It is meet and right that youth, when vexed by the world's ways, seeks wisdom from persons well-stricken in years. So I have turned to a Solomonic figure, Henry E. Catto, concerning something about which I am at a loss and he is a scholar.
Catto, 52, has just been paroled from his sentence as assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. In this and other vocations he has become much- traveled. And he has studied the art of passing through the lobbies of the world's finest hotels while dressed for jogging--how to avoid wilting like a salted slug beneath the withering gaze of the concierge.
It is the unshakable policy of tony hotels to acquire their concierges from the ranks of people who, when young, missed their calling if they were not minor police officials under France's Vichy regime. They are the sort of severe, icy people you would expect to be born in a marriage between, say, Captain Bligh and Indira Gandhi.
Confronted by the average concierge, the average human is reduced to something akin to those henpecked Thurber men who would not say "boo!" to a goose. In "Lord Jim," Joseph Conrad wrote that even if you had been the Emperor of the East and West, you would have felt inferior in Jim's presence. That is a concierge in nutshell: we weep with delight when he gives us a smile and tremble with fear when he frowns.
With a confidence born of meager experience, I recently undertook to walk, dressed for jogging, through one of London's lobbies. I was dressed in an outfit (gray shoes, orange shorts, maroon T-shirt) which did, I concede, look as though it had been woven from Irish stew. The concierge did not exactly gasp--such displays of discomposure are against the strict code of the concierge--but he was visibly, and not agreeably, stirred.
However, what is a person to do? I asked a veteran of such confrontations --Catto, who has braved the disapproval of the front desks at the Hassler in Rome, Brown's in London and the Okura in Tokyo. He is a typical jogger, which is to say: dynasties may fall, earthquakes may level cities and locusts may ravage the countryside, but he will jog. He used to be ambassador to El Salvador, where joggers learn to take evasive action. He also has been chief of protocol, so nothing is missing that could complete the perfection of his manners.
His suggestions for lobby-crossing are disappointing. They are: wear a spiffy warmup suit; run with someone, because there is strength in numbers; use back entrances and exits, and walk up stairs to spare elevator passengers close confinement with your sweaty self.
Catto's geopolitical thinking is fine, but such jogging advice you could have gotten from Neville Chamberlain. Rear exits indeed! For this we fought at Lexington and Concord? With such accommodationist thinking even in the Pentagon, Andropov must sleep like a man without a worry.
The jogger's dilemma is one that drives us back to basics: there is no substitute for American confidence of the sort shown by the late Bear "Be Good Or Be Gone" Bryant. Once when a fellow football coach, John McKay, went hunting with Bryant, Bryant shot at a duck but the duck dept flying. "John," said Bryant, "there flies a dead duck." Confidence, that's the stuff.
Any Milquetoast can run a few miles, but it takes a moral giant to walk 15 yards through a lobby, dressed oddly and fragrant as a gym locker. Never mind aerobic benefits from jogging. The principal virtue of jogging is that it makes the spirit muscular. Joggers develop an Olympian indifference to opinion.
Of course, it is conceivable that jogging may come to be considered just another of the wretched excesses of the 1970s, like baseball's designated-hitter rule or the War Powers Resolution. Whenever I meet a doctor, I urge him or her to tell me that jogging is worth the pain and trouble. Almost always the doctor replies that walking briskly does about as much good to the lungs and muscles, and does so without the kind of trauma to the joints that is going to keep orthopedists in Porsches for years to come.
Sound thinkers reject this advice on religious grounds. That is, they subscribe to the Protestant Ethic of Exercise: if it does not hurt, it does not help. And if it is pleasant, quit doing it..