Monday, September 20, 2010

My Dad, The Pimp

When I caught the golf bug at the ripe old age of ten and began swatting balls around Harrington Field in Cuyahoga Falls and on my made-up course in my parent's back yard, I envisioned being a PGA Tour player, beating Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino. A typical scenario that kids do in order to spice up the experience. I wasn’t very good, but I had an unquenchable appetite for hitting those golf balls. Hithithit…JERRY! DINNERS READY!…hithithit….JERRY! IT’S DARK OUT!….hithithit…As a result of nothing but this robotic repetition, something interesting happened when I got to be around the age of fifteen. I got good. I was shooting in the low 80's and getting the attention of people, like the local high school golf coach. At the age of sixteen I made my first hole in one.

I would go to a driving range armed with two buckets of balls, would sequester myself into my mental cocoon and start hitting them. After 25 or so shots, I would take a break, turn around, and there would be people standing there, watching me practice. “You have a very fine swing, young man.” Uh, thanks. “Have you ever thought about trying to play right-handed?” Uh, no, why would I?

This was 1973, and the sight of a left-handed teenager smacking 250-yard drives was a bit of a circus sideshow. Until that point, only one lefty had won a tour event, Bob Charles, the 1963 British Open. And many spectators to my practice sessions could not wrap their heads around this odd sight – left-handed golfers were rare. I cannot tell you how many times it was suggested that I jump to the other side of the ball and play righty. You might as well have asked a bear to recite Shakespeare.

A year earlier, I was playing baseball at Harrington Field after school when my dad pulled into the parking lot & hollered to me. “Jerry! Get over here!” In typical teenage slacker form, I ignored him. “Goddammit Jerry! I said get your damn ass over here!” I slunked over. What, Dad. He opened the trunk of the car, and there was a brand new set of left-handed Dunlop Bob Charles (1963 British Open Champ!), matched set of woods and irons in a pristine Dunlop Airliner red white and blue golf bag. Driver, three, four and five woods, two through 9 irons, pitching and sand wedge. A complete set. Up until that point I was playing with a starter set of crappy off brand department store sticks.

“What do you think of those, son?” The slacker attitude vanished. “Are..are…those MINE?”

“No son. I just lost my GODdamn mind and decided to start playing left-handed. Of course they’re yours. But you’re going to have to earn them.” At that point I didn’t care if ‘earning them’ would have consisted of feeding lepers in a diaper. Fortunately, Dad had other plans. Some real savvy plans. Cool plans.

He became my pimp.

When I got home, he laid it out. “Son, you started beating me when you were 12. For us to have a fair match you’d have to spot me four a side. I think it’s time we had some fun. I know some pigeons that we can fleece.”

Pigeons? Why would I want to fleece a bird? Why are you talking funny? What do birds have to do with new golf clubs….

Whenever I exasperated my dad I would get the same response from him – a deep sigh, followed with a salty phrase. In this case it was “Jeeeezuzchrist son. NO! I’m talking about playing golf for money. You and me against guys I know we can BEAT. We call people like that PIGEONS. Comprende?”

‘You mean I can make MONEY playing GOLF?’

(long sigh)…. “Yes son. Money. GodDAMMIT you are dense. But you can hit a golf ball like nobody’s business. We’re going to have a blast.”

J. Edward Good Park Golf Course is a fine public golf course on the west side of Akron. A stout 6,900 yards from the tips, it hosts the Summit County Amateur every summer along with a number of other events. Built in the 1920’s, it is an institution and has stood the test of time. To play there, you, as they say, ‘gotta have game.’ Narrow, tree-lined holes almost all of which dogleg either right or left. Lightning-fast greens. Ankle-high rough. Tough track. You have to work the ball both ways, hit it very straight, and have velvet touch around the greens.

It is also a Hustler’s Haven. Situated not too far from the ‘hood, Good Park is populated with older men in their 50s and 60s, smoking cigars, cussing up a storm, and eyeing easy marks. They literally hang out there all day looking for a game. My Dad used to play a Wednesday night golf league there and knew many of the regulars – “Jonesy! How’s the missus? Frankie! Fixed those yips yet?”

When Dad took me there I was in heaven. I stood there, mouth agape, staring at the lush fairways, the gentle doglegs, rolling terrain…just taking in the scenery. Dad was arranging matches - "Tellya what, Hoss. Me and my son will play the two of you, five bucks a hole, straight up. Look at my son….where in the fuck is my son…JERRY! Get your ass over here! Look at him. He's 125 pounds. You'd be crazy not to take that bet. What ? You want two a side? You’re smoking those funny cigarettes again, Hoss. My back is killing me, I’m getting over this cold..”

‘Dad, I don’t remember you being sick…’

He turned to me and hissed ‘shutyermouthgoddammitoriwillpermanentlyshutitforyou….’

‘Oh yeah, Sick. Bad. Diarrhea and all that stuff.’

“So what you say Hoss? Bet?”

Another unknown dynamic to these unsuspecting saps was that two years earlier my Dad got sober. A raging drunk, he was given a choice – drink and die, or quit and live. He made the wise choice. Now, two years later, his shaky hands were gone, and his touch had returned. Dad was never a ‘good’ golfer, but he could move it around at or near 90. A bogey golfer. But now, sober? That cut five strokes off his score.
“Hey Charlie, I’m gonna get us a couple of six packs for the round.”

“Uh, you go ahead Hoss. Im gonna lay off the sauce today. But drink one for me, willya?”

Dad was smooth. I swear, all he needed was a fur coat, fedora and platform shoes and he would be Huggy Bear.

So off we went. Dad would hit first and park one out there about 200 yards. Then I would step up, and with my interlocking, too-strong grip and exaggerated Reverse-C follow through, I would fly one past him by about 40 yards with a hard draw (which ten years later I got rid of) and with roll would sit out in the middle of the fairway, about 260 yards out.

The look on the pigeon’s faces were priceless, and they would grumble ‘Yeah, but I bet he can’t putt…’

Oh yes I could. That was the best part of my game. I had uncanny touch. I could get it up & down from the ball-washer. I had a great feel for distance with my wedges, and I had a silky-smooth putting stroke. I never three-putted. Never. Ever. Inside six feet I was automatic - you might as well concede the putt because I was going to make it. I knew I would and you knew I would. And it was this attrition-style of play, that, by the end of the match you felt like you just went through a five-hour Chinese Water Torture. You'd pay me just to get me out of your sight.

And at the end of those rounds, that’s exactly what they did. Huggy Dad would saunter over to the pigeon and out would come a roll of twenties wrapped in a rubber band, and my eyes lit up. “Twenty, forty, sixty….”

“Keep going” my Dad would say, “Remember, we pressed the 18th?”…”EIGHTY, one hundred…”

“I think you got it Hoss.”

The drives home were fantastic. “Holy SHIT son! GREAT playing! I am really proud of you! Here’s twenty bucks.”

Yes, I did the math. I realized Dad was making out on this arrangement. But I had just finished playing golf for free, and was handed a sawbuck. Life was good.

And besides, as they say, Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Brady Lake

I come from a somewhat large family. Youngest of four, born girl-boy-girl-boy. My mother was a bookkeeper, my father a plumber. Both worked very hard to provide us with everything we needed…and some of the things we wanted. We did not go without, but were hardly wealthy. We were very middle-class, living in a middle-class suburb of Akron, Ohio. My childhood was a breezy, trauma-free experience, save one.

Brady Lake.

Brady Lake was a nearby bucolic setting of woods, picnic areas and a nice lake. Popular summer spot. One summer day when I was six years old my extended family had a picnic at Brady Lake – fifty or so of my relatives for a fun afternoon of swimming, horseshoes, softball, swimming and lots of food. Very Norman Rockwell-esque. It was a great day.

I am a loner by nature. And on that day, late in the afternoon, I took a walk by myself into the woods. Picking up caterpillars, dragging sticks in the mud, just having six-year-old fun in the woods. Then I had the feeling that I should head back to the picnic site – it was getting late, maybe 7 in the evening or so. So I headed back. When I got to the picnic site, nobody was there.

