Thursday, September 21, 2006


The Resume (A Random Anecdote)

Job #11: Greens Guardian, Final Hole

They say young people think that they'll never die (which explains why they end up getting themselves killed doing stupid things). Not me.

I wouldn't exactly call myself a fatalist, but I was more than capable of imagining my death in all sorts of ways, both heroic and stupid (usually stupid). No doubt this was inherited from my mother who, despite being generally unflappable in any crisis, has made a lifelong hobby of envisioning untimely deaths on anyone close to her in just about any circumstance, from drowning in a glass of water (hey, if it was a big enough glass, or you had a small enough head...) to being suffocated in our own refrigerator (which never made sense to me because my entire life, we never had a fridge that had those impregnable latches such as my parents' generation grew up with. And anyway, our icebox was packed to overflowing with food. There was no room for my blue corpse in there).

As for me, I had less mundane visions of death, and as a child I spent many a wakeful night thinking about my options:

--Driving over a bridge just as it collapsed into the water, leaving me to gasp my last up near the ceiling of our old Volkswagen. My last vision on this earth would be of that strange, slightly sagging, pinholed ceiling cover.

--Falling off a ledge in the hills near the house and impaling myself through the back (or worse!) on the very sharp top of an evergreen tree, where I'd hang, flailing slowly to death like one of those wooden dancing clog dolls.

--Being buried alive. In any way, shape, or form. Including: being mistaken for dead and buried in a coffin and everything, even though I was just asleep (my uncle, during his stint as the town grave digger, had told me such a thing was common. He neglected to mention it was common only in the previous century and I didn't know much about embalming when I was little) Dropped into the drying cement of a concrete building or bridge abutment. Sucked underground by quicksand.

That last one was just the worst, especially the quicksand option. I had seen it almost happen to Jeff or Timmy on an episode of Lassie. The idea of being just pulled into the dirt and getting mud in your mouth and up your nose still makes me shudder.

So you can imagine that I might get a little panicky to find myself in an almost identical predicament out there on the World's Biggest Compost Pile, as I felt a shoe get pulled off me with surprising suction and then found myself being slowly swallowed up above my knees in a hot, fetid, nauseating pile of decomposing grass.

I didn't scream. I was 20 years old! Little boys screamed. I was a big boy. So I swore really loud.


Next to me, Mike had just reached the hidden booby trap of dead wood and he sank up to his ankles too. He shrieked like a little boy and leaped backwards, falling on his ass and crawling back to the cart. I think he started crying, "What do I do? What do I do?" to no one in particular. I say "I think" because I wasn't really paying attention. My legs felt like they were being burned. When I was a kid, I had such bad athlete's foot, I scratched both feet until they were absolutely dripping with blood and flesh fells from them in tiny squiggles. I didn't think they could hurt any worse. Until my Dad, in a drunken moment, poured half a bottle of vodka on my feet, saying, "If it stings, you need it!"

The boiling-hot grass wasn't burning me quite as much. But it was close.

I belly-flopped onto the grass in front of me and slowly windmilled my hands, trying to get traction enough to pull myself out of the hole I was in. My other shoe went and then my socks. My jeans, soaked through by hot water, seemed ready to go next, but then I got my knees up over the depression and suddenly I was out.

Mike had the right idea crawling, I decided. So I crawled the rest of the way over to the stricken Jason. I sat next to him and tried to catch my breath. Like him, I was wheezing too, but not nearly as much as he was. I wondered if he had perhaps aspirated a little smidge of vom (yet another scenario of death my mother imagined, whenever I was sick). Without thinking, I pulled out my rescue inhaler, something I rarely used but kept handy because I never knew when something at the club would trigger my allergies and leave me feeling a little short of breath. I took a couple of quick puffs, which solved the breathing, but did nothing to stop my eyes from itching (or my legs from burning). Jason looked at me.

"You have asthma?" I asked.

He shook his head. He either didn't have it, didn't know if he did, or didn't understand me. He looked awful. His eyes were swelled almost shut and he had a long, nasty rope of spittle hanging from his mouth. Yum. He had welts on his face, too, and that really worried me. Up until now, I had assumed that he, like me, was just reacting to the allergens in the grass. But I had seen a kid in the hospital after having an allergic reaction to getting stung by a bee. Jason looked like that kid, swollen eyes, welts and all.

