Sunday, August 10, 2008

Post No. 35: Why Smacking Someone Around Periodically Might Be a Good Thing

by Guest Author, The Laughingman

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

Crew is a particularly interesting and Ivy League sport.


Next to the Army Forest Rangers, or the Navy Seals, there is no other activity on the planet that requires a higher level of conditioning, precision, training, or team interdependence.

The "boat" weighs just a little more than a single rower. The oars, on the other hand, weigh considerably more than the boat. For leverage, these forward motivation devices are mounted on outriggers a couple of feet from the rails of this odd racing device.

Eight human power plants, selected for their strength, endurance, and technique, power the craft... all sitting backward to the direction in which they are heading... with virtually no idea of where they are going... just a passing view of where they have just been.

Steering and speed are left in the hands of the lightest person available... and, as far as I was able to tell, weight was the only qualification.


The "function" of this light weight freeloader, or coxswain, seated at the stern (the rear end of the boat) was to call cadence for the rowers...and steer us to victory.

In practice, the "Stroke," the oarsman facing the "Coxin" and next closest to the stern, was responsible for setting the stroke rate and cadence (or rhythm)... the other rowers' job was to match his speed and power... exactly... or the boat would just wander all over the river.

(If you got out of sync with the stroke, you would eventually miss a catch, where the oar blade is placed in the water, or release, where the oar blade is removed from the water, and be tossed several yards from the boat into the water. This was not a good thing...your life depended on how quickly the coach's boat got to you... no exhausted, anti-cold weather equipped rower was going to stay above the surface more than 90 seconds.... parent-oriented pamphlets notwithstanding.)


In college competition... at least at Columbia... the training season lasts 11 months.

When it became too dangerous to send the boats out on the river... never did find out what that tipping point was... we pulled against dead water in the tanks located below Low Library. There is no human activity less enjoyable than pulling against dead water in a boat fixed to the bottom of the tank in the basement of the senior administration building; whose residents complained daily about the smell of vomit floating up through the ventilation... “Can't we cut the ventilation off down there?” one senior administrative assistant asked... weekly.

But the most...memorable...experience you could have as a member of a varsity crew team was when the "Coxin" got fancy...steered too close to one of the George Washington Bridge supports, and clipped the concrete with the port or starboard oars... tossing all four port or starboard oarsmen into the Hudson. Your feet are tied to the boat... your oar is mounted to develop the maximum mechanical leverage possible... your hands are so thoroughly cramped about your rowing device, you couldn't let go even if you knew what was about to happen.

Nobody, including the Army, and the Army's spinal training hospital, has ever frightened me as much as that five yard arc into the Hudson River.

Bill Glover, a fraternity brother and ROTC member, took this... mistake... by our Coxin, Fast Ed Rosen, personally. Bill got the stroke job because he was clearly the strongest rower... and seemed to have no sense of pain.

For the rest of the season, Bill would release his right hand between the release and the next catch, and use it to smack Ed's head mounted megaphone in a 360 degree circle around his head.

Ed quit at the end of the season... according to rumors, because he was afraid he would have no more ears left after another season coxing for Bill.

I quit half way through the nest season to go catch passes for Marty... seemed a safer sport... and Marty was more fun.

Bill went to Vietnam to command a river boat... and continued to knock the voice megaphones around his senior officers until they suggested he might be of more value to the country as a civilian.

As the Senior Fellow at the Institute for Applied Common Sense, my responsibilities include ensuring that we acknowledge history, honing perspective (aka wisdom) that comes with advancing years, and telling stories of my youth.

My point, and I do have one, is that from Wall Street to Washington, we might be better off if our best people... the ones who care about the people they are responsible for.... occasionally spun a megaphone around the ears of the people who are charged with telling us what is happening...and routinely get it wrong, or worse yet, make it up.


Half our rowers are already in the water...I don't think we can afford to clip another bridge....

© 2008, The Institute for Applied Common Sense

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