Everyone had left. The picnic had ended. They packed up everything, got in their cars and left. They remembered everything…except me. My mom and dad had driven separately, and in the confusion of packing up, mom thought I was with dad and vice versa.

Of course, I did not know this.

I panicked. And what does a six-year-old do when he panics? He screams. Loudly. And runs and cries hysterically. And that is exactly what I did. I ran and I screamed…and screamed and ran…where’s my mommy? Where’s daddy? Why did you leave me? Was I bad for going into the woods? Was this punishment for eating my boogers or teasing Michelle Blocksom on the playground last week at school? Will I ever see them again? MOMMY! DAAAAAAAAAAD! WAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!

As I ran, I came across a parking lot. On the other side was a large fenced-in area where people with funny looking sticks were swinging away at small white balls. I ran towards that place, still crying, still frantic. A man who I later found out was the owner of this place, saw me – “What’s the matter little fella?” “MMM-MMM-MY MMOMMY AN-AND-ANDDD DUH-DUH-DUH-DDDADDY WEFT ME! WAHHHHHH!”

The man took me over to his driving range and tried to calm me down. And I distinctly remember my eye being caught by this odd activity taking place. I pointed at the people and asked the man “Wuhhh-whaa-whhat are dey doing?”

“Why they are playing golf. Would you like to try?”


That man gave me a golf club and a bucket of balls. And I started swinging. And suddenly, I wasn’t crying anymore. I wasn’t shaking anymore. By the tenth ball, I wasn’t lost anymore. By the twentieth ball, I had found something that, little did I know at the time, would fundamentally change my life.

Remember my mom and dad? I had forgotten about them. I was now having fun. But on the drive back home, mom had stopped for gas, when she noticed dad drive by and I was not in his car. Now panic gripped HER with the realization that Jerry was still back at Brady Lake. She burned rubber out of the gas station and high-tailed it back there. Pulling into the parking lot next to the driving range, she saw me and frantically ran over.

“Hi Mommy! I’m golfing!”

And that's how it started.

Playing Naked

Bobby Jones once said there is golf and then there is tournament golf, and they do not share much in common.

This is true.

When I caught the golf bug at the ripe old age of ten and began swatting balls around Harrington Field in Cuyahoga Falls and on my made-up course in my parent's back yard, I envisioned being a PGA Tour player, beating Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino. A typical scenario that kids do in order to spice up the experience.

But then something interesting happened when I got to be around the age of fifteen. I got good. I was shooting in the low 80's and getting the attention of people, like the local high school golf coach. At the age of sixteen I made my first hole in one. My dad would take me with him to the local 'Hustler's Haven', Good Park Golf Course in Akron, and would set up money matches with me as his partner - "Tellya what, Hoss. Me and my son will play the two of you, five bucks a hole, straight up. Look at my son. He's 125 pounds. You'd be crazy not to take that bet."

They usually did, and we usually won.

I was deceiving. Being slight of build, at 5-foot-9 and the aforementioned buck twenty five, I basically looked like a Q-Tip. It was, after all, 1974, and I had my Starter Afro going. I didn't boom out prodigiously long drives. Instead I was adept at consistently finding the fairway off the tee, getting my next shot at or around the green, and from there I had uncanny touch. I could get it up & down from the ball-washer. I had a great feel for distance with my wedges, and I had a silky-smooth putting stroke. I never three-putted. Never. Inside six feet I was automatic - you might as well conceded the putt because I was going to make it. I knew I would and you knew I would. And it was this attrition-style of play, that by the end of the match would have you feeling like you just went through a five-hour Chinese Water Torture, that would end up putting some nice coin in my pocket. You'd pay me just to get me out of your sight.

So, naturally, I built upon these experiences and tried my hand at playing competitively.

Now understand - playing for money and playing competitively are two entirely different things. Playing for money is beating one person who is in your company. Beat him and you win. Playing competitively is trying to beat a field of unseen adversaries. The talent pool is much deeper, and psychology is not a factor. Fewest amount of strokes wins out of 80 or so competitors. USGA Rules strictly enforced - no grounding the club in hazards (paging Dustin Johnson), no seeking advice (What did you hit there? 6 or 7 iron?), play it as it lies (Hey my ball rolled into a divot mark. Can I move it?). Pressure. Pressure cooker pressure.

This is what Bobby Jones meant.

Jones retired from competitive golf at the age of twenty eight, after winning the Grand Slam in 1930. Many were shocked that such a prodigious talent would leave the stage at the absolute zenith of his career. But for Jones, it was a no-brainer. Publicly he would state that he was an amateur, and that he wanted to pursue a career as a lawyer (which he did). But privately, and later in his books, he revealed the true reason for his abrupt retirement. Pressure. In a typical tournament, Jones would lose anywhere from 15 to twenty pounds simply through nerves.

Golf is not a reactionary sport. By that I mean it is not played through instinct. For example, a Linebacker see the play begin and reacts - his instincts tells him where to put his body to make the tackle, and a half-second later, he reacts. Golf is not like that. The ball sits there patiently waiting for you to hit it. There are no Safety blitzes, no shot clock. Take your time, the ball is patient. So the pressure created by this dynamic can be stifling - if Ray Lewis is bearing down on you, that's not pressure. That's panic. A golf ball waiting to be perfectly placed between a water hazard and a bunker 250 yards away in a tournament situation? That's pressure.

So my competitive golf career began when Dan Costill, my high school golf coach (and Driver's Ed teacher) suggested I try out for the golf team. So I did. And then something funny happened. When I was announced to the first tee, with all the other recruits standing around, I went blank. Then I went numb. I suddenly forgot how to push the tee into the ground and place the ball on top of it. My hands shook, my mind started racing and some unknown phantom body snatcher spirited away with my cocky attitude and swing. I took a couple of deep breaths, scanned my brain for something...anything to latch onto. I addressed the ball and I swung...

I hit it 50 feet.

The guys snickered. Coach Costill turned away. Panic enveloped me. I concluded the best reaction would be anger, and I slammed the club to the ground with a 'That came out of nowhere' incredulity, then placed my hands on my hips. I then took out my 3-wood, stomped to my ball, and with a total abandonment of my pre-shot routine, took an angry swipe at my ball. I whiffed. Now I have been taken over by evil demons and just took a virulent lunge at the ball. It went about a hundred yards forward, fifty yards left.

In the span of about two minutes, I had totally forgotten how to play golf.

Now, unlike team sports, where if you make a mistake you have a coach on you eager to point out corrective measures, golf has none. It's just you. Naked. Raw, unvarnished nakedity. I had to regroup. I took out a 7-iron just to advance the ball. I did. A few swipes later and I had finished my first round of competitive golf with a smooth triple bogey.

I did not make the golf team.

Coach Costill suggested I play some local amateur tournaments. He also strongly suggested I work on my mental toughness, alter my grip, learn to draw the ball, and practice practice practice. I did. Two years later, as a Senior, I tried out for the team again. This time I made it.

I have done some golf teaching in my time, and I will relate those experiences in another story. But here is what I have learned and imparted on my students -

If you want to break 100, learn how to putt.
If you want to break 90, learn how to chip.
If you want to break 80, learn course management.
If you want to break 70, play tournaments.

Learn how to play naked.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Firwood Avenue Country Club

Many have spent the days of their youth playing some kind of sport. Boys and girls have imagined themselves to be the next Alex Rodriguez or Mia Hamm, and have pursued this obsession by throwing a baseball against a garage door or kicking a soccer ball until their leg fell off. How many of us have constructed scenarios such as “Fourth quarter…eight seconds left…fourth and 16….he must make this catch to win the Super Bowl…"

I never did.

Oh sure, I played sports as a youth. But I pretty much sucked at all of them. So there were never any delusions of grandeur that I was going to grow up to be the next Rick Manning (Cleveland Indians Centerfielder from the 1970’s). I was too small for football, too white for basketball, and I could not hit the broad side of a barn - let alone a strike zone - with a baseball. My brother got the natural athlete genes. I inherited the overachieving dork becomes competent through hard work gene. The other dynamic was that all the sports I stunk at were team sports. So I was not just letting myself down through my putridity, but there were a whole group of boys (and girls) that were going down with me. I will just say this about that - kids can be mean.

