New Haven, Connecticut
Greetings friends. Old Digby Dent (BR ’89) here. I’ve been press-ganged by the good folks at The Spectator into sharing a few reflections on living well as the fiery splendor of autumn gives way to the dour cold of winter. The leaves are gone, the days grow short and it’s dark by four in the afternoon in Boston. Worse still, the obvious recreations of warmer days having given way to the inconstancy of the third season, we find ourselves waiting for enough snow to ski, cross-country or alpine. What is to be done in the unsteady interregnum from now until The Game?
Sailing is no damned good if you can’t guess how cold it’ll be on the water. And while I’m a stalwart exponent of layering in all seasons, I won’t stand for a discarded Shaggy dog getting wrapped around my jib sheet. Nor are the terrestrial alternatives especially appealing. The gridiron season may see a rich increase in the intake of domestic beer, but the games that have grown up to accompany our savage proletarian pastime leave much to be desired. In Buffalo, they jump on tables. In New Haven, less so. I’d rather not fling washers like a wainwright. I don’t even like writing ‘cornhole’. And while kubb seems exotic enough at first blush, it’s really just boules without the polished rocks.
I thus underhandedly submit — nay, toss—the humble lawn dart into this gulf, this recreational lacuna, with all the delicacy and sprezzatura it deserves. Rummage through the recesses of your carriage house, or dip into your dacha’s rec room closet, and you’re sure to find a more or less serviceable set tucked between a moth-eaten bird’s-eye crewneck and a be-cobwebbed stack of Uncle Chip’s skin mags.
But Digby, you protest, lawn darts are a spring game! True, old friend. Yet while the smart set puts the croquet set away once wearing white is out the window, autumn’s drier soil hardly hinders the flight of a well flung dart. Indeed, the presence of fallen leaves adds an auditory dimension to the game that feels downright inviting.
Best of all, a lawn dart can be tossed in long sleeves or short, on level ground or hills, in full sun or twilight. Boys and girls can play lawn darts with equal enthusiasm — no ladies’ tees on the lawn dart field. It’s all wrist, focus and blood alcohol content.
Aren’t lawn darts dangerous, Digby? Well, sure! So’s a spinnaker if you’re standing windward. Are we really going to start banning things just because they’re dangerous? Well, I suppose in the case of lawn darts, the answer is yes. But still. Brooks Cordingley was drunk and throwing them straight up in the air. Alone. And he still managed to get into Amherst — which isn’t nothing, coming from Deerfield. But I digress.
Outdoor recreation exists so we can convince ourselves that we’re still the youthful athletes we never really were. It’s also a chance to follow in the footsteps of our forebears and quiet the howling of Calvinism’s existential dread with alcohol. And thanks to the miracle of modern supply chains, cucumber sandwiches don’t go out of style until December these days. Why yes, I will have another.
I acknowledge that some fainthearted readers may pooh-pooh lawn darts. Perhaps I was too cavalier about their danger, though I will not budge on the matter of Brooks’s forehead. Still, these schoolmarms miss the point, so to speak. All great American pursuits measure, and ideally improve, the mettle of their participants.
Do you think the Eight Schools Association exists to breed scholars? Hell, no. It exists to instill steely resolve into the scions of our longest-tenured families through a Darwinian series of social humiliations. Taking a doughy-handed son of privilege and making him clubbable doesn’t happen by magic. It takes ruthless dedication and constant confrontation with the risk of embarrassment.
Lawn darts are merely the recreational tip of this proverbial spear. Heat hardens steel. The hammer and the anvil give it shape. Stick a plastic flight on the end and you’re blending functional alcoholism and the frisson of danger without imperiling your driver’s license. Bring back lawn darts to make America great again.
This article is in The Spectator’s December 2019 US edition.