The Pro Shop in Maple Valley is a continuous story, a smell, a rhythm, a noise, a different quality of air, a hobby, a pastime, a religion. The pro shop is city workers and social outcasts, used golf balls, broken tees, cigarette butts, French fries, and afternoon alcohol. The people who come there, as one golfer said, “are those that work, those who can’t work, and those who should be working.” But he could have just as easily described them as hippies, drunks, bums, and fools and everybody else.
Before the red sun rises above the checkered fairways, the maintenance workers can be seen, moving like shadows by the shop, trimming greens, blowing dust, and disposing of forgotten things. Then a steady stream of humanity arrives. Hispanic men in their kitchen uniforms and their tired women wearing dresses, stretched to the seams, with cigarette smoke billowing behind them. Retired men who used to be lawyers, judges, and professional sons-of-bitches push their carts in a steady line like ants moving towards the first hole. When the head pro finally arrives, he turns the key in the lock, and the heart-beat of the golf course pumps like a rhythmic rhyme.
Wade was short, well-built, and still maintained his military crew cut. I walked into the pro shop with my friend Brad. Wade was on the phone, he looked at us and nodded.
“What are you going to get?” Brad asked.
“I need a golf glove.” I walked over to the gloves hanging on the wall.
Brad picked out a golf ball from the lost and found. He threw it into the air and caught it.
“Why don’t you guys join a gang. Are going to fucking rip me off or what?” Wade asked.
“Naw.” Brad tossed the ball into the bag and it bounced out. “Andy, you said that we could get onto the course for free.”
“I know, just a second.”
Wade put his hand over the receiver. “Do you always do everything this guy tells you to do?”
“No,” I said.
Wade looked at the front nine and then glanced at the back.
“You guys, go, right now! If you get caught, I’ll deny all knowledge of who you are. I don’t know you.”
Brad and I rushed to the back nine. Brad pulled out an iron and teed it up. Whack. The ball went sky-high and landed 100 yards in the middle of the fairway.
“Hey man, how’d you guys get in front of us?” Another group walked up. A guy with hippy hair and a beard with multicolored flannel clothes approached.
“You guys snuck on, didn’t yah?”
“We have permission to be here,” I said.
“Is that right?” The hippy asked.
“Hurry up and tee off,” Brad whispered.
“I’m just fucking with you. Have a great round of golf.”
I wacked the ball straight down the fairway with my 3 iron.
Brad and I finished our 9. It was nearly dark. Wade was outside the pro shop, sticking his knife into the wall.
“If I ever catch someone stealing from this pro shop I’ll stick ’em for sure. I learned how to do it in Vietnam.”
I didn’t doubt that Wade would do it. He didn’t care about stolen merchandise—he just wanted to kill somebody.
“Did you boys get tired of jerking each other off?”
“Thanks Wade, we had a great time.”
“Come in and see me sometime.”
Brad and I got some fries.
“You wanna have a putting competition?” Brad asked.
“In the dark?”
“Yeah, quarter a hole.”
“Miss it!” Brad screamed. I holed out. “Pay up,” I said.
“I’ll give you the quarter on the bus tomorrow.”
Brad’s dad picked him up. I walked across the street. It was fall. I had my entire life in front of me. The next day, I was back at the pro shop.
“Why don’t you get a job?” Wade asked.
“I’ve got a job mowing lawns.”
“That’s not a job. When I was young, my friend and I ran everywhere in Arizona. You know how hot it gets down there? Hot. We did landscaping for old women and joined the army. I became a green beret in Vietnam—did lots of suicide missions. Carried tactical explosives through the jungle and got my ass out of there. You would be surprised how fast and long you can run when Charlie is on your ass. I was chiseled. My body was rock hard. Now my pecks are sagging. I never thought I would live to be this old. I should’ve died a long time ago. I’ve raced R1s. All my friends have died.”
The telephone rang. “That’s my wife,” Wade said.
“Honey, what’s up? Uhugh. Uhugh. If your boss thinks he can do that, I’ll fucking kill him! You tell him that you will quit if he ever makes you work overtime again. I’ll come down there and give him a piece of my mind!”
