Chapter 7: The Fifth of July
It was Friday, July 5th. The week had been unseasonably cool for July; a welcome break from the typical hot and humid days we were accustomed to. The beautiful weather combined with the day after Indepen-dence Day falling on a Friday was sure to make it one hell of a day for us. Everyone and their brother were taking Friday off to enjoy the long weekend. Our tee times were booked solid until 3:00 PM. In fact, we had set up two waves of starting times that would cross over from one nine to the other. This helped maximize the number of groups we could accommodate.
While this plan worked well from an efficiency standpoint, it always caused us some problems. The inevitable walk-ins would be sure to wonder why we could not get them off the back side for just nine holes.
Things had started out smoothly enough. Mark and I had opened the clubhouse while John and Hank worked the tees to make sure everyone was where they were supposed to be. The early players were never much hassle. These were usually the guys from our regular skins game and other serious golfers. My biggest problem was explaining our tee time situation to people calling us on the phone. By 8:30 AM we had made it through most of the first wave without incident. It was a perfect day outside, and players had been teeing off since 7:00 AM. All was going well as I answered the phone.
“White Lake golf course, Brian speaking,” I said.
“Yeah, I have a tee time for Ferguson, but I can’t remember whether it’s at 9:30 or 10:00 AM?” the voice on the other end said.
“Well, I don’t see a Ferguson listed, and we…”
“I know. It was 9:45, my wife just reminded me,” the man interrupted.
“But sir, we don’t have a 9:45 tee time,” I replied.
“Well, it’s probably 9:44 or 9:46, or something like that,” he said.
“No, you don’t understand,” I said. “We don’t have any tee times between 8:45 and 10:45 AM due to the cross over. You must have the wrong golf course.”
“What the hell is a cross over?” he asked.
“We start players on both number one and number ten and they cross over,” I said.
“Oh yeah, I must be on number ten,” he said.
“Sir, we don’t have your name or even a tee time anywhere near the time you mentioned.”
“How about if I just come down there. Can you get us off the back?” he asked.
“No sir, but it is first come first served on the par-three course,” I said.
“Alright, thanks for nothing,” he said as he hung up.
I just shook my head and answered the next call. The clubhouse was full of boisterous regulars bantering in their different cliques. There were the old guys from the Birdie Hunters League checking their standings on the bulletin board and sitting at tables in a corner of the clubhouse they claimed for themselves. Though they all appeared to be from the same demographic of elderly white men, they had somewhat of a tribal structure. The hunters stood by the bulletin board to talk statistics. The gatherers sat at the tables making conversation and hoping to draw the name of a good hunter for their foursome.
At the three tables directly in front of the big screen were the middle-aged guys from the skins game. They were already passing around pitchers of beer, enjoying the free pass for the morning from their wives. Scattered around these two local tribes were the unrelated foursomes of weekend warriors. Some talked on their cell phones while others looked at their watches impatiently wondering if it was their time yet.
Lisa and Missy were working their asses off over at the grill. Both the Birdie Hunters and the guys from the skins game were high maintenance for them. They all expected the world, flirted like fools and tipped like they were destitute.
The next call I answered was Ashley, Mark’s fiancée. It was the third time that she had called that morning. The first time was to argue about the reception. The second time was to get directions to the possible reception hall. This time, she had to either be lost on her way to the hall or on her way back. My money was that she was still on the way.
I handed the phone to Mark and took his place at the cash register. A foursome from the skins game was at the counter rifling through our jars of cheap balls and messing up the displays. This was a complex ritual that some golfers had to go through before they decided to pay.
“How much for those Titleist Pro V1s?” asked Mike, a roofer who always had dirty hands.
“A sleeve or a dozen?” I asked.
“Just a sleeve,” he responded. “$12.95,” I answered.
“You don’t need any Pro V1s,” said Pat, one of the larger and louder members of the game. “You’re just going to lose them,” he said.
“It’s nice to have such good friends,” I said sarcastically.
“Yeah, you’re right,” said Mike. “I’ll take six of these dollar balls.”
I just shook my head at Pat and began to ring-up Mike’s balls.
“Are you paying for your round too?” I asked.
“Unless you want to let me go for free,” Mike replied.
“Sorry, you’re not cute enough,” I answered as I rang up his 18 holes walking.
About half the guys in the skins game walked. They didn’t walk because it was the way the game was supposed to be played. No, it wasn’t for exercise either. There were no principles involved other than economics. Ironically, it was the heavier ones that always rode in carts. Pat was one of our worst offenders of driving down the middle of the fair- way or parking too close to a green. You would think guys that played here regularly would be more apt to take care of the course, but some of them just took it for granted. Pat had been told a dozen times, but he didn’t give a damn. He liked to park so close he could almost step onto the green.
I could hear Mark giving Ashley directions to the interstate over the phone. The pro shop door opened, and I saw a pair of light blue pants shuffling into the threshold as an arm from behind held open the door. Paul was helping old Wes into the building. Paul was my favorite old-guy, but it wasn’t fair to call him old around Wes.
“It’s nice of you to help that young man in the door,” I shouted to Paul.
“Just trying to earn that citizenship badge,” Paul replied. “It’s not every day that the founder of the Birdie Hunters visits. It’s every other day.”
Wes said something to me, but it was too soft for me to hear what it was.
“He said that I’m just helping him because it’s the only thing that makes me look younger,” said Paul.
“Wes, you’re still better looking than Paul,” I shouted loudly, hoping he would hear me.
Wes smiled and nodded his head in acknowledge-ment as Paul helped him through the pro shop. The four- some that I was helping turned and loudly welcomed Wes as he approached the counter. They didn’t quite yell “Wes” in unison, but it was awfully close to a “Norm” moment from Cheers. Everyone knew Wes, and we were all very fond of him. I think most of these guys just hoped that they’d make it to his age someday.
After a brief exchange, Paul continued to walk Wes into the grill where he could sit down. I could see that Paul took him to his usual seat at the center table by the window. It was right next to News Junkie Fred. I finished taking care of the foursome of skins game players at the counter. I gave them their cart keys and wished them well as they headed back to their comrades in the grill.
With no one else at the counter for the moment, I turned to the window and looked out at the tees. Poor Hank was working both tees as John sat in a cart smoking and holding court with a group of Birdie Hunters. He had a putter in one hand and appeared to be espousing his view on the fine art. They seemed to be eating up everything he said, hanging on each word. Behind me, Mark finally finished his painful conversation with Ashley. As I turned toward him, he wiped his brow as if it had drained him.
“Better get used to it,” I said. “Marriage is forever.”
“We’ll see,” said Mark. He liked to talk as if it wasn’t a done deal. It must have been a deeply rooted masculine drive for saving face that caused him to disavow what was clearly inevitable.
“So, was she lost going to the hall or coming back from it?’ I asked.
“Both I guess. She really just wanted to tell me all about the reception hall. I think getting lost was just an excuse.”
“So will there be an open bar or what?” I asked.
“Man, don’t get me started,” he replied. “I’m lucky that we’re having a bar at all. She’s got aunts and uncles who are Pentecostals. You know, real backwoods snake- handling kind of shit.”
“Damn,” I replied. “Did you tell her that no one would show up if there wasn’t alcohol?”
“Yeah, I think that’s what got her convinced. The one thing that scares her more than disappointing her family is not having any friends show up.”
“I don’t know how you do it,” I said as I walked around the counter to straighten up the displays.
Paul had left Wes in good hands as his table was swarmed with Birdie Hunters, and he was now walking toward the pro shop. Mark answered the phone again and took his turn at explaining the cross over to a caller. Paul was singing Fly Me to the Moon as he approached. He was always singing, and it was usually Sinatra. He had played the bass in a big band dance band back in the day. His pants were neatly pressed, and he wore a Polo golf shirt and saddle shoes. He was one of the few widowers I knew who still dressed well.
“How’s it going old man?” I asked.
“It’s a beautiful day,” he replied. “Nothing wrong except for the yahoo downtown.”
Paul was referring to Hugh Cunningham, our much-dreaded director of golf for the county. Paul had been at odds with him for years. Paul had served on the citizens’ golf advisory committee ever since he retired. He served for 18 years until Cunningham came to power and disbanded the committee.
“But Paul,” I sarcastically protested. “He’s looking out for the health of all our customers. There’s lead in the water pipes.”
“There’s lead in his head,” responded Paul. “He just wants to sell more of that damn bottled water from that company his wife works for.”
“He’s brilliant,” I said.
“He has an MBA you know,” replied Paul.
“Yeah, everyone knows.”
“I guess I don’t speak MBA, but I think that bottled water is for pussies,” Paul said.
“I prefer mine to have some malt and hops in it,” I replied.
“He’s a damn fool,” Paul went on. “Taking away the drinking fountains is a health hazard. You remember when old Ted from the Birdie Hunters died of a heat stroke last year.”
“Yeah, but Ted was 102,” I said. “It may have just been his time to go.”