Somehow, I got Jason to stand up, but I was nervous about heading back the way we had come. If we both went in the hole, I didn't know what I'd do (oh yes I did. He'd fall on top of me and it would be a race to see what suffocated me first: him or the grass. But hey, at least I'd die a heroic death. Or a stupid one).

But before I could wonder too much about this, we heard a voice say:

"Over this way, fellas!"

Through bleary, watering eyes, I could just make out a short, stocky man, waving something at us (golf club, probably. Duh.) As we edged towards him, away from my gas-powered utility cart, I could hear him saying, "Friend had a ball roll in here and he went in this way. Grass is older and more tramped down." I guess he was talking to Mike (who had stopped yelling in his panicky way), although he might have been talking to me. In any case, he was dead right: all the grass in the back was old and well-packed and nothing like the hideous springy, wet Loam of Doom we'd been on. In a moment, we were on solid ground again. The old gent looked at Jason, then walked around the gully to our cart. We seemed to be upwind of the smell now, and my vision was a lot better. But something about this old man was quietly setting off alarm bells, and it took me a moment to realize what it was.

For one thing, it was blazing hot out on the course, and almost no one was playing that day. This guy appeared to be well over 70--maybe even over 80--and he was out here in what appeared to be heavy clothing--

Then I realized what it was that really bothered me.

The guy was wearing old-fashioned golfing clothes. His pants were especially dated--a pair of plaid plus-fours or knickers as they are sometimes called (though that makes me think of the British term for underwear). In fact, he looked like he'd stepped whole and breathing from some of the old black-and-white photos they had back in the clubhouse, of golfers playing the game back in the 20s.

Jesus, was I having an October Moment, right there at the 9th hole?

But then he came back and I saw that he had a club golf towel in his pocket, which he had taken out and was now soaking with water from one of the bottles we kept in the utility cart (but where was this guy's cart and clubs? Surely he hadn't walked this far out on the course). He handed it to Jason, who wiped his eyes furiously with it. I got pretty focused with getting him into the cart and keeping him from clawing his eyeballs out. When I looked up, the old fellow who had helped us was gone.

The whole encounter didn't freak me out til later that night. In the moment, I was a little preoccupied. We drove back to the barn that served as the office for the grounds crew. Jason still sounded and looked awful. Despite my memory of the drool, I had been tempted to offer him my inhaler, but I didn't want to screw things up even more.

We had a couple of hours till quitting that day and Whitey, who surely didn't want the hassle of dealing with a sick or injured employee, wondered if Jason could drive himself to the hospital up in town. But Jason didn't have a car. Neither did Mike. Whitey, with his broken leg, was being driven to work every day by one of his kids. I had been driving my dad's old Ford Galaxie for most of the summer, but in a moment of hellish coincidence, I didn't have a car that week either. Several key pieces--the manifold, for example, and some sparky thing that allowed the car to start--had gone bad or fallen off the previous week so I had to wait until my Big Brother picked me up before starting his night job up at the college where he was a security guard.

With the rest of the crew out in the field and with Whitey highly resistant to calling an ambulance (yet more hassle!), we ended up piling Jason into--you guessed it, sports fans!--the gas-powered golf cart and riding that damn thing on the gravel shoulder of the road, all the way up the hill to the hospital. After Whitey made us punch out first, the prick.

Much later--a few years after that job, in fact--I learned that we probably should have called an ambulance. I had been right but for the wrong reasons when I guessed at what was bothering the young man. He was having an allergic reaction all right, not to an insect sting, but to some particularly toxic form of mold that was in the grass and which Jason had apparently stirred up while he was looking for the missing flags from the first hole. I'm allergic to mold, too, and I certainly felt bad from my own exposure. When I got home that night, I drank half a bottle of Benadryl before I felt halfway better. But I was the lucky one. Jason had respiratory problems for years afterward. My mom has since theorized that my recent bouts with bronchitis and deadly pneumonia may be tied to the same thing, but as I've said, she rarely misses an opportunity to predict my demise.

