A White Blur, A Smudge of Plimpton

He was the patron saint of the amateur. By pretending to be George Plimpton in Mozambique, could I become him?

Graeme Wood in The Smart Set:

Screenhunter_01_jun_12_0925Is the world a stale and weary place, now that George Plimpton (1927-2003) is no longer in it? Hardly. But if it still seems fresh with possibility, Plimpton deserves his share of credit for making it so. His legacy is the magazine he edited — The Paris Review — but he is known best for his larks: quarterbacking the Detroit Lions, playing the triangle in Bernstein’s New York Philharmonic, boxing against Sugar Ray Robinson, tending goal for the Bruins, playing piano at an Apollo talent show. (He won second prize, narrowly edging out a guy who played a watering can.) He appeared in so many films that they called him “the Prince of Cameos.” In a way, the denial phase in grieving Plimpton’s death is prolonged by the suspicion that he’s secretly just on temporary assignment in the afterlife, having secured unprecedented permission to harvest souls for a few years as an understudy to the Grim Reaper. But even assuming that his passing is permanent, his example is sweet consolation, for it suggests that the universe — being merciful — has a place for incorrigible dilettantes.

This incorrigible dilettante spent months in Mozambique in the middle of 2001, writing a travel guide to the country. Plimpton had, in a way, prompted my exile. I met him once, when he was the dinner entertainment at a formal event at Harvard University in 2000. Our conversation didn’t last long — it was cut short by Tommy Lee Jones, even gruffer in person than on screen — and produced no anecdote worth remembering, other than the simple thrill of a handshake with a legend. But it did lead to the realization that I had to get out of the country if I wanted Plimptonian hijinks: I would not find it among crusty old Harvard men.

And, as I hoped, in Mozambique the hijinks found me, although they took a couple of weeks to reach anything near Plimptonian levels.

More here.