“Well, if he takes them out this month as planned, and we go into the August heat without water fountains, there’s going to be Birdie Hunters dropping left and right. They won’t pay $2.50 for a bottle of water.”
“I think the cheapest bottle they have over there $2.89,” I said.
“I don’t care what size it is, the Birdie Hunters wouldn’t pay 50 cents for water,” responded Paul.
“You’re right about that,” I said. “They won’t pay 50 cents for a golf ball. They only play with the ones they find. The cheap old farts.”
“Easy Brian, most of those guys grew up when times were tough and you had to know how to stretch a dollar,” Paul replied.
“Yeah, but there’s some of them that have serious money,” interjected Mark, who now appeared to be back on the phone with Ashley.
“Right and how do you think they got it?” asked Paul.
“By being cheap,” I said.
“By saving,” said Paul.
“Some do it by cheating hardworking people out of their money,” said Mark, who appeared to be simply listening on the phone.
“That’s just Ralph,” said Paul. “Rain check Ralph,” I added.
We all laughed about Ralph. He was a Birdie Hunter who drove a new Mercedes but had a ratty old leather golf bag. He always had a wad of cash, but he’d try to scam you out of something each time he played. He never played more than nine holes at a time, but he was notorious for paying for 18 holes and then asking for a rain check after nine. He would say that something had come up or that his back was sore, but we figured out that he was just trying to get the price break. An 18-hole round is cheaper than two nine-hole rounds.
Andy Pader finally called him out about it and put a stop to it. But Ralph never shied away from an opportunity to save a penny. Apparently, he wasn’t the most ethical lawyer, but he sure did profit from other people.
Mark finally broke away from the phone and came over to the counter to join us. He seemed a little tired.
“That woman will be the death of you, son,” said Paul. “Take my advice and end it.”
“I’m afraid it’s too late,” replied Mark.
“She’s not pregnant is she?” he asked as I turned with interest.
“No, it’s worse,” Mark answered. “She’s spent too much money on our joint credit cards. I’m in debt up to my ass, and I didn’t spend a penny of it.”
“But you sure do have nice window treatments and furniture,” I said.
“Go to hell, Brian,” replied Mark.
“There’s always Mexico,” said Paul.
I headed over to the grill to see what was going on. I knew that Paul would help answer the phones if Mark got busy. He enjoyed stepping behind the counter and helping. It made him feel needed. Andy had offered to hire him several times, but he didn’t want to be on the payroll. He preferred being a volunteer so he could come and go as he pleased.
I passed a couple of Birdie Hunters and smiled at them as I walked through the tables toward the grill. Most of them had teed off by now, and the last group was leaving their seats with Wes. As I approached the grill counter, Missy was filling two pitchers of beer for a couple of guys. Lisa was at the end of the counter trying to check her inventory list and fend off Harley’s advances at the same time. He was a subtle guy. He never directly hit on Lisa, but he sure tried to show off around her.
“It’s good to be physical,” he said to her. Lisa kept from looking up and stayed focused on her clipboard. “These guys all prefer to be social and drink their beer, but I prefer to be physical.”
Harley immediately dropped to the floor and did ten push-ups right in front of the counter. Many of the golfers at their tables turned and stared at him briefly, but then returned to their conversations. Harley had been known to do that from time to time no matter how much we discouraged it.
As he returned to his feet, Lisa walked over and flipped a sausage patty and egg off of the grill and onto a bun.
“Here you go,” she said as she handed it to Harley. He handed her a dollar tip and walked out the back door toward his maintenance cart. Harley preferred to eat outside.
“He better watch it or I’m going to get physical on his face,” said Lisa.
“Sounds interesting,” I replied,
“Just a sausage biscuit Brian?” she asked.
“Yeah, that will do,” I replied.
Lisa flipped a sausage patty onto a bun for me and poured me a Mountain Dew. That was my version of coffee. She smiled and went over to help Missy deal with the morning beer hounds.
I slid two bucks onto the counter and turned to walk away. All of the Birdie Hunters were now gone, and there were just a few groups of the skins game left inside. Most of the players left in the clubhouse were your typical weekend warriors. Old Wes was sitting at a table by himself now, gazing out the window. Fred was relaying the highlights of the latest Donald Rumsfeld news conference to him, but Wes didn’t appear to be listening. Seeing Old Wes by himself made me feel charitable, so I reached behind the counter, poured a cup of coffee, grabbed a doughnut, and headed over to his table. He was still staring out the window when I arrived. His face lit up when I placed the coffee and doughnut in front of him. I dumped two packets of sugar in the coffee for him.
“Just remember who took care of you when you’re deciding whom to leave your millions to,” I said.
“You can have all my left-over food stamps,” he whispered. I began to eat my sausage biscuit as old Wes continued to gaze out the window. I could tell he wanted to say something, but he couldn’t quite get it out. That gave me the minute I needed to finish my sandwich. As I took my last bite he coughed a couple of times. That was the sign that he was about to speak.
With doughnut glaze around his lips, he gasped in his hoarse voice, “People just don’t know how to dress anymore.”
I looked out the window and nobody looked too crazily dressed. Not even any t-shirts or jeans. That’s pretty good for White Lake.
“Golfers used to coordinate. Our slacks used to match our tops,” he said. “Don’t any of these guys have wives.” It was then that I noticed that old Wes was wearing purple pants and a white shirt with purple stripes. Naturally he had a white belt on to match his white shoes.
“They just don’t have your fashion sense,” I said. “You’re exactly right,” he replied. “No common sense.”
“That too,” I said.
“That’s why there are so many car accidents these days. No common sense,” he coughed a couple of times and sipped his coffee. “Everyone drives these big monster trucks, and you can’t see around them. And those minivans aren’t any better. What the hell ever happened to a station wagon?”
Wes gasped for air after that long tirade. For a moment, I thought I was going to have to run to get the oxygen tank. That happened about once every other week for someone.
He coughed a few more times and then continued. “They all oughta be illegal. It’s just not safe.” By then, Paul had walked over to our table to save me.
“Now Brian, how’d you get Wes so excited?” he asked.
“No one drives station wagons anymore, and they don’t match their outfits either,” I replied.
“Sounds fair enough to me,” replied Paul with a smile.
News junkie Fred turned in his chair and announced that both Fox News and CNN had been broadcasting from Williams Field next to the golf course. He claimed that to celebrate a reunion, the 82nd Airborne was going to have 250 paratroopers jump at noon.
“The sky over us should be full of them when it happens,” he added.
“You’re crazy,” said Paul. “If the 82nd Airborne was going to have a reunion at Williams Field and drop 250 paratroopers, we would have heard about it ahead of time.”
“Rick Leventhal and Anderson Cooper are both here,” Fred replied. “I just saw them reporting from the airport.”
“That’s the big time,” I said to humor Fred.
“Hell, this might even be on O’Reilly tonight,” He added. “I just wish they sent a couple of those broadcast beauties. Just wait and see. They’ll do it again. The damn news always repeats itself over and over.”
Fred was usually infallible in his sources, but this seemed ridiculous. He had embellished things in the past and was known for being opinionated, but he had never made something up out of the blue like this before. Maybe he was starting to lose it. He had been sitting in that chair a little too long.
“This coffee is awful,” Wes said.
Paul reached across the table and grabbed the box of sweetener. He took out about ten sugar packets and started dumping them into the coffee.
“I put two in already,” I said.
“Two?” said Paul with a laugh. “When you get old, you lose your taste buds. It’s a terrible thing, Brian.” He continued to pour sugar packets into Wes’s coffee. It had to be thickening into slush I thought.
After dumping all ten packets into the coffee, he slid the cup back in front of Wes, who took a sip and smiled.
“That’s good coffee,” said Wes as he smiled and slid a flask out of his pants pocket. I don’t know how he fit the thing in there. Then, without saying a word, he slyly poured a little whiskey into his coffee cup as if it was second nature. It was as though he was too good to waste his whiskey on the coffee when it only had two sugars in it. Now, it was coffee deserving of his special ingredient. He never looked at us during this performance and continued to gaze out the window as if he had not done a thing.
“Brian! I need you buddy,” shouted Mark from the pro shop.
I quickly hopped up from the table and headed toward the counter. There were two groups waiting to pay him, and the phone was ringing. I quickly grabbed the phone and hastily answered it expecting a simple question.
It turned out to be Hugh Cunningham of all people. He wasn’t at all happy that the phone had rung 15 times before I answered it. He was notorious for counting the rings every time that he called. It was really annoying. He went on for a while about the importance of good customer service, and I explained that I was helping an elderly man to his car and couldn’t just let go of him. He actually commended me on my act of kindness and said he would be coming by that afternoon for a visit.
That meant we had to be on good behavior for a while. No chipping balls at the garbage can. No drinking beer while on the clock. No fun of any kind, and we had to wear our nametags. I informed Mark and then went out- side to warn John and Hank. John would have to refrain from wandering to the practice green for the time being. That was where he spent most of his time when he was starter.
