On the sixth hole, I knew he was a guru. A party leader for the dictatorship of the proletariat. The man with the plan. His name was Stan.
He was built like a hammer, short—maybe five feet eight. He had a face you’d see on a movie screen, eyes like ice water and thick hair. He could play hero or villain. When he took practice swings, the shaft whooshed. “It’s all in the downswing.”
They teamed me up with him because it was a Friday afternoon before a three-day weekend. Still, we were paired as a twosome. I loaded my clubs in the back of his golf cart. “My wife doesn’t know I am out here,” he said as he drove the cart off the first tee. “She thinks I’m delivering pipe up near Shreveport.”
He nearly ran over a women’s yellow tee marker picking up my first drive, whiffed. He didn’t slow down. Not a hitch. He just scooped it up like a wild animal strikes at the jugular and tossed it in the air all in one motion. It landed in my lap and I had to catch it with my legs.
He loved driving a truck. He said it was the best job in the world. I told him I used to pretend to bus-drive on the basement stairs when I was a kid and I thought that I could have been a truck driver.
He had three daughters in high school, the oldest a senior, and he would tell her, “You can get a job doing anything. As long as you love your job this is a great country. You don’t like waitressing, be a secretary. Love your job. I do. I love truck driving. Try another one, and when you get one that makes you feel good like you want, you have it all.”
“Is that your truck in the parking lot?” I asked. There was a tractor-trailer sitting over the dozen parking spaces behind the eighteenth green.
“No. But that’s a good idea. I have to remember that.” He was a talker. I found this out as we played. He said only extremely passionate people succeed. He gave some bizarre examples. Idi Amin, Martin Luther King, Jr., Pete Rose. I never connected those dots. I tried to square what he meant. I got lost in supposing what he meant by anything he thought defined passion or success. Then I got lost in wondering if he was worth listening to because he was a bullshit artist. But I could barely hold on to taking even that thought seriously, and I reflected back on why I was probing why his philosophy nagged at me and I was giving it even the slightest weight in the first place. Concluding I’d heard something like him before, I went back to my practice of looking for turtles on the fallen branches in the various water hazards. There was always some turtle sitting on a fallen branch over what we golfers call lakes.
We came on some guys putting on the sixth. They were being loud. It was clear they were betting dollar putts. There was a tall beer placed on opposite ends of the front fringe. They looked like earrings studs there from where we sat looking down from a hill in our cart. “Hey where’d you get the beer?” Stan called out as they replaced the flag.
Pasadena elected a new mayor. He banned beer on the course. We slowed down to talk to them. “I thought they banned beer,” I said.
The course had improved perceptibly. The underbrush along the ditch that formed the property line along the back holes had been brushhogged. I’d seen them do the work two weeks before. They used a backhoe with a special blade that whirled from the dipper. First they chopped at it in several passes like a barber shaving long hair, then they had to clean it up by raking it with the bucket, but with two weeks of work, you could see the ditch along the back property line. And the three holes where trees that were obstacles in the fairway had been trimmed up high so your ball could clear if you hit it right.
“They don’t ask and we don’t tell,” said the golfer in a UT basketball uniform that came down to his knees. He picked up his sixteen ounce and killed it. “‘Just keep it on the downlow’ they told me when I paid green fees.” He smiled and a gold front tooth showed and he shot his crinkled empty at a lake like a free throw and missed by ten yards. He tore back the cardboard packaging and unwedged another one. He said they made a first beer run when she told them about the course losing their beer license.
Stan loved his beer. The UT guy mentioned that the stop and rob on the other side of that fenced ditch was where they had just replenished because they didn’t want to run out. He said, “Golf without beer is like tits without ass.”
They sped off past the yellow port-o-potties to the seventh tee box. It was a nice day with blue skies and the lakes were still with brown water and I saw a hawk circling.
I swore off drinking, hadn’t touched the sauce in six years. I don’t know why. I never beat my wife or lost my job. I just felt like it was time to quit drinking. No one drinks forever.
The fifth and par three sixth green were parallel and to tee off you had to drive 150 yards down a cart path lined on one side by a scrubline of tallow trees not quite hiding a marsh. There was a foursome about two strokes behind us on the par five fifth. Stan swung the cart near the ditch along the back property line. He put a ball and broke tee in my hand, “Tee off for me, will ya?”
