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"I was in a completely alien environment," Armstrong said. "But at no time did I lose control of myself or the game, although, considering the circumstances, I could well have. At one stage the public-address system came on in the middle of all that frightening business and asked, 'Umpire, will you check your score?' I had not been incorrect, but what was I supposed to do—have an argument with the public-address system? I had no idea who was on the other end. I could have done without that" he added sharply.
Armstrong's assessment of the situation was not universal. One of the officials in the enclosure took me aside and snorted that Armstrong had as much control of the situation as Captain Queeg had of the Caine in the typhoon. " Nastase should have been removed; Armstrong should have been removed; it was a disgrace."
This sort of acidity turned out to be typical in the Pen. Indeed, it was the one aspect of George Armstrong's travail that annoyed him. Quite cheerful and at ease with himself about his decisions, he was distressed by the critical comments his fellow officials made publicly about him. "Calling out against one's own kind!" he bristled. "Quite improper! Can't imagine that sort of thing happening at Wimbledon. Absolutely not!"
From time to time as we sat there, Bill Bigelow or Flo Blanchard would call off a list of officials to report to a certain court and, with the sound of pipes being knocked out against the metal legs of their chairs, the officials would rise and set forth. I noticed that though they are supposed to wear a prescribed uniform—dark blazer, gray trousers, colored shirts, low-key striped tie—this year there was a profusion of irregular garb, especially headgear: safarilike helmets, baseball caps, swordfishermen visors, cone-shaped yachting hats, golf caps with the round club insignia in front, and one black Dutch sea captain's cap that gave the wearer a strong resemblance to early portraits of Lenin. Bigelow told me that a couple of years ago he had been startled to look out on the center court and discover Bertie Bowron, one of the most distinguished British umpires, sitting up in the umpire's chair wearing sandals with "his bare toes hanging off the front of them." Perhaps the most extreme example of sartorial excess Bigelow could recall was that of a woman who turned up for a day's officiating in 1974 dressed in a black chiffon cocktail dress.
The individualities of the officials were equally evident when on duty in their chairs; their postures at courtside ranged from the nonchalant—leaning back, arms crossed, one leg thrown casually over the other, as if waiting for someone in a hotel lobby—to the tension of a sprinter poised in the starting blocks. The most familiar example of the latter at Forest Hills year after year has been the posture of Frank Hammond, a bulky gentleman who on service calls leans so far forward out of his chair that he tilts it up off its back legs; for balance he either grasps an ankle or touches the court in front of him with his fingertips to keep from tumbling forward in a heap. Hammond said that he goes out of his chair even farther on the truly crucial points—in a tie breaker, for instance—his head hanging like a balloon not more than a foot and a half above the court surface. "The closer to the ground when you're calling the cross lines, the better you can see the ball. In fact," Hammond went on to say, "if you lay down flat on the court, you couldn't miss, and if it weren't for the spectacle—people lying out there like corpses—I would recommend it." It is an exhausting and demanding job, according to Hammond. He remembers a videotape taken in Philadelphia's Spectrum during a match that showed on review that he had 57 close judgments to make on the service line in one match.
When a game is over and the responsibility for service line calls has shifted to the official on the other side of the net, Hammond leans back and unbuttons his coat to reveal a large expanse of pink shirtfront; he slides his hands inside his belt like a man pushing back from a large and very satisfying meal.
Authorities differ on the best method of sighting the base and service lines, which, being crosslines on the court, are considered far more difficult to call than the side and center lines toward which the ball travels on a near-parallel course. Some linesmen on the service line cup their eyes with their palms, providing shields like the blinders on a horse, so they can concentrate on the line. Other officials criticize this method, pointing out that a blink of the eye can come along at the same time as the ball. "In that case," they scoff, "those horse-blinder people might as well be judging from the inside of a paper bag." These critics feel that the proper method is to glance down and watch the player begin to move into the motion of his serve, then "glomp" (Flo Blanchard's favorite word) their eyes on the line, knowing that the ball is going to flash by within a couple of seconds, during which time they can avoid the dreaded blink.
Almost universally, officials accept the service line as being the most difficult to judge; a server can blast a ball, which will nip or just the miss the line, at speeds of more than 100 mph. Bill Bigelow is one of the few officials who thinks the baseline is the most difficult to call, not only because a player's feet can obscure the linesman's vision (in which case he has to make the forlorn gesture to the umpire's chair—his hands over his eyes to indicate that his view was "unsighted"), but also because, unlike when he calls a service line, in an extended rally he never knows when he may have to make a decision.
Of the various tennis surfaces, the carpet courts—especially those with the bright checkerboard World Team Tennis designs—are the hardest to judge. Clay is the easiest because the ball leaves a skid mark. If the linesman wishes, he can walk out on the court and look for the mark to check his decision. It takes a brave man to leave his chair to do so, because the people in the stands all have an opinion; the voices drift down, many of them from the rim of the stadium a couple of hundred feet away. When the linesman arrives, he may find two or three marks. He stares mournfully down, like a man who has discovered crabgrass in his lawn; whatever he decides, he will hear the thin whistles of disapproval.
For accepting these occupational hazards, Forest Hills officials are paid $5.80 a day for their efforts; they also receive a couple of tickets and some food coupons. All of this adds up to less than the $30 a day the ball boys and girls get at Forest Hills for scampering around the courts clearing the balls. The reasons for volunteering vary. Many do it because of their love of the game, a desire to be as close to involvement as possible and because they enjoy the responsibilities. These are the officials the directors hope to have on hand for a tournament.