Wade’s face was turning red.
“I’m coming over there right now.” Click.
“Andy, I’ve got to close up a bit early today. I need to go yell at my wife’s boss.”
“Gotcha,” I said.
Six months later I was working with him.
“Those are nice sunglasses,” Wade said.
I pulled them off.
Wade smiled and the pro shop came into focus.
“Ryan wants competition. Why don’t you give it to him?”
I walked outside. He was taking long strokes with his belly putter and drinking beer.
“I’ve been working out— can’t you tell?” He asked.
I looked at him. He looked the same.
“Quarter a hole?”
“Pretty rich. You got the money?”
I showed him the bills.
“Those are nice sunglasses. Can I try them out?”
“Sure,” I said.
“That’s the wrong hole.”
“I don’t understand it—I was making everything earlier.”
We finished 9 and he paid up.
“Can I have my sunglasses back?”
“I’ll give you 50 for ‘em.”
“Deal,” I said and I took his money.
Ryan lost his luck that evening, and his world grew darker than midnight.
I was busy cleaning the mud off golf clubs and golf carts when it happened. I look back on this time with nostalgia, but I know most people wouldn’t trade places with me. I enjoyed being a cart kid because I worked in isolation. Wade was on duty that afternoon and it was getting hot in the pro shop; the heat always aggravated his unstable temper. He’d been closing the last week and his till kept coming back five dollars short.
While I was returning a messy golf cart filled with unopened beer, I noticed Wade through the Pro Shop window. He was turning bright red, almost purple and his neck was pulsating. I looked through the other window to see what was upsetting him and there was the boss. She was waving her finger at him, undoubtedly giving him a scolding for coming up short. Kelly exited the Pro Shop and waddled down to her Lexus, whereby, I entered. Wade was gasping for air, like he’d been punched in the gut.
“I should’ve been killed in Nam,” he said. “Working for a woman is worse than fighting Charlie.” He spoke to me in a whimpering voice that had been beaten. “Andy, go get me a frozen sherbet, will you? I need to collect my wits for a bit.” His face was all blotchy and if this hadn’t happened before, I would’ve sworn he was about to have a stroke.
I walked into the break room that smelled of hard alcohol, stale cigarettes, men’s aftershave, and BO. I always walked through it holding my breath. I didn’t know how some guys could eat their food in there. The freezer was empty, with the exception of one cup of frozen sherbet. It was the kind that came with a wooden spoon. I grabbed it and sure hoped it would make Wade feel better.
Just then, a voice crackled over my radio.
“Pro Shop to Andy, Pro Shop to Andy. Where is my frozen sherbet? And we have a duck on the driving range we need you to catch.”
I ran back to the pro shop to give Wade his ice cream. “Next time I expect you to do it faster,” Wade said. “Now get in the picker and see if you can catch that duck before it gets hit by a golf ball and we get sued.”
I hopped into the cart and gunned it in the duck’s direction, which caused the bird to run away. Wade forgot to tell the driving range to stop hitting golf balls. I jumped out and tackled the bird. It bit me three times before I got my hand around its neck. I hoped I didn’t have bird flu. When I got back, I released it into the wild, drank the unopened beers, and went home feeling like I’d accomplished something.
The city golf course is an off-color song that gets better every time you play it. You find the rich and poor willing to spend 20 dollars to kill 4 hours on a hot summer day. Men wave-down the cart girl to buy ice-cold beer.
“Will that be all boys?” She asked.
Usually, one of them gives her his phone number and she works the group like a pro. Jenny can sell beer and make you feel special at the same time. The men smoke cheap cigars in the shade of the old maple tree while the maintenance crew prepares the course. These tired men in worn work clothes are invisible to those of influence in starched polo shirts who compare the time of day to show-off their Rolex watches.
When I started working as a cart kid, I didn’t have my driver’s license because my past experiences operating machinery were disastrous. I left that out of the job interview. There was the time I lost control of my grandma’s three-wheeler, crashing it through her raspberry patch and running myself over in the alfalfa field.
