Three days later, when the doctor said it was probably safe for me to get out of bed, it occurred to me that Mr. Perry's last remark had been rather odd. A phone call to my archery-loving host, at whose table I had met Mr. Perry, cleared up the mystery. Mr. Perry, with his knowledgeable talk about Robin Hood and his jokes about William Tell, had merely been posing as an archery enthusiast. The boat we, or rather I, had saved from the fury of Hazel was registered in the name of Seten L. Perry II.
Not all suburbanites, of course, fall into the clutches of a Mr. Perry, but few, if any, are ever completely free from the danger. The man who moves from the city to the country and expects to remain immune from the infections of the world of sports is living in the same fool's paradise inhabited by the man who journeys to Mecca and expects never to be served a piece of halvah. If he doesn't succumb, his wife will. Life in the suburbs brings out in even the most fragile and willowy women an Amazonian streak that places so great a strain on hitherto spectacularly successful marriages that the task of repairing the damage before the plane tickets for Reno are purchased would tax even the awesome talents of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.
I know a couple named Clark who dwelt for half a dozen years in blissful harmony on East 81 Street. Then they moved to the suburbs and Mrs. Clark discovered that life in the suburbs is different.
On East 81 Street sports, for instance, to Mrs. Clark had been something Mr. Clark at regular intervals did or talked about with the "boys": a fight at the Garden, during which she remained at home and washed her hair; a discussion about Mantle's chances of beating the Babe's home run record, during which she emptied the ashtrays and wondered if she could sneak that adorable little number at Bonwit's out of this month's household money; a four-day fishing trip, during which she took the children to mother's for a nice visit. In the suburbs Mrs. Clark discovered that sports were something that not only her husband but she, too, could do—and how.
At her first croquet game in the suburbs, which also happened to be the first croquet game she ever played, and at which I happened to be present, she made Mr. Clark—who outweighs his delicately constructed spouse by 85 pounds, towers nine inches above her cute pageboy bob, and played not only football at Hotchkiss but water polo at Yale—look like Grandma Moses trying to roll William Beebe's bathysphere through Gimbels' basement during an August white sale.
Theirs, as I have stated, was a happy marriage of some duration, and I have no doubt that it would have survived this isolated incident. Unfortunately, it did not remain isolated. Mrs. Clark, who in the city had limited herself to feeling fabrics at Lord & Taylor, in the suburbs began to feel her oats. Or rather, her muscles. She took to croquet the way a Morgan partner takes to long-term debentures. The step from croquet to trout fishing may not seem an obvious one. Perhaps that is why Mrs. Clark, being a woman, took it. At first, when she went off during the season to cast her flies upon the waters of our several local streams, Mr. Clark was content to stay at home and baby-sit. After all, during the trout season a man can always find a good baseball game on TV. Besides, he was pretty weary from playing all that croquet and being beaten by the little woman as regularly and thoroughly as an eggnog. And finally—he thought it was finally—Mrs. Clark proved to possess what might be described as a scaly thumb: she always came home with her creel so full that the darks' meat bill dropped almost as low as Bernard Shaw's. Unfortunately, word of Mrs. Clark's prowess soon began to get about, and her husband found himself the butt of a series of not very well-honed but nonetheless cutting jokes on the station platform. Finally, and this time it was finally, Clark made the mistake that other men whose pride has been pinked have made before him: he decided to show his suburban neighbors that he was just as good a fisherman as his wife. He wasn't.
After the divorce he moved back to East 81 Street, where he is as happy as an anopheles mosquito in a nudist colony, playing nothing more strenuous than poker; and when I had news of him last he was courting a girl with hay fever.
Clark's case might be considered an extreme one; shorn of his sporting prowess as Samson was depleted in his horsepower when Delilah wielded her scissors, he took a powder back to town. Others, however, may be seen to abandon their sporting loves for the very good reason that their loves take a powder on them. In my own town, for example, I know a group of extremely pleasant people who loathe commuting but put up with it cheerfully for 12 months of the year because for almost six, and particularly the summer months, they are able to play tennis regularly on the court of a close friend and neighbor, a wealthy and generous man who shares their passion. It is a closely knit group, so closely knit, in fact, that like members of a happy family who never pause to examine the ties that bind them, it never occurred to these happy people to wonder, much less to question, what it is that holds them together. This spring they found out.
The owner of the court, who in the past has always done his traveling in the winter, has this year been forced for business reasons to take his family to Europe for the summer and, for tax reasons, to rent his home for the months of June, July and August. The tenants are a South American family with a passion for privacy rather than for tennis or tennis-playing neighbors. I will not say that this unavoidable move on the part of the generous man who owns the court around which this closely knit group has for years built its almost communal life has been construed by his tennis-playing brothers and sisters as a deliberate act of wanton malice directed against their happiness. For several weeks, however, if you opened a window in any part of our town on a quiet night when the wind was right, you could hear the angry, resentful mutterings of this closely knit group in which the crucial stitch, so to speak, had been dropped.
Fortunately—not only because the man around whom this group was built is the soul of generosity but also because he happens to possess a fortune—this incident has a happy ending: he has invited all the members of the group, wives and children included, to be his guests for a two-week, all-expenses-paid, tennis-playing holiday in July at the huge villa he has taken for the summer at Juanles-Pins.