Thursday, May 30, 2013

Bend It Like Bachmann

Michele Bachmann never met a truth she couldn't distort  She could manipulate facts with the proficiency of a Beckham  bending a soccer ball. Her announced intended departure, advising that the reasons she was leaving were exactly not the reasons she was leaving, was but the latest in an unending line of regrettable statements.

She has done so much harm during her tenure, reducing her office, her party and  the stature of our country by her destructive words and deeds. That a person of her caliber could gather enough support to be considered an option for Republican candidate for the presidency speaks volumes.

The Tea Party had a willing point person in the congresswoman from Minnesota.  This movement is showing signs of fraying at the edges, its most vocal advocates leaving the political arena for the safety and financial security of right wing outlets like the Heritage Foundation or Fox News, I am sure that history will not look back kindly on Ms. Bachmann or those like her, whose venom and lack of honesty or insight served no one well.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Golf Lessons

"You are swinging with your arms. Your legs are lagging behind."

Heeding my advise, my friend stepped up to the ball. His body now in harmony, the swing was fluid, the sound pure, the flight majestic

"Why didn't you say that 8 holes before?"

"How about 50 years" I replied.

Housing after WWII was impossible to find. The resources of the nation had been consumed for four years not with the construction of buildings but the destruction of an enemy. So, in 1945 when my mother and father married, they did not move into their own apartment but to the residence of my dad's parents. There they would remain, a group of five, including my grandparent's omnipresent dog Terri, for three years.

In 1948 a two story housing complex arose in a small town in Bergen County, New Jersey. It was here, finally,that the not so newlyweds were able to settle into a home of their own. And it was here that a life long friendship with another young married couple was born.

It had been two years since my friend last swung a golf club in anger, frustration or joy. And it had been two years since my wife and I last visited. The confluence of these events was not a coincidence.

My parents and their new best friends remained in that same town for over 30 years. My friend's parents were both striking, his mom a great beauty,  his dad movie star handsome. They were a great team of four, making many life choices in tandem. They vacationed together, sent their children to the same camps and schools. And,oh yes, joined the same golf club.

From the early 1960's on, most weekends were spent in the unattainable pursuit of golfing perfection. My dad was a natural athlete and flirted with scores under 80. His best friend was good but not quite of the same aptitude. But it mattered little for, in the end, the game humbles everyone in virtually equal measure.

It was in this world that two young boys grew up. On the course, our trajectories somewhat mirrored that of our fathers.  He was good, I was a little better. Neither of us were truly distinguished and golf was not going to lead either of us to fame or fortune.

We were friends by virtue of our parents whether we liked it or not. But we did enjoy each other's company, and spent much time together of our own volition.

Time and circumstance would change our relationship.  In 1972, my friend moved to California for graduate school and the East coast was left in his rear view mirror. He and his new bride settled in, while my wife and I remained 3000 miles away, in the same county where, so many years earlier, two young couples established their lives.

For many years our contact was sparse. My dad passed away at 61 years of age in 1979. 14 years later, my friend's died at 71. Shortly after, I received  a call. "I have all of these frequent flyer miles. You have to come out. You have to."

Sonoma County is located in Northern California, about an hour and a half drive from San Francisco. I am told that the winter months can be unpleasant, as cold and rain descend. But I wouldn't know.  During the past two decades of almost annual spring or summer visits,  I have been witness only to an unremittingly beautiful blue sky.

On the 10th, 11th and 12th  holes, his drives split the middle of the fairway. At its best, his swing is graceful, almost elegant. The rhythm and flow seem without effort. But it was never a consistent presence, even in the best of times. And though he has lived in a place where there is little excuse for not playing,  my friend found ample reason. His clubs lay mostly unused. They only emerged from hiding on any consistent basis over the  past 20 years during the times of my visit.

By the 13th hole the bad swing reemerged. One drive a duck hook, the next floating lazily to the right. The  effect of my suggestion was evident no more, and would not return. The holes merely served as reminder why the clubs had so long been in hibernation.

Through our own triumphs, trials and tribulations, my friend and I remain a constant. It is in the memory of those two young couples who found each other in 1948 that there is the glue that binds us. It is in honor of those we loved  and who loved one another that we spend our days continuing to do what neither of us really do very well and never will.

As we finish the round and count up the alarmingly large number of strokes we know accomplishments of the day are of little note.  We will be out there again tomorrow clear in the knowledge that the perfect swing may forever elude us but that lessons of the day have nothing to do with golf.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Snake Eyes

Raise your hand if you have ever come upon a rattlesnake during a hike. Now raise both hands if this has happened to you twice, in one week.