Anyway, my first day as a cart kid began without any problems.
I parked clean golf carts at a 60-degree angle by the Number 1 tee. It was easy enough. There was the break and there was the gas. But then Jenny arrived. She was wearing really short cut-off jeans and a flannel checkered shirt tied above her waist. “Will you take me to the pro shop?” She asked. Jenny got in before I could answer. She smelled like cherries and I hit the gas. “Is this your first day?” She asked. Jenny stared at me with her dark brown eyes and I looked back, intoxicated. “Slow down!” She screamed. And I slammed the break, but it was the gas and we launched into the pro shop.
I grabbed Jenny to keep her in the cart and felt her silky skin. We dented the door. I knew I was fired. And all of the golfers on the practice green laughed. But then the head pro came out and looked at the damage. “You’re just getting a handle of her, aren’t you?” He asked. Mike had a wide grin on his face. After that, my reckless driving became legendary. Every new cart kid I trained got lectured about not picking up beautiful women and pulling a “Johnson”.
I was 16 and trying to figure out what to do with my life. I got hired at the golf course a few months back and now it was the off season. I wasn’t working much and the job was slow. So, I cleaned out the gutters and the drains and waited for the dirtiest golf carts to come back. The course changes in the winter. There’s a constant drizzle. And players use gas heaters to keep warm. These types work blue collar jobs and have a spot on the men’s club. You might find them on community bowling leagues. They go unnoticed in society and the city depends on them when the power fails or the sewage lines back up. The greens freeze over and the winds brings down tree limbs, and they’re in denial that the course in unplayable. Their ponchos and pant legs get drenched. Their balls plug in the mud. It’s 33 degrees and nostalgia keeps them going. I tried to stay inside. Hypothermia was real. And I talked to the janitors to pass the time.
“You know, we just hired a man from Mississippi. He has a pony tail and he’s a misogynist.”
“A what?” I asked.
“He hates women. You should hear some of the things he says.”
“Like what does he say?” I asked.
Bonita gave me a disapproving smile. She was in her late 40s with bags under her eyes and dyed black hair. She wore low-cut tops and jeans that exposed her beer belly. I was just a curious kid without much knowledge of relationships.
“He thinks men are better than women,” Bonita said. He has an ego.”
“Find a nice girl Andy and treat her right.”
“I’m workin on it,” I said.
I left her to clean a golf cart caked in mud and reeking of BO. There were unused golf tees in there, bubble gum wrappers, chewing tobacco, and beer cans stuffed in the cubby holes.
The river was rising near my neighborhood and people were sandbagging. The next-door-neighbor was worried because water kept squirting out of her lawn. Her house was built on a concrete foundation that was shifting towards the river. Soon, parts of the neighborhood were evacuated. The flood was moving so fast that it piled up in the center. It was brown with white caps. Uprooted trees charged downstream like battering rams. I was excited by disaster and I didn’t think about the consequences of losing my home.
Back at the golf course…
Diehard players were dispersing. I think it was the ice storm. And I overheard the head pro talking.
“The course sits on an old river bed. When the flood shifts just this much, we could be underwater.”
The next day, it happened. A river-current plowed through the forest and washed across fairways 4, 5, and 7. It was 4 feet deep in some places and the boss had us out there in an aluminum boat with an outboard motor collecting flagsticks and anything else we could. It was dangerous, but I loved it.
I was in the boat with Greg and Dave. “This beats being at home any day,” Greg said.
“Same here—my wife is on my case,” Dave complained. “She just wants to smoke and drink and she doesn’t watch the boys. They’re in middle school now and they’ll have a girl pregnant before they get to the 9th grade. I’m still trying to teach ’em different, but they’re like me when I was their age. I thought with my little head and married the wrong woman. Keep that in mind, Andy. Your little head will get you into trouble.”
“Thanks Dave,” I said.
Greg corrected me. “No really, you have to be careful out there. Women are not to be trusted. You’re free now, but just wait. In 5 years, you could be married.”