When I got outside, I found John and Hank discussing the value of a good short game. John’s was one of the best in town and Hank’s was very strong for an amateur.
“That’s the problem with the average golfer,” said John. “They only practice how to get off the tee, and they never practice how to get it in the hole.”
“Getting it in the hole has never been my problem,” replied Hank.
“Nice,” I commented. It was really amusing to hear how the old guys likened everything to sex. They were hornier than teenagers.
When I warned them about Cunningham, John went off on a tirade, and Hank joined in. We all had stories to tell about our run-ins with him.
I sat down at the starter’s table with John, while Hank went inside to use the restroom. We continued for a moment discussing Hugh Cunningham’s bullshit. I told John what Paul said about Birdie Hunters dropping like flies without water fountains. He agreed and had a few choice words for Cunningham’s wife. Then, our conversation drifted to another easy target. We chatted for a while about Mark’s impending doom. I told him about Ashley’s latest trouble navigating the city she grew up in.
“I’m from out of town, and I know my way around this city better than she does,” said John.
I agreed as John rose to greet a young man and woman who were approaching us. They appeared to be walk-on hopefuls, but they didn’t have any clubs with them. They may have left them in their car while they checked to see if they could get off. The woman was carrying what appeared to be a bottle of liquor or perhaps perfume that she was selling. John and I were both a little perplexed.
“Maybe they’re gypsies,” I said.
“This oughta be good,” replied John as he stepped forward.
The man and woman walked right up to John. They were dressed too well to be gypsies, and they didn’t appear to be selling anything. They were exactly the opposite of sales people. They were quiet and reserved in their manner.
“Hello,” said the man who appeared to be in his late
20s. “I’m not sure who we should talk to, we kind of have a strange question.”
“What is it?” asked John, who was never one to beat around the bush.
“Well,” said the man. “Our father liked to play here and…well he…”
“He played here for years,” said the woman, who must have been a few years older than the man and by now was obviously his sister. “He passed away recently and well…it was his wish to have his ashes sprinkled on the golf course.”
I slid back in my chair as if to back away from what was apparently an urn containing their father in her hands. I wanted to get out of my chair to get further away, but I didn’t want to be rude.
“I see,” said John. Nothing seemed to faze him. “I’m sure we can make arrangements for you to do that sometime.”
“I take it that today would not be a good day?” asked the man.
John explained how busy we were with it being the day after a holiday and that there would not be any privacy for them. Although they were visibly disappointed, they were very nice. I just sat there in shock, frozen and afraid to move. John suggested that they come back in the evening or early morning, and they agreed. They thanked him and walked away.
“Well, that was a new one,” said John.
“Yeah, just when you think you’ve seen it all,” I said. “I could just see us holding up play while they sprinkled their father’s ashes on the fairway.”
“It’s not a bad idea for when you go, but I wouldn’t want to be sprinkled anywhere near a tree,” added John. “Some bastard would end up pissing on me.”
I laughed at his deep thought on immortality and headed back into the clubhouse. When I got inside, Andy was there talking to Mark and Paul. He was there to bring us some fresh change for the cash register in between his lessons. Andy was a good guy to work for. He loved the game and knew how to teach. Although, I think he liked selling merchandise more than he liked to play. At least he made more money that way.
I told them of the encounter that John and I had out- side, and they nearly lost it. Paul proceeded to give us specific instructions on where to sprinkle his ashes when he goes.
“I want a little of me on each of the 18 greens,” he went on. “That way, each time they cut a new hole, I’ll be the first one in it. I’ll also be able to screw with everyone who tries to sink one.”
“You’ll be cursed when we miss them and blessed when we make them,” commented Andy.
“Amen,” replied Paul.
“What were they thinking?” asked Mark.
He couldn’t believe that the guy’s kids wanted to sprinkle his ashes while the course was packed. I think it was a situation where they didn’t know golf well enough to know any better. You got that a lot at White Lake. Until that day, I thought I had seen it all. Every question, every problem, every possible scenario that could occur while running a golf course. Severe weather, slow play, and wild tournaments. I had dealt with and mastered it all, but I had never had anyone ask to sprinkle their deceased father’s ashes before.
Andy walked to the office behind the counter area of the pro shop to make change and take a deposit to the bank. He usually brought us back lunch on bank runs. It was a nice break from Lisa and Missy’s usual fare. I think he was hurrying so he could avoid dealing with Hugh Cunningham.
The phone on the wall behind the counter rang and I stepped forward and picked it up. It was someone wanting a tee time for Sunday morning. I asked how many would be playing and the man said, “Two, possibly three.” We were booked through 10:46 AM already, but we just had a foursome call that had an 8:30 AM time and say that they were going to be down to two due to an emergency. When I explained that I had room for a twosome at 8:30 or the threesome at 10:46, the man jumped on the early time.
I confirmed back to him, “A twosome at 8:30 Sunday for Kelley.” He replied that “We might still show up with three.” That threw me for a moment. I made the quick decision between reacting as a smart ass or a dumb ass and responded with a second attempt to explain the two options.
“Sure, we can get you off as a threesome at 10:46, or I do still have an opening for two players only at 8:30 AM on Sunday,” I said. “Do you want to pick one now, or do you want to try to call back?”
“So, you wouldn’t be able to get us off if we show up at 8:30 with a third?”
“No sir, I already have a twosome scheduled for 8:30, so that only leaves room for two more players.”
“Oh, well we don’t want to play with anyone else, so I guess we’ll take the 10:46 time.”
Mark and Paul looked at me with smiles as I beat my head on the monitor of the tee time computer. After going around and around a few more times, Mr. Kelly agreed to take the 10:46 time. He also assured me that he would have at least three players. I made it very clear to him that if he showed up with just two players; he would be paired up with another twosome. We always had walk-ons waiting for an opportunity.
Mark began taking care of another group of players who were paying and signing for carts. They were the last of the morning tee times. The crossover was about to begin.
“The first groups off of each side should be making the turn soon,” I said to Paul.
“That is as long as they kept moving out there,” he replied.
That was always the concern. A smoothly run cross- over requires that the early groups move around fast enough to make it to the next nine shortly after our last tee time. However, if they made it around too quickly, they’d be waiting for the tee. The former would be more likely than the latter at White Lake. Our ranger this morning was Leo, so anything could happen. He was a nice guy and knew what to do, but he had a habit of falling asleep out on the golf course. He had been the weekend morning ranger for years. He was doing it long before Andy or any of us were here, so we couldn’t just change his shift. The nice part for us was that we wouldn’t have any new customers for the next two hours. There’d be nothing to do but answer the phone.
The phone rang again, and I quickly answered it in less than two rings. Cunningham would have been proud of me. It was Dr. Anderson on the line. He was a regular player at White Lake and had taken many lessons from Andy. He was calling from Golf Galaxy, the golf shop up by the mall. He asked if Andy was available because he needed some advice on a new set of golf clubs. I was shocked that he would be so bold. I put him on hold and yelled back to Andy.
Mark had just finished with the last player in the foursome. I nudged him in the shoulder and said, “Listen to this.” I hit the speaker phone on the line that Dr. Anderson was holding and hit mute. Paul came closer to hear as well. A second later, Andy picked up the line from the office.
“This is Andy,” he said in a friendly tone.
“Andy, Doc Anderson here. How you doing?”
“I’m great Doc, what can I do for you?”
“Well I’m up here at Golf Galaxy looking for some new clubs. They have me trying the Titleist and the Callaway.”
“Uh huh,” replied Andy cautiously.
“I’ve hit them into the net a few times, and they both feel pretty good. I just can’t tell how straight they are because they only go about 20 yards into the net. With my tendency to fade or even slice, which set do you think I should buy?”
“Well Doc,” said Andy before a brief pause as he thought. “Honestly, I think you’re in the wrong damn golf shop.”
Andy immediately hung up the phone. I quickly dropped the call on our end and we all burst out laughing.
“Did you guys hear that shit?” Andy asked as he stepped out of the office.
“Yeah. That takes nerve to ask someone for advice on how to buy equipment from their competitor,” said Mark.
“Nice tactful response,” said Paul.
“I’ve had it with that place stealing our customers,” said Andy as he walked back into the office.
Mark walked outside to tell John about Dr. Anderson and to see how the crossover was working. Lisa and Missy both would stay busy for the next two hours and then some. While we had less to do in the pro shop during the crossover, they would have a steady flow of customers. After nine holes, every group would want food whether it was breakfast or dogs and burgers. And after nine holes, every group would buy beer whether it was the first round or a refreshing of the cooler.
Old Wes was still sitting at the same table gazing out the window. The first group of Birdie Hunters came in the door as they were making the turn. They each stopped and said hi to Wes as they passed. Some sat with him for a moment and others patted him on the shoulder and dashed for the restroom. Wes would be in his glory for the next hour as the Birdie Hunters came through talking to him as they turned. It was always the bright spot of his day.
