Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Marathon Remembered

The 2009 New York City Marathon is this Sunday, November 1st.

I remember it as a crisp fall Sunday turned dark, an eerily unsteady day for a marathon. The day was October 23, 1983.

Author and leading animal rights activist Cleveland Amory had, in his inimitable fashion, not asked, but told me I was coming to “a little party” he was giving in his Central Park South apartment, which “practically” overlooked the finish line of the New York City Marathon.

I arrived to find Cleveland’s cozy living room, too small I believed to contain the larger than life Cleveland, filled with “big” people: Walter Cronkite, Arthur Schlesinger, Norman Mailer and Walter Anderson, the Parade Magazine chief. I was immediately informed that the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon had been attacked by a terrorist suicide truck bombing, killing 241 marines.

I was asked questions I wished I had answers for—I was supposed to be an authority on Lebanon—but I was as uninformed and bewildered as everyone else. You don’t venture guesses when it’s Walter Cronkite who’s doing the asking.

Cleveland had engaged a chef to prepare omelettes to order, but no one was eating. No one was interested in anything but the heartrending news. The venerable newsmen seated themselves around a television set to catch what updates they could. They talked about switching channels briefly to look in on the marathon—which one could view “live” from Cleveland’s balcony, a dozen steps away—but stayed glued to their seats and the network news. In reality, no one on TV knew enough of anything yet, and the reports became a litany of hearsay and conjecture. If you take news as something new, there was none.

Only Mailer and I took to the tiny balcony, which overlooked the final stretch immediately before the marathon’s finish line. Smitten by the display of the runners’ stamina, I said, “Look at that, Norman… 26 miles, and they look fresh as they can be!” He said, “That’s because they’re losers.” As my jaw dropped, he added, “It’s a race. They should be all out.”

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