1. Marathon Swimmer
The picture at top right was taken in 1961. It was time for the annual Margate, NJ, Beach Patrol ocean race (beach to half mile flag and back), and I decided to do it "old fashioned", with tank top, goggles, etc. The Atlantic was churned up by an off-shore storm on that day, and a strong current was pulling South to North. Twenty-five lifeguards competed, and from previous races, I was not expected to be in the top 10.
When the gun went off, the field immediately ran down beach to take advantage of the current pulling North. The turning flag at sea was barely visible from the beach. Once in the surf, I recognized that, slowed by my costume, I would not only not be in the top 10, I might be swept up to the next city.
The winner clocked in 15 minutes after the start, but a half hour after the start, one swimmer had not returned to the beach, which a crowd of several hundred soon learned. No one left; curiosity ran high. Finally, my body poked out of the surf about three beaches from the start line. The cheer that greeted my arrival exceeded that given to the winner. I was "marathon man".
2. Wine Authority
In 1986 I arrived in Athens, Georgia, having spent the previous 9 years (in the New York City area) as a member of one of the strongest chapters of "Les Amis du Vin" (now defunct) in America. A local (Athens, Ga) wine society invited me to a tasting. One of the bottles was wrapped in aluminum foil, a red wine. Everyone in the room was given a few ounces of this wine, and asked to identify it. I was unknown by the other people in the room, so that when I said the wine was a French Bordeaux (Cabernet), few tasters took notice, most guessing it to be Californian. The host asked me if I could identify the region. I said it was "Medoc, the Haut Medoc." Some people giggled, but the host was intrigued. He asked me "Were it to be Haut Medoc, which area (village) would this wine come from?" I responded "Because this wine has a very vegetative nose, I would venture it to be a St. Estephe, which is known to have that characteristic."
More people giggled. The Host, still intrigued, said "Were it to be a St. Estephe, what year would it be?" I replied "The wine is brown at the edges, indicating it is old. Yet it is very thin, as if it were harvested after a heavy rain. The only Old Year in St. Estephe when that was the case was 1977."
Now many giggled. The Host turned to others, requesting alternate opinions. Some having heard me, advised sarcastically that it was harvested after " a heavy snow", or after "a parched Fall". Finally, the wine was unveiled.
It was French, it was Bordeaux, it was Haut Medoc, it was St. Estephe, it was 1977.
They never invited me back.
3. Classic Pianist, Gone Tomorrow
In 1979 I began taking piano lessons, having novice skill with guitar and banjo. By 1982 I was a dilettante player, including in my repertoire the popular compositions of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, etc. Consider Bach's difficult "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor", composed for organ. I could play that on piano, the hands flying across the keyboard, right over left, in order to pick up lower notes above higher chords....
In 1983, IBM introduced the first "personal computer." I had to have one, and ponied up $5,000 for the privilege of owning what is now an exceedingly primitive computer. The piano was forgotten in my zeal to become an expert with this "new keyboard."
Four years later I decided to resume my interest in the piano. I sat down at my beautiful baby-grand piano in a sensational cherry hardwood, and paused: were the chords left hand and the notes right? I thought so, but was not sure. A key was tested: Unfamiliar. Nothing remained. I could not even remember how to play "Chopsticks". It was all gone, destroyed by the new keyboard.
4. Indirect World Chess Champion
On or about 1972, while at Yale, and while playing chess with a Yale physicist (and friend) who was in the Master class, I beat him. He then announced to me that, by beating him at chess, I was "indirect world champion." I asked how he came to that formulation. He said that while in Copenhagen, while attending a conference on nuclear physics, he played a lot of chess with Russian physicists or "other Russians." It seems (the cold war was still "on") that Russia sent all of its chess champions to such conferences in the hope of deriving some nuclear secrets from America's physicists, many of whom played chess. (My Yale friend was well aware of this effort, and was, in fact, cooperating with the CIA in identifying the circumstances under which such chess matches were arranged.) Anyway, my friend managed to beat the Russian champion (Spassky, 1972), who had, himself, beaten the world champion, who was the American, Bobby Fisher. Thus, I had beaten the man who had beaten the Russian champion, who had beaten the world champion, Bobby Fisher. I was "indirect world champion."
Everyone gets 15 minutes of fame, said Andy Warhol, and this is mine.