I looked out the window and saw Mark and John pitching balls to the putting green from in front of the first tee. They were lobbing balls out of the mulch about ten feet into the air over a small hedge and a brick walkway to the fringe of the putting green only 15 feet away. The green had five different target pins on it, so I wasn’t sure which one they were aiming for. However, it was clear that they were trying to land the shots on the fringe, which suggested they were going for the closest pin. They were just pins stuck in the ground with no hole. It was supposed to be better for the green, but it didn’t seem ideal for a chipping contest. It certainly threw a wrench into any gambling that might be involved. It was a situation where the best way to practice wouldn’t necessarily be the best way to approach the bet. To avoid bouncing off the pin and being farther away, one would want to be short of the hole or at worst next to it.
I watched them for a moment trying to discern who was winning. They paused for a moment to let the group exiting the ninth green make their way across the path to the clubhouse.
Paul came up from behind and stopped beside me. He glanced out the window and asked, “Who’s winning?”
“I don’t know yet,” I replied.
Just then the phone rang. I turned and stepped toward the wall to answer the phone. As I turned, I saw Hugh Cunningham standing behind the counter of the grill harassing Lisa. He must have slipped in the backdoor of the clubhouse by the dumpster and the employee parking. He was a pretty lively guy who must have been in his late 40s or maybe 50. He was just over six feet tall and had light hair that was still more blonde than it was gray. Cunningham gave the appearance that he was very engaged in everything. He was very energetic and had a habit of repeating things to you with emphasis to stress a point.
Paul slipped out from behind the counter and sheepishly made his way over to the table where Wes was sitting. I couldn’t blame him for getting the hell out of there. He didn’t get paid to put up with Cunningham’s shit like the rest of us. Besides, it was safer for us all if we kept Paul away from Hugh Cunningham.
I answered the phone, but kept my eye on the director of golf watching for any hints at a problem. He was scrutinizing everything behind the grill. He checked the grease trap and the condiments bar. He even poured himself a Coke out of the fountain machine. I’m sure that he wasn’t thirsty and that he was actually checking the level of carbonation in the fountain machine.
After my distracted greeting, the caller on the phone, a middle-aged sounding man, said, “Yeah, I’m out here on the fourth hole, and there’s a foursome of old men in front of us that are so slow that there is an open hole in front of them.”
I was still more interested in the movements of Cunningham, so I responded out of habit with the same thing I’ve said all day. I’m sorry sir; we don’t have any open tee times until 3:16.”
“Aren’t you listening to me,” the guy said. “I’m not trying to get a tee time, I’m on number four tee right now, and there are four old guys in front of us holding up the whole course.”
Cunningham seemed to be finished with the grill. Lisa and Missy were frantically scrubbing the counter to please the bastard. He made his way around the corner and glanced at the thermostat on the wall. He took off his glasses and peered at it to ensure it was set at 77 degrees.
Realizing the guy was on a cell phone and feeling pretty stupid, I replied with a question to appear concerned, “So you’re on number four tee?”
Cunningham turned and began walking toward the pro shop.
“Yeah, it’s pretty bad,” the caller said.
I glanced all around behind the counter to make sure it was in order. I looked for anything we wouldn’t want him to see. “We’ll get someone right out there,” I replied.
“I sure would appreciate it,” the man said.
I hung up the phone and wanted to go outside to warn John and Mark about Cunningham, but he was walking right toward me. He still had to wind his way through the maze of tables and chairs in the dining area of the grill. I decided to chance appearing to be in a panic and walked right outside to tell them what the guy on the phone said. Hopefully, I would catch them before Cunningham was close enough to see them pitching balls at the green through the window.
I saw Cunningham’s face show concern as I left the pro shop counter and walked out the door. He was about halfway to the pro shop and almost close enough to be able to see Mark and John through the window. I took long steps so as to move quickly, but not appear to be running. After three long steps, I heard the clubhouse door close behind me. With the director now unable to hear me, I shouted toward Mark and John, “Cunningham is here!”
They went into crisis mode. John immediately turned, walked toward the starter’s table and began pointing to the tee pretending to be doing something. Mark headed straight for me to return to the pro shop.
I stopped him and told him of the guy who called about the slow foursome of old men. He took the opportunity to avoid Cunningham and turned back toward the line of carts saying that he’d take care of it himself. He got in a cart and headed out onto the first nine.
I turned around to find Hugh Cunningham standing in the doorway of the clubhouse looking out at me. He was holding the door open with one hand and had the other propped up against the doorframe so as to get control of the situation. I walked toward him, quickly thinking of what to tell him. I could simply tell him the truth, or I could try to think of something better in the next two seconds.
As I approached him, I was getting more nervous with every step. He seemed to be looking for a problem today. Had he seen Mark and John pitching balls to the putting green? What would he say?
He greeted me as soon as I neared him. “Hello Brian.”
“Hi Mr. Cunningham.” Everyone called him Hugh, but I always laid it on pretty thick. You’ve got to have an edge.
“What was that all about?” he asked his high browed tone.
I proceeded to tell him of the customer service emergency on number four. I explained to him that there was a report of some extreme slow play and that Mark was going to coordinate with the ranger on the scene to investigate. Basically, he was going out to wake up Leo.
“Well I hope so,” he replied with vigor. “We can’t have slow play on the busiest day of the year.”
“No sir,” I agreed.
“Could be that crossover thing confused someone,” he said. “I’m not sure that it’s really the best way to go.”
I couldn’t believe that he was actually blaming the crossover format for slow play. It’s not like we were asking people to play the holes in any different order, it’s just one nine holes and then another.
“Probably someone who keeps losing balls,” I replied trying to steer the conversation back to a sensible line of reasoning.
“I’ve told all the county greens keepers that I want the tall grass reduced on our courses,” he said. “Way too much tall grass here at White Lake. Way too much.”
So much for a sensible line of reasoning. Sure, reducing the amount of tall grass on the course would speed up play, but so would putting the ball in the hole for the players. Where do you draw the line? While reducing the number of people who have to look for their balls, it would also reduce the character of the golf course. We don’t have a lake anymore. Very few fairway bunkers. The tall grass was one of the only challenges that White Lake could offer. It resembled Scottish heather. To cut it to the ground or shrink its size to nonexistence would seem a sacrilege.
Cunningham turned away from me and walked back into the clubhouse without saying a word. He was likely going to talk to Andy. I turned and looked toward John who was now holding a clipboard and talking to a group making the turn. I gave him a thumbs-up and he smiled in acknowledgement. When I entered the clubhouse, I glanced over to the office and could hear Andy and Hugh talking. Andy never took any shit from the director, but he always talked to him in the most diplomatic way. Andy had a way of telling you “no,” but making you feel like you won some- thing. He could be charming, professional and courteous as hell, as long as he either worked for you or was trying to sell you something.
I saw that the phone was not ringing for the first time all day, so I headed toward the grill to get away for a moment. I pushed a few chairs into their tables as I made my way to the grill. Missy was busy helping someone at the counter, but Lisa was wiping off the tops of bottles in the cooler due to the inspection. I approached her and asked how he was today.
“His usual anal-retentive self,” she replied as she wiped bottle tops. She paused from her work for a moment, turned and looked toward me. “What was he looking at outside?”
“I had to warn Mark and John that he was here. He almost saw them chipping balls to the putting green.” I went on to tell her about the guy who called from his cell phone to complain about some slow play.
“Probably one of them old Birdie Hunters,” she suggested.
“More than likely,” I agreed. They had a few old guys who would never give up on a lost ball. They’d look for it until the sun went down if they could.
I walked around behind the counter and poured myself a Mountain Dew. Lisa asked if I wanted anything to eat and I told her that Andy was going to pick us up some burger’s. I grabbed a Snickers Bar to tide myself over.
“Do you want anything from Wendy’s?” I asked.
“Yeah, I’ll take a Frosty,” she answered.
That’s what I figured. Lisa was never one to turn down a Frosty. I don’t remember her ever getting a burger or fries, only Frosties. Missy never wanted anything. She hardly ate a thing and was skinny as a rail. I guess if I slopped together greasy food all day for ungrateful men, I wouldn’t eat either.
“Does Missy want anything?” I asked. “No, she’s dieting again,” Lisa replied.
I chuckled with a smile and turned away from her. As I headed back toward the pro shop, I could see Hugh Cunningham and Andy talking behind the counter. They were laughing and smiling as if they were the best of friends. Andy sure was good at kissing ass. I didn’t exactly want to resume my post with Cunningham still behind the counter. It appeared that Paul had vanished from the clubhouse so I stopped at Old Wes’s table to check in on him. He appeared tired from talking to each group of Birdie Hunters that came through the clubhouse. He was just gazing out the window when I stopped next to him.
“How’s it going Wes?” I asked loudly to announce my presence.