And then, at the age of 10, I hit my first golf ball. I was actually pretty good at that. So I hit another. And another andanotherandanotherandanother…and then it got dark. The next day I hit those golf balls until my hands bled. And by the way, I was hitting them left-handed with my dad’s RIGHT-handed five iron. I would turn the club upside down so that the toe of the club was touching the ground, and swung away. My dad soon noticed this (”Where in the hell is my five iron? JERRY!) and rectified this by taking me to Clarkins and buying me a set of left-handed Spalding Johnny (not Arnold) Palmer golf clubs. Starter set. Driver & three woods, 3,5,7 & 9 irons, putter. It was the most exciting day of my then-ten-year life.

But there was a problem. We lived in a suburban, middle class neighborhood. Modest homes on 40-by-120 foot lots. No real room to practice hitting golf balls there unless I wanted to expend my allowance on replacing broken windows. So I solved this problem with a bit of ingenuity that would, I think, make Lee Iacocca call a board meeting to discuss. I got a pack of plastic golf balls, the whiffle-ball types, and designed a course out of the front yards of the homes along Firwood Avenue, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

You know how, when kids play ball in the street, first base is the fire hydrant, second base is a paper bag strategically place in the middle of the street, third base is the ‘No Parking This Side Of Street’ sign & home plate is someone’s mitt? I did that, golf-style. Firwood was a water hazard. Hit it & you’re taking a drop, two club lengths no closer to the hole. What were the holes? Why, the elm tree in my front yard. The garage door. The neighbor’s cat if need be. And our driveway, which was actually a double-driveway with our neighbors, the Schreibers, was a vast, green fairway (in my mind) where I would launch shots, off the asphalt pavement, down towards Firwood. But not too far, as remember - Firwood’s a water hazard. I would then deftly launch a 9-iron OVER Firwood toward the birch tree on the Allen’s devil strip. The sidewalk was also a water hazard, so this shot had to be executed with Tiger-esque perfection. Hey, YOU try to hit a plastic ball off asphalt over the street & get it to land - and stop - on a 6-foot wide devil strip. I was a magician.

We had nasty winters in northeast Ohio. The snow would start flying in mid-November and you did not see the ground again until Easter. This created a challenge. I soon discovered that you could not make a full backswing wearing a parka. Also, the white plastic golf balls tended to blend in too well with snowdrifts. But on the plus side, hitting a ball out of snow is similar to hitting it out of a sand trap.

So I had that going for me.

Because, yes, I played my golf course through the winter. And Jack Nicklaus played alongside me. Remember the images I conjured up earlier about A-Rod and Mia Hamm? Well, Jack was my playing partner, my rival, my adversary. And I beat him every time.

Now, I would love to tell you that this led to a career on the PGA Tour and millions of dollars. Alas, no. But it did lead to a three-handicap and a love affair that exists to this day and will for as long as I am on this side of the earth. I have had occasion to play some pretty tough golf courses - Doral Blue, Firestone, Bay Hill. But I can assure you, that on none of those tracks have I ever had to face shots like I faced at Firwood Country Club, circa 1969. At Doral, if you hit it on the cart path, you get a free drop. On my course, the "cart path" was the fairway. Where was I gonna drop the ball - in Mrs. Schreiber's rose bushes? Not if I wanted to see my 11th birthday.

I soon became the buzz of Firwood - "There's that Bryan kid hitting golf balls off his driveway" - it would actually be kind of cute if it wasn't so inherently dorky. But I didn't care. I was playing with Jack and we were having a grand time. However, it did cause me some grief on the playground - "Hey! Arna Palmer! You gonna go play your stooopid game after school? Gimme your lunch money twerp." But you want to know the delicious irony of that experience? Those same kids that were chastising me then were asking for golf lessons from me 25 years later - "What's that John? You blew out your knee playing high school football and now you're taking up golf? That's a shame. What's that - can I teach you to play golf?"

And after I laughed my ass off, I did.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Acting Single

So I had an office chat this morning with a coworker, when she asked an innocent question - “How was your weekend?” I replied that it was good, did a couple of fun things like play a poker tournament on Friday night and went to a concert downtown Saturday night. I finished off my recitation with the statement, “I acted single.”

The reason for using this phrase is multi-fold. For one, I am single. For two, I sometimes have to remind myself of that since I am at an age where it is somewhat unusual to be single. And for three, I am not presently in a relationship. I don’t even own a dog. It’s just me.

And I am good with that - for the most part. This story is not intended as a self-pity nobody-loves-me mushdrama. I enjoy the construct of my life, or at the very least, have come to accept it. I have learned that relationships cannot be artificially forced & wished. They just happen…or don’t. In my case it’s the latter. And I am good with that.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have my moments. And invariably these moments are the weekends, specifically weekend evenings. As I was explaining to my coworker, who is married, when you are married you are presumed to spend time with your spouse, and that the activity is secondary - whether it’s going to a concert or watching reruns on TV, you do them together. That’s sort of the essence of the marriage - two make one. I obviously do not have that dynamic to be concerned about.

I live in a big city. Orlando. Always something going on, and while it is a great place to raise kids for the obvious benefits of all the activities targeted towards children, it is also a pretty cool place for single people. Lots of bars, a vibrant downtown, clubs, many opportunities to socialize. And it is this realization, coupled with being single, that presents, well, challenges. I cannot, in good conscience, sit and watch Lockup Raw on MSNBC on Saturday night with this playground outside my front door. If I do, I end up hating myself when the light of Sunday morning comes through my bedroom window.

So I go. And I do. If for no other reason than to shut up that nagging voice in my head.

One of these days this dynamic will possibly change. I may meet someone, we may fall in love, and then two will become one. I have been there before and it was enjoyable. I guess my goal, until then, is to be just as enjoyable with the situation as it presently is. And that is, I guess, one of the messages I am trying to impart here. Life can't be forced. It can't be constructed. Well, it can, but I believe the results are not natural. The older I get the more I have come to embrace this way of living - life has to be natural. That is not to say you cannot have dreams and desires, and further it is not to say to don't try to achieve them. It is more a statement of acceptance.

I was talking to my dear friend Dawn the other day & she asked me what my plans for the upcoming weekend were. I said well, I’m going to play poker Friday night, play golf Saturday morning, take a nap, hit downtown Saturday evening, probably wash my car Sunday & watch the golf tournament Sunday afternoon. Now that’s acting single.

I usually end my stories with some kind of coda. A meaning, some glimpse at wisdom that passed through my brain & got caught in the synapses and took residence. In this case, I am not sure what that wisdom would be, other than this - enjoy your life, whatever the circumstances, and don’t complain about it.

Because really, nobody cares. Except you. And that’s who you wake up to every day.

Friday, August 27, 2010

My Boss, the Chicken Farmer

I have a job that can be quite stressful. Many of my work days are running from one crisis to another on top of managing a number of projects and overseeing the work of four planners. I absolutely love it. But like anyone, I seek down time and pursue activities that divorce my mind from the complexities and chaos of my work environment. I play golf, bang on drums, play poker, write, surf the internet. Those are my distractions.

My boss raises chickens.

To be more precise, free-range chickens.

We work in downtown Orlando. Big city. Traffic whizzing by on I-4 right outside our window. When my work day is done, I retire to my apartment in Altamonte Springs, about 9 miles from downtown. Tony, my boss, goes to his home in DeBary, about 25 miles away, and moves chicken coops. Because, as I have found out, that is the “free” aspect of “free-range” chickens. I have learned a lot from Tony about the proper way to raise chickens.

So, many evenings, as I am sitting in a dive bar somewhere in Orlando trying to catch my inside straight on the river to take down another poker player or figuring out how to finesse a 7-iron to a sucker pin placement, my mind diverts to the thought of Tony, after a hard day’s work supervising me and the other planning managers, chasing chickens around. This mental image brings a smile to my face.

