Tony Kling, shoulders back, chin jutting and not a hair out of place, strode through the lobby of Studio City's plush Sportsmen's Lodge, into the coffee shop and toward a corner table set for three.
A deck, lounge chairs and a small pool were visible through windows that bordered the table on two sides.
Once seated, Kling's mother Mary recommended the hamburger. He chose the patty melt.
Meet Tony Kling, Harvard High orator and swimmer.
"There's a whole decorum that some people never develop that is needed in forensics," Tony Kling said in his bold, crisp manner. "I learned as a ninth-grader you watch other people who are champion speakers, they get up and have a certain walk. It's almost like a timid arrogance, if there is such a thing.
"They're confident of themselves and they allow no competition to defeat them. And when they go out there, then they've established a mood already and you're interested in their speech. I have perfected that since about 10th grade."
What he has yet to perfect is the priority he applies to swimming and speech--or, perhaps, the order should be speech and swimming.
Kling isn't sure, and neither are his coaches in either arena. What they do know is that he's valuable in both.
"Tony has done extremely well under extenuating circumstances this year," Harvard swimming Coach Rich Corso said. "He typifies the scholar-athlete that we are looking for."
And, from Tedd Woods, Harvard's director of forensics: "You'll get students who are talented in one event in speech, but to get someone who is a star athlete and then versatile, who can go in many speech events, is unusual.
"He's always prepared. He's clever. He's original."
Each spring since his ninth-grade year at Harvard, the Frontier League swimming championships and the speech championships have fallen on the same weekend. Kling has been forced to decide between the two, choosing speech in 1985 and '87, and swimming in '86 and '88. Call it Kling's Greatest Debate.
Therein lies a riddle that bears little humor and for which Kling has no punch line. This year, the line he \o7 will\f7 see is the long black one at the bottom of a swimming pool.
He will compete in the Southern Section swimming and divingchampionships at Long Beach's Belmont Plaza. The 2-A Division preliminaries begin Friday. Kling, a senior who will swim for Columbia in the fall, won the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events in last week's Frontier League championships and swam the anchor on the winning 400-yard freestyle relay team.
Kling, however, did \o7 not\f7 compete in the California State Speech-Debate-Congress Championship on May 5-7 in San Jose. It is, after all, an even year.
"It's been a very difficult thing all four years," said Kling, who won All-American honors as part of Harvard's 400-yard relay team in 1986. "Everything was fine up until about three weeks ago. There was no conflict. I was going to be able to make both things. Either go up to San Jose right after the meet or the meet would be two days before the tournament. But then, all of a sudden, it became a conflict, and there was a lot of tension."
This year's conundrum was compounded by complications far beyond sports versus study. Tony's father Woody died in early April after a long illness. Woody was a renowned television writer and playwright. The two were very close.
"I told him that I would make him very proud, and that whatever I did from that point on in my life was for him and for my mother," Kling said. "He wasn't able to see both parts of my dream, swimming and speech, come together last year, only speech. This year was supposed to be the completion of the two parts."
The two parts might never become whole, but in the case of Tony, Harvard forensics' momentary loss is Harvard swimming's gain.
Kling, with 10 other Harvard swimmers, will attempt Friday to qualify for the 2-A finals Saturday. Harvard (6-0-1 in dual meets, 5-0-1 in league meets) won the Frontier League championships last week by 51 points over second-place Calabasas. It was the Saracens' second consecutive league title.
Corso said he would like to improve on last season's fifth-place finish in the Southern Section championships.
"Realistically, we'd like to break into the top four or even top three," he said.
Much of Harvard's fate hinges on the performance of Kling.
"I'd have to say Tony has an outside chance to win," Corso said. "It's legitimate, but he's not the favorite. If he goes great, he could go top two or three.
"He's a pretty good technician. He knows his races: the 50 and the 100."
In the league championships at Calabasas, Kling swam the 50 in 22.5 seconds and the 100 in 49.01 seconds.
With the Southern Section championships finally here, many of Kling's toughest decisions already have been made. And for that small stride, he gives abundant thanks.