When I finally found out what was wrong with Jason, I told this story to an allergist and he confirmed that some people can go into anaphylactic shock and die from a severe allergic reaction to almost anything, but especially molds. He reckons if Jason had been alone or stayed longer out there in the grass-filled gully of doom, he might have died.

But at the time, it was just one of those things. We dropped Jason off at the hospital. We stayed til his parents came (I was braced for them to yell at me, like worried parents always did on TV when their children were in the hospital, but they barely seemed to notice me, just asked where he was). Once they arrived, we drove back to work and finished out the day. Some time the next week, Whitey told me Jason was fine, but he wasn't coming back to work, and that was that. I never thought to call Jason up or wonder what had really been wrong with him (had not even thought to ask Whitey about Jason until the middle of the week, so how's that for giving a shit?). I was 20 and at the peak of my selfcenteredness (hard to believe, huh?). Today, you know, I'd probably be writing a story about him. But back then it was just something that happened at work. You punched out and got on with your life.

Which included removing your clothes and putting them in the back of your brother's truck when he came to pick you up and complained about how much you reeked (actually, his exact words were, "Jesus, you smell like piss and old salad!") and then riding back to the house in your underwear, or knickers, as the British prefer (boxers, by the way. Someone asked).

Meanwhile, your brother didn't take the highway home, oh no.

He drove straight through town.

Stopping at every crosswalk and yellow light, waving and calling to friends and passersby, lingering long enough for them to poke their head in the cab and pass the time of day.

"How you fellas doin?"

"Oh, good. Hot weather, ain't it?"

"Oh, tain't the heat so much as the humdidy."


"Say, BB, whyn't your brutha wearin' naught but his scivvies?"

Then, when you got home and your mother wondered what the hell was wrong with your clothes, you told her only that you fell in some grass--not that you almost got suffocated in a fetid, sweltering, hellish swamp of grassy putrefaction.

I have since been told by those who golf that no matter how many people you play with, success at golf is dependent on looking at it as a solitary act. If you want to do well, you have to narrow your focus until you've blanked out everyone around you. Until it's just you and your hole.

Yeah, that about summed me up back then. I was at a point where life felt like a series of holes, only I wasn't so much putting balls in them as trying to get out of them. But whether it was a hole dug by lack of money or worry about what I'd do when I got out of school next year, or in the case of that day, an actual, physical hole, I did my best to narrow my focus, to drown everything else out. Until it was just me and the hole.

Guess I knew more about golf than I thought.

As for our golf ghost, I bumped into him a few days later, when I was doing some work over by the first tee and saw him come out of one of the houses in the development nearby. I knew who he was by now, only because I had asked Whitey--in the most casual, I'm-really-not-crazy sort of way--that I had seen a funny old man in old golfing togs and he just chuckled and said that I had met Gene Sarazen, the club's star summer resident. He told me a little bit about him--his early victories, his double eagle whatever at the Masters in 1935, his invention of the sand wedge--but I knew next to nothing about golf and it didn't make much of an impact on me.

I've since told this story to golfers and they are more incredulous about this meeting than about other incredible meetings I've told here. One guy--by his own admission a bit of a golf fanatic--put it into perspective for me. "It's like saying you spent the summer mowing the outfield at a baseball field and bumped into some old guy everyone kept calling 'Mister DiMaggio!'" Of course, my friend assumed I was just dismissive of the old fellow, when in fact I wasn't. I was raised better than that and called senior citizens "sir" and "ma'am" and certainly never referred to them as geezers until their back was turned.

I dug out the golf towel from the back of the cart--I had taken it home and washed it along with the rest of my clothes--and brought it over. We shook hands and exchanged a few pleasantries ("Hot weather, isn't it?" "Oh, not the heat so much as the humidity.") and I thanked him nicely for the towel. He ushered me around to the front of his house and I dutifully followed. There in the driveway were some fairly large suitcases sitting next to an even larger luxury sedan. He asked me to help him wedge them into the trunk and while I did that, he asked after Jason and that was pretty much the extent of our talk.

I'd love to tell you golf-history buffs out there that I pumped him for choice anecdotes about playing against Bobby Jones or Walter Hagen, but I didn't. Truth is, I got preoccupied with something else. For no sooner had I said my preliminary goodbyes than I turned around and walked straight into a small metal pole on the edge of the driveway.

