Some days I'd pretend to be off my game, throwing Swinger to the court, pouting and losing. The next day I'd jump my clothesline net and kiss Billie Jean, whom I had just beaten in revenge for Bobby Riggs. "What are you doing down there, Dad?" asked my 4-year-old daughter sitting on the steps.
"Ah, practicing tennis," I told her.
"When you're done, come up and play dollhouse with me if you want." Caught and shamed. She'd figured out that I was just a giant 4-year-old. In any event, I've given up tennis entirely now and play a game called Swinger, which I heartily recommend to the crazy.
I was also concerned about self-defense. As my games improved secretly and I became, at least for a week, more powerful with Bullworker and more slim with the maddening crash diet, jealous men everywhere would surely rise up against me, waiting outside of restaurants with tire irons, ready to ruin me for good.
So I answered a full-page ad in the back of a self-defense magazine: I'LL MAKE YOU AN EXPERT IN NUNCHAKU! Gesundheit, I thought. But Nunchaku is a form of karate that employs "deadly Okinawan fighting sticks." The ad pictured a pair of very hairy comic-book-style hands holding two sticks connected by a rope. Like a garrote, only more complicated. The jealous assailants would be dealt with in parking lots across America if I could only get my Nunchaku sticks in time. The text of the ad was a novelette and worth the reading. Part of it went like this: "This Oriental art of Kobujitsu—weapon fighting that is applied with minimum use of your limbs or body—enables you to disable an attacker from several feet away BEFORE he can bat an eyelash! Fast as lightning! The Okinawan method of offensive defense, 470 years old, has been preserved within the ancient Tokugawa Era. Until recently only third degree black belts were permitted to learn this ancient Kobujitsu weapon...taught in strict secrecy. Now these devastating methods requiring no physical strength, no bodily contact and a minimum of physical exertion, no application of hands or feet—are revealed to you regardless of your past experience or your lack of experience in the Martial Arts by Dr. Andrew S. Linick, Nunchaku Master, who has broken away from his Oriental tradition of 'secrecy' to teach YOU—AT HIS OWN RISK!"
I sent $14.98 immediately for the secret instructions and fighting sticks. I watched Kung Fu on TV a lot and practiced karate yells, often taking paralyzing chops at the muscleman on the Bullworker poster. I waited and waited, but the fighting sticks didn't arrive. When I sent in the coupon I'd had to sign my name, promising never to reveal to another soul what Dr. Andrew S. Linick had taught me, or to use the sticks in any way except for self-defense. I began to think Dr. Linick didn't believe me, although I was very sincere. Or perhaps Dr. Linick was discovered passing out the secrets by his Oriental masters and done in secretly at his address in Middle Island, N.Y. But just a few weeks after Nunchaku sticks were outlawed in my state, Massachusetts, mine arrived from Dr. Linick. Dutifully, I turned in my sticks at the local police department. But I now carry a copy of the ad around with me for self-defense. When there is some enraged sport who can't compete with me in my improved games and threatens violence, I whip the ad out of my wallet and make him read it, intimating that I'm privy to devilish Okinawan secrets and that he'd better not mess around. I also plan to run very fast while he's absorbed in the text, indicating my reluctance to tear him limb from limb.
And suppose I did live through the trials of self-improvement—which with jealous sportsmen, bouncing golf balls, wicked isometrics and debilitating diets was turning into a dangerous enterprise—I'd certainly want something to retire to. The back pages are filled with sport and leisure schemes for moneymaking, from "You Can Live Free And Operate Your Own Motel In Your Spare Time," to the depressing "Make Money Addressing Envelopes At Home!"
In a mechanics magazine (whose feature article that month was how to make a two-man glider out of old coffee cans) I found my old-age dream. "Fishworm Culture. What, when, how to raise, feed and sell worms for big profits." Ah, a little bait shack at the end of the rainbow, suspenders holding up my pants, rowboats for hire, it won't rain today. It seemed a lovely way to spend the waning years. It would only cost $1 for the information.
The cover of the booklet that arrived showed a giant worm with arms, wearing a baseball cap and winking, wrestling a perch to shore, ride-'em-cowboy style. The information was hardly more illuminating. There was a lot of talk about digging worm pits in the shade, lining them with cement blocks, watering the worms down and how to feed them. Worms apparently think they're chickens, because the booklet advised giving them "laying mash or broiler chow." As for selling them, the booklet said, "Ice cream cartons are best to package them in." The real thrust of the booklet, of course, was buying starter worms from the "hatchery." A price list was included. I could get 25,000 worms for a mere $150.
Far from my golden-years dream, the booklet was just another step-up, come-on. I am still assailed by doubt and dreaming as I browse the back pages, for I have come to a certain realization about the nature of these products. We truly believe that technology will save us. We'll convert the wind and the sun to usable energy to replace oil; we'll find an alternative to the passenger car; expert technical opinions and programs will salvage the economy. And in sport, we truly believe that the answer lies in the graphite shaft, the magnesium racket, moving the hash marks in, a turbine engine.