I never rowed for Harry Parker, but I rowed against him, and I lost. Since I have written on rowing, I thought it appropriate to remember the most successful coach, or at the very least, the best known, in the entire sport.
In his 50 years of coaching the Harvard men’s crew, Harry had 22 undefeated seasons, about 16 unofficial national championships, and most regretfully for me, a Yalie, beat Yale 44 our of the 51 times the two colleges went head to head on the Thames River in New London, Connecticut — that’s the oldest competition in American sports.
I met him several times — once as an applicant (I didn’t get in) — twice as a competitors (I lost both times to his crews) — and once as a writer when I was researching The Book of Rowing. He was a difficult interview, maybe it was me, but Harry personified the word “taciturn” and was renowned for his sphinx-like demeanor among those who rowed for him on the Charles.
I’m not a sports statistician or historian, but I don’t think there is another coach of any sport — amateur, professional, collegiate — with as long and successful career as Harry Parker’s.
When I rowed the Harvard-Yale race in 1978 — still the single hardest thing I have ever done in my life — I spent close to 20 minutes in an oxygen-starved. lactic acid-soaked near-death state staring straight astern at Harry’s craggy visage as he rode along confidently in the coaches launch as his boat pulled away with open water and kicked our ass. I literally lost my shirt.
I’d never been to Tanglewood, the music venue in Lenox, Mass — way out there in Edith Wharton-Herman Melville territory off of Exit 2 on the Mass Pike near the New York border — but got my first chance Saturday night with my good college buddy T____ who invited me to join him for the Boston Pops’ Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration with Warren Haynes.
Gorgeous countryside, amazing music under the full moon, and me and a gazillion other paunchy Dead Heads arriving in German sedans unsure of whether to wear tie-dye or summer dresses.
Keith Lockhart, the post-John Williams/post-Arthur Fiedler heir to the conductor’s baton of the Pops, conducted the two-hour concert in tie-dye. The orchestra was in their traditional formal evening wear.
The arrangements were amazing, especially on Terrapin Station which was originally recorded with a symphony orchestra and thus fit the venue perfectly. As a tribute to Jerry it was very well done, had a very eclectic set list ranging from big classics such as Morning Dew, to more obscure stuff such a West LA Fadeaway and Russian Lullaby. Terrapin was amazing:
The song begins around 2:15 in the clip below:
I was about ten rows back from whomever captured the clip. Haynes is repeating the event throughout the summer in Philly, San Francisco, LA and elsewhere.
I’ve been a casual gardener for the last twenty years, sticking some petunias in a pot, zinnias in the bed, tomatoes in a cage, anything to keep the place from falling into total overgrown entropy — with some success but mostly due to my wife who has the veritable thumb verte.
I’m learning the hard way that there’s a few things you shouldn’t put in the ground because they will ruin your life. They include:
Morning glories. Pretty blue flowers that self-seed and before you know it start to crawl up the gutters and smother everything in their path. Never again. Robert Stone wrote in Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties:
“Across the highway, on the far bank of La Honda Creek, were more morning glory vines. They were there because Kesey had taken his shotgun and filled the magazines with all the mystically named varieties of that flower’s seeds and fired them into the neighboring hillside.”
Bamboo. Haven’t planted it but have been told it is evil.
English Ivy — this stuff will take down a tree, ruin your house and split boulders if you don’t go after it with a machete
Chinese lantern: I got this disaster plant as a gift and it is taking over. We’re talking Invasion of the Body Snatchers. My mission in life is to eradicate it but I fear it’s too late. Pray for me.
And now, I’m adding to the list: strawberries.