Tony was born and raised (on the free range?) in Iowa. He’s a farm boy. There is a term I have heard - ‘Gentleman Farmer’ and I have to admit that I am not totally sure what it means. But for Tony it is a perfect phrase. He is a farmer, and he is a gentleman. Unflappable, friendly, patient, intelligent, calm, collected. Tony has a large role in our company and has to juggle a myriad of projects and responsibilities. He moves with ease from one subject to the next, showing an aplomb rarely found, but naturally emanating from him.

And he also raises chickens! I’m sorry, but I just have to chuckle at that.

Tony was telling me how one day, as the chickens were out free-ranging, he moved the coop. Because that is, as I have found out, how free-range chickens have to be raised in order to be free - you let them cavort about, feeling the freedom of their chicken lives, and presumably there is a quality introduced in their lives that makes for…tastier dinners later on, I guess. But anyway, he moved the coop. And when the chickens returned, being, well, bird brains, they could not find the coop…Tony moved it about a hundred feet. And he is relating this story with a huge smile on his face, a gleam in his eye and a chuckle in his voice - he duped his chickens.

So why am I writing this story? Because I think Tony’s choice of recreation can be a source of solace for those of us that are having a rough day. If you are finding life being a rough slog, maybe the spouse is nagging at you or the kids are being recalcitrant, picture Tony W, LYNX Director of Planning, chasing his chickens around.

I bet you’ll smile.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Shit Rolls Downhill

The family dynamic. Oh, the volumes that have been written to describe issues such as “Middle Child Syndrome” or “Is your twin Satan?” or whatever. Psychologists have lined countless bookshelves with tomes on why your big brother made you smell his farts under the bedsheets or why little sister microwaved big sister’s Barbie doll. For my family, there was a very simple explanation for this behavior –

Shit rolls downhill.

Yeah, I am the youngest. We were born girl-boy-girl-boy, which I have categorized as my family’s version of the rhythm method. So I have two older sisters and an older brother. And this is going to be a story about the family dynamic from the viewpoint where it seemed most of the shit settled.

The timing of our births tells a lot. The oldest, Barb, was born in 1950. Then in rapid succession came Kenny and Patty in 1953 & 1954. There was a four-year lag (where mom had to rest up I am sure) before I was born in 1958. Picture two bookends with two volumes – The History of World War I and World War II – in between, and you get a rough scope of the dynamic.

I do not mean that as some kind of slap to Kenny & Patty. They were stuck in the middle, and stuck together. They were the team. Barb and I were separated by age from this cabal. Now, in Barb’s case, being the older one, she was mostly above the fray. While Kenny & Patty were plotting overthrows of small countries – or at least of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio – Barb was off to Wendy Ward Charm School, learning how a ‘lady’ walks and which side the salad fork goes on. She got married at age 19, and was gone.

That left Kenny, Patty…and me. Two against one. And that ‘one’ was five or four years younger than them. So picture a 14-year-old Kenny, a 13-year-old Patty…and a 9-year old Jerry. They had pet names for me. Kenny called me Nimrod, and Patty lovingly referred to me as Ricky Retardo. At that point in time, at least 6 city blocks were under their control, and their empire was spreading. I was just trying to figure out which end was up. And not surprisingly, I tailed them around. That did not go over well. Often, three would leave the house and two would return, and mom would ask, “Where’s Jerry?”

Tied to a telephone pole at Harrington Field would have been a good guess.

Patty, being the next-youngest, was often saddled with the task of babysitting me. THAT did not go over well either. Her actions at the time, which I took as abject hatred towards my very existence, were resentments for being separated from her friends in order to watch me. Of course, I did not realize this at the time – “Why does Patty hate me?” was a common refrain. The answer – because I was there. It wasn’t her fault – but it became her responsibility. And as I have come to find out, the worst thing you can do to a 13-year-old girl that wants only to talk on the phone & squeal at the arrival of a piece of fan mail from the Dino Desi & Billy Fan Club, was to babysit Ricky Retardo.

Kenny. Oh my. My CPU will give out long before I can keypunch out our dynamic. But roughly, it was this – I looked up to him for all the wrong reasons. Reasons, to this very day, affect me. But at the formative time of our teen years, Kenny was the man. He got the girls, was naturally cool, confident. I was none of those things - I was nervous, fidgety and a total dork. I wanted to be Kenny. The lesson, some thirty years later, is I cannot be what I am not. Because, to Kenny, they were natural. He didn’t learn them – he was them. And I have slowly learned to be not Kenny’s Little Brother but my own person. Our relationship, to put it midly, has been a combustive one.

Also not surprising are how our personalities have evolved from these formative years. Kenny and Patty are very social creatures. I am not. When Patty turned 50 her friends threw a surprise birthday bash for her. When I turned 50 there were no parties. Because I do not have a large group of friends. Patty plays in a Monday Night golf league with 30-odd friends. I play golf alone. I am not trying to elicit pity - it's just the product of our personalities and where we fit in the family dynamic.

So I write this with a bit of a ‘back through the looking-glass’ mentality. I could never understand why there was shit, why it rolled downhill, and why I was at the bottom collecting it all.

As I found out, the answer was simple.

Because someone had to.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Campaigns Of Clichés

Okay, it’s time to get political.
Most everyone knows I am a Liberal. Proudly. So I am going to take some shots at some campaign ads I have seen from a number of Conservative candidates. I do this not to point out the differing political philosophy of left versus right, but more to illuminate the insulting dumbing-down of these ads. They are literally nothing more than clichés – and bad ones at that. For example, here’s the latest one being trotted out to incite –

“Secure Our Borders!”

This was Arizona's justification for passing their 'papers please' immigration law, that "Washington" couldn't "secure our borders." And it has been picked up by Conservative candidates as a rallying point to decry some drummed-up federal government inaction.

Ponder this for a moment before you break out into xenophobic applause. I really just have one question: HOW? Show me this grand plan of securing a two-thousand-mile border with Mexico (and what about Canada? Hmmmm?). A fence? A wall? A piranha-infested freekin’ moat? Stationing military every fifteen feet? Show me this plan. Don't just snap off a 'secure our borders' retort without some modicum of freekin' reality. It is impossible, and for Arizona to use an impossibility as justification to pass disgusting, racist laws is reprehensible.

And by the way - not only it is impossible, but let's just say for a moment it could be done - what would the cost be? How is this Western Hemisphere Berlin Wall going to be funded? And exactly what efforts by "Washington" would get you off of this dangerously slippery slope you have put your state on? Electrocuting Mexicans trying to climb a fence? Will that slake your bloodthirst?

Arrgh. Let's move on to our next inanity –

"I am not a Washington Insider"

This is supposed to a badge of honor…I guess. As in to say ‘I have not been tainted & influenced by the corruption inherent inside the Beltway’ or some similar tripe. But here’s what it tells me – you’re not qualified for the position you want us to elect you to. I work in the public sector. Have my entire career. It’s not easy. It is a business like any other, with its inherent complexities requiring years to master.

And you’re saying your strength is in not knowing any of this? Name me any other profession where the most sellable point you can make is being totally ignorant of it. I dare anyone to walk into a job interview and profess that your strongest asset is a total unknowing of the industry. Yes, I understand the point they are trying to make – elect me and I will blaze into Washington and shake it up! Uh no. No you won’t. You’re not Jimmy Stewart and this isn’t Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. It will change you. Approximately fifteen minutes after your plane taxis into Dulles. So stop it.

Speaking of the illegal immigration debate, there's this -

“I will repeal the 14th Amendment!”

Really. All by your ownsome, huh? Again, no you won’t. To being with, changing the Constitution in any fashion is a complex, labyrinthine procedure. The intent of our Founding Fathers was to prevent the Constitution from being changed by the political whims of the times. Which is exactly what this illegal immigration debate is. It does not even come close to Constitution-amending. The Constitution is amended to abolish slavery. To give blacks and women the right to vote. Not to cater to your cause du jour.

