Trials of Sport

Based on my most recent post, I realized that I should just try to post all the things that I’ve got stored up on my computer. Here’s one of my better short stories. I wrote it leading into my creative writing workshop at UCLA and, reading it again, it’s definitely one of the better things I’ve written.

It’s fiction — although I did go to a Tae Kwon Do class when I was about 7 and witnessed something similar to what’s described below. And I did do Tae Kwon Do in college. You can read about it, complete with terrible headlines here (Club offers ample kicks) and here (Martial arts learning experience continues).

When I turned eleven, my father gave up his dreams of me and sports and success.  It took shock therapy to transfer some of his zeal to me.

“Son, what do you think of the martial arts?” my father had asked me during a mysterious twilight car ride. “You know, like Karate,” he added, when he sensed I hadn’t understood.

“Ooh! Karate would be awesome, Dad!”

He slapped the steering wheel and smiled widely.  “Well, I’m taking you to Taekwondo!”

“Oh.” I wondered what Taekwondo was.  Maybe it was super Karate.  I imagined me balancing on rocks in twenty-foot surf, me crushing steel blocks to powder, me catching flies with chopsticks, me beating up hordes of bad guys while my father looked on proudly.

In reality, my father frowned at me because I wasn’t responding enthusiastically.  I don’t know what he expected.  I was benched in soccer for growling at the other team, but he said I was too young to understand.  During baseball, a pitch got away from him and broke my right hand, but he said that was just bad luck and he was really sorry.  I forgave him.  The football coach put me as kicker, which would have been fine, but we never scored.  My ears got infected swimming and wrestling, and I couldn’t clear the net in tennis.  Taekwondo was probably next on the list.  But I don’t think I knew this at the time.

“Well, son?” he asked. “Will you give it a try?”

I did want to give it a try, but I shrugged.  He always asked if I would give something a try.  But I didn’t want to crush him, so I said, “Yeah, Dad. This’ll be fun.”

He smiled thankfully and turned right.  We were surrounded by a business park. Six cars congregated around a fluorescent sign that read “Taekwondo” and a lighted panel window.  My father parked and made it seven.  Before we went inside, he grabbed both my shoulders and squeezed in the way that good fathers do.  Then he grabbed the door handle and we entered a wood-paneled room.

A large man to our left was kicking a hanging bag and coating himself in ceiling dust.  There were other kids around, doing martial-artsy things, but I had eyes only for the big man. He looked like a statue with his white robe and black belt and bronze skin and oiled muscles.

“Here for Taekwondo?” he asked after a final, tremendous kick.  His voice could break boards.  I was disappointed with his lack of accent.

My father nodded, too awed to speak.

“You can’t come on the floor tonight.” He waved an arm to his students, replicas with technicolor belts. “They’re testing to move up a belt.  You can’t start today. You can watch.  Sign here.”  The big man conjured a wavier–maybe he had one up his sleeve–and gave it to my father, who signed it for both of us.  Before he finished, the black belt snatched it back.

The big man trotted onto the wood floor and yelled. The twenty kids jumped to attention. My father looked at me again, asking, “Well?”

“This will be great, Dad.”  I think he knew something was wrong at this point.  I did not.

Twenty minutes later, I watched saucer-eyed as a boy with a blue belt kicked another boy with a green belt in the face.  Then in the groin.

My father grabbed my hand. Two more to the face.  One to the chest.

My father grabbed my other wrist.  Another to the groin.

My father picked me up.  The green belt finally started to cry.

My father reached the door when the master reached the abused boy on the ground.

“What do you do when you are hurt?” the big man screamed an inch from the boy’s face.  What do you do when you are hurt?

I couldn’t hear the boy’s answer through his sobs.

Next thing I knew, we were driving home.  My father’s face was very pale.

“Dad?” I asked quietly. “Are you okay?”

He kneaded his lip with his thumb and forefinger and ignored me.

“Dad, does that usually happen?”  The engine punctuated the silence with a shift.

“Mark, sometimes I think I want you to do too much.”  My father only calls me by my name when he’s upset.  I should have realized this, but I wanted him to answer my question.

“Yeah, but–”

“I love you, Mark, and I only want the best for you.  You know that, don’t you?”  The last time he said that to me, he had just finished telling the nurse how I broke my hand.  I stuck my nose to the window glass and depression set in.  Here it comes.

“I’m sorry, Mark.  I’m really sorry.  You should have never seen that; I should have never let you see that.” He stopped for long enough for my hope to rejuvenate.  Maybe he would take me back.  He might have been sorry, but I had never seen anything so incredible in my life.  I was eleven and saw another boy get yelled at for being beaten up.  And that made me want to take a punch in the gut and deal one right back.  This may have been my father’s objection.

He apologized to me on the ride home, but I was lost in my dreams.  He interpreted this as emotional scarring–he must have– because the following summer, he got me marimba lessons.

Seven years later and it was testing day, again.

