Tuesday, September 19, 2006


The Resume (A Random Anecdote)

Job #11: Greens Guardian, Second Hole

"So, do you play?"

I was looking out the window of the basement office of the manager of the country club near my house. The main building, which housed the restaurant and a modest hotel, had once been a Colonial era farmhouse, and despite all the extensions and tasteful additions, the remodelers had run short on space. Thus the manager of the club and grounds had his office in the dank basement. His window looked out between two overgrown hedges. From this vantage, I could see the scraggly bottoms of the hedges, as well as a really big hornet's nest depending from one branch. And, naturally, a couple of lost golf balls, which had evidently rolled over from the putting green long ago.

I looked back at the manager, Wally. His face was droopy and lined, every wrinkle etched deep in skin. He puffed away on a Camel cigarette, although he had one other in the ashtray on his desk, forgotten and slowly burning its way to the filter.

"Do I play golf?" I repeated. "No. Never have. I'm pretty good at pool, though." This made Wally laugh in a great, braying puff of smoke. I thought to explain that when I was a kid I believed golf was just a variation on pool, only outdoors and bigger, you know, more spread out. But even at the tender age of 19 going on 20, I had come to learn a valuable lesson about myself, which was that I talked too much when I was nervous, and I was still young enough to be nervous in any kind of job interview. Even this one.

To be honest, I had no particular interest in working at a golf course and country club. I just needed a job, and badly. I had spent every last cent of my savings--and all of the savings bonds I had amassed from relatives since birth--to afford a few months of living and travel expenses in London. But now that I was home, I was heading into my senior year of college with no money whatsoever. I had a few scholarships, but even with that and the increasingly large student loans I was taking, I still had to pay several thousand dollars a year to afford room and board and books and beer. My parents had always helped out when they could, but ever since my dad had finally quit drinking a couple of years earlier, he had made a decision to move back to New Hampshire full-time and that meant taking on construction work that was sporadic at best. He and my mom had just enough money to pay their own bills. To top it off, my brother had just moved back to New Hampshire and he was constantly sponging loans off of them in order to make the rent on his own apartment (eventually, they would all find it cheaper if he just moved back home, and that's what he did about a year later. He remains there to this day).

So I needed a job, and one that paid well. For an unskilled undergraduate like myself, that meant an internship was out of the question, although that's what most of my friends were doing that summer. The problem was, most professional journalism internships were unpaid or paid in partial credit, which just meant that companies could pay you less than minimum wage ($3.35 an hour back then). I couldn't afford that. I needed a job that paid at least $4.50 an hour, and that offered overtime. The bank I had worked at the previous summer was paying five bucks an hour, but by the time I arrived in New Hampshire that May, all the summer teller slots had been filled, a fact I didn't learn until I showed up at the bank one morning a week or so before my birthday and saw my old manager. She felt bad for having to turn me down (and later, after I got out of college and found myself unable to secure employment in my chosen field, she would rehire me), and so by way of throwing me a bone, she mentioned that she heard the country club on the edge of town was hiring wait staff and groundskeepers. If there was a place in town that had more money than the bank, it was that country club. I had known a couple of guys who had caddied there in previous summers, and they made a small fortune on tips alone.

As I drove straight from the bank to the club, I realized that I probably wouldn't be qualified for a caddy job. I didn't know a nine-iron from a steam iron. Like a lot of working class folks, I bought into the stereotype that golf was a game for the rich. And it certainly was expensive. The one time I had accompanied some college friends on a golf outing, I was amazed at how much everything cost, from greens fees to cart rental. My friends had their own clubs, but I sure didn't, so I had to rent a set from the pro shop. Unfortunately, I was left-handed and the shop only had right-handed clubs for rent. By day's end, I had a terrible sunburn and a crick in my back and neck from swinging clubs wrong-handed and my wallet was about 10 pounds lighter, all for an experience that was unsatisfying in the extreme.

Luckily for me, Wally didn't care about my lack of golf knowledge. In fact, he considered it an asset.

"Well, good!" he puffed at me. "I have too many caddies as it is. And the whole grounds crew is made up of high schoolers from the golf team. Whitey can't leave em alone for a minute because they're always sneaking off to the putting green or the driving range, when they should be mowing or raking or trimming the goddamn hedges outside my window."

"Whitey's the head groundskeeper?" I asked.

Wally nodded. "He's the brother-in-law of the owner and his office is in the barn on the other side of the course. I'll show you where the service road is so you can go meet him. He needs some help and that's for sure. Last week, one of the kids on the crew ran him over with a golf cart. Broke his leg in five places so he's going to be in the office for the rest of the summer. What he needs is an assistant to run the crew and make sure they do what they're supposed to. You have any management experience?"

