Seldom, if ever, does a writer leave a measurable imprint on society while alive. Red Smith put it best for us ink-stained wretches by admitting that even our best work shortly will be a "shroud for some haddock." Fictional Felix Unger's proudest poetry decorated a dog's tombstone.
It develops that one of my observations on humankind has found its way to the back of a T-shirt. Not quite a lifetime imprint, to be sure, but a fine start.
The celebration was Saturday in Duke University's Cameron Indoor Stadium, before the Duke-Maryland basketball game.
Except for opposing players and coaches, Cameron is one of basketball's pleasure palaces. A Den of Din. The Palestra of the South. A few thousand Duke students make it special, they being the most clever sporting satirists this side of the Stanford band.
An exceptional player or coach capable of doing in the Devils had better arrive on the floor either with no skeletons in his closet or thick skin.
When a North Carolina State player was allegedly involved in a questionable auto deal, the Dukies rattled hundreds of car keys at him; when Harvard's Bob Ferry stepped to the foul line the other night, he was greeted with the chant: "We want your brother."
To Detlef Schrempf and Christian Welp of the University of Washington, the Dukies yelled airball -- in German. Mr. T would melt through the floor if he had to shoot a T in Cameron. Pity the poor fool.
Almost 13 months to the day, I had switched Duke minds into overdrive with a column on their treatment of Maryland's Herman Veal.
Veal had been charged by a Maryland coed with making sexual advances, but the matter eventually had been erased from his record.
The Dukies tore into him with shockingly poor taste, I thought. They cluttered the court with women's undergarments and chanted filth at him on the foul line.
I thought their little-Devil bottoms ought to have been paddled, and was angry that no administrator rushed to the courtside microphone to call for mercy.
I said they were "majoring in smartass."
They hated the column, but thought the description apt.
An enterprising senior, Jon Blank, designed a T-shirt with a sly-looking Devil holding a pitchfork in one hand and twirling a basketball.
"Cameron Chaos" is lettered on the Devil's horns; "Duke's Sixth Man" is below his tail.
On the back is "Majoring in smartass," my name and the date of the column.
I was warned that my return to Cameron might not be pleasant. Somebody suggested that if Duke alum Richard Nixon had been given the choice of jail or 20 minutes in Cameron he'd have said: "I'll let myself in."
I am not a stranger to criticism. A former Redskin, Rusty Tillman, once wrote vulgar lyrics in my honor that he and some teammates would sing as they walked toward practice.
It's more than slightly unnerving when the entire Redskin defense, or a total of about 3,000 pounds of mean, leaves the huddle during its final pregame workouts screaming: "Hey, hey, kill Denlinger!"
Then there are the letters. Unmentionable.
Could Cameron be any worse? Nah.
Truth is, it was a gas. A small welcoming committee was at my seat on press row -- and I was startled when they asked not for my head but my autograph. I had never signed the back of a T-shirt before.
A few recalled how they had tidied their acts after the column. Instead of yelling the usual obscenity at officials, they chirped: "We beg to differ."
Blank explained that he borrowed the idea from students at Middlebury College in Vermont, whose rugby team had been vilified as "the most despicable bunch of hooligans." More than 1,400 "smartass" T-shirts and sweat shirts have been sold.
The object of the Dukies' deepest affection over the years has been Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell; his quest for career collegiate victory 500 inspired this sign: "499. How did he get in? Is that his board score?"
Driesell nearly always gives the Cameron crazies as much as they offer, saying at times: "I can't read; I went to Duke."
So when a Dukie pointed the bald head he was wearing at Driesell before the game, Lefty casually stopped and autographed it.
I had no idea I would share pre-tipoff billing with Driesell; all of a sudden, there it was: back-to-back chants.
From one side of Cameron came "Ken!" From the other "Denlinger!"
Back and forth it went.
And so forth, until . . .
And then . . .
It helped that'd I'd already bought a T-shirt -- and stood and waved it. Now, minutes before a possibly historic game, Driesell was smiling. Clapping, he joined the merriment.
My only prop was a cup of soda, and I lifted it in salute to Driesell. The Dukies don't pick on small minds.