In the spring of that hard year, 1968, the Columbia University crew coach, Bill Stowe, explained to me that there were only two kinds of men on campus, perhaps in the world–Jocks and Pukes. He explained that Jocks, such as his rowers, were brave, manly, ambitious, focused, patriotic and goal-driven, while Pukes were woolly, distractible, girlish and handicapped by their lack of certainty that nothing mattered as much as winning. Pukes could be found among “the cruddy weirdo slobs” such as hippies, pot smokers, protesters and, yes, former English majors like me.
I dutifully wrote all this down, although doing so seemed kind of Puke-ish. But Stowe was such an affable ur-Jock, 28 years old, funny and articulate, that I found his condescension merely good copy. He’d won an Olympic gold medal, but how could I take him seriously, this former Navy officer who had spent his Vietnam deployment rowing the Saigon River and running an officers’ club? Not surprisingly, he didn’t last long at Columbia after helping lead police officers through the underground tunnels to roust the Pukes who had occupied buildings during the antiwar and antiracism demonstrations.