My sister Emy loves to tell this story.
In high school P.E., we had to run races of varying lengths as part of the Presidential Fitness tests. You might ask why an international school populated only minimally by Americans had to abide by the American president’s fitness standards. You might ask if we even knew who the American president was. You might ask. We didn’t. We only complained.
The worst race was the 1,200 meter. It involved eight laps around our gravelly field atop a mountain in Kobe, Japan. The view was quite lovely from our school; on a clear day, you could see clear across the bay to Awaji Island. We were not thinking about the view that day. We had 1,200 meters to run.
What happened was inexplicable. I ran in record time. I scored among the highest of the high school girls. The class was shocked. The P.E. teacher was shocked. I was shocked. The fastest anyone had ever seen me move was from Algebra for Retards to cheerleading practice, and that was a deliberate jog to keep intact my Aquanetted hair.
But it turned out my athletic achievement was a huge, huge mistake. The highest-scoring girls would have to run in the all-school athletic day, which I had fully planned to spend sipping sweet lemon tea at our local coffee shop.
I wailed at the injustice. Mrs. Clark, the P.E. teacher, gave me an out. “If you run the 400,” she said, “you can skip the 1,200.”
Sounds like a good deal, right? That’s 800 fewer meters—roughly 1,600 fewer steps of agony! You bet I took it.
Only I had not run the 400 in anything close to a good time. And I was up against a Dutch girl who would cloud my path with her frizzy hair and breathtaking b.o.
But I had a strategy. I would start out slow, then take it in the last lap.
Do I have to tell you it didn’t work? Trotting out of the gate, I jogged comfortably for the first 200 meters while the other girls shot past me. By the time I started thinking about picking it up, however, I noticed they were in fact about to lap me. In panic, I willed my legs to go faster, but not being a runner I had all sorts of lactic acid building up and was of course unable. I finished a good half lap behind the other girls, to the shrieking delight of my friends and siblings. Mrs. Clark knocked down my grade for “not trying.” But I did try! I just bet on a really stupid strategy.
So, Mayor Giuliani, I understand. I’m not given to any sympathy toward you, understand: I think you’re a deeply evil man who would lead this country to ruin. I confess, however, to a pang of empathy as I watched you flounder toward third-place finish in Florida, where you had placed all your primary eggs. Holding back all your efforts in the belief you’ll surge midway through the race was about as smart as persecuting your political enemies while you were mayor of New York City. It came back to bite you in the end.