Some moments are imprinted forever on memory, such as the hot summer's day in Munich when an ink-stained wretch with an overdrawn checking account said to a ticket scalper, "How much?" and he said, "Fifty," and I said, "Okay."
My wife wanted to see the women's gymnastics finals of the 1972 Olympics, starring Olga Korbut. The only tickets available were those scalped downtown. The real price was maybe $20. The $50 was more than I'd paid for anything except a house, car, golf clubs, refrigerator and suit (with alterations and two pair of trousers).
This week, intimations of that financial trauma returned when I went to Sears to pick up a ticket-order form for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. I am a calloused veteran of ticket buying, impervious by now to the pain of $40 tickets for the Super Bowl, $32.50 for Lena Horne, $22 for the World Series.
The price for the women's gymnastic final at L.A. is $95.
We pause, stunned.
The Olympic hucksters want $95 to see prepubescent gymnasts walk the plank and swing from jungle gym bars. That's $95, as in 21 times the cost of seeing "Return of the Jedi" at your neighborhood theater.
You could buy the cheapest seat for $40 or you could go for $60. But as the most beautiful woman in the world said sweetly to my suggestion of a compromise, "You'd need a telescope to see anything from those seats."
Anyway, the L.A. Olympic Organizing Committee won't guarantee you'll get any ticket. For events where requests outrun available seating, tickets will be chosen at random. The women's gymnastics final is certain to be a random-selection affair--with maybe 500,000 requests for 13,000 seats -- which means that even if you order the $95 ticket, chances are you won't get as much as a $40 telescope seat.
Any guesses as to what scalpers in Hollywood will want for a ticket to the women's gymnastics final?
For four hours, we studied the Olympics' 28-page ticket-order brochure available at most Sears stores. It lists ticket prices for 354 sessions of 26 sports from July 28-Aug. 12. The brochure covers complicated ground in clear English and even gives a phone number to call if you have questions.
The only thing the brochure doesn't tell you is what bank to knock over for the money to buy tickets.
One ticket to every session for the fortnight would cost $14,440.
The cheapest ticket is $5 (for such as archery, canoeing, fencing), though it costs nothing to watch yachting (all you need is a yacht to sail out to the races in the Pacific).
The most expensive ticket is $200 for the opening ceremony (another $200 for the closing ceremony).
You can buy all-session tickets for each sport (from $2,200 for basketball to $50 for modern pentathlon).
These Olympics are all over Southern California. Some equestrian events take place 110 miles away, some canoeing goes on at a lake 84 miles away.
Planning an Olympic visit, then, becomes a matter of logistics and finances. At our house, you could have heard this conversation:
Ink-stained wretch: "What things do you want to see?"
Most beautiful woman in the world: "The gymnastics. Diving. The men off the high board. They're having synchronized swimming, too, aren't they?"
She uttered only 16 words, but they melted our Master Card.
The first time through, the bill came to $595 for one ticket to 11 sessions. That's $54 a crack. You could buy a Hogan sand wedge for that.
"I'd rather have a dishwasher," my wife said.
So we went to the compromise position of the second-best ticket: $400.
As I typed these words, my wife returned from the grocery store and handed me the cash-register tape bearing graphic details of the damage.
"Know how much a head of lettuce is this week?" she said.
I said no.
"Last week it was 79 cents. This week it's 99. Drives me nuts."
About here, we went through our Olympic ticket list again. By dropping four sessions and taking the telescope seats for others, we reduced our bill to $150.
That's not bad, considering. The Olympics designates 26 sessions as "premier," meaning you can order only two tickets for such a session.
Let's say you order two tickets to these high-demand events (gymnastics, boxing, basketball, swimming and diving, volleyball and the opening/closing ceremonies).
The cheapest tickets to the "premier" events would cost $1,990.
The most expensive would cost $5,300.
I'd rather buy Topeka, Kan.
The best buys, from my subjective view as a guy looking for the most athletic excitement, are the superheavyweight weightlifting final (at $15-$25), water polo final ($15-$30), the decathlon's second day ($30-$60), an Aug. 6 all-day pass to track ($25-$50) and the soccer final ($10-$20, with an all-event ticket good, too, at $50-$100.)
I'm using "best buys" in a relative sense, because the tickets, however expensive, will be the least of the cost in an Olympic trip. Besides getting to L.A. and finding a place to stay, the logistics of driving the freeways to events, parking and escaping afterwards promises to leave thousands of us wishing we had spent our money more wisely.
A guy could spend $200 at home and find out more about the Olympics than he'll find out being there.
He could buy a little TV set and, with the change, take out a subscription to the newspaper that makes it possible for my wife to spend 99 cents on a head of lettuce.