“When I was playing in the league,” he said with hoarse voice and a cough. “We never went inside the clubhouse at the turn; we went straight to number ten. We drank from the water fountain and we didn’t have to eat because our wives had fed us a big breakfast before we left the house,” he continued. Wes loved to tell us how things used to be. “If we had to take a piss, we did it behind a tree. There was no reason to come inside the pro shop after nine holes. That’s what letting women play has done to the game. It has to be domestic. We have to wash our hands and watch our mouths. That’s not what golf is supposed to be about.”
There was something that he said toward the end of his tirade that seemed to make sense despite his otherwise wild and sexist ranting. I enjoyed listening to his eccentric points of view. Perhaps, it made me feel more together to hear him speak.
It looked like Andy had successfully appeased the Director’s concerns. Cunningham began walking out from behind the counter, but he stopped suddenly as he rounded the corner. He stared down in disgust at the display that held scorecards and pencils. The pro shop phone rang so I headed to the counter. Andy stepped toward Cunning- ham to see what was troubling him. As I passed the corner where Cunningham was standing I heard him lecture Andy on the pencil box. Apparently, not all the pencils were pointed in the same direction. Some were pointing up and some were pointing down.
The chaos that this created was unfathomable to us but all too real to Hugh Cunningham. He appeared to be genuinely disturbed in an unhealthy way by the non-synchronized stacking of each and every pencil.
Once behind the counter, I picked up the phone and answered it. Although I was explaining our tee time policy the caller, all my attention was on Andy’s face. I was looking for a smile or a sneer, but there wasn’t any crack in his armor. He remained stone-faced toward the Director.
After all, the pencils all start out pointing the same way. We should be pleased that some of them actually get recycled rather than upset about the manner in which they are returned.
Finally, after a brief moment of silence, Andy looked right at him and said, “Hugh, you have got to have some- thing more important to worry about. Like stopping that reverse pivot.”
Cunningham smiled and agreed as I recited our open tee times for Sunday afternoon. He was so self-involved that any interest in his game brought forth an unwarranted level of confidence. Andy liked to feed his ego about his golf game because he knew that he’d always have the edge there. Cunningham was a hack and Andy’s advice went a long way. I couldn’t hear what else they said to each other, but Andy had definitely lightened the Director’s mood. He seemed so pleased with himself that he didn’t bother to inspect Lisa’s progress behind the grill on his way out. He walked right by her and out the back door.
As soon as I hung up the phone, Andy began cursing Cunningham’s existence. He didn’t just say the Director was full of shit, he questioned whether he was worthy of being deemed human. Kissing Cunningham’s ass so well came at a price. It was difficult for Andy to forgive himself. Never-the-less, the Director’s scrutiny had been deflected one more time. That just meant that he would be harder on the other golf courses that he visited later that day.
As usual, Andy quickly changed the subject to something positive. He said he was going to stop at Wendy’s on the way back from the bank and asked me to get everyone’s orders. We all looked forward to lunch. Then, he returned to the office to finish putting together the morning deposit.
Just then, John called in on the radio that we used to communicate between the pro shop and the starter and ranger.
“Where the hell is Hank?” asked John.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “Last time I saw him, he was heading for the men’s room.”
“That was twenty minutes ago,” responded John. “Go check on him.”
“I’m not going in there,” I replied.
“We have to make sure he’s ok,” said John.
“Uh huh,” I answered as I turned to look for Paul. It would be much better to send another old guy in there after him, I thought. But he wasn’t sitting at the table with Wes anymore. Wes wasn’t an option. He would get lost in the Men’s room by himself. Fred was still sitting at the table next to him, but he was transfixed by the news. Fred would never get up from that table to check on Hank. Not unless I told him there was a TV in there with the news on it.
I looked out toward the tees, but I didn’t see him out there. It appeared that I was going to have to go check on Hank myself. I looked at the phone on the wall, hoping that it would ring and get me out of this. Unfortunately, it remained silent. With no one presently at the counter, I headed though the grill and toward the bathroom hallway. As I approached the door, I stated to think that it was no big deal. Some older people just take a while to go to the bathroom. There was no way he was lying on the floor helpless or anything. If he was, I sure hoped he still had his pants on.
I reached the door of the men’s room and briefly paused. I placed my hand on the door as if to test for the warmth of a fire. After a moment, I got up my nerve and pushed open the door. As I took one step inside, I was greeted with the most devastating odor I had ever smelled. The overwhelming stench of death hit me like a breaking wave. It was so wretched that I started to gag. I quickly turned around and hurried back out of the bathroom gasping for air. It felt as if I had been sprayed with mace as tears began to run out of my eyes. I had encountered some awful smells in the bathroom over the years, but this one was beyond belief.
I bypassed the pro shop and quickly walked straight outside for some fresh air. I coughed a few times and took some deep breaths. After hanging my head low and closing my eyes for a few moments, I looked up to see John facing me.
“You sound like you’re dying,” he said. “You didn’t eat a hotdog, did you?”
“No, you asshole,” I said. “I went in the bathroom to check on Hank and it smelled like something died in there.”
“Was Hank OK?” he asked.
“Hell, if I know. I got the hell out of there,” I replied as I coughed a few more times. “It was like tear gas,” I added.
John finally seemed to sense the seriousness of the situation. He offered to get me the oxygen tank. Now, he was just being a jerk. I assured him that I would be all right in a moment and he suggested that we switch places for a while. That sounded great to me. I needed the fresh air. It was the only thing saving me at that moment.
He went inside to take care of the pro shop and I walked toward the starter’s table. I sat down to catch my breath and enjoy the brief moment of peace. Then Harley came riding around the corner and parked his maintenance cart next to the table.
“What’s the matter Brian my boy?” he asked in a friendly way. His appearance at that moment was unwelcome, but I could tell that he was genuinely interested.
“I just encountered the nastiest smell in the world.”
“What was it?” he asked.
I walked in the men’s room while Hank was taking a dump.”
“That’s messed up,” replied Harley.
“Yeah, it was awful,” I said.
“There sure are a lot of people hitting balls at the range,” said Harley. “It’s good that people want to practice, but I wish they’d take their time. For so many of them, it’s rapid fire. They hit one right after the other without any breaks. You can’t work on your swing that way. Besides, if they slowed down, I wouldn’t have to pick up the balls so fast.”
He laughed at his own joke without shame. No one would ever say that he lacked self-confidence. He was oblivious to the fact that I was not in the mood to listen to him rant. I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me and his story was giving me a headache. He just went right on telling me about his day.
Harley had a unique philosophy. He got along well with all of us, but he had a deep disdain for people in general. He was divorced and that combined with the loss of his parents made him act a little peculiar. He apparently had a nervous breakdown a few years ago and luckily his brother stepped in to take care of him. Now, Harley had a trust fund to live off responsibly. That enabled him to work at the golf course and have fewer worries. He often spoke at length about the importance of nature and the benefits of being outside.
I certainly enjoyed being outside half the year, but this wasn’t Florida. I wouldn’t want to work outside year- round up here. I guess that’s why I went to college. As eccentric as Harley was, he was still a pleasure to work with. He worked hard and was the most honest fellow you would ever find. My stomach and my head started to feel better. It must have been the fresh air.
It was then that I saw Mark returning in a cart from out on the course. He drove in from the cart path on hole number nine, parked his cart at the end of the line and walked over toward us.
“What are you doing out here, Bri?” asked Mark.
“I needed some air,” I responded.
“Hank dropped a stink bomb in the men’s room,” added Harley.
“Is he still in there?” asked Mark.
“Yeah, I think he died in there,” I answered.
“Wonderful,” replied Mark. “It was a mess out there on number four. Roscoe and Stew had an open hole in front of them and were looking for balls in the trees.”
“No wonder the guy called us on his cell phone,” I replied.
“Yeah, I would have been angry too if I were behind them,” added Mark. “And you can’t reason with them,” he went on. “They just don’t want to ever give up on a lost ball. I gave them each a handful of balls that I had been chipping with. That seemed to satisfy them for the time being.”
Harley had come to the clubhouse for a purpose. He quickly changed the subject because he knew that Andy would be leaving soon and he wanted to place his lunch order. I told him and Mark that it would be Wendy’s that day and they both became eager to write down their orders. Harley got back in his maintenance cart and proceeded to drive it around to the back of the clubhouse. Mark and I both headed inside to place our orders. As I opened the door, I saw Paul talking to John at the counter. Naturally, he had returned in time to place his lunch order.
“Andy wants to know why you don’t have the lunch list going yet,” John said to me.
“Umm, maybe it’s because you made me go in that gas chamber to check on Hank,” I replied.
“Has he come out yet?” asked Paul.
“Not yet,” answered John.
“Somebody ought to check on him,” said Mark.
“I wouldn’t recommend it,” I commented as I grabbed a yellow legal pad and a pen. I began writing down everyone’s order. I liked taking the orders because I wanted to make sure that mine was right. I was a little picky about what I ate. Everyone else was pretty straightforward except for Paul. He was as picky as I was. Old men could be very particular.
First, I wrote down Lisa’s Frosty. Paul gave me his order next and then I was on a roll. A “number one” with a diet Coke for Mark. Harley had arrived and was bouncing up and down he was so anxious to give me his order. He was afraid that we’d forget him. Such an act would be impossible considering his determination to make himself known.
