"I was angry," he says. "I felt it was an unwarranted intrusion. I'm not a politician." Did he consider asking USA Today editors simply to hold the story? "No," he says quickly. "That would have been begging."
Neither would he rage. "Things don't always have rational answers," he says. "You have to ask exactly what your alternatives are. There comes a time, after the long good fight, when you put the Dylan Thomas on the shelf and go to sleep."
That lime is a way off, and the fight will be easier because Magic Johnson preceded Ashe in revealing his HIV infection. "He is so known and loved," says Ashe, "that there was a phalanx of doctors and articles explaining HIV transmission and treatments. You couldn't ask for better public education."
As a result, the stigma of having AIDS, something Ashe had assumed he would face, has not been much of an issue. Camera has not been taunted. "She's taking it well," he says. "When she feels like asking something, she does. We don't try to hide anything. About three weeks ago she said, 'Daddy, how did you get AIDS?' She hasn't asked about the future yet. We've decided to be judiciously truthful, to go into nothing that's not obvious. It makes a difference that I work at home. I'm around, sometimes for days on end. I get Camera up in the morning, and twice a week I shampoo her hair. That's Daddy's job. She's at an age when who does what is very important to her."
In Ashe's presence you find yourself adopting, gratefully, his brisk, academic tone, the offhand mask. It is only later that the fullness of some of his words strikes, so that, say, walking down Lexington Avenue and looking at department-store Christmas windows, you find that your forehead is inclined against the cool plate glass, and you are seeing Ashe's long, slender fingers moving in the beautiful child's soapy soft curls.
The next time you talk with him, you ask how he can possibly account for all the suffering of innocent people in the world. "Howard Thurman, the theologian, had a theory on that," says Ashe. "He thought that in the universal scheme of things, the innocent must suffer to pay for humanity's way through existence. The view has a lot of precedents, including human sacrifice. The souls offered up had to be untainted, so the gods would know that people were surrendering what they most valued."
Ashe chuckles when you try to imagine him as a sacrifice. "There is no definitive answer," he says. "Thurman's interpretation is just one way of talking about it."
Another is to ask after Ashe's personal faith. "No, my faith hasn't been shaken," he says. "These things just happen. Earthquakes, storms, innocent people get killed. But it does shake one's faith in the causality between good works and just rewards."
The logical question, then, is, What good are good works to him now? Why not just go canoeing with Camera? Ashe's sporting answer is that you play out your match, you pound away as hard as you can at what you care about until it's over, for the perfectly practical reason that we are not here in a vacuum. "Each of us comes up with his or her own social contracts," he says, "agreements with our group or our nation, or just ourselves. Those Crips and Bloods, those kids who showed no remorse, had no contract with America, just with raw, primeval, individual survival."
Ashe signed his contract with the whole society of man. His good is the common good. He doesn't need to create a little society so that he can agree not to cheat in it. He doesn't cheat in the big one. He delights in whatever mends and perpetuates the widest community, whether it is a student's decision to set worthy goals, a gene-splicing technique to combat HIV or a South African election open to members of all races.