The Dawn Duel: Blueberries At Ten Paces
Six-thirty a.m.--an ungodly hour in anyone's estimation, but especially so on a Saturday morning. Not even Elsie's is open. Birds chirp raucously and the light attar of apple blossoms tinctures the air. A crowd of about 50--rubbing sleep from their eyes--has repaired to the banks of the Charles, attired in everything from jeans to tails and derby.
They have come to witness the enactment of an event one reads about in Tolstoy or Pushkin, that now-anachronistic macho art form with which gentlemen defended their honor.
They have come to watch a duel. The participants: challenger Maria ("Masha") Magdalena Markof-Belaeff [origine russe], who undoes her red cravate before the action commences; and instigator Mark Van Dyke Holmes, sporting sneakers, vest, and blazer in Eleanor (Roosevelt) blue.
The duel stems from certain noxious remarks made by Mr. Holmes. To wit; "Stalin was a great man, and Russia needs more of them"; "Russians and other Orientals are the intellectual inferiors of other races"; and "I want to be President."
Given her Russian origin, and the fact that two of her roommates are Orientals, Miss Markof-Belaeff could not in good conscience countenance these remarks. Hence she challenged Mr. Holmes to a duel last winter, to be held in May as a kind of rite of spring.
As Miss Markof-Belaeff put it, "Mark Holmes is a creep and I'd have had him caned, but my servants were busy."
The weapons are not ivory-handled pistols, but pies. Blueberry pies with whipped cream. (Undetermined whether they were Stouffer's or Betty Crocker).
The participants, adhering to centuries-old form, stand at ten paces from one another, flanked by their seconds. One of Holmes' men wears a black t-shirt enscribed, "Gregory Alexandrovich--hero of our times."
"I'm gonna be a Masha masher!" tootles Holmes.
"This is my Vis Stud project!" cries someone.
All is in readiness: A doctor (well, Adams House pre-med tutor George Shriner) stands on the sidelines in cape, toting a black bag. A little kid with an inflatable Spiderman ring cavorts through the crowd.
Round one--the pies simply graze the ankles of the two participants. The crowd groans in obvious dismay. The second about is more satisfying, with pies be-purpling the chemises of both Miss Markof-Belaeff and Mr. Holmes. However, round three takes the cake (so to speak), when both participants approach within a foot of each other and boldly smush a pie in the other's face. Guu--shh.
Salvos of applause ensue, and the entire party--seconds, onlookers, and the kid in the Spiderman get-up--troop off to Adams House courtyard to tipple champagne.
Holmes, licking a blueberry off his chin, acknowledges that he majors in government, "but not diplomacy."
Has he ever thrown pies before?
"No, but I've thrown a few elections."
Someone advises him that if and when he does launch a bid for the Presidency, the National Enquirer might ruin him by running photos of him ducking in the duel.
"That's why I want to be Czar."
Miss Markof-Belaeff admitted that she, too, had had no previous pie-throwing experience. She trained for the event by hurling an open paperback against the wall of her room.
Duels are great things, she maintains, and a tradition that rightly should be revived when it can be done in non-violent ways. Since the duel, tensions between herself and Mr. Holmes have been greatly relaxed.
"I feel much more comfortable talking to Mr. Holmes," she remarks, "now that I can imagine him with blueberry all over his face."