"Sure," I lied, and then talked about my time as a security guard, which was about the most responsible sounding job I had on my paltry resume up to that point. I followed that up by talking about last summer's work at the bank--handling money without losing any is always responsible-sounding, and it didn't hurt that the owner of the bank, an old family friend, was also a member of the country club. Then, to demonstrate my ability to do hard work, I shared the fact that I had spent several summers hauling trash and doing general construction and landscaping work for my uncle. Wally sat up when I mentioned his name.

"You're David's nephew?" he asked. My uncle knew even less about golf than I did and had never set foot in the club, but he was a local legend nonetheless. "Well," Wally said, gazing at me with new eyes. "I guess if you could ride shotgun with David for five summers, you can handle anything these kids can dish out."

And just like that, I was hired. The job paid five dollars an hour and time-and-a-half for every hour over 40 hours. Even better, the work day was from 6 to 2, so I'd be working outdoors in the coolest part of the day, a lucky stroke for me. That summer had been particularly hot and humid so by 11 it was getting up into the 80s and 90s, not the best working conditions, especially out on the course where there tended not to be a lot of shade.

"Great," I said. "Guess that means I can look for a second job in the evenings, unless you have something else here I could do." I had been thinking about waiting tables, but Wally had another surprise in store for me.

"If you want more work, son, I'm going to send you upstairs to Nicole," he said. Nicole, as it turned out, was the manager of the hotel. There were only five or six rooms, but the club did a brisk business with them, and Nicole was plenty busy running the reservation desk and serving as the receptionist for both the pro shop and the restaurant. Her mother had just come home to live with her and her husband, though, and she needed to reduce her schedule. Which meant that four days a week, from three til eight, the club needed another receptionist. It made for some seriously long days, but the club had a brand-new central air system, which was absolutely delicious after a morning of working out in the sun. Better yet, the extra work meant I was working close to 70 hours on a five-day work week, which translated into a payday of about $400 a week, a princely sum for me at that age.

But I surely earned my wages. Not that the actual work was terribly grueling. As Whitey's assistant, I had access to all the power tools in the barn (which served as the garage, equipment shed, and office for the grounds crew), as well as the gas-powered utility cart that Whitey used to make his rounds. This made any labor fairly easy. If there was mowing or brush-clearing to be done, it was simplicity itself to load a mower or a chain saw or clipper into the bed of the cart and drive off to some distant corner of the golf course.

The real challenge, as it turned out, was riding herd on those damn kids.

My crew consisted of about a half-dozen boys and one girl, all from the local high school, all around 17 years old. I was only a couple of years older than they were, but it sure didn't seem like it. Except for the girl--who was quiet and diligent and spent most of her time in the barn, organizing files for Whitey--they were a pretty irresponsible bunch and Wally wasn't exaggerating: it seemed most of them did take the job so they could play golf on the sly. Over the summer I ended up retrieving each of them at least once--usually multiple times--from the driving range or some other area of the course. I got pretty annoyed with it after a while, but Whitey, the head groundskeeper, made it clear there was nothing to be done about it. All of the kids' parents belonged to the club. Some even lived in the development that abutted the property. Whitey didn't want the hassle of firing a kid or even docking his pay and then having to listen to his mom or dad come down to the barn and give him an earful. Whitey was allergic to hassle, I would come to find out. Even without the good excuse of his leg in a cast, Whitey spent most of his working days on the sagging sofa in his office, up close to the air conditioner, reading Zane Grey novels and occasionally bestirring himself to sign off on the payroll.

Whitey's no-hassle approach to life extended to his care of the grounds too. While the fairway and green of each hole was generally well-tended, everything else went to pot. It explained why the hedges were trimmed so seldom and the pools were scrubbed only once a season or so. Whitey was also not the most forward-thinking of fellows when it came to disposing of trash. It cost a lot of money to empty the Dumpster behind the club and would have cost more to haul all the grass and course debris away, so instead all the dead branches and grass clippings and leaves ended up in one of several "landfills" on the edges of the property. The biggest one was a fairly large gully--as near as I could tell it had started as a stream of run-off water from the nearby mountain, and the water had eroded a 20-foot ditch not far from the 9th hole. Several times a day, I or one of the kids on the crew would take a load of brush or grass over and tip it into the gully. Whitey had been doing this for 10 or so years and the gully was pretty near full. At some point, it was going to be graded over and would eventually become part of Phase 2 of the housing development. But at that time, it was mostly a big, steamy, swampy mess. Early in the mornings, when the air was still cool and brisk, you could see waves of heat and great plumes of thick steam rising from the gully, as though there was an active volcano under there. In fact, between the water that still ran at the bottom of the gully, and the pockets of air that would seep into the enormous pile of debris (the branches and deadwood often formed those pockets), the place was one giant compost heap, albeit a compost heap with way too much grass. Some days, especially after a good soaking rain, you could smell the strong odor of decaying grass all across the back half of the course. I didn't notice it so much because I rarely spent more than a few minutes at a time at the place, usually only long enough to dump a load and go off to the next job.