So you know I didn't die because I am writing to you now. Unless of course this was a piece that I penned in the event something like this happened, and I asked that it be posted afterwards. But I am not that clever.

I am not a country boy by birth or nature. I grew up surrounded by brick and mortar, birds and ants. A squirrel running through the walls of a house was reason enough for a panic attack. My most disturbing childhood memory of confrontation  between man and beast was when my mother took a potful of hot water to an ant colony. Problem solved. Psyche damaged.

But time and circumstance move all of us to places not originally in our master plan.  And so, on this day, one week removed from my first face to foot, I headed back for another adventure into what to me seemed the most absolute of wilderness.

My son confided, out of earshot of my wife, that a sign warned that ticks and rattlers were possible companions for this journey. So, as we began our day by taking off shoes and socks, rolling up pant legs and fording a very cold and rapidly moving stream just above a waterfall, I wondered for a brief moment what the hell I was doing.

There is an exhilaration in ascending an almost vertical 1000 feet, at times holding on for dear life to the railing that was built for those like me who are attempting what they are ill equipped to accomplish. Fear and adrenaline is a very powerful combination, as I would once more soon learn in bold letters.

We three had spent part of the last week in discourse on the do's and don'ts of attending to venomous  bites after our first encounter with a slithering, rattling trail hogger. My son, ever the student, was able to recite the why, where and what with great detail. But unless there was to be a car trailing our every step or a helicopter hovering overhead to come to our immediate rescue, I can't say I was completely without concern merely because there was now a scholar in residence.

My wife mentioned the word rattler several times during the first hour or so of our travels yesterday. My son grew irritated, stating that he now had a concern that was clearly sapping a piece of his enjoyment of the moment. Shortly, he would revisit his words.

There are long stretches of time in woods like these, where there is no hint of man or beast except for those companions who trek with you. And this was no different, until we were almost 2 hours removed from where this trip began. A few hundred yards away, out of sight but not sound, there was conversation, laughter and then an unmistakeable, piercing noise. It lasted for what seemed an eternity, growing ever louder.

"There is a rattler ahead." The warning came from above us, from a person unseen but not too distant. And then we heard the thunk, thunk of rocks being thrown. This was not good. Apparently, their concept was to scare off or damage, and then pass. All they were accomplishing was to piss off. The rattle, sounding like a 100 cicadas in full voice, grew more ominous.

My son shouted out his concern for the course chosen. Having spent recent days in study, he strongly suggested the rock throwing was not helping.  (And, as an aside, illegal, since the rattler is an endangered species, not to be harmed in the making of this film) The rattler quieted. With trepidation we slowly headed up the path to get a long distance look. It was huge and coiled squarely in the center of a narrow path. It made last week's encounter seem pedestrian, almost cute. It was not going anywhere anytime soon.

One of the issues, so I am told, is that where there is one, there may be more. I know that whenever I see a deer I am always vigilant, as they travel in packs or broods or whatever it is that deer do. And so too, snakes?

Our choices were evident: heading back from where we had come, descending the almost unthinkably difficult down, then taking off shoes and socks and wading into the rushing waters, or going through the deep brush around the now resting giant and continuing our ascent. We had long distance discussion with the rock throwers and devised a plan.

We would take similar routes through the brush, thus meeting half way, each side taking an equal risk that they would be the unlucky ones to come upon some relatives of our immovable obstacle. This was, in an imperfect world, the best option.

I took a deep breath and began pushing the bushes aside, the limbs from the small trees brushing against my face. My wife and son trailed closely behind. Each step brought a new universe of uncomfortable possibilities. And yet, within less than a minute, I sighted colors and clothing of human beings heading towards me, and before I really had time to think, we were joined.

For the briefest of moments, we exchanged words of the great size of the problem that we had encountered. They, it turned out, were rattlesnake virgins, unlike the seasoned and knowledgeable veterans who greeted them. As the underbrush was not the best of locations to begin an extended discourse, we soon parted ways, safe in the knowledge that there was a short and clear path to safety.

Soon afterwards we reached the summit. There, we encountered two others and warned them immediately of the danger that lay only a few hundred yards away. Each of these hikers was on his or her own, and one decided to join us for the balance of our journey. She asked whether, before we began our descent, we would mind walking back to where the rattler lay so she could take a peek.

