We all know this kind of person. He (or she) appears out of the ozone, on the phone, in your email inbox, or in the flesh. Always upbeat and smiling, they are natural born cheerleaders for the sport of polo. They always know someone you know and mention how much fun they had last time they met on the polo field. They allow with a touch of false modesty that they are pretty good riders. Their cup positively runneth over with joie de vivre and, in spite of a certain mysterious quality they exude which may give you cause to hesitate, their charm is irresistible and soon you are taken in by it. Then they announce they are on a collision course with you in the not-too-distant future and, well, sure, they'll have their boots and helmet with them and, wow, yeah, be great to play some polo at your club! Gee, Thanks! Can't wait!
Yes, I am sure we all know this kind of person very well. Extremely well in my case as I see such a one every morning—in the mirror, and usually in need of a shave.
Yes, I am confessing to having tried my hand more than once at hustling a little free polo here and there. Mind you, it's not that I don't have any horses of my own. It's just that I don't usually have them with me when I travel. But unlike most parasitic organisms (if that's what you were about to call me) I have often compensated my hosts in return for the free rides I have enjoyed, or at least I tried to. Sometimes I wrote flattering memoirs about them (alright, I was generally paid for those). Another time I gave a particularly generous patron a car (which I understand blew up shortly afterwards but, hey, it was running fine when I last drove it). And of course those few brave benefactors who have made the long sea voyage to the island where I dwell have been welcomed and offered the pleasure of my own beloved if quirky ponies placed underneath them in our exciting chukkas of offshore colonial style.
Anyway, the point is, I know this aspect of the Game, probably better than most. So, when I received a call from "Jack" I recognized it for what it was right off the bat (or mallet, as it were). He had all the moves I had tried to perfect myself over the years. In addition to giving good phone, he made his follow-up in person with a presence that was infectiously friendly and eminently likeable. There was something vaguely familiar about his boyish good looks that hearkened back to some earlier time of youthful abandon, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. When my horses seemed to like him as well I knew he had made the connection he sought, especially as I was hors de combat myself due to an injury and in the market for someone to keep my ponies fit while I devoted myself to the healing process.
Jack could ride and hit like any West Texas cowboy should and when he volunteered to school a greenish newcomer to my string I began to feel that I was definitely getting the better part of the deal. Relegated to manning the microphone and the whistle for the time being I tried to enjoy watching my ponies playing from a distance, for a change. After I stopped feeling sorry for myself it really wasn't so bad. And with all this umpiring I’m doing, I thought, maybe I'll finally learn the rules of this frigging game.
Jack, meanwhile, managed to charm everyone else in our club as well as he had me. He adapted readily to our style of polo, stomped his fair share of divots, and ate buffalo and salmon at our barbecues just like a native. Ever scouting for new bodies, we were all glad when he let it be known that he was a settler with intentions to stay and become a regular club member. But that mysterious quality would not go away. Jack didn't give us much to go on regarding his past history other than he was from Texas, lived overseas for many years, and loved polo—but that was enough as far as we were concerned.
One weekday I dropped by the barn as I often did and stumbled upon a rather curious scene. Jack was posing with the ponies while a distinguished looking silver-haired fellow I did not recognize snapped away with an expensive camera. The session was over quickly and the photog sped away in a taxi. "Who was that?" I asked of no one in particular—but no one in particular replied.
Later I was told in the sort of hushed tone reserved for rumors of profound gravity, "That was Harry Benson, shooter of Beatles, mega-stars, Presidents."
Months went by and I almost forgot about the incident. Jack and I and some of the other die-hards around the club continued to ride into the winter months although the fields and even our sand arena were off limits due to the frequent wet weather. We tried to keep up our enthusiasm for our sport by talking about vacation trips past and future while hoping for an early return of spring and the beginning of another season.
Then one cold February night I checked my email just before hitting the sack and for good measure the news headlines, too. I was just about to close my laptop and trundle off to bed when I noticed an item about a "tall, handsome 40-something man" reputed to be a son of John F. Kennedy and living on Vancouver Island. The story reported that Vanity Fair was holding an extensive article at the ready pending a conclusive DNA test—but I didn't feel I needed one. That vaguely familiar face and broad engaging smile suddenly identified itself: this was my man Jack, now a Yankee exile in Canada, like me.
I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach as I remembered a day long ago when the "unspeakable crime" changed so many lives forever, not least my own. Perhaps it never really existed but a collective mood brimming with youthful hope also died on that black November Friday in 1963. The aftermath was more than a decade of futile warfare, more assassinations, and the alienation of an entire generation. Add to that a lingering mystery dark and deep as a diamond mine which continues to torment the soul of a nation. Jack spent much of his existence fairly insulated from these episodes until a soul shattering realization just before the death of his presumed father spun his life on a whole new trajectory, and no one can be sure where it will take him. Whether his realization was valid or not waits on the results of a 100% conclusive DNA test—something we have yet to see (although Vanity Fair seems to have jumped their own gun by releasing a version of their story without it). But for now Jack has been sucked into that murkiest vortex of American history. However it may turn out, I don't envy him.
It may seem a bit anti-climactic (if not selfish beyond reason) to return to the recruitment problems of the Victoria Polo Club at this point, but I’m not writing for Vanity Fair here and I am sure most polo players can share my frustration with this problem: good players and good club members are not easy to find on this rock and when we finally seem to get one, a blindsiding bolt from the blue scotches it for us. As for My Man Jack, it doubtless became very difficult to concentrate on polo while his very identity was being stick-and-balled in the popular press. A test of authentic DNA, which has still not occurred as of this writing, could turn the situation around and put an end to the speculation. It is curious that those who could offer this so far refuse to do so.
So, My Man Jack has moved on and must accept his fate, as must we all. We cannot know the future; and that is good, as the Curse of Cassandra shows us. I am grateful that my injury is healing, if slowly, giving me reason to hope I may be able to play again this coming season. But whatever happens I'll always remember My Man Jack, the summer I sat down to watch my ponies play from the sidelines, and the nostalgia for a time before innocence was lost.
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