From time to time I’ll post the text of essays I’ve written and read for NPR’s All Things Considered, or published elsewhere. Here’s one read on All Things Considered just after 9/11.
In 1973, my father retired from fifty years as a sportswriter in the newspaper business. He stayed home for one day and then took a job on the 101st floor of the then brand new Two World Trade Center. He love the place; the sway of the buildings which, he explained, you only really see lying flat on the floor with one eye closed. He was viewed in this position many times and mostly he could convince anyone who asked to lie down and have a look as well.
I was in college at the time and he wrote to me at least once a week from his office, always marveling at the view with the whole joy one man could have whose parents had raised him out of the tenements of New York and who could go on to be looking out over a city he had loved as much as he loved baseball.
In his new job as the public information officer of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, he wrote to many other people answering questions mostly about thorobred racing, the sport of kings. Of course there are other kinds of fans of other kinds of racing and when they wrote, he did his best to answer them as well. One day in 1974, when a little girl from Devonia Avenue in Mount Vernon, New York, wrote with a pressing request, he complied.
I am told you that you are seeking turtle racing rules. I learn from our Turtle-Racing Division that the basic rules, under Chapter 4735.9B, Division X, include the following:
No cerise, polka dot or striped turtles are permitted to compete.
The course is to be circular, at least three feet in diameter, with starts at the center and marshmallows on the outside –or finish– lines, for consumption only by turtles’ owners and trainers and parents.
Entry blanks must be supplied at the course and must be filled in with full description, name, age, pedigree, trainer’s name and color (of turtle, not trainer).
Partnerships, stable names, authorized agents and racing colors must be registered with the Turtle Club
Stewards, designated by the turtle club, must be on duty to see that racing turtles keep to a straight course and do not go over the course at a speed that would be of hazard to other contestants or the spectators or stewards.
Any turtle adjudged guilty or excessive speed will be put back in his tank immediately and punished by being fed an extra amount of dinner. (The extra amount is intended to make him fat and thus handicap him in the next race).
Any turtle who bites another contestant or a steward is to be frowned upon. The owner must practice frowning in front of a mirror for four (4) minutes before every race in order to be in proper condition.
No purse for any race is to exceed 4 cents, except in Anglo-American competition, in which the purse may be increased to a shilling, and several-turtle international racing, in which the purse may be increased to one subway token.
Talking turtles are barred, because of noisiness. No turtles may streak.”
The letter was signed, “sincerely James Roach, Director of Turtle information.”
I don’t know what Nancy did with her letter when she got it, but I have always kept a copy of it near my desk in the years since, and always it has reminded me of a happier time.