This ‘dumber than a fifth grader’ approach isn’t new ground for Conservatives. They have talked in sound bites, and thus down to voters, for years – ‘You’re either with us or against us’…’Cut and run’…'Drill Baby Drill'...

Do they really think we are this dumb?

Sadly, yes. They do. You are being insulted. Realize it.

So this is my challenge to every voter out there. Educate yourself. Understand what a politician can and cannot do. I do not care if, after doing this, you vote Republican., Democrat or the freekin' Whig Party. Just please don’t allow yourself to be talked-down to. I need to be reassured that you really aren’t as stupid as these candidates purport you to be.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


I write this with much trepidation, with the realization that I could be proven wrong as early as next week. But here goes -

Tiger’s done.

Want me to elaborate? Okay. Through. Finished. Call it a career.

I just watched Tiger finish the Bridgestone Invitational in 78th place out of an 80-man field. Eighteen over par. Career-worsts for him in terms of finish and relationship to par. Worst in his career. That bears repeating - worst in his career. He has had bad rounds in tournaments before, but he has always backed up a putrid 75 with a stellar 67. But at the Bridgestone, he started flat and ended flatter - the first time that he showed nothing. And while it is easy to write it off as simply a bad week and trying to read too much into it by extrapolating it to such definitive statements as his career is over, allow me to delve a little -

When I was much younger, I had a pretty good golf game - a single-digit handicap, could hold my own in amateur events. I played that way for about fifteen years. Then one day I had a routine chip shot that I had executed thousands of times before…and I missed the ball. I whiffed it. It was a totally out-of-the-blue gak. And it stunned me. Up until that point I was more or less bulletproof on chipping, but that singular shot permanently planted an ugly thought into my brain - “Don’t miss the ball, idiot.” Ever since that day, which was over thirteen years ago, I cannot execute a chip shot without that thought creeping in, and I am a basket case around the greens as a result. My 3-handicap is now a 12, and my competitive days are long gone.

Now I know what’s coming next - Jer, you ain’t no Tiger Woods. Well duh. True. Tiger has exhibited the ultimate in brain power, the ability of zoning out anything and everything not pertaining to the task at hand. His singular focus is legendary. Hoganesque. Nicklausian.

But somewhere between hitting that fire hydrant last November and now, Tiger metaphorically whiffed. A seed has been planted in his brain. His lines have been blurred. His focus is gone. When he enters his arena inside the gallery ropes, no longer is the crowd reverently silent. The majority still is, but there is now a sinister element present - the heckler. And he does not know where or when it will strike. Trust me on this - it is a tough enough game to have to navigate 7,000 yards of water, rough, traps, lightning-fast greens and trees, but Tiger has done that prodigiously. But now there is an element he has no control over whatsoever. It can strike at any time, and he knows it.

It is in this knowing where his downfall will occur. Frankly, I already think it has. It’s in his kitchen. It is that same thought I have now over a chip shot - “Don’t miss it” for me has become “Don’t yell out something in my backswing” for him. And once that thought is there, it’s THERE. Like, forever.

Can he overcome this? Sure. If anyone has the mental fortitude to do it, it’s Tiger. But remember how he would stop in mid-swing over the click of a camera? That’s how fragile the psyche of a pro golfer is. For all of Tiger’s mental discipline, a click of a camera ruins him. Well, you can ban cameras, but you can’t stop some jerk from saying something when he’s only 20 feet away.

It goes without saying (but I will anyway) that 2010 is a lost cause. And his rehabilitation from this nadir will go beyond the usual routines of someone who has lost their swing. Yes, he has clearly lost his swing, but he will find it again. His putting has been atrocious, but that too can be found on the practice green through rote and repetition.

But how do you erase a thought?

This bears repeating as a coda - tied for 78th, 18 over par. Career worsts by a mile. His invincibility has been pierced - not by being outplayed by his peers., but by a mustard seed of a thought.

Saturday, July 31, 2010


This is a difficult story to tell. Because it is not something I am very proud of.

Back in the mid-70’s I had a group of friends. Just a bunch of kids morphing into adults trying to stave off the boredom of Midwestern life. One of this extended group was a guy named Bernie. I’ll leave off his last name. Bernie was a few years older than the rest of us. Which, given the times we lived in, turned out to be a gap too large to bridge. Here is why.

I was born in 1958. I was 12 when the Kent State shootings occurred. I was 13 when the draft was implemented to supply the Vietnam War with troops. I was 15 when the draft ended and I was 17 when Saigon fell, essentially ending the war. By about three years, I was too young to serve.

Bernie wasn’t.

Younger people who have no memory of Vietnam may find this difficult to understand, but there was a time in this country that we did not ‘honor’ our troops. Many of the efforts we see today to thank troops for their service in Afghanistan or Iraq is atonement for how we treated our returning Vietnam vets. In a word, it was shameful. And again, younger people may not understand this – men and women served their country proudly, some not by choice, and were ostracized, marginalized or ignored upon their return home. Some even were scorned and spat upon. It happened.

The obvious question is: Why? How could we have allowed this behavior? I think it was a combination of American hubris and denial. Vietnam was the first war we ever lost. It was also the first war that was brought into our living rooms, with Walter Cronkite giving nightly reports - not of glorious American conquests, but of the Tet Offensive, the My Lai Massacre and body counts. With little or no understanding of how our national security was threatened, many of us could not understand our presence there. When Saigon fell and our troops came home (with the tragic exception of 58,226 of them), we had a collective awkwardness.

There was a natural instinct to blame someone. And instead of identifying the true culprits – the politicians who passed the Gulf Of Tonkin resolution that grossly and immorally escalated the conflict coupled with military officers whose main concern was enemy body counts so they could get promoted – the blame was placed wrongly and tragically on the returning troops. Respected? Hell, those guys were being called baby killers. Honored? We had just gotten our butts kicked by a ragtag group of indigenous people on their turf. We weren’t in the mood for parades. And when these young men (and women) came home, many wanted to just get on with their lives and re-assimilate with their old friends.

That’s all Bernie wanted to do.

Bernie just wanted to drink beer, chase girls and hang with his old buds. And while on the surface there were ‘hey man, glad you’re back’ affirmations, Vietnam was not talked about amongst us. We did not ask what it was like over there, but he would go there himself, much to our discomfort. He would talk about what it was like on foot patrol in the Mekong Delta, when one of us would change the subject to the latest Springsteen album release. Bernie played guitar, and I still see him playing the song Seagull by Bad Company. It is a song of protest, of the horrid meaninglessness of war. He sang these words –

Now you fly, through the sky, never asking why,
And you fly all around 'til somebody, Shoots you down.

Bernie sang with an outpouring of emotion only combat vets know, venting, processing, purging. Sadly, his audience hadn't yet begun to process any of it--nor did we have the emotional fortitude or mental maturity to "be there" for him. We didn't want to be yanked out of our semi-slacker get-high extended party by someone who witnessed the worst of mankind. So we ignored it and changed the subject. Bernie eventually got the hint and stopped talking about Vietnam. Then he eventually stopped hanging with us.

And you fly away today
And you fly away tomorrow
And you fly away, leave me to my sorrow.

I never saw Bernie again – I do not even know if he is still alive. If I were to discover that his life fell apart not because of what happened to him in the war, but rather because we, his friends, were immature assholes....Well, lets just say I own it.

Vietnam opened up our eyes onto this shame. Shame that we, the people that did not have to serve there, own. And to that end, one of the few positive developments that came out of Vietnam was it matured us as a country. No longer did we possess hubris-ish greatness. We learned (or did we?) we are not assured winners. And, most importantly, we learned who are heroes. So those aging Vietnam vets you come across, some sleeping under bridges, have earned every ounce of respect proffered to veterans of any of our other conflicts. If they are homeless, ponder why...instead of affixing blame. Their service was never properly honored. They carry an emotional burden beyond our comprehension.

I am sorry, Bernie. You deserved so much better from your country. And you sure as hell deserved much better from me.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lies My Parents Told Me

Let me state right at the top - I did not have an abusive childhood. I was not raised in some kind of propaganda bubble of distortions that burst violently when I struck out on my own. My parents were not those kinds of people. They loved me and my siblings, and wanted only the best for us. They put a roof over our heads, food in our bellies, and in my specific case, me through college. Twice. They were loving, caring, and nurturing people. I have written stories on this blog about their compassionate nature.