At that moment, I  looked above to see a covey of hang-gliders in mid-flight. I have a significant fear of heights, but my immediate thought was that I would clearly have opted for hovering in the sky thousands of feet above the ground, rather than heading back to revisit our resting friend. Curiosity, I was certain, does not only kill cats.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Division of Labor

I sat in a chair, at the edge of the dining room table, idly clicking the remote to flip the stations between the Knick and Yankee games. It was hard for me to see everything clearly as I was stationed at the end of the living room, far from the television. But, this was a sacrifice I had to make in our household's division of labor.

While my wife pulled and pushed at the table, screwed in screwed up and then figured out, splintered, cramped, sweated and persevered, I watched and waited for the occasional directive. I got up from my seat to find the screwdriver with the largest head, returning with 4 items, 2 of which turned out not to be screwdrivers. On command, I raised the edge of the table slightly, only to be told it was not the top but the body that had to be elevated.  But mostly I sat, because that was the only role for which I was truly suited.

The table had been taken apart several days before by a friend who had come to work his magic on something called an extender that had begun to splinter from the years and the weight. Screws had been taken out in the process, and the top of the table removed, to allow his handiwork, the glue and the clamps to take full effect. Now, at least to me, it looked like my wife was attempting to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Holes and screws did not align. Slides no longer did what they were supposed to. It was to my trained eye an unsolvable jigsaw puzzle.

"Hurry", my wife shouted, "put the pillow under my head". She was in obvious distress lying on the floor, as she had been for many minutes, trying to get what appeared to be a square peg in a round hole. At another point, she asked me to get toothpicks, so she could do whatever it was that she was doing. She yelped in pain on several occasions, slithering on her back from one spot to another, only to have her calves or thighs rudely advise her that this was not the way it was intended for her to be moving about. I briefly rubbed her legs, while keeping an eye firmly fixed on the television.

In truth, I grew slightly annoyed that my loyalties and attention were being divided by my task. I mean, who in their right mind would spend over 2 hours on this endeavor?  In an alternate universe in which I could be of actual help in this project, I would have thrown in the towel after but a few minutes of frustration and failure. My fix-it friend would have been cursed for creating this mess, and an alternate solution (calling in paid labor) would have resulted.

Finally, after all my hard work, there was success. The last screw sat snugly in place, the sliders slid, the top once more firmly affixed . It was now towards the end of the baseball and basketball games and I was too tired from my efforts to do anything but head upstairs to bed.

I watched my wife in amazement throughout this evening, never giving up or giving in, never considering abandoning her assignment, never complaining, never losing her focus. I am referring to the overwhelming task of being married to me. The table was the easy part.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Weather or Not to Play

The anxiety kept me awake through much of the night. Sleep was fitful and unsatisfying. My mind kept replaying the possibilities. What would happen if I made the wrong decision?

It is a thankless task being the unofficial commissioner of my golf group. Not only do I have to send out countless reminders to some members of this troupe to let me know if they are to participate in this week's latest debacle on the links, but I am also the designated weatherman for early morning determinations if rain, sleet or snow will keep us from our appointed rounds.

Much of the calculus is based on my state of mind. Forget the hourly recitation from the meteorological source, or even the 15 minute version for the particularly obsessed. Discount the percentage likelihood that at 8AM we are 40% likely to be with umbrellas raised, while at 9AM we should have respite from the storm. Know only that it is early in the season, hope still springs eternal, and my last 18 holes were relatively successful. In that context, comes the conclusion on the impact of the inclemency.

This past Wednesday, a similar dilemma presented itself. The morning was punctuated with bursts of heavy precipitation. But when my friend called to discuss options, I considered most heavily the possibility that my game was about to come into focus.

That afternoon, as only light rain descended by the third hole and I had hit the first two greens in regulation, I applauded my tenacity. By the fifth hole, when the club felt like a slippery eel in my hands and streams cascaded across the green, I reconsidered the wisdom of my earlier decision.

It is not a good thing when your pants are so wet from stem to stern that it is impossible to tell whether you had just been standing in a downpour, or dived into a lake. And it is certainly not the optimum condition to return to work and be unable to sit down in a chair for the balance of the afternoon due to the squishy discomfort serving as constant reminder of how stupid one person can be.

So, you can understand the trepidation coursing through my body as I press send on the email that will impact not only my day, but those under my watch. Rest assured that with the first club that flies from the inadequate grasp, or the first rain that drips from the brim of a soaked hat and dribbles across a cheek, my name will be coupled with an unprintable verb, adverb or adjective. It is not easy being king.