But one morning, Whitey wanted me to pass along an unusual set of instructions to the crew.

The instructions stemmed from a mysterious and aggravating circumstance over at the first hole, which I learned about not long after starting the job. "We got a prankster on the course," Whitey announced to me one morning as I punched in. He looked up from his book and eyed me. "You much for practical jokes, MM? You know anything about this?"

"About what?" I asked.

Turned out that somebody had walked off with the flag on the first hole. Three times. Whitey had just had to order yet another flag, and apparently they weren't cheap, what with the cost of the pole and the cost of the custom-made flag with the club's logo on it. Considering the money the club made off its members it didn't seem like a big deal to me, but it annoyed the club owner, Whitey's brother-in-law, and he made his annoyance clear to Whitey.

"So here's what we're going to do," Whitey said. And by "we" I knew he meant "me." "We're going to have that hole under constant surveillance. I want someone from the crew near that hole until we find the bastard who's stealing the flag."

I nodded, but of course this was one of those classic Whitey orders that sounded decisive but not terribly practical. "You mean you want one person from the crew hiding in the bushes all day?" I asked. Whitey nodded. "But surely whoever's taking the flag isn't doing it doing business hours when people are on the course," i said. Whitey nodded and allowed that every time the first-hole flag was discovered missing, it was usually first thing in the morning. "So," I said, not wanting to point out how stupid Whitey was being, but hey, if the cast fit, "so how will having someone on stakeout during the day help?"

Whitey just kept nodding. "Okay," he said. "Well, we have the crew there at night. Round the clock. We can afford to pay a little over-time."

Yeah, Whitey was that stupid. "But Whitey," I said, "no one on the crew is going to stay out all night waiting to see if someone steals a flag. Their parents will freak out."

"Okay," said Whitey. "Well, what about you? You could do it."

"If I didn't have to get up for work the next morning," I said, but what I was thinking was Jesus, you are such a frigging idiot. "I just don't know that it's very practical."

"Well, what do you suggest?" he sneered, as if I were deliberately obstructing his perfectly good plan to capture the flag thief.

"Um, couldn't the crew just bring the flags in from the course every night and set them back out in the morning? It'll take a little extra time to do it, but that's cheaper than paying overtime for them to sit out all night," I said. Never mind that the club would be liable if any of the kids got hurt while they were out on the course in the middle of the night. And never mind that Whitey's vague plan had "DUH!" written all over it from start to finish.

That didn't stop Whitey from scoffing at my plan--after all, it was only the first-hole flag that was getting stolen; he didn't see the need to have the crew go around gathering and setting out the other 17 flags each day. I mean, that would have been just dumb. In the end, he simply ordered another flag and instructed me to keep "an extra eye out" (sure, Whitey, got that third eye right here in my forehead) for anyone suspicious around the first hole.

Of course, nothing suspicious happened for the two weeks it took for the fourth replacement flag to come in, but while we were waiting, Whitey became increasingly obsessed with finding the missing flags or the person who had taken them. Every time one of the crew came back from some job or other, he'd ask if we'd checked around in this sand trap or that culvert for any sign of the missing flags. I don't know what made him think the thief had stashed the flags on the property. Maybe he suspected one of us was behind the thefts and this was his way of demonstrating that he was nobody's fool, that even though he'd been stupid enough to step in front of a golf cart and spend the summer in a leg cast, he still had the mind of a master detective and he was going to get to the bottom of this mystery.

And it was this obsession that led to the incident at the gully.

It happened just after lunch one Thursday. I was over at the hotel pool, extracting a dead frog from one of the skimmers (always fun) when one of the kids on the grounds crew came tearing across the fairway in the motorized cart. Turf was flying as he careened in front of a quartet of old guys in plaid, who all jumped and shouted and waved clubs at him. The kid--Mike was his name, I think--wasn't much of a driver and the cart was an old model with a stick-shift, which he spent a lot of time fiddling with, so much so, I thought he was going to plow through the hedge that surrounded the pool and drive the cart straight into the water. But at the last minute, he got it in neutral and yanked on the emergency brake, skidding to a stop on the gravel walk in front of the hotel.

"What the hell--?" I asked, waggling the dead frog at him.

"Jason's sick or something," he said, panting. "He's barfing all over and acting funny."

Oh boy, barf, I thought. Let's put the pedal to the metal. But I flipped the frog into the back of the cart and climbed in.