But they told me lies.

Not knowingly. This was not an attempt at brainwashing. Instead, they conveyed certain “truths” as they understood them that, due to changes in our socioeconomic and cultural mores, became falsehoods. I certainly do not blame them for this. They thought they were imparting undeniable, unchanging realities as a preparation for my adult life. As I found out, they weren’t. Case in point - here was something my dad told me as a teenager:

“Get a Union job and you will have a job for life.”

Wow. By today’s standards that is an almost laughable statement. But in 1972 in Akron, Ohio, it was a truth. Akron was a Union town. Voted Democrat like clockwork. Dominated by a rubber industry that showed no signs of letting up. The rivers were polluted and the odor of burnt rubber permeated the air. The economy hummed along, and with it, tens of thousands of good-paying union jobs in the factories. So to my dad, getting one of those plum union positions were basically a contract for life. Do forty-odd years at a union job, get a gold watch and a nice pension, and spend your golden years playing golf and visiting Florida twice a year. It worked for him.

But it didn’t work for me. When I graduated college in 1981, the rubber industry was in decline. Wildcat strikes and union concessions crippled the industry (example - the United Rubber Workers negotiated a contract that provided a THIRTY FIVE PERCENT pay increase for their workers over THREE years). Jobs were lost to foreign companies. Akron suffered along with our compatriots in the auto industry - Pittsburgh, Youngstown, Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit. Those Union jobs dried up and went away. What my dad told me ended up being a lie. Here was another -

“The most important thing you can have is good credit.”

Now, having good credit is important. But the most important thing I could have? Eh. I would place a number of things higher - happiness, good health, peace of mind, healthy children - above having a good credit score. Maybe I am picking apart dad’s advice too much, but I distinctly remember him telling me that good credit was “The most important” thing I could have. Okay, maybe that’s a top-tenner. But no way is it the most important thing. Finally, there was this one:

“Real estate is the best investment you can make.”

Hey, good advice. Unless you bought a house in 2005. Suddenly that “best investment” became a sinkhole of negative equity. Again, in my parent’s time, purchasing a house was a consistent, three-to-five percent a year increasing investment. In the last decade it has become anything but that. Home buying has become as speculative as buying stocks. This will hopefully change as we dig out of the major recession that the implosion of the housing market caused, but I would seriously question the wisdom of real estate being the “best investment you can make.” Hell, these days even municipal bonds aren’t a sure thing. Shove the money under a mattress.

And ironically, purchasing a home that has precipitously declined in value has affected my…get ready…credit score. All I needed was to get laid off from a union job and my parents would have hit the trifecta.

The lesson? To me it's this: My parents meant well...but they could not have predicted how our world changed.

Who could have?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Big Bill

Recently I have taken to reading books by David Sedaris. For those that don’t know, Sedaris is a hilarious essayist of everyday life. His work was referred to me by my boss Linda, who handed me two of his books. I can tell you that he has actually made me laugh out loud at many of his biting views of life and family. Linda thinks my writing has a familiarity with Sedaris, and I can tell you after reading his work, that I am extremely flattered by the comparison. Thank you, Linda…and best wishes in Austin.

Anyway, Sedaris expends a lot of effort describing memorable characters in his life, which got me thinking about similar characters in my life. Once I went down this path of pondering, it didn’t take me long to conjure my memories of Bill Casey, affectionately known as Big Bill.

Big Bill was the father of one of my close friends, Paul Casey. Paul & I were golfaholics in our younger days, and both of us were quite good players - Paul moreso than me, but we would enter amateur tournaments together & wager on who would fare better. We even played team events together. And to this day Paul still swings a mean stick out in Las Vegas where he still plays amateur events. Me? Age and yips have atrophied my game. I just play for fun now.

Anyway, back in the day many of our rounds were with Big Bill. To begin with, that moniker was not to describe him physically, as he was maybe five-seven, built round, sort of like a humpty-dumpty shape. It was more a term of endearment, given to him since he was the patriarch of the Casey Clan. Big Bill was born and raised in New Jersey, educated at Princeton, married to a stunningly beautiful woman. But when you first met him, none of these attributes presented themselves. He came across curmudgeonly. He always smoked a cigar, and would talk through it, giving his pronunciation a stifling effect, sort of like talking through wax paper. That, coupled with his Jersey accent, made him tough to understand. Toss in some peppery language, and you would get phrases like “Gawwwdammit Pfaul , I pfuckin’ toldya to reed more brake in dat pfutt…”

One time I was lamenting about a recent break-up with a girl. As I was explaining what went wrong, Big Bill interrupted, “Maybe yer chieph”. Not understanding him, I asked him to repeat - “Maybe yer CHIEPH”. One more time please, Bill. He took the cigar out of his mouth and finally, without the garbler in his mouth, he said, “MAYBE YOU’RE CHEAP.”

Yeah, Big Bill was direct.

What was cool about Big Bill was how he lived his life. Large. Remember that stunningly beautiful wife I mentioned? I had occasion to see a picture of them when they first got married back in the 50’s - Here was a young Big Bill, not looking much differently than he did 30 years later - kind of short and stocky, with this knockout gorgeous blonde who was at least 3 inches taller than him. And the look on Big Bill’s face was priceless - he was laughing uncontrollably, as if he was saying ‘That’s right - I may not be the best-looking guy in the world…but I got the BABE! TAKE THAT! AHHHHHAHAHAHAAA!!!!’ And my mind conjured up this image of Big Bill charming, well, the pants off of her. And making her his wife. I admire that kind of chutzpah.

Big Bill passed away a few years ago in Florida. And every year the Casey Clan gets together and has a golf outing in his honor. Paul flies in from Vegas. I was able to participate a couple of years ago, and in between imitating him with a "Gawwwdammmit Pfaul..." phrase, we laughed until he cried.

Just as Big Bill would have wanted it - live large, laugh a lot....and don't be chiepf.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Life Is Weird

Standing on the third tee at The Old Course at St. Andrews, your mind in confused. Laid out in front of you is a moonscape of humps, bumps, hills and pot bunkers. Where do you aim? What is the correct choice of line? What if you hit it exactly where you planned and it bounces off in an unintended direction? Or, how about mis-hitting your drive only to receive a fortuitous bounce into Position A? Processing this load of information can tend to make someone chuck strategy out the window and simply grip ‘n rip, and let the chips fall where they may.

Golf is life. And life is weird.

When we reach a certain age, usually in the late teens, we are expected to decide on what we want to do with our lives. Plans are made – college perhaps, or a trade school. Often decisions are delayed in order to prolong childhood. Marry someone wealthy. Hitchhike across Europe. Join the military. We are metaphorically standing on the third tee at St. Andrews looking out at the panorama of what may await, we make a decision…and we swing away. And it is precisely at that point – when the metaphorical clubhead meets the ball – when we have lost control of the outcome. All we can really do is make a decision. That’s it.

Yes, I know many will say that it is far more complicated than that – that proper planning, discipline and adherence to a strategy will garner the desired outcome. Horsehockey. What those activities do is perhaps raise the possibility of the desired outcome, but really, the ball is now in the air and the wind could shift at any moment, and when it lands – even if it was only a foot off of where you aimed – an undesired outcome may occur. You enroll in college…but you meet a girl, fall in love, get married, drop out, have a family. In the literal blink of an eye, your plan of graduating college has morphed into raising a family.

Is it any wonder psychologists are in business? This life stuff is hard. Unpredictable. Full of self-doubt – why did I marry that girl? Why didn’t I lay up short of that pot bunker? I didn’t want to be deployed to Iraq. I didn’t expect the ball to land in a divot. I didn’t expect the economy to take a nosedive. Why did the wind change direction in mid-flight? Why did she leave me? I should have taken more club. I should have finished college.