“Really guys… women can’t be that bad.”
They raised their eyebrows and looked at each other. “He’ll find out.”
We collected the pins, some tee markers, and trash cans. And I thought about what Greg and Dave told me. I just wanted to do something I loved and leave the rest of the world behind. Maybe there were a lot more lessons to learn. So, I decided to keep my mouth shut and my ears open and be ever mindful of my little head.
I watched Ryan eating salad in the break room with a cigarette in his mouth and a beer in his hand. It was a healthy unhealthy paradox that didn’t make sense until you knew him. It was all free. “Don’t miss out on the tournament buffet in the lobby,” he said.
I was going to play golf and the prospect of eating a salad already grazed on by golfers did not sit well with my stomach.
I entered the pro shop. “Can you get me out there?” I asked.
“Well… do you still work here?”
“Wait a second,” the head pro said. “I got a guy here, eccentric if you ask me, but richer than Croesus. He wants a caddie. I told him we don’t have caddies because this is a city golf course, but he still thinks he can get one. Would you like the job?”
I really wanted to play golf, but I noticed the Lamborghini parked outside. “Sure!” I said. A middle-aged man, in his late 30s, set his clubs in front of the pro shop and walked in. He paid with a 100-dollar bill. “Give me a golf glove, balls, tees, everything I need.”
The head pro put a 5th of whiskey on the counter. “How often do you play?”
“About once a year.”
“Then you’ll need this,” he said.
“I’ll take your word for it. The eccentric popped the top and took a swig right there. Where’s my caddie?”
He looked at me, not very impressed. “Boy, take my clubs. This should get you started for the first hole.” He handed me a 50. The man wore knickerbockers and a sweater vest out of the 1950s. Is this guy for real? I thought. But he was paying me and that’s all I cared about.
“The McCandless single,” the announcer drawled.
“What club will it be?” I asked.
“I’ll take the big stick.” It had a wooden shaft and he clubbed it so hard, his ball went passed the group in front of us. “FORE!”
He struck their golf cart, drawing angry looks. I wasn’t sure I was going to survive. Something was off; the air pressure made my ears numb.
“You want a drink?” McCandless asked.
“No thanks,” I said
And he chipped his ball within a foot of the hole, tapping it in for a birdie. I was playing with a very lucky man or a pro or someone I didn’t quite understand.
“Can you believe this? These guys are slower than slugs and they have power carts!” McCandless yelled. “What are you trying to do with your life?”
“I’m going to community college.”
“Waste of time,” he said. “Employees are slaves. I’ll tell you what, every hole I birdie, I’ll give you 100 dollars.”
“That’s fine with me,” I said.
He swung his wedge with graceful motion and his ball landed within three feet of the hole. “You’ll be rich by the end of the day. Here’s the 100 I owe you.”
By the time we got to the 3rd hole, I had 250 dollars. McCandless did it again. I thought I was dealing with a savant who didn’t turn pro because he could make more money in business.
We were near the 3rd green and a golfer collapsed.
“Someone call 911—he’s having a heart attack!”
McCandless jumped on him like a lion and performed CPR. It was instinct. Suddenly, the golfer breathed again. Everyone cheered.
“It’s not every day you save a man’s life!” McCandless rejoiced.
How can we repay you?”
“Give to my caddie’s college fund. He seems intent on going.”
The group wrote me a check and the next semester was covered.
It was Ladies’ Day at Maplewood Golf Course and my job was to stage carts. I entered the pro shop to retrieve my key and Kirk greeted me with his usual, “Andrew.” I found-out I was working with Jerry. He was tanned, 55 years old, and wore a gold chain around his neck. I’ve never met anyone more high-strung. Jerry liked his job because he could cruise around and flirt with the women. He needed constant redirection and if he didn’t know what he was supposed to do, he would start talking faster. Without an intervention he would work himself into a panic and start screaming over the radio. Usually, this was when the head pro would speak to him in his slow casual drone. “Jerry, calm down.” But Jerry wouldn’t calm down. “We have too many golf carts on Number 7 and we’re missing a sign on Number 6!” And the head pro would repeat what he said in the same slow casual drone. “Jerry, calm down!”