For it is strawberry season and my garden is speckled with lots and lots of little ripening red balls of sweetness, just begging to be picked and sliced and scattered over my Cheerios. I planted two strawberry plants in the garden two summers ago, figuring, “hey, really fresh strawberries = good.” Then they spread. And spread. And spread. Now they own 25% of the bed. Yet I protected them with netting two weeks ago when the first berries appeared so the birds wouldn’t peck at them, but lo and behold, whenever I see one that looks ripe for the picking and worm my hand under the net to snare it I discover each and everyonehas a bite mark. Not the green ones, not the half-ripe ones … no, the vandal responsible for the ruination of my crop waits until each berry is right at its peak of perfection and it gives it a little chomp then leaves the rest for me. The villain doesn’t finish one berry, no, it bites every berry.
Chipmunks are the issue but I can’t bring myself to exterminate them. Which gets me thinking about the psychological advantage squirrels and chipmunks have over their brethren the common rat. People don’t say “eek!” and climb on chairs when they see a chipmunk stuffing its cheeks with sunflower seeds under the bird feeders. But let a big grey, naked tailed rat appear and the exterminators are called in. It’s all about the tails and whether or not your species has been deemed cute by the cartoons. Chip and Dale and Alvin guaranteed the chipmunk would get immunity for life. No one can poison a chipmunk or set up a pellet-gun sniper nest to pick them off. But the rat… the rat gets Willard and that weird cartoon where a “nice” rat cooked French food in Paris. Rats equal the Black Death. Buboes and disease. Chipmunks equal Christmas carols sung in falsetto and good humored Disney mischief.
But my strawberries ….. the insolent little f%*^*^%er stood there the other day, ten feet from me, as if to say: “You looking at something bro? Come at me. Do you even lift?”
After I salvage what I can I’m ripping up the plants. I can’t stand the tragedy of watching 11 months of strawberry plants turn into a chipmunk vandalism project ever again. I know I can cut the bitten parts off and make strawberry jam …. but who has time?
I’m sticking to zinnias from now on. (which are prone to being raped by earwigs, those delightful creepy insects that freaked me out as a kid because I assumed they were called earwigs because they crawled into one’s ear canal and made their homes in a bed of ear wax ((for more on insects in ears, see the account of African explorer James Hanning Speke who, according to our friends at Wikipedia: “Speke suffered severely when he became temporarily deaf after a beetle crawled into his ear and he tried to remove it with a knife.”)))
“One of these horrid little insects awoke me in his struggles to penetrate my ear, but just too late: for in my endeavour to extract him, I aided his immersion. He went his course, struggling up the narrow channel, until he got arrested by want of passage-room. This impediment evidently enraged him, for he began with exceeding vigour, like a rabbit at a hole, to dig violently away at my tympanum. The queer sensation this amusing measure excited in me is past description.
I felt inclined to act as our donkeys once did, when beset by a swarm of bees, who buzzed about their ears and stung their heads and eyes until they were so irritated and confused that they galloped about in the most distracted order, trying to knock them off by treading on their heads, or by rushing under bushes, into houses, or through any jungle they could find. Indeed, I do not know which was worst off. The bees killed some of them, and this beetle nearly did for me. What to do I knew not.
Neither tobacco, oil, nor salt could be found: I therefore tried melted butter; that failing, I applied the point of a penknife to his back, which did more harm than good; for though a few thrusts quieted him, the point also wounded my ear so badly, that inflammation set in, severe suppuration took place, and all the facial glands extending from that point down to the point of the shoulder became contorted and drawn aside, and a string of boils decorated the whole length of that region.
It was the most painful thing I ever remember to have endured; but, more annoying still, I could not masticate for several days, and had to feed on broth alone. For many months the tumour made me almost deaf, and ate a hole between the ear and the nose, so that when I blew it, my ear whistled so audibly that those who heard it laughed. Six or seven months after this accident happened, bits of the beetle—a leg, a wing, or parts of its body—came away in the wax.”
The real opening day is today, Wednesday June 12 in Cotuit. I’m clearing the calendar and hitting the road from NYC a lot earlier than usual so I can cover the 250 miles in time. I found this little gem of a promo on the Kettleer’s website.