He shouted to me and I acknowledged that I was ready. I didn’t need to hear him recite his order. I knew it by heart. He got the same thing every time.
“Brian, I’ll take a Double Combo with a Coke,” he recited like a poem. “And Biggie Size it because I’m a hard-working boy.”
“Got it,” I replied in a monotone of annoyance.
Andy walked out from the office just at the right time.
“I see that my staff has doubled in size now that it’s lunch time,” he said.
“Yeah, and it shrinks in half when Hugh Cunningham shows up,” said John.
“Well, I can’t blame you all for that,” Andy replied. John proceeded to give me his large order. He was a big guy and he sure ate like one. He wasn’t fat, just tall and stocky. He wanted a double with everything, a spicy chicken sandwich and fries. Next, I meticulously wrote down my order: a single with pickles, onions, ketchup and bacon only, no cheese and biggie fries.
I handed the list to Andy as he zipped up the brown canvas bank pouch. He gazed at the list with an animated look of dismay. He liked to make us all feel guilty for his generosity.
“Where’s the cash?” he asked.
Paul and Harley walked away from the counter toward the grill. John, Mark and I looked away and acted busy as if we didn’t hear him.
“That’s what I thought,” he replied as he walked out of the pro shop and toward the backdoor.
There were a few people congregating around the starter’s table so John walked back outside to assist them. As Mark and I talked to each other behind the pro shop counter, Roger Merchant exited the men’s restroom with a sick look on his face. Roger played in the skins game and must have been making the turn.
Mark and I turned to each other and chuckled when we saw him approaching.
“What the hell happened in there?” he asked. “It’s Hank,” I replied. “Did you see him in there?”
“I heard someone moaning in one of the stalls,” he answered.
“You guys need to do something about that,” he said. “Call homeland security or something.”
“Yeah, we’ll get the chemical response team in there,” Mark replied.
Roger walked toward the grill to join his group who were at the counter getting some food. I turned to answer the phone which just started ringing. As I picked up the phone, I saw Hank emerging from the men’s room. He was headed toward the pro shop with a grin on his face. Mark glanced at me to see if I had also seen him and then he turned to face Hank. They spoke to each other briefly as I explained our tee time situation to the guy on the phone. After a moment, Hank walked back outside toward the tees as if nothing happened. I walked closer to the window stretching the phone cord as I watched Hank approaching John. He spoke to John for a few seconds and then sat down at the starter’s table.
John grabbed his sand wedge that was leaning against the split-rail fence and walked toward the practice green. I finished my conversation with the guy on the phone and turned toward Mark.
“What did Hank have to say?” I asked.
“He just asked how the tee was moving and wanted to make sure you had ordered his “number three.”
“Nobody told me to order him a “number three,”” I replied.
“Well, he thought you should have known,” Mark answered.
“That’s bullshit,” I replied. “This isn’t a retirement home. I’m not a caregiver.”
“Just call Andy’s cell,” said Mark.
I went ahead and called Andy while he was still in his car. As I was giving him Hank’s order, I saw a few more golfers who were making the turn walk over to talk to Mark. I couldn’t hear exactly what they were saying, but they appeared to be complaining about something. After Andy took another opportunity to jokingly claim that his generosity was being exploited, I hung up the phone.
Mark told me that two more players had complained about the men’s room. We argued over who was going to do something about it for a moment. Naturally, I ended up being the one who had to go in there. I grudgingly walked to the back hallway and grabbed a can of disinfectant spray from the janitor’s closet.
As I walked back through the grill toward the men’s room, I could feel the eyes of everyone in the clubhouse watching me. They all knew what I was on my way to do. I stopped at the door for a moment. Then, I took a deep breath and quickly ran inside the restroom. I held my breath as I continuously sprayed pine scented industrial disinfectant all over the room. After making my way toward the window, I slid it open with one hand and continued spraying with the other. I kept my finger on the nozzle without any pauses. After about 30 seconds I exhaled, but did not inhale. Then, after about 30 more seconds, I could feel my lungs begging for air. I quickly ran back outside the restroom and inhaled once the door had closed behind me.
The clubhouse immediately erupted in applause and rowdy screams then turned in to laughter. I started to turn red with embarrassment, but I quickly progressed into a proud confidence.
“Hey, I’m the only one young enough here to take it,” I pronounced as defensive fire. They returned fire with more laughter. However, this time they seemed to be laughing with me rather than at me. Sometimes respect can only be earned through verbal combat.
I made my way back to the pro shop with the excitement dying. Mark was smiling with glee. He took pleasure in sending me on such a humiliating task. It was just more friendly combat. I’d get him back sometime.
“Way to go Brian!” shouted Roger Merchant from the grill. “I hope you got hazard pay.”
His buddies from the skins game all laughed and I waved in acknowledgement. I gave Mark a friendly punch in the shoulder as he answered the phone. It made him fumble in his greeting on the phone and I smiled at him to rub it in. He turned away from me and glanced at the tee time computer.
Paul and Harley were returning from the grill. They appeared to be involved in a serious debate. I could hear them better as they got closer to the pro shop. Paul appeared to be trying to convince Harley that hitting balls at the range was hurting his game.
“You’re at your best when you’re playing on the course with your friends,” Paul said to Harley. “You are in a rhythm when you’re playing a round of golf. You’re a physic- cal player. You shouldn’t be analyzing your swing for hours at a driving range. You should be muscling the ball straight out of a crooked swing.”
Harley seemed stunned from the moment Paul said the word “physical.” That was music to his ears.
“I should be playing rather than thinking. Not bullshitting,” said Harley, as if Paul had made a revelation. “I’d rather be a player than coach,” he added.
“That’s the way,” responded Paul, who seemed grateful to be taken so seriously.
There was never a dull moment around the club- house. Paul and Harley both stepped behind the counter and grabbed my clipboard to look at the tee sheet. They were looking for an opening as Mark hung up the phone with a huge grin on his face.
“Must have been a girl,” I said.
“She laughed when I stumbled answering the phone,” he replied. “It was the best laugh.
“You sucker,” I commented. Mark was notoriously vulnerable to a cute girl with a nice voice. He’d do anything for them and get trampled on in the process. That was his problem with Ashley.
Paul turned away from Harley to face us. I thought that he was surely going to join me in ridiculing Mark, but instead he changed the subject.
“Fred says that the C130s have already left Wright Patterson,” he stated sincerely. “They should be overhead soon. The jump is scheduled for twelve noon.”
“You actually believe him?” I asked.
“Well there was something on about a paratrooper reunion,” Paul responded. “But I couldn’t see where it was. Fred seems pretty adamant though.”
“I think Williams Field would have notified us if something like that was happening,” added Mark.
“Jumping out of C130s, now that’s physical,” said Harley.
“I think Brian is the hero of the day for going in there after Hank,” said Paul.
“It was dangerous,” I replied.
“Whatever,” responded Mark.
“Paul, you are playing with Harley?” he asked.
“Well, I might if it’s not too slow out there,” he replied.
“Your idea of not being crowded is one group on each nine,” I replied.
I was exaggerating, but Paul could not stand to have a group behind him or in front of him. I hated to be pushed from behind, but I could handle a slow group in front of me. That’s life. I’ll count my blessings all day long if there is no one pushing me. I’ll follow a slow group of golfers and take my time to practice a little and cherish the fact that no one is behind me. Usually when we played, we’d find the slowest group on the course and jump in front of them. Sometimes you could find an entire open hole in front of a really slow group.
“Well, we’ll see what it looks like after three o’clock,” said Paul. “If those paratroopers cause a spectacle in the air, it could back up the whole course.”
“I don’t think you have to worry about that,” I responded.
“I’m going to be a player,” said Harley.
The phone rang and Mark answered it. He began explaining our tee time situation as a group of weekend warriors came into the clubhouse. They were apparently making the turn. They were in their thirties and looked like yuppies. They were dressed very well, but seemed a little unfamiliar with golf in general. They stood a few steps inside the door of the clubhouse gazing toward the grill. Then all four of them turned toward the pro shop and slowly approached the counter. I walked up toward the front of the counter to help them as the most assertive of the four approached.
“How are you doing?” I asked.
“Well, we have a complaint to register,” the tall, skinny gentleman replied.
“Oh, what is it?” I asked assuming it would be regarding the slow play.
“Well, you really shouldn’t let the sprinklers go on while people are playing,” he said. “It made it very difficult to play out the hole.”
I explained to the man that the summer was very hot and we did have to water the course several times a day to keep it in good shape. I went on to explain that if we didn’t water the fairways at all during daylight hours that the grass would burn out.
The gentleman acknowledged that he understood and the four of them walked over toward the grill. As soon as they were out of earshot, I turned to Paul and Harley and expressed my frustration.
“What the hell was that?” I asked rhetorically.
“The holiday weekends bring out all types to play,” replied Paul.