The ladies were arriving. Most of them wore checkered pants and silk polo shirts. I was looking for younger ones, but they were all over the age of 40. They looked like they worked corporate jobs and told people what to do all day.
I got a call over the radio. “Pro Shop to Andy, Pro Shop to Andy. Our first group is about to tee off and we need a Yamaha on Number 1.”
I walked into the cart barn and there was Jenny. She was dressed in a pink polo top and a short mini skirt. She lit a cigarette between her pink painted lips and smiled at me. I got into the nearest golf cart, thinking about our age difference. She was 28 and I was 16— it could work. I gunned the golf cart extra fast and hit the curb on the way out. She made most men act the same way. It was a combination of pheromones, cigarette smoke, and her voice suggesting things that weren’t said. She sold a lot of chips and beer.
I parked the golf cart near the championship tees and jumped out. But then I noticed the ladies were milling about on the putting green near the white tees. Maybe I should move the golf cart forward? I thought—and I did. Then I noticed a registration tent near the red tees and it dawned on me, obviously the ladies will be teeing off from their own tees—and I moved their golf cart up again.
Two ladies glared at me when I walked back to the pro shop. I didn’t pay them any attention because I was on my lunch break. I entered the club house to raucous pandemonium.
“Andy, that was pure genius,” Kirk said. He slapped me on the back.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Oh, this just keeps getting better. You mean, you don’t know?” Kirk was laughing so hard he could barely talk and the head pro smiled.
“Should we tell him?” Jerry asked.
“Okay, tell ‘im,” the head pro said.
“When you parked near the championship tees, the ladies tried to load their golf clubs onto the back of your cart. They lifted them high and you drove away. They caught up with you again at the white tees, and you did the same thing. Margret is a lawyer. I bet she wants to sue your ass.”
“But I didn’t mean to,” I said. Everybody laughed. It was uncontrollable. I didn’t realize how funny it was until I was eating my Bogey Burger and fries five minutes later.
Tall Tom was at least 6′ 4″. He wore black sunglasses and wrinkled polo shirts. He was a bachelor at 45 and that was not likely to change. He loved women and sexual innuendo. And the other guys enjoyed him because he brought humor into their day. “Whoever invented the Maxfli Noodle is a man after my own heart,” Tom said. “It says long and soft on the golf ball. Whoever wrote that was a genius.” He had this attitude. People didn’t mess with him—probably because he was over 260 pounds. Tom wore a gold watch, gold rings, and a gold chain. He played golf for the enjoyment. In fact, Tom did everything for the enjoyment.
He chose to work in the pro shop because he belonged. Tom flirted with the cart girls and swing coaches. And on the weekends, he played on the men’s club. He bought a BMW Z3 with a gold exterior and a tanned interior. He loved that car and he was very protective of it. The problem was that golf balls frequently hit cars, so Tom parked in the safest spot out front, even though employees were not allowed to park there.
“Tom, move your convertible to employee parking,” the head pro said.
“But it’ll get hit.”
“I don’t care, you should’ve thought about that before buying an expensive car.”
Tom moved it up to the maintenance shop.
Two hours later the head pro was called by the green’s keeper. “Which one of your jackasses parked in my spot?”
“Let me guess— is it a gold Z3?”
“Tom! I told you to move to employee parking.”
“But that’s near the driving range.”
“Do it or you’re fired.”
Tom glared. “I’ll kill anyone who dents my car.”
He parked near the cart barn.
The next day Tom was playing in a tournament and there was no parking.
He moved his car to the green’s keeper’s spot again. Tom was half drunk when he finished golfing and he found his car boxed in by the maintenance trucks. He had to throttle it forward and drive behind the shop to get out of there. Before he left, Tom decided to express his inner child and he let all the air out of every single truck tire. It took hours— probably a good thing too because he was far from sober.