Life is weird...but it is also redemptive. A golf course has eighteen holes, so no matter what your decision off that third tee resulted in, a fourth hole awaits. And a fifth, sixth, seventh and so on. Earlier mistakes are forgotten and we start anew. There may be a lingering effect on the scorecard, but opportunities abound for recompense. This explains second marriages, career changes, returns to college. Criminal records can be expunged, marriages dissolved, bankruptcy reorganizations occur. In essence, decisions gone awry – or just plain bad decisions – can be forgiven. That stupid choice to take on that pot bunker can result in a memorable recovery shot that you will be telling your grandkids about. And is that not the essence of life? It's not what we accomplish. It's what we overcome.

I often use the metaphor of life imitating golf imitating life. For good reason. There is no adversary per se in golf - it is just you and the course. How you manage your way around the course will determine your success. And you never 'defeat' the course. You can return the next day and the course is still there, unaffected by your presence the day before. The course doesn't care if you are there or not. This is life. Life sits there, ready for you to play it...or not. Life is eternal, our presence isn't. Life doesn't need us - we need it. And if we choose to play it, amazing things await.

Life is indeed a course to be played – a series of decisions, results, recalibrations, course corrections, reboots. In this context, life is long, beautiful, adventurous, cruel, redemptive, unpredictable, fair, unfair...and weird.

Play away.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Two of my favorite activities, which I have espoused on in previous stories, are golf and poker. Each taps into a certain part of my personality and psyche that gives me pleasure. Golf is just a cool game - an all-consuming world-within-a-world activity that pushes your mental fortitude to its limits. Poker is a great interplay of luck and skill with a healthy dose of human psychology thrown in for good measure.

Ah, who am I kidding. What I really like is the jargon of each.

I love jargon. It is that ‘secret society’ language that makes you totally hip to those that know, and delightfully mysterious to those that don’t. Those that know give you that look in the eye & nod of the head that says “Dude I’m with ya.” Those that think you’re speaking gibberish tend to conclude “Either he knows something I don’t or he’s off his medications.” I am actually okay with either assumption.

I’ll give you a couple of examples. I have played golf for over 40 years now. So I have more or less grown up with golf lingo. I learned at an early age that I didn’t hit the ground behind my teed-up ball, I drop-kicked a heeler. I didn’t pull-hook the ball into the trees, I double-crossed on a fade. And for crying out loud, I did NOT slice the ball. I over-cut it.

In fact, that was the excuse Phil Mickelson used when he failed (jargon: he choked, spit the bit) to win the 2006 U.S. Open by making a 6 (Double-bogey, or just ‘Double”) on the final hole. On the tee, instead of playing safe he tried to hit driver (Let The Big Dog Eat) by curving it around the corner (fade). Instead he hit it waaaaay to the left, a major slice (Banana Ball), winding up in the trees (jail, no man’s land, dead). He then hit his next shot in the bunker (cat box, beach), before hitting onto the green (dance floor) and three-putting (three-jack, playing hockey). When asked about the slice he hit off the tee, he quickly interrupted the questioner - “I did not slice it. I over-cut it.”

Atta boy, Phil.

With poker, I am more of a newcomer, having only played seriously for about three years now. As such, it has been much more of an educational process in the ways of Poker Jargon. For example, when I would have, say, a five & six card in the hole, and the flop would come up 8-9-Q, I would think, ‘Okay, I have a chance at a straight here’ - WRONG. What I found out is what I had was a Gutshot four-outter requiring a major suckout in order to hit. Once there was a hand with three of us still in it, one was all-in, and I made a bet after that player was all-in. The third player in the hand was apoplectic - "What the f*** are you doing betting into a dry pot when you don't have the nuts?" I had no idea what she meant...but it sounded kinda hot.

What is it with jargon? I mean, the English language has provided us millions of words at our disposal, so you would think there would be more than adequate ones to simply state what we are thinking. But noooo. Where’s the fun in that? Instead we have to come up with new, more colorful terms that gives us the air of in-the know.

Which reminds me. The other day when I was playing golf, I had a 40-foot putt that stopped an inch short of the hole, going dead into the middle. That’s called a South America putt. Why?

Because all it needed was one more revolution.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Bucket Item

We all know of the recent movie ‘Bucket List’ starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. Simple concept – two aging, terminally ill friends decide to do all the things on a list before they die. The movie has spurred countless people to construct such a list, and to gleefully pursue accomplishing each item before, well, kicking the bucket.

I do not have a bucket list.

This is due to a number of factors. One, I have absolutely zero interest in jumping out of a plane, swimming with sharks or climbing some imposing mountain peak. Don’t care to. Sue me. Secondly, I just feel that constructing such a list casts a pall over the life a person may be presently living, as if to say, “My life is so numbingly mundane that I need to construct a list of shit I will never do just to escape it.” Maybe a little harsh, but my point is that I feel that much of what I am doing today qualifies as bucket list items. That’s not to say that I live some kind of Steve Irwin thrillfest – it’s more a personal affirmation that I feel I am living my life as I desire, with no regrets.

But I do have one thing I will do before I leave this realm of existence; a ‘Bucket Item’ if you will. And further, I have given myself a timeframe in which to accomplish this: By July 2012, I will stand on the first tee of the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland, driver in hand, and play the oldest golf course in the world. I will hit a ball over the Swilcan Burn, try to avoid Hell bunker, and attempt to land my shot on the proper side of the road on the Road Hole.

If that sounds like a tame Bucket Item, it isn’t for me. If there is one thing that defines me, if there was one word that would be used to describe who and what I am, it is golfer. I have played golf for over four-fifths of my life, and that ratio will do nothing but increase, as it is a game of a lifetime and I plan to play for the rest of my life. Further, it is not a stretch to state I am a student of the game. It has, at times, consumed me. I used to play competitively. I once had a 2-handicap. I can tell you the last 60 US Open champions & the course they won their tournament…without using the internet. Hale Irwin with the 1974 Open at Winged Foot with a 7-over par score. Julius Boros won in ’63. I didn’t look those up. I just know that. I have spent hours trying to perfect a cut-punch. A push-draw. I’ve fought pull hooks, worm-burners & pitching woods. I’ve made three holes in ones.

So what could be more perfect than to go play the only golf course in the world designed by God? To the serious golfer, the game is almost a religion. And St. Andrews is the only Place Of Worship made by the Creator Himself. Seriously. The course wasn't 'designed' by anyone. It just occurred some thousands of years ago when glaciers receded, and then about 600 years ago some Scot got the bright idea that knocking a feather-stuffed piece of leather with a wooden stick around a pasture into pre-placed holes in the ground constituted recreation. I'm sure alcohol was involved.

Bobby Jones won a British Open at St. Andrews. So did Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Jones once, as a young man, tore up his scorecard and stormed off the course in a fit of frustrated rage. The place just reeks of this great game, and I cannot wait to feel the ghosts and ambiance to envelop me as I make my way around the Beardies & Principal's Nose. Those are names for bunkers. They name their bunkers there. If we did that here I doubt most would have names that could be shared in mixed company.

So St. Andrews, here I come. And I will check that off my singular list of stuff to do before I die and will go back to living the dream.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Laughin' & a-Scratchin'

Every now and then I have a moment of duh. I’m sure we all do. It is that moment when you realize that you have totally overlooked something important and you need to rectify it as soon as you can.

Consider this my moment of duh.

Over a year ago I wrote a story about my mother, a heartfelt homage to a wonderful person. Since then I realized that I never did a similar tribute to my father. And this was a clear whiff on my part, because Charles Herald Bryan was one of a kind. To begin with, yes, that’s how his middle name is spelled, as in ‘Hark the Herald Angel sing’. This probably has to do with his West Virginia roots, but I cannot say for sure.

My dad went by Chuck, though he also answered to Charlie. He was a Chuck. He would greet you with a smile & a firm handshake as if you were his longtime friend. Chuck made friends easily. He had a knack at making you feel at ease within a few seconds of meeting him. How? With pithy phrases to mundane questions. For example, an innocuous, ‘How are you?’ was answered with any of a variety of colorful retorts: "I never had a bad day", or "Glad to be on this side of the earth", or my absolute favorite, "I’m just laughin’ & a-scratchin’." I have no earthly idea what "I’m just laughin’ & a-scratchin’" means. I just know it brought a smile to the other’s person’s face and made them feel comfortable. Chuck was very good at that.