“That’s messed up,” said Harley.
I agreed with him and went on to vent about the complaint. I didn’t mind if someone complained to us for a valid reason. Slow play and course conditions were fair game, but to bitch about the sprinklers coming on was absurd.
Mark hung up the phone and asked what was going on. When I explained, what had happened, he was in awe. It wasn’t often that a new one came our way, but that was White Lake. As soon as you thought you had seen it all, something crazier came along.
“I remember when they used to have to pump water out of the old lake to water the course,” said Paul. “They didn’t put in the irrigation system until 1972.”
“That’s getting back to nature,” commented Harley.
“Yeah, poor Ron Walden, the greens keeper, had to keep moving the hoses and sprinklers every day to water the fairways and greens,” added Paul. “He had a whole network of hoses and connections spanning most of the golf course.
“That’s wild,” I said.
“Sounds pretty physical,” said Harley.
“I’m sure you would have loved it,” added Mark.
“Definitely,” responded Harley.
Paul laughed and took his hat off of his head. “Harley, you were born 30 years too late,” he proclaimed.
That was a deep statement that seemed to perplex Harley for the moment. Something like that was bound to keep him thinking for hours. I answered the next phone call as Paul settled into the chair by the window. On the phone was Alice from the driving range. She was looking for Harley. She had a stack of empty baskets that needed to be filled.
“He just left here a minute ago,” I said as I glared at Harley. “I’m sure that he’ll be back down there soon.” I hated to lie to Alice, but I had to cover a little for Harley. Alice had run the driving range forever. She was as sweet as could be, but she knew what made the driving range work. Being nice to people and having plenty of golf balls were essential. Alice was always nice, but having enough balls was sometimes a challenge. In the spring, the range would be so wet and swampy that the mud would literally swallow the balls. In the summer, there would be so many people hitting balls that a picker would have a hard time keeping up.
I hung up the phone and looked at Harley. Everyone knew who had called. Harley was a hard worker, but he loved to slip away from Alice occasionally and hang with the guys. He claimed to despise being social, but he was notorious for sitting down with news junkie Fred to discuss current events. Those two had some wild discussions.
“Guess who’s looking for you?” I asked him.
“My dear sweet adopted mother,” he responded.
“I thought she was my mother, “said Mark.
“She’s everyone’s mother,” I answered.
The others laughed in agreement. Paul might have been more of a brother to her than a son, but the love was there nonetheless. Harley turned like a dutiful farm hand and headed toward the back door where he had parked his maintenance cart.
As he walked back through the grill, Fred turned away from the television and shouted to Harley.
“Keep an eye on sky,” he said. “Those C130s should be overhead soon.”
“Will do,” Harley responded. He’d have Alice restocked on baskets of range balls in no time and be back up at the clubhouse in time for lunch. None of us paid much attention to Fred’s insistence that the 82nd Airborne was heading to William’s Field.
John walked in the door and took his sunglasses off. He had worked up a sweat practicing his short game while he worked the tee.
“Where’s Andy?” he asked. “Hank is getting pretty hungry out there.”
“That’s because he’s doing all the work,” Mark replied.
“I think it’s because he’s running on empty after his trip to the Men’s room,” I added.
John and Mark laughed as Paul chuckled trying to stop from laughing.
“Hell, he’s lucky that he got his order in at all,” added Mark.
That was true. I couldn’t believe that he expected me to automatically order his lunch. I work with the guy one day a week and he thinks I should remember his eating habits. He was a nice guy and all, but he never did anything for me to warrant that type of expectation.
All of a sudden, the sound of someone snoring came from the grill. We all turned slowly to confirm our suspicions. There was Wes still sitting at the closest table facing the window. His head was bowed straight down and his mouth was wide open. He was out for the count. It was a common occurrence when Wes was at the clubhouse.
“Wow, it’s not even noon yet,” said John.
“Yeah, he’s a little early,” I commented.
Paul went on to tell us that Wes was tired because his daughter had him over to celebrate some family birth-days the night before. A group of golfers came in the door while they were making the turn. They couldn’t help but slow down and gaze at Wes snoring away as they walked past him. It had to be an unusual sight for someone new to White Lake.
It was then that the door facing the first and tenth tees opened and Nate Boylan walked in grinning from ear to ear. Behind him came the rest of his foursome. They were making the turn and no doubt refilling their coolers.
“I have two skins for sure and maybe a third,” Nate proclaimed. “I talked to Willie a few groups back and no one has me beat on three, five or eight. There were only two groups behind his. Hell, this game is getting easier every week.”
Willie, Nate’s brother, was an even bigger hustler than he was. I wouldn’t trust the two of them when it came to any type of gambling. Nate proceeded to summarize his excellent round for us while his three teammates went on to the grill. John and Mark took turns attacking him and raising doubt about his score.
Paul joined the fun by making his own observation. “You talk a great game, but you’ve never measured up to the talk when I’ve played with you.”
“That’s because it wouldn’t be polite to show up an old man,” answered Nate.
“Well, this old man will gladly keep taking your money,” replied Paul. “After all, I am on a fixed income.”
“Y’all better keep moving along out there,” said John. “I don’t need a bunch of our employees slowing down the course. You guys should have turned twenty minutes ago.”
“It’s all those Birdie Hunters out there,” responded Nate. “They have the whole course backed up. What are they doing playing 18 holes anyway?”
“It’s a holiday,” answered Mark. “I was out there moving along old Roscoe and Stew.”
“Roscoe and Stew, that figures,” said Nate as he turned and walked into the grill to join his teammates who were loading up on beer.
“Make sure you get enough Bud Light,” he yelled as he approached them. “I’m not drinking that Miller that you guys think is so great.”
Nate Boylan was outlandish, but theatrical enough to be entertaining. Playing with him was always an experience. You had to watch his score keeping, but his camaraderie was usually a confidence boost. Confidence goes a long way on the golf course. I would speculate that it is the most key ingredient to playing well. There was something about Nate’s blatant directness that actually made you feel better than someone who might be more of a cheerleading influence. I’d rather my playing partner poke fun at my bad shots than hear the words “good shot” out of sympathy.
That’s probably the real reason that Nate’s team wins the skins game so often regardless of whom he’s playing with. The teams are relatively equal every week, each with an A, B, C and D player. Nate just inspires people to play well for some reason. It’s his personality that invites everyone to explain it by saying that he cheats. Even though no one has caught him and often it’s his teammates that play the best, it’s more fun to harass him about it. That’s the way the skins game is. Everyone bitches except for the team that wins and anyone who grabs a skin.
The phone rang behind me so I turned to answer it. As I picked up the receiver, Mark was smiling and bullshitting with John. He looked like a kid enjoying life. That was until I answered the call and he heard me say, “hi Ashley” to his loving fiancée. The expression on his face went from youthful exuberance to despair and gloom. It was if the sky had darkened and the smell of death was in the air. Maybe it was somewhat due to the rolling of my eyes as I greeted her or John’s laughter at the sound of her name. However, he too must have had a deep disdain for her at least on some levels in order to go through such a visible change in expression and demeanor.
Mark did his duty and picked up the phone. John smiled at me and turned toward the computer to print a new copy of the tee sheet to take outside. Paul was leaning up against the counter facing the big screen in the grill. Fred had actually gotten out of his seat in front of the television and was walking toward the pro shop. Paul stepped away from the counter and slowly approached Fred.
They met next to the table where Wes was sitting all alone. There they could see out the large picture window toward the tees. Fred squatted and bent at the waist to look up through the window. The patio roof obscured most of his view, but he must have been able to see some of the sky. Wes was oblivious to the fact that they were standing next to him. Fred gazed out the window for a few seconds obviously looking for the 82nd Airborne. Paul bent down beside him to take a look for himself. I fully expected them both to get stuck in that position and need help straightening back up.
After a moment, Fred stood back up and Paul followed his lead. Without saying a word, Fred hurried back to his seat in front of the TV. Paul said something to Wes, then slowly turned and made his way back toward the pro shop.
“Fred says that to honor World War Two veterans, the 250 paratroopers are going to use the vintage style chutes,” said Paul as he stopped in front of the door. “You know the big round ones that you can’t really steer. Hell, that should be a sight.”
He smiled and backed himself out the door to the patio smiling and humming. Such behavior might seem odd in most civilized parts of the world, but Paul and Fred were not at all acting unusual for the golf course. I had become accustomed to such behavior. Once they got a thought in their heads that they found amusing, you might as well forget about having a conversation with them. Sometimes they were almost childlike in their glee.
From behind the pro shop counter, I could see out onto the patio and most of the first and tenth tees. I watched Paul slowly stroll out toward Hank who was back working the tee after his rest and relaxation. Hank was standing next to the starter’s table holding his clipboard. He was staring at something near the tenth tee when Paul reached him. They both turned and gazed toward the back nine. They appeared to be discussing whatever it was they were watching.
“What’s going on?” asked John as he walked up beside me.
“I don’t know. They seem to be looking at something,” I replied.