It was a flagpole. With a flag on top. With a #1 on the flag.

An identical twin to this flag was flanking the other side of the driveway.

I have no idea where the third flag was, but I bet you anything it was in his garage. I might have even worked up the nerve to ask, if the Gene Sarazen himself hadn't just gone back into the house and left me alone in his driveway with the flags.

Now, I'm not saying he took the flags. But I could easily see one of his admirers--a fellow player, one of the guys in the pro shop, or even the club's owner himself--planting them there. Not only would it be a token of admiration to the man, it probably kept the old fellow from rolling onto his lawn or over the curb when he backed out of the driveway.

I could also see any one of those people--even the owner, his own brother-in-law--forgetting to mention it to Whitey, who drove himself nuts the rest of that summer, wondering where those other "stolen" flags had got to.

It occurred to me to tell Whitey. But that would have been a lot of hassle, you know? Anyway, he had his holes to play. And I had mine.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Piss And Old Salad!!

Wow, that is funny!
hahahaha :D

What an awesome place for the flags to turn up!

(I live in the home of the Masters, and the only name I recognized from your post was Bobby Jones, because the Interstate here is named after him, as is a Ford dealership.)

That was a great story :)

I feel badly for both of you guys that you weren't able to call an ambulance or get the treatment that is most likely available today for that mold. But I'm definitely glad you both survived to tell the tale.
Wow. You met Gene Sarazen? Wow! To put it in perspective, imagine that you met Tiger Woods in some quiet spot away from the crowds, exchanged some small talk, and then actually shook his hand.

I'm no golf nut but wow. This ranks right up there with you meeting J.D. Salinger and actually having his address and phone number. Like Salinger, Sarazen is a legend. Wonderful story.
I love your stories, but to clear up a small miscomprehension, only women wear knickers.

If a man wears knickers, you can safely assume that he is cross-dressing. :)

We always called them pants when I was younger, which threw me somewhat when I first heard an American talking about "some fellow running round without his pants on". I thought it was much ruder than it was.

Whoops. Thanks for correcting my word-usage. Because I'd never admit to cross-dressing! ;-)

Every blog should have One Who Listens, no?
You should have told everyone that you were stripped to your undies beacuse BB said he wouldn't take you home if you had your clothes on. If they asked why, reply with vague hints of pervertitude on his part and righteous indignation on yours.

As soon as you started talking about smells triggering memory, I thought about my stint as a dishwasher. Someday, I'll tell the whole story over at my place, but what fits here is that I am instantly transported back to the kitchen of The Pillar House restaurant in Newton, MA, whenever my automatic dishwasher contains a certain smell. I am again standing with my hands in foul fetid water, scrubbing bits of detritus from china, sweating my ass off.

I don't know what the exact combination of garbage is that triggers the memory, but it is vivid when it happens. And it makes me want to upchuck every time.

Great story.
So girls wear knickers and boys wear pants. You learn something new every day! And if I'm ever accross the pond, I'll know enough not to make an ass of myself.

As for the story, I was really bummed the old guy turned out to be real. Looking forward (hopefully!!) to more October Moment stories this October!!
Another great story with excellent job tying up many loose ends with this entry.

Having some experience in fencing (the kind with swords, not stolen goods) the more familiar use of knickers to me are the snug-fitting elastic pants worn while fencing. So, if I were told a fellow was wearing knickers I suppose I could interpret that as either fencing-wear or cross-dressing.
Never Never,Never leave home w/out the wheezer to another...

On a similar note..on the way home from Rolex (the horse worlds Masters I guess) I sat next to what I thought was a kind old snoring gentleman. Upon landing, he woke, and checked his ticket stub for his next flight, I guess..Major So and So...I asked him if this was his first time at Rolex in KY..he said no he had been there..a few times.. Turns out..he was one of the founding fathers of the sport. And his English Lady Friend, whom I complemeted on her cheery attitude..was an equally famous (and unknown to me..) equestrianne..whose won England more times than anyone else..Lucinda something. To me, they were just nice horse folks, like me...

Great Story!
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