When it came time to take a photo following a recent interview with Patch’s Oliver Peterson, I struggled to fit around my neck the myriad press passes I’d accumulated over the years, along with the chain I once wore as Jacob Marley’s Ghost in a Christmas parade, and wondered at how ironic it would be were I to be strangled in the process.
More likely even, I told him, was that I’d wind up buried under stacks of back issues (my ever-encroaching filing system) as in an Ionesco play, staring fixedly at my 1953 UNIVAC.
“That was a bit embarrassing,” Paul Friese said, when I asked him if he’d seen the antique word processor in the background of the photo that Patch ran with my East Hampton High School Hall of Fame induction story. Oliver said he hadn’t seen such an ancient computer. Nor such an ancient sportswriter I’ll bet.
But enough of mordant wit. It was great fun to read and to hear all the kind things people had to say on the occasion of my apotheosis. I won’t have to wait until my obituary for that then. My ears burned as Hughie King traced the foundation of my success to a total lack of ambition, and said he liked it that rather than use The Star as a springboard I had fallen for Bonac and the Bonackers.
My greatest achievement, however, he said, was that when things got nasty, I could always turn my hearing aid off.
At lunch at Citta Nuova, my daughter Emily said in a toast that I was so loved that “after he wrote a column claiming — falsely — that none of his daughters had helped him shovel snow from the driveway, I was lectured and shunned all night by the local athletes at Superica.”
“I’ve tagged along to countless games and races with my dad over the years, events I really had no interest in — I just wanted to be near him.”
“All the essential lessons of life I learned through the way he covered and talked about local sports,” she continued. “He roots for the underdog, he celebrates females as equals, he ignores celebrities, he loves all athletes regardless of skin color, he tries to find the best in people, he will do all he can to make you funnier than you are, he captures your best angle, he always gives to causes he believes in, he’s 72 years old and still takes tennis lessons, and, more than anything else, he has chosen a career that makes him happy.”
“If I were still covering the town board,” I had said to the audience (most of whom I’d written about at one time or another) “they’d be tapping me on the shoulder now to say, ‘Jack, Jack, wake up . . . the meeting’s over.’ ”
“But thanks to the infusion of exuberance and joy that I’ve always felt in covering sports here, it’s not, ‘Jack, Jack . . . it’s over,’ but ‘Play on! Play on!’ ”