“Let’s check it out,” suggested John as he stepped out from behind the counter and toward the door. I immediately followed him leaving Mark on the phone with Ashley. He was in a world of his own and never noticed us leave. I would much prefer Paul’s world to Mark’s.
I was with John step for step as we walked across the patio and then onto the brick walkway that led to the starter’s table. As we approached Paul and Hank, they appeared to be in absolute awe of something we could not yet see. Their mouths were both open wide enough to hold a golf ball and they were as still as statues. Hank had removed his hat and placed his hand on his head in some primal attempt at processing the information his eyes were receiving.
I assumed that we would find them gazing at a deer or a cardinal. Something you might expect to see on a beautiful summer day. To my surprise, it was not Mother Nature they were appreciating, but rather the dazzling display of a gyrating female form on the fifteenth green.
John and I both stood silently as we took a moment to register our own sensory input. After a moment, I was sure of what I was seeing. Within a small opening in the tree line, there was a completely naked young lady dancing on the fifteenth green. There was a group of golfers sitting on the green in a half circle watching.
Finally, John broke the silence with a reasonable explanation. “Must be that bachelor party that’s out there,” he suggested.
“Oh, that makes sense,” said Paul as he continued to gaze at the sight.
Hank continued to stand silently in amazement of what he was witnessing. I stood still as well. Frozen in place I simply agreed, “Yeah, that’s the bachelor party.”
“I guess I’ll have to make sure they move along,” said John with a smile.
“I may be better suited for the job,” said Paul. “I was a police officer.”
“Paul, you’d have a heart attack if you got too close to that action,” said John as he turned and started walking toward the front cart in the line.
Fred had walked out to join us while we weren’t paying attention. “Do you see the planes yet?” he asked.
“No Fred,” said John as he continued to walk. “What we see is far more entertaining than any paratrooper jump.”
“I’ll go with you,” I suggested as I started to follow John. As I took a couple of steps I could hear the rumbling sound of a large plane approaching. The deep low roar grew louder than that of the typical plane we were used to hearing overhead.
John and I stopped in our tracks as we began to consider the possibility that Fred had been right all along. The approaching plane sounded like a humming subwoofer on a surround sound system. It grew louder even still as we could almost feel the vibrations. Just as the noise contin- ued to become more intense, a low flying military cargo plane roared overhead. It wasn’t flying low enough to be on an approach to land, but it was low enough to suggest a local purpose.
“I knew they were coming,” shouted Fred. “Both Fox News and CNN were saying so. I can’t wait to see them.” The rest of us were motionless and silent for a moment. We all knew at that point that Fred had been right all along.
As the lumbering giant passed over the golf course and approached Williams Field, we could see objects coming out of the side of the plane. It felt like the Thanksgiving episode of WKRP for a moment. Unlike the Turkeys that Mr. Carlson had dropped, this Holiday skydive involved parachutes. Just as Fred had promised, the sky was soon filled with World War Two style parachutes drifting to the ground.
“Oh my, is it beautiful,” said Fred.
“It sure is,” said Paul.
Within a moment, another plane roared overhead and more of the 82nd Airborne jumped out. One by one, three more of the giant planes flew low over us. It was so loud that we didn’t bother trying to speak. The group of us along with everyone else in the vicinity was staring upward.
After the last plane pulled up and away, there were more paratroopers in the air than I could have imagined. They were floating down in all directions.
“It feels like a war zone,” said Mark. “It’s like Red Dawn,” I added.
“Wolverines!” shouted John.
“It’s World War Two,” said Paul.
“And no damn Germans to shoot holes in them like they did us when I was jumping out of those things,” added Hank.
“I thought you worked on the engines?” asked Mark.
“I did,” answered Hank. “But I went on several missions as a flight mechanic.”
“You never jumped,” said Fred.
“I did in training,” responded Hank.
“Well, you served and that’s enough,” said Paul.
The C130s had all moved out of earshot at that point. While most of the Airborne were sailing toward the airport, many of them were drifting over the golf course. It became clear pretty quickly that there were going to be paratroopers landing all over the back nine.
“Well, this is all very interesting,” said John. “However, I have a job to do.” He turned and began walking toward the cart again.
Realizing what he meant, I chased after him to assist. We reached the cart at the front of the line together. I slid in next to him as he pulled out his set of keys that had a cart key in addition to keys for his car and house. We all kept golf cart keys on our key chains. It just made things easier. As we pulled away and headed toward the back nine, I turned and looked into the sky to see the paratroopers. They were slowly drifting toward the ground.
The others all turned their eyes skyward as well. I could see Fred with a smile of satisfaction on his face. Mark, Hank and Paul all appeared to be in awe. I turned around and faced forward to see several of the Airborne descending over the back nine. While most of the 250 paratroopers were safely making their way to Williams Field, there were about forty to fifty that had been blown short of their destination. The vintage style chutes apparently weren’t very accurate.
As John and I approached the fifteenth green, we could see that even the female entertainer had noticed the unusual visitors. Two of the Airborne were close to landing on the fifteenth fairway just in front of the green. This whole evolving situation had the words “incident report” written all over it. The county commissioners would flip out about either of these events by themselves. The combination of paratroopers swooping down on a dancer doing a strip tease on the fifteenth green would surely get someone in hot water.
By the time, we arrived on the scene, the paratroopers had landed and disconnected themselves from their equipment. They had approached the green and were checking out someone else’s equipment. John parked our cart and we approached the green.
“I’ll take the lead,” John said to me as we walked.
“It’s all you,” I replied.
When we reached the cast of characters, John was cool as ever. He acted as if this was nothing new and quickly took control of the situation. He joked that the paratroopers had landed here on purpose when they saw what was happening. Then, he ignored the presence of the stripper as an issue by itself and simply told the guys that they were holding up the pace of play. He amused me by implying that if they had kept moving along at a better pace, the dancing would not have been an issue.
After a bit of friendly banter, John had the golfers moving on their way and the dancer was going to ride in with us. She quickly dressed and sat down next to John. I had to stand hanging on the back of the cart and hang onto the roof supports. John told the paratroopers that we would send someone out to pick them up and we headed in toward the clubhouse. John made small talk with his new friend as he drove us down the cart path. It turned out that her name was Star. It seemed to fit her pretty well. She certainly had John captivated for the entire ride.
We pulled up to the clubhouse and I hopped off the back of the cart. I found Paul and asked him to head back out to help me pick up the two paratroopers. John, of course, escorted Star to the patio and helped her take a seat. Paul was eager to help me assist a couple of America’s bravest.
I hopped back in the cart and Paul got into another. He followed me out toward number fifteen to meet the paratroopers. They had just finished rolling up their chutes into manageable bundles when we arrived. Paul was relishing the moment as he introduced himself. He lavished praise on their performance and asked them about their jumps. He was like a little kid meeting his favorite ballplayer.
We offered them rides back to Williams’s field and so one of them hopped in the cart with each of us. My passenger was named Patrick and Paul’s was Eric. They were very friendly and casual with us so we didn’t bother with military rank. We drove west through the tree line and around the maintenance barn. From there we took a maintenance road that wrapped behind the sixteenth green and headed toward the airport. As we proceeded past the seventeenth tee, we saw a large group of paratroopers walking from the golf course to the airport. They were each carrying their cumbersome equipment, but all appeared to be jovial and having a good time. After all, it was a beautiful day for a jump and they were all still able to walk after being blown off course.
As Paul and I pulled up to the group, they immediately laughed and gave our two guests a hard time. The comrades made fun of them for being chauffeured in on golf carts. Patrick and Eric fired back at their peers that they had seen quite a show on the golf course. They graciously thanked us for the rides and said they would walk the rest of the way. They seemed eager to tell their story to their buddies, so Paul and I bid them farewell.
Paul began following me back in toward the club- house, but I couldn’t wait for his cautious driving. He quickly fell out of sight as I took short cuts across fairways and through tree lines. Normally I wouldn’t be in such a rush to get back to work, but I was getting hungry and Andy would be back soon with lunch.
When I pulled up to the clubhouse, John was sitting on the patio chatting with his new friend. Star now had more clothing on, but still appeared out of place at the golf course. The other guys on the patio were all gawking at her and debating John’s prospects as I walked past them and headed inside. Not only did they envy John’s golf game, but now they envied his charisma. He had the Kavorka as they said on Seinfeld.
The clubhouse was all a buzz about the day’s excitement. Everyone had a different story to tell. There were tales of putts, chips and drives interrupted by the sudden sight of 250 paratroopers descending to the ground. Apparently, a few actually landed on the driving range. The poor guys didn’t know that they would be jumping into enemy fire. Alice had to make an announcement on the PA asking everyone to stop hitting balls until Harley could help them get to safety. After a few more beers for everyone, the stories were sure to grow even more outrageous. Mark and I didn’t have a lot to do while the crossover continued. Andy would make it back with our lunches soon. Hopefully, we had seen an end to all the excitement for that July Fifth.