The next day there was pandemonium in the pro shop.
“Tooooommmm! You’re fired!”
Tom clocked out, got into his convertible, put on his shades, turned up the music, and drove to the nearest golf course to get a job.
15 years later, I see him from time to time. He’s still driving his car in pristine condition, and he looks like he always did, bombing life and playing golf.
I remember driving to my art class in Bellevue after working 8 hours at the golf course. My work pants were covered with weed pulp from 20 different kinds of grass. “You don’t get hay fever, do you?” My boss asked.
“Not that I know of,” I said.
“Good; then grab a weed eater and start whacking the tall grass on Number 9. I felt like every job I had was a test of my endurance. They afflicted my body and mind until I had to quit and hide from the boss. The golf course was like a woman with every type of body hair and nail growth. Someone had to keep her beautiful; and if she went for just a week without maintenance, things started to get ugly. Roots grew under her sidewalks, trash filled up in the parking lot, bushes climbed chain-link fences, and the grass grew too tall in the wrong places.
I welcomed the long drive to Bellevue. I’d listen to classical music on the radio and try to get the job out of my bones. My hands were still vibrating from the weed eater and I could hear the boss’s voice in my ear. College life was a welcome change of pace. My art history class was taught in a damp dungeon by a skinny man in his mid-forties. I think he was gay, but he didn’t advertise. I liked him because he pronounced words in French with an air of superiority and he liked to talk art. His mother kept calling him in the middle of instruction and he had to step out to reassure her. He’d come back like nothing happened and begin talking about the Native Americans.
Everyone in class wore pristine clothes. Their shoes were without marks. It took effort to be that clean. My clothes looked like a seeded grass lot, watered with sprinklers and mowed by a machine that puked oil. My mother was worried that I was going to choose maintenance as a career. My boss hoped I would. It was difficult to find guys who would wake up at 3 AM to cut grass in the dark.
That morning, Dave instructed me on my career goals. “Join the fuckin military,” he said.
“Don’t listen to him Andy. The closest he got to combat was basic training. He’s just a wannabe jarhead. Hurt his back in a routine training exercise and has been taking disability ever since.” Pete spoke sense and didn’t tell the young guys what to do.
I looked over at Bill. He didn’t say anything. He was 75 years old and reading the National Inquirer with one good eye.
Working men just want a cold beer at the end of a hot day. And they avoid manual labor if they can. They adopt a rhythm when doing their work so that smoking and talking mitigate the strain of each moment. Each man is a genius unto himself, sharing his wisdom like a sage. Words transform tired rooms into lively spaces.
Pete lounged in his lazy boy while the boss wrote assignments on the board. “Anybody who’s asleep should wake the fuck up,” the boss shouted.
And Pete cracked his eyelids to give his attention.
“It’s tournament day, so be sure to move fast and avoid mistakes.”
On a Sunday, the golf course is full of the ungodly, playing the game like a religion. Men were gathered on the practice greens smoking cigars and discussing the US Open while I changed the pin locations. A truck honked behind me. It was Jordan and his pickup truck was filled with sand.
“The rain washed out the bunker last night and the boss wants me to fill it. I might need your help if you can pick up the speed, dumbass.”
“Sure thing, smartass.” And I met him on hole number 5. He drove onto the green and activated the sand. It slid into the trap where the gravel was exposed. Jordan gunned the engine to pull out of there, but forgot he was still in reverse and his truck slid into the trap. He opened the driver’s side door and looked down. “Oh shit; call Dave and tell him to bring his chain.”
I looked at Jordan from down below and smiled. The golf course had a way of dispensing justice.
“Andy to Dave… Andy to Dave. We need you to bring a tractor and a chain to hole number 5.”
The boss came cruising across the fairway in his Ford Ranger. He got out wearing his cowboy hat. “Jordan, you’re on the poo poo platter. Andy, you’re off. Now get out of the cab very carefully. I don’t want to fill out L and I paperwork for you.” Jordan shimmied into position and poked his belly out of the truck. He jumped, landing like a rock.
