Dr. Anthony Esolen, to whom I am indebted enough for his translation of the Divine Comedy, has this neat story about Teddy Roosevelt over at Touchstone:
From a children's encyclopedia (first printing, 1914), on a man whom the writer justly calls our most popular President, Teddy Roosevelt:
"While at college he taught a Sunday School class. One day one of his students came to class with a black eye. He owned up that he had got it in a fight and on a Sunday at that. He confessed to his teacher that during the morning service a boy, sitting next to his sister, had pricked her all through the hour, so after church he waited outside and they had a good 'stand-up fight,' and he 'punched him good,' although he got a black eye in exchange. 'You did exactly right,' said his teacher and gave the lad a dollar. To the class it was ideal justice, but when the church authorities heard of it they were scandalized. Young Roosevelt was dismissed and took himself and his ideals to another Sunday School.
"Many years later he gave this bit of advice to his Boy Scout friends: 'What we have a right to expect of the American boy is that he shall turn out to be a good American man. Now, the chances are strong that he won't turn out to be much of a man unless he is a good deal of a boy. He must not be a coward or a weakling, a bully, a shirk, or a prig. He must work hard and play hard. He must be clean-minded and clean-lived, and able to hold his own under all circumstances and against all comers. It is only on these conditions that he will grow into the kind of a man of whom America can be really proud. In life, as in a football game, the principle is: Hit the line hard; don't foul and don't shirk, but hit the line hard.'"
I read this in the fine essay from Esolen just this morning (after returning from a Diocesan priests' convocation where Archpriest Patrick Reardon was the main presenter).
Just after I got back to Pittsburgh last night, these events unfolded:
While waiting for my wife at the mall, I chanced upon a scuffle played out on the asphalt, under the facade of Barnes and Nobles.
But this was no honorable duel, rewarded by the better Roosevelt. This scuffle was a tête-à-tête between mall security (an oxymoron if there ever was one) and two shirtless pubescents, stomping on their skateboards.
The partners couldn't believe they were being asked, politely, to curtail their thrill quest (and, perhaps, prurient peacock dance). They were even more offended that they were required to amend their shirtless attire, by -- I suppose -- shirtting on themselves.
Up to this point, Teddy might not have found much to disavow. Skateboarding is distantly related to sport, in the sense that the Huns and Greeks both could be described as societies. And TR may not have found shirtlessness offensive. He probably swam naked, but there were no women around the pool. Waist-up nakedness was still naked when the nicer, softer gender were about -- and there were some perambulators of this sort in the parking lot.
No, where the Big Stick would have bristled was at the moment the boys engaged in that peculiar modernist habit of "hostile wailing." They actually wept -- hot salt water streaking dirt tracks down their pockmarked, jejeune-bristled cheeks. They stuttered, inarticulate, their grievances at being charged to cease and clothe.
At the same time, oddly, they grimaced in rage, clenching fists, planning even at the moment to wage revenge, that night, when it was safe, of course. After all, the clenched fists and the rhetoric were impotent, unfortunately unlike the more biological appurtenances that had seen too much service.
But tonight was different: a little time jumping the curbs, certainly, then to work on scattering trash from the dumpsters, slashing a few tires, breaking a little glass. "We'll show them who rules the night."
All under the facade of Barnes and Nobles, where the biographies of TR are for sale, but not his stories of Sunday School, or the Boy Scouts.