As we drove to the service track between holes, Mike filled me in. After lunch, Whitey had sent Jason and him to the gully. He had become convinced somehow that the flag thief had tossed his stolen treasure into the gully, where it had been thoughtlessly covered up by the grounds crew. So he sent the two boys out with pitchforks and rakes to start poking around the vast grassy expanse of the gully, hoping to hit something metal under all that debris.

"You ever walked out there on that shit?" Mike asked me. I shook my head. As I mentioned before, I had never spent more than five minutes at a time out at the gully. I had certainly never walked out into the stuff. It struck me as looking extremely unstable, like a great green squishy mattress.

"Well, Jason and I were out in it, digging up all that grass. It smells awful. And it's really HOT out there. I went over to the cart to get a drink and that's when he started puking and stuff and said he was too dizzy to walk. I came to get you."

I nodded, understanding why. Jason was a big kid, built like a football player. He was way too big for a skinny kid like Mike to pick up by himself. And we had been warned many times not to drive the cart out into the debris field. Its weight would cause it to sink as surely as if it were in quicksand, so picking Jason up in the cart was out of the question.

We got to the gully in a few minutes and I honestly didn't know what to expect. Jason was like the rest of the kids--a bit of a goldbrick, and no small amount of lazy. If he decided it was too hot to work, he'd go sit himself under a shade tree and have a nap. More than a few times he had shown up for work hung over and I could well imagine him barfing up a few gallons of Ripple after being asked to do some work in the sun.

Then I stepped out of the cart and got a good look at Jason. He was sitting on his butt in the middle of the compost field, about a hundred or feet from me. His head was hung between his legs and he was making awful noises. Mostly, it was dry-heaving, but there was another sound he made that worried me instantly. As he drew a ragged breath, from all the way over on my side of the gully I could hear a distinctive whistle when he inhaled. He sounded like a guy having an asthma attack.

"Come on," I said to Mike, and together we started across the grass towards him. About five steps in, I smelled that strong ammonia smell of decay that would come to be burned in my memory. All around me, I saw that the guys had turned over great heaps of grass in their dumb-ass search for the missing flags. In doing that, they had released massive amounts of heat and gas from just below the surface. The air seemed to swim with dust and debris and I found myself inhaling no small amount of grass and mold spores and ammonia. In addition to being allergic to mold and grass, I have a touch of asthma myself and almost instantly felt my eyes water and my throat constrict. In fact, I was starting to feel dizzy and nauseous too. It began to dawn on me that Jason wasn't hung over at all.

Then, about 10 steps away from the stricken teen, I heard the faint crackle of dead wood somewhere below me. In less time than it takes me to tell about it, the grass under my feet gave way and I sank up to my calves in hot, wet, putrid grass.

I tried to pull one leg free, felt my old sneaker get sucked from my foot, and now I was up to my knees in the quick-grass.

And still sinking...


So, I presume you survived there, MM...

BTW, it is now possible to comment after upgrading to the new "beta" blogger on non-beta blogs. If anyone cares to know that.
I thought the story about BB eating bugs was gross, but for some reason, this story of putrid grass really makes me want to hurl. But like a train wreck, I cannot turn away...I must know how it all turns out!
We already know you saved Jason. so get to the important part- did you find the flags?
Maybe you should send Jenny after them. I am convinced that Jenny knows far more than we give him credit for.
At the very least MM seems to have learned not to bother asking "how could things possibly get worse?"
Speaking of putrid, I left a bucket of water in a corner of my yard as a Japanese beetle trap. The dead mouse I found in it today had been there quite a while.
Hmm, suddenly I recall my previous job in which I worked at a koi fish shop. Freshly deceased fish didn't present a problem. Performing autopsies were a breeze. But sometimes people would bring in several days dead fish that they just left sitting around and, god, that putrification stench was like a combination punch to the gut and throat constriction. And that was before I opened them up.

I can outputrid almost anything with this:
google for the funeral of William the Conquerer.

He died of an infection in his abdomen, and was fat to begin with. He'd been dead a while by the time they tried to put him in his sarcophagus and his belly had swollen, as unembalmed dead bodies do. So he didn't fit, and they tried to squish him in by pushing. He burst open and...

Lets just say it was icky. Eventually someone came back into the cathedral and finished the job, but only after all the living had fled.

Another fun benefit of composting is I dont get queasy by the smell of decay as much as I used to.
Umm. Yuck. And while these are all thrilling and digusting stories, I am less interested in how gross everyone can get and more interested in today's installment MM!!
I can't help but think of "the bog of eternal stench" from the movie "Labyrinth". Patiently (cough, cough) awaiting the rest of the story...
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