Friday, March 30, 2012

Asimov PP: 7/1989: "The Importance of Pitch"

I'm going through Isaac Asimov's F&SF essays in reverse order by date to share the Personal Paragraphs with which he invariably opened each essay.
When I was 22, I married a beautiful damsel. (She was not my present dear wife, Janet, but that's another story.)

I was a little nervous about it. After all, I was neither handsome nor athletic nor wealthy nor sophisticated nor many other things that were likely to be attractive to women, and I was dreadfully afraid that the young woman would suddenly realize this.

I knew that I was intelligent, but I wasn't sure if that particular quality was very apparent (we had known each other only a few months) or, if it was, that it was of any importance. It seemed to me, then, that I must lose no chance to do something spectacular with it, something that might impress her.

Consequently, during our honeymoon at a mountain resort, when it was announced one day that there would be a quiz contest that evening and that volunteers would be welcome, my hand went up at once.

I didn;t think there was the chance of a snowball in Hades that I would fail to win and I felt sure this would be bound to impress my new wife.

That night, I was third in line, and after the first two people had answered their questions, I stood up for my turn. At once the audience broke into spontaneous laughter. They hadn't laughed at the first two contestants, but I was very anxious, you see, and when I am anxious my face takes on a look that is even more intensely stupid than the one it wears in repose. So they laughed.

(My wife, who was in the audience, winced noticeably.)

The master of ceremonies then said, "Use the word 'pitch' in various sentences in such a way as to demonstrate five different meanings of the word.

The look of anxiety on my face grew more pronounced, and the audience responded with wild hilarity. I paid no attention and merely collected my thoughts. When the laughter quieted down, I said as loudly and as clearly as I could, "John pitched the pitch-covered ball as intensely as though he were fighting a pitched battle, while Mary, singing in a high-pitched voice, pitched a tent."

And then, in the dead silence that followed, I said (with a sly grin, I'm afraid) "One sentence does it."

Of course, I went on to win the contest and greatly impressed my wife. Interestingly enough, the affair won me considerable hostility from all the other guests. I gathered that there was a widespread feeling that I had no right to look so stupid without actually being stupid.

The reason I mention this now is that that little adventure of nearly half a century ago popped into my mind when I began to plan an essay in which I intended to describe how pitch (in the fourth sense used in that sentence of mine) told us a great deal about the size and the age of the universe.

It's interesting to read this essay - in particular if one has not read the first volume of his autobiography in which he goes into the courtship of Gertrude Blugerman, who will become his first wife.

In all the time they were courting...what did she do that gave him the impression that she would say "yes" if he asked her to marry him? From the essay above, it's not at all clear.

They were married in the early 1940s, back when women were not expected to work outside the home and their sole reason for existence was to get married and have kids. So it must be admitted that any woman who wanted to "leave home" could only do it in one way, by getting married. And presumably she would marry the first man who asked her, regardless of how she actually felt about him.

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