We could hear Dave’s tractor moving at top speed across the bridge. He was dressed in his military uniform from desert storm and he had a look of pissed-off annoyance on his face.
“I just realized that I need to keep changing the pins,” I said. The boss nodded and I drove back to hole number 4. The golfers were hitting into the green and didn’t seem to notice that I was there. After they finished putting, I moved the pin.
“Why didn’t you move the hole closer to my ball?” A golfer asked. “I could’ve birdied.” He thought he was being original, but whenever I changed the pins, golfers always said the same thing.
I looked at what was happening on Number 5. Dave hooked the chain to the front bumper and connected it to the tractor wench. The bitch pulled, and the city truck came crashing down. Cracked windshield, broken windows, and the boss shouting expletives. I finished my job and punched out. Bacon, eggs, and pancakes were calling my name at the restaurant.
Fat Tom was an ex-cop. He’d served in Korea and now he was a golf course marshal. The problem was that his previous jobs made him paranoid and racist. His wife divorced him and he had diabetes. He was also suicidal. Doing the job kept him motivated though. He’d hide in the bushes with binoculars and wait for “Orientals” to violate the etiquette of the game. He yelled at some Asian lawyers one day and the golf course got sued. He was shortly fired.
Tom still came to the driving range to hit golf balls and he would give me life advice. “Andy, if you choose to get married, be sure to take your wife on vacation. She won’t love you if you don’t.”
“Okay Tom, thanks.”
“And don’t marry an Oriental woman; they cost too much.”
“Think about joining the military; if you don’t, you’ll probably end up like Ryan and his cronies. They don’t do shit and they think they are going to turn pro one day.”
“Okay Tom, thanks.”
“You know Andy, you got one hell of a swing. Why don’t you try out for the UW golf team?”
“That is the problem with you; you just don’t do anything. If you did try, you would be great.”
Our conversations usually went on like this until Tom got hungry and left to eat the buffet special. It was all you can eat, and Tom tested himself every time.
Tom had one good friend. Bill. And Bill liked me too. “I worry about him Andy. On these hot summer days Tom just sits in his skivvies and watches TV in his basement. He told me that he doesn’t have any reason to live after his wife left him.”
I nodded. I wonder if Bill realized that Tom had a good friend and good friends are difficult to come by.
I was trying to avoid the bottom of the pecking order without much success. I watched the boss try to put Ken there several times, but the man was resilient. He had a kind of intelligence that can’t be learned in school. I suspect he was the class clown his teacher couldn’t silence. If the whole class laughs, the clown wins and Ken had been doing that since primary school. He wasn’t malicious; he just needed to drill for nerves. And Ken had an uncanny ability to strike insecurities, or those places most men want to keep hidden.
The boss was five feet tall with a handlebar mustache and a balding head. He wore cargo shorts, a polo shirt, and work boots. Steve wrote the assignments on the board with malice. It was his way to get even with anybody on the crew. The guy on the lowest end of the pecking order always got the shit jobs.
“Ken, you get Entrance today and you can set the course.”
“Awe, come on, why do you always pick on me Steve? Is it because you look up to me?” Ken opened his mouth for a reaction and the boss only glared at him. The rest of the guys tried not to laugh, but had difficulty.
“I guess I’m on the poo poo platter again,” Ken said. It would go on like this for days or weeks until one of the college kids screwed up. They’d get stuck with the bad jobs until someone else messed up, but they usually quit before this happened. Pretty soon I was the only college kid on the crew. The boss was thinking of hiring the homeless man who slept under the bridge, but he found a better prospect in a guy who picked up trash for the county last summer. He was 6 feet 6 inches tall and weighed over 300 pounds. Robert wasn’t smart and he kept to himself. He was just the kind of guy Ken loved to poke.
“Robert, I bet you got a big one, but do you use it?” The giant just stared straight ahead. Bill looked up from the National Inquirer. He knew something more entertaining was about to happen.