He tore his Polo shirt crawling under a buckle in the chain link fence closing in the property line. I was about to drive off to the sixth tee box. He said, “I’ll have to tell the wife I cut it on a load of pipe that slipped.” Mud was caked on the side of his golf shoes. He scraped them against the fence to clean them. Then he hopped the ditch and disappeared like a rabbit in the brush toward the convenience store.
I hit a lousy shot and a good one. I gave him the good one about twenty feet from the pin so he was putting lying one. I pitched up from the sand but it rolled back because the bank was too steep and I hadn’t cleared it. He appeared where I went for my putter, a twelve pack under his arm. He placed it in the cart basket just as a foursome behind us started practice swings on the tee. Stan made his twenty-foot putt and thanked me and said, “That’s chicken dinner,” and high fived.
We drank beer and he kept hitting the ball farther. His direction was off, but he up and downed one hole, and he said boggy golf was good enough.
On the back nine he mentioned his four secrets for a winning golf swing. I can’t remember them. All I can remember is that he kept referring to Fred Couples who was in a class his dad took at the U of H. I changed my swing to winning golf as we went along and drank some of his beer, and at first I hit the guts out of the ball but then it got so I topped every shot. One hole, I lost four balls to water. He kept throwing balls down and saying, “Take another.”
He said his wife hated golf and refused to let him play it. I didn’t believe that so I asked, “What’s she got against golf?”
He said she came out with him a couple of times and it bored her. She couldn’t stand how boring it was. Mostly, she didn’t like all that sun. “She’s got fair skin. Her skin’s fair. She doesn’t like the sun on her.” I was curious why she hated him to play it but I was sure she was a looker because he was that kind of guy. He looked like a movie star. I knew he was a player because he asked me if I had any stories about students. I was going to tell him about the student who stood over my desk in a black miniskirt not wearing underwear. Her paper was on one of those sliding boards that comes out of the desktop and I was pointing at her mistakes. But all the sexual harassment training was in vogue so I just said, “Some students have a hot for teacher thing. I’ve met more than one who wanted to do it in my office.”
That seemed to satisfy him because he said, “Chicks with daddy complexes are trouble.” I said I couldn’t understand men who grab at women, but then I remembered I sum up men’s strategy towards women in two types. Some zero in like missiles, some lie low. He was personable, but that doesn’t mean anything.
“I should have let you alone,” he confessed when I kept duffing the ball. I didn’t care. Golf is boring when you start playing at scratch level. Three pars in a row and I’m ready to quit. It’s not that I try to misplay the game, but I think it’s something in me that tells me it’s just more interesting, sometimes, to have something to work out.
I do remember, now that I am thinking about it, that he said the golf swing is like the news. “They keep telling you who the winners are, and so you keep voting against anything that looks even close like them.”
I told him I bet his wife was terrific looking. I wasn’t making a pass. He was talking about her. I was trying to say something and not say anything at the same time. He didn’t say one way or the other. I said, “Women may dress up and do their makeup, and put their hair up so that a whisper of it falls on their cheek, but they are not candy. That’s clear.”
Stan said, “My wife doesn’t get how powerful testosterone is. Most nobody does.” With that I think I agree, but I didn’t tell him I agreed because I was thinking about it for a moment. First I thought his statement was cryptic enough to be hiding a confession. I let that go for projection. I wondered if it would stick by making me think up compelling examples in days to come. “People are in jail because of it,” he said. He went on talking about how crazy male sexuality results in. I might have told him I was thinking about how testosterone wasn’t just testosterone, a chemical, but when we say it and think about the word we use to say it, it reduces itself to biology, which of course tells us very little. I didn’t because, what’s the use?
We were pretty drunk and the sun was definitely not cooperating with finding our shots the last two holes and I probably hit my ball in the water in front of the green on the eighteenth, anyway.
There wasn’t even a pregnant pause in the goodbyes when he dropped me at my truck and I unstrapped my clubs from the back of the cart and he drove off. I thought about his not inviting me to a chicken dinner, and maybe we could be friends. But I had an image of his three high school daughters and his attractive wife eating around a solid wood table she bought from a knock-off furniture store and the new chandelier hanging over it that they probably shopped together at Home Depot, and how much work it takes to pursue happiness. It was barely a flash of a thought and I forgot it before I pulled onto the feeder road of the Beltway in Pasadena going toward Deer Park.