About the only good thing that happened to the Harvard fencing team this year was the arrangement that allowed the Crimson to shack up at 42nd St. and 8th Ave. while in New York for the Easterns. Anyway you look at it, the hookers and peep-show porno flicks in the 42nd St. vicinity were the most interesting thing to come along for the Harvard fencers all season.
On the Thursday the team arrived in New York, five of the Crimson fencers and myself went to a cheapo-deluxe porno double feature which matched "A Hard Man's Good to Find" and "Little Miss Innocent." Well, "A Hard Man" could well be re-titled "Good Porno is Hard to Find" because the film--shot, I'm convinced, on a 98-cent budget with Bell and Howell N-14 movie camera--consisted entirely of one man (middle aged, paunchy, inconsequential) lapping a variety of women with the world's longest tongue, mostly in the ears and on the eyebrows.
"Little Miss Innocent" was a little more appealing, and in a perverse sort of way, it summed up the Crimson fencing season. First of all, the filmmakers had escaped the Puritan confines that had restricted the efforts of the cameramen in "A Hard Man." And to top it off, the flick had a plot. (Well, sort of a plot.) In a nutshell, it goes like this: Mr. Hip, a rich, chic, handsome man in gold Cadillac convertible, picks up two nubile young girls hitchhiking on the road. They ride with him to the end of his driveway and then depart. Well, they don't really depart, because they come back just at dinnertime and drop in. "I told you I had a groovy house," Mr. Hip tells them. "Yeah," they respond. Well, one thing leads to another, and before you can say "statutory rape" the Mr. Hip has screwed the younger blond (with a little hint of a double chin) girl who, as it turns out, is--or, was--a virgin. Then he moves to the more experienced and older colleague of the blond and screws her, too.
Mr. Hip thinks "Oh wow--what could be better." Well, Mr. Hip soon finds out that almost anything could be. Because--as we find out soon enough--the older of the two girls is intent on discovering whether it is possible to screw a man to death. "We're going to screw you to death," she tells Mr. Hip. And they did, well, almost did anyway.
How, you may already be wondering, does this fit in with the Harvard fencing team. Well, the connection first came to me during the foil trials at the Easterns, when one Crimson foil man, having seen the film the night before, came up to me and said, "You remember how those girls in the movie wanted to screw the guy to death--well I'm going to fence myself to death. I'm tired, and I don't care. I want to fence until I die right here on the strip."
Well, I started thinking about the accuracy of this statement, and I realized that the trouble with this year's fencing squad (which lost all its Ivy League matches) was that it had done just that--it had fenced itself to death. Or rather, it had fenced itself to death on its reputation.
Harvard never really coalesced into a three-weapon team. The foil men, Philippe Bennett, Howie Weiss and Dave Fichter had been expected to lead the Harvard effort, but it was not until the IFAs that the foil team headed the Crimson effort. Weiss was the most consistent of the trio, but extra pounds tended to slow him down on the strip, and he had a tendency to tire late in the matches, especially late in the season.
Fichter, Mr. Frustration for coach Edo Marion, possessed perhaps the finest technical ability in the East but could not, as old Floyd Patterson could not, move for the kill once he got the lead. The number of times Fichter blew a two-or three-touch lead and lost would boggle the mind.
The third foil performer, Bennett, was a freshman. He was also a second-place, Under 19 competitor in national competition. The combination of the two really hampered his performance. He had innate ability but he did not develop technically as the season progressed. Against lesser foes on the Harvard schedule, he did well. But when he got in with the "big boys" it was wholly a matter of luck whether or not he did well. In the Easterns, he was "on" for the first day, easily making the finals. In the finals, though, he was "off" and finished last among the finalists. He has a lot of potential but as yet he hasn't done much to harness it.
In epee, the big story was Chris Jennings. Or rather, the lack of Chris Jennings. The freshman epee specialist was suspended in mid-season for attending a national team tournament rather than the regularly-scheduled Cornell and Columbia meets. Jennings's departure cost the Crimson a lot of points in the regular season and even more in the post-season tournaments. Without him Harvard had to rely on Eugene White and Eric Read. White still hasn't managed to harness his capabilities and tends to be inconsistent. Read, a freshman who replaced Jennings, was by far the most pleasant surprise for Harvard, jumping into a pressure situation and coming up with a solid if not spectacular performance.
The backbone for most of the season was the sabre squad, but even the sabre men had their problems. Captain Terry Valenzuela started well, but faded in the late stretches of the season, and really didn't come near matching his outstanding junior season.
Gordon Rutledge, after as strong freshman campaign, didn't get untracked at all and his inability to rediscover the old magic seriously hindered Harvard. Walter Morris had his on days and his off days, but unfortunately, as the season rolled along, came up with more of the latter than the former.
For Harvard, the three weapons never performed well at the same time. One week it was one weapon, the next, another. They had to keep doing it over and over, trying to get it right. And unlike Mr. Hip, the Crimson never reached a climax.
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