“Don’t you speak?” Ken asked. “The guy says less than the golf course.” And then the mountain erupted. Robert grabbed Ken like a rag doll and lifted him off the ground. “Don’t fuck with me!” Robert said. And Ken went as pale as a bed-sheet, dangling 6 inches off the floor. He survived the moment and always gave Robert a wide birth after that.
Maybe Robert was smarter than he looked. He had done what none of the college kids had the courage to do.
I was training for the State tournament and everybody I knew was trying to give me advice. My brother-in-law told me that I drastically needed to change by diet. “Winners eat natural fat and no dairy,” he said. I tried it. My closest friend told me that I couldn’t give away my life source to women; in fact, it was best not to think about women for the next 6 weeks. I tried that, with no success. My golf instructor interrupted me during a grueling work day to tell me that the guys on the driving range were talking about me. “They say you have ‘Game’, Andy. That’s how it was for me too.” He said this with a far-off mystical voice. “You can turn pro one day. Just push all distractions aside.”
“Thanks Daryl,” I said.
I played 9 holes with Fat Tom because he wanted to give me some “tips”.
“Babe, when you play with weekend warriors, you start acting like them. Finish your putts; I don’t care if they’re 3 inches from the hole. When you feel like you understand golf, it will give you the shanks.” Tom squared up to his ball, took a practice swing, and shanked it into the woods.
“Damn! And look who’s been giving you so much god damn advice!” His face turned red. I couldn’t tell if he was angry or embarrassed, so I tried to pretend his advice-giving never happened. We played a couple more holes in silence. “Golf knows no master and those who claim the title for even a moment get humbled,” he said. “You’ll be okay training for this tournament as long as you avoid what most golfers do.”
“And what’s that?” I asked.
“Like fishermen, they lie to themselves. A double bogey becomes a bogey and a bogey becomes a par. They give themselves mulligans and gimmies so they can feel good about their game on the weekends.”
He looked at me square in the face. “Never lie to yourself, Andy. Winners accept defeat and move on. They never pretend it didn’t happen.”
I had a nightmare round of golf at the State tournament that year. I even got the shanks and came in last place, but I never forgot Tom’s words; they’ve served me well. I don’t know if that man knew what he was talking about, but that moment meant something to me.
Bill saw a lot for a man with only one eye. He was 74 years old and he followed his routines to cope with city life. He drove carefully down the 2 AM streets until he reached a 7 Eleven. Prostitutes greeted him before he walked in.
“You got any money?” They asked.
“I’ll buy you breakfast,” he said.
Bill preferred their company to the sons-of-bitches who shopped at Safeway in the afternoon. He got into fights with the pimps because they weren’t treating the girls right and they always backed down. Bill was a big guy and he worked-out at the senior center. He liked to brag to the guys about the diameter of his biceps and his sexual prowess. “It’s a crying shame the thing is shriveled-up most of the day,” he said.
“Took my girlfriend out for a steak dinner last night and the restaurant charged me 50 bucks. The steak had water in it and they expected me to tip. Can you believe that? Betty didn’t complain though; I kept her up all night.”
Bill read the National Inquirer and made coffee in the clubhouse every morning. It was bad, but nobody complained. He trimmed the collars and the rough with the old mower nobody else could operate. Bill cut and painted the yardage markers too. It seemed that all of his jobs carried some level of status or perhaps it was just his style of doing things.
We had our annual safety meeting with the manager of the golf course. Kelly seemed out of place amongst the men, but she moved the meeting along in a professional manner anyway. “If one of you experiences heart failure, apply the AED patches and connect the wires to the battery; then press the red button.”
“Excuse me, miss?” Bill asked.
“Let’s say a woman with voluptuous bosoms has a heart attack and I have to rip off her blouse. Can I remove her bra and apply the patches or do I need to ask permission?”
“Let’s hope that never happens,” Kelly grunted. “But if it does, you can do whatever it takes to save her life.”
Bill had a far-off look of satisfaction on his face while the other guys tried not to laugh.
“Okay, let it out boys,” Kelly said. And the men cheered with raucous delight.
They all had more respect for her after that.