Dad was quite a contradiction. He could be very self-centered, almost self-absorbed. But at the drop of a hat he would do anything for you. I know in my life he did that many times. If I was in any kind of situation that needed his assistance, he was there. Usually at 5:30 in the damn morning, but he was there. Because that was another of his traits - a very, VERY early riser. When I was still living at home & in my early 20’s, I would stagger home at 3 or 4 in the morning to find my dad just waking up, drinking coffee & smoking a Winston. In the dark. ‘Good morning son’. ..‘Goodnight Dad.’

Which brings me to another one of his lovable traits. He was not a judgmental person. Now I am sure my siblings may have a different take on that, but what I mean is that dad was not an intervener. Instead, I think he believed, at least for me, in allowing people to make their own mistakes. I married the wrong woman - he supported me. I got into a couple of jams in my younger years - he was there to bail me out of them. Never once did I hear from him, ‘If I were you I would…’ Instead, his typical line was, ‘Son, if you’re happy, I’m happy.’

And he was a happy guy. That’s the part of his personality I have tried to incorporate into mine. To this day, when people ask me how I am, I try to refrain from the bland ‘Fine’ answer but instead search my mind for WWCS - What Would Chuck Say. My latest favorite for that question is ‘I’m just living the dream.’

I will tell you what made me mad about Dad. He didn’t take care of himself. He was a lifetime smoker, two packs a day. He didn’t watch his diet (one of these days I will relate the custard pie story). He didn’t exercise. As a result, he had a number of health issues & heart bypass surgeries. In fact, that was the way he lived his life - do what you want, eat what you want, let the doctors fix you up when needed. And it was one of these surgeries that ended up taking his life. He had a heart bypass on April 2, 1997. He never came out of it. And on April 12, 1997, he passed away at the too-young age of 71.

But knowing Dad, even that wasn’t a bad day. Because he never had a bad day.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

May 4, 1970

In two days, the 40th anniversary of the shootings at Kent State University will occur. Forty years.

In May 1970 I was a 12-year old boy growing up about t
en minutes from Kent State. Six years later, I was student there. And now I am an alumnus, having earned both my Bachelors and Masters degrees there. That doesn't make me any kind of expert on what happened on 5/4/70, but it does, hopefully, point out that the venue has been a large part of my life.

I still remember riding with my mom
on the weekend that preceded the shootings. We were passing the National Guard Armory in Akron, where a line of trucks, troops and equipment were rolling down the highway. I asked my mom what this was all about. She replied "Oh, there's something going on at Kent State and the governor called the National Guard." And as usual, when my mom said something, it had a certain logical finality to it that made me just think, oh, okay. And that was that.

But then Monday May 4th came. And the tragedy of that day, as we know, ended up having far-reaching ramifications that vastly changed geopolitics, and, as many historians concluded, aided in ending the Vietnam War. As a black student colleague of The Washington Post writer Clarence Page stated, "Man, they're killing white kids now." Anti-war protests up to that point were considered communal sit-ins where the far-left fringes smoked dope & sang Joan Baez songs. After Kent, this stuff became serious. Now it was clear that your life could be in danger if you dared speak up...or show up. Which, given American's penchant for thumbing their noses at authority, had the effect of exponentialism. It made people angrier. And louder. And eventually, no longer at war in a far away jungle.

But in my community it had a very different effect. Thi
s happened in our backyard, and many families had both Kent State students and National Guard members in them. Picture that dinner conversation. In neighborhoods and bars across the area, you would have violent arguments between people who had a child in college there, and another who had a Guardsmen as a son. Those Guardsmen were local kids too. It was, in effect, a Civil War scenario in northeast Ohio. And up until that point we were just middle-class middle-America. We weren't overly concerned with worldly matters. But what we became gravely concerned with was how our community was being torn apart - Kent State was not some kind of activist hotbed - it just happened to be the intersection point of history. And we had a real hard time accepting that.

Through the years, the University has had difficulties in adequately commemorating this event. For the first ten
years, it was a head-in-sand mentality, almost as if the University refused to believe it occurred. Case in point - the parking lot where three of the four students died remained unchanged for years. It was as if the University was saying that having places for cars to park took precedence. They even tried to officially change the name of the University from 'Kent State' to just 'Kent'.
But as the years went on, and the historians wrote the accounts of the Vietnam War, Kent State was increasingly recognized as a pivotal point. It was when the war came home. It was then that the University realized that history occurred here, and it could not be denied. Today, the efforts put forth to recognize the events are, in my opinion, perfect. That Prentice Hall parking lot now had cordoned-off areas where Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer & Allison Krause died (see the picture to the right - that's Jeffrey Miller's spot where the 6 lanterns are under the pagoda roof). William Schroeder's felled spot is also cordoned off. There is a memorial to the east of Taylor Hall with four granite monoliths, and to put it in context, 58,226 flowers were planted around them - the number of U.S. deaths in Vietnam. The pagoda where the Guard fired still stands. As does the metal sculpture next to Taylor Hall with a bullet hole in it.

What were the lessons of Kent State? Oh my goodness. Volumes have been written on that subject. Who was to blame? Ditto. And I am not going to get into that here. But I do have to say how it affected me. This is, after all, my blog. I spent a lot of time reading about this event. I have walked the site of the shootings countless times. I have even talked to some of the wounded students - and some of the Guardsmen. And in the final analysis I cannot fathom a situation that necessitated armed troops firing on unarmed students, killing four, wounding nine.

So my lesson was a pretty simple one. Just two words:

Question authority.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

That One Summer

Everybody has had one. And if you're fortunate, more than one.

That glorious, sun-splashed, neverending days coupled with enchanting nights three-month experience, usually in your late teens, where the girls were beautiful, the world was shimmeringly bright & the potential was limitless. You were young. You were bulletproof. Laws were just a laughable inconvenience dealt with by breaking where you saw fit & calling dad if the cops caught you.

Mine was the summer of 1978. I was 19. Gerry Rafferty's 'Baker Street' was the soundtrack of that summer, and to this day whenever I hear that saxophone break out with that 'dah-DAHDAH-dudda-dadada...' beginning, I am instantly transported back to Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, rolling through town in my lime green 1973 Plymouth Duster when I went to college in the mornings & worked at a grocery store in the evenings. And once I got off work, it was a 12-pack of beer (I had friends who were 21), pick up my girlfriend, and head to our rendezvous spot where we would organize our nightly hijinxs. Those nightly sorties may have involved the aforementioned breaking of laws, like climbing the fence at Silver Lake Country Club to take a midnight skinny dip in their swimming pool. Or the, ahem, 'borrowing' of certain signs that held some kind of goofy significance to us. Case in point - Virginia Kendall Park had a sign for one of their picnic areas that was called Cherry Knob. And for whatever reasons (actually I know the reasons, but just use your imagination), me & my cohorts thought that sign was hilarious. So we took it.

I am really hoping the Statute of Limitations has expired on this stuff...

But anyway, that summer. Time meant nothing. 11pm turned into 3am but it didn't matter. Because the other factor that fueled our forays was youthful energy. We didn't get tired! And yeah, I had a 745am English Lit class at Kent State, but so what - a 2-hour rest & I was ready for another 18-hour day (Why does it seem the opposite now...?). Besides, there was this exciting world that needed explored, defiled & conquered. Not 4 years earlier we were riding our bikes to State Road (2 miles from home) and considered that some kind of exotic excursion. But now....we had cars. And hormones. And girls. And beer. And a 91-days extended vacation to explore them all. Especially the girls :)

My son just turned 16, and I look at this boy turning into a man & think, your summer is coming, and I wish I was his age again so I could be his wingman. It's now April. And I raise a Genessee Cream Ale (if they even still make it) & an 8-track of Gerry Rafferty's City To City in hopes that the Summer of 2010 is your summer.