Since I've never missed the opportunity to kick a good man when he's down, this piece is about President Carter and running. Or to be more accurate, non-running.
What do I know about non-running? Are you kidding? Lew Grossberger and I wrote the book. "The Non-Runner's Book," it's called and it is a best seller. A walkaway best seller, of course.
We tried to keep people from being swept up in the madness of running. We asked the important question: Why run? Why not, not run? And we uncovered the truth about running: It hurts, it makes your toes fall off, it sells a lot of books.
"Runners lose sight of the importance of staying in one spot and not moving for long periods of time. They pay a fearful price in terms of curdled brains." Who said that? Me and Lew.
Hey, running is serious stuff. When you drop out of a race it isn't with a cherry wave and a "carry on, chaps" to the underwear thundering by. Running is a lot tougher than, say, sitting in a rowboat beating on some dumb bunny.
I have read the accounts of the president's attempts to race 6.2 miles. Wobbling, moaning, pale, exhausted . . . Those were some of the words I saw. It didn't have to happen. If only the White House had listened.
About a year ago, I met Jack Watson, a special assistant to the president. We had a few laughs, played many thousands of games of chemin de fer and went our merry ways. Not a bad guy, I thought, but I wouldn't have called him special.
Watson and I might not have had anything more to do with each other if it wasn't for a photo in my local newspaper. There was President Carter moving past a White House rose bush. He was running. Pretty soon, the pictures were everywhere. And word was out. Our president was a jogger.
Naturally, this made me nervous. I knew I voted for the man. I clearly remember pulling the lever and hoping it would be my only exercise until the following November.
And here he was, jogging. Oh, sure, the statements were very protective at first. He was just doing a few miles a week, nothing to get excited about. The country was still in safe feet. But you couldn't kid me and Lew. (Especially Lew. You can't kid Lew with a 10-foot feather. The other night Lew asked me what time it was because he didn't want to miss "Three's Company." I told him it was 10:00. Lew got this really sick look. "Are you kidding me?" he said. "Yeah," I answered, doubling over, giggling to beat the band. Lew socked me in the mouth.)
Anyway, we know what it's like when you start jogging. Before you know it you're carrying a lap-counter. You're talking to your friends about sneakers. You touch your hamstrings a lot. And do you know how much time that leaves for Congress? Forget it.
Being a terrific American, I shot Watson a letter. I also sent a copy of the "The Non-Runner's Book." This is what I remember writing:
"Jack, I have seen the photos of the president running. Does he know what he's doing? Doesn't he understand that there are 150 million non-runners in this country? Most of them are of voting age. He is making a tragic mistake, Jack. The next time he passes, hand him our book. Or slip it into the back pocket of his running suit.If he doesn't have time to read it, summarize it for him. Show him the pictures. Jack, make him stop. He's setting a bad example. Besides, his form is terrible. And if he won't stop, please ask him to send me a letter explaining why.Lew and I will use it in our ads and make a fortune."
Well, it was weeks before I got an answer. A nice chatty little note. Jack wished us luck with the book and said he just found out that was chemin de fer we were playing. Turns out he thought it was pick-up-stix. He sent regards to my "dutiful wife, Barbara."
Never mind that my dutiful wife's name is Roberta. There wasn't a line in the note about warning the president on running. Not a single word.
Naturally, I expected the worst. And it happened. Maybe now the president will slow down. Do as so many non-runners do: ease on off the road. It's not too late. If Watson won't show him our book, maybe someone closer to the president will. Someone like his dutiful wife, Rosemary.