ship's clothing. A few years ago, during the early-fall hurricane season, my wife and I were dining at the home of a friend who had moved to the suburbs because his sport is archery. Our friendship had survived because a man who loves bows and arrows doesn't really want anybody to help him. All he wants is somebody to watch him, and few things are more pleasant than to sit on a terrace, safely behind such a man, sipping his excellent highball (men who want an audience always provide good whisky) and making an occasional remark about William Tell as you watch your host twanging away at a helpless target down at the foot of the garden. The other guest at this particular party was a summer renter named Perry.
From those fragments of the conversation that were not devoted to speculation about how soon Hazel would hit our town and whether she would do as much damage as Hurricane Edna had done, I gathered that Mr. Perry was also interested in archery. He talked knowledgeably about the way the longbow at Crécy revolutionized modern warfare, dismissed Robin Hood as a fraud whose merry men actually supplied their table from poachers' snares, and even told the traditional jokes about William Tell. All in all, it was a pleasant evening, perhaps because Hazel's ominous rising winds sent us all home at a reasonable hour to fasten storm windows. So that in the morning, while the house rattled frighteningly and the trees on the lawn looked like members of a beginner's calisthenics class trying to touch their toes while being doused with a fireman's hose, there was no hangover to contend with. I was sitting comfortably in front of the fire, congratulating myself on my foresight in putting on the new roof, when the phone rang.