I had told my dad the truth twelve weeks earlier, over the phone.  I told him that I really wanted to try martial arts and it was through the college and it was Taekwondo and that he shouldn’t be afraid because I was going to make him proud like I hadn’t before. He didn’t respond well. Now I wasn’t sure if he was to show up for the examination–I hadn’t seen him in the crowd bordering the mats.  That might have been all I really wanted.

I was in my own white robe with a white belt securely around my waist and I was staring my sparring partner in the eye.  His red beanie wasn’t part of the uniform but I wasn’t going to say anything.  I didn’t want to open my mouth; I might dry-heave or say something similarly vacuous.


Jake stepped to our side after shouting and I stood to attention.  My partner slouched straighter.  Jake was the captain of the university’s Taekwondo team, and the opposite of my childhood instructor:  Jake was lithe, caring, and inclusive.  Maybe too much so.

I hadn’t sparred with Gus before, the man across from me.  I had avoided him since the first class.  He smelled like old, fried socks and could put his legs behind his head.  Gus might have been courteous, knowledgeable, and a friend in other circumstances.  But I knew him from Taekwondo.

“Are you okay, Mark?” Jake asked quietly.  I had done well on the other parts of the exam.  But I was swaying, I was so nervous.  I may have felt like I couldn’t sweat, but the room was a sauna so I was dripping.  Regret and fear, too?

I nodded away my doubts.  Jake shrugged told Gus and I to bow.

We did so and stared each other down.  You were supposed to glare at your opponenteven if he was your best friendin order to intimidate him.  Usually, this made me giggle, but now I imagined Gus talking to my father in the hospital: “Honestly, sir, I don’t know what happened.  We bowed and he fainted.”

Choon-bi!” I straightened up and stepped my right foot back.  Gus was left-footed, which made him look off-balance.  I had to be careful.

Shijak!” The duel began.

I bounced back immediately.  Gus also had more reach than I did, so I’d have to fool him to score a point, to get inside and slap my foot on his chest protector.  Jake told us scoring wouldn’t matter for our belts, but he said a lot of things he thought were reassuring.

“Point!” the audience screamed when I popped one off Gus’s chest.  I’d drawn a kick and scooted under his follow-through with a roundhouse.  I continued to close the distance; if you touched chest protectors, the referee would allow you to separate. That was what had happened before.

But Gus punched me four times in the chest, then pushed me away and tried to kick me in the head.  I dodged it but was shocked.  I wanted to yell, “He hit me! He tried to kick me!”

Instead, we circled again, making mock charges, yelling wordless threats, aiming a kick or two.  I suspected that real world fights weren’t this deliberate, but I had no experience.  My marimba playing limited me severely.

A few minutes passed with incidental contact.  We traded two solid kicks.

“Ten seconds left,” Jake said.

Hai!” Gus stepped forward into a mock charge.  I stood my ground and missed with a roundhouse.  I stepped down and began stepping back.  Then I saw Gus’s haymaker whistling toward my open right side and tried to block it.


“You punched me in the hand!” I whined, hopping away and holding my right fist. “You punched me in the hand!”

Also unlike the real world, or previous Taekwondo lessons, fights stop when someone gets hurt.  As Jake says, “We’re trying to hurt each other, but not trying to hurt each other.”  It’s another of those things he says.

Gus had a look on his face that said, “I didn’t mean to,” which was stupid. Of course he had meant to; he just didn’t mean to hit me in the hand.

I stuck my hand between my legs and hopped in circles, cursing.  What was Gus doing punching, anyway?  Was he absent the class Jake explained the scoring system? Punches weren’t thrown because they didn’t score points.  Punching was for the Japanese or losers.

“Here.  Let me see it,” Jake said quietly, and touched my hand.  I yelped in protest.

“It’s probably broken, then.  Might want to get it checked out.” He paused before yelling to the crowd. “That does it!  We’re done!”  We were the last pair to fight.

Gus and I bowed at each other, Gus apologetic and me grimacing.

“No hard feelings?” he asked with genuine concern.

“Depends on how bad it is,” I said and he when he looked alarmed, I added, “Relax, I’m kidding.  I’ve broken it … before.…”

I trailed off because I saw my father standing in the doorway.  It felt like the world stopped and my hand fell off.  I pushed my way through the crowd until we were face-to-face.  Then I saw his shirt close-up as he hugged me harder than he ever had in his life.

“You never asked me to do too much, Dad,” I told his heart.  “I just didn’t know what to do.”

All he could do was cry.

I’ve always wanted to be in a war

I’ve always wanted to be in a war—
Is that the wrong thing to say?
I’ve always wanted to be in a war
At least one like I would play.

I’d be covered in glory,
Glamorous and gory,
Full of wonderful stories,
Beloved and entitled to V.A.

When Uncle Sam came calling
I’d put my ball in
And off to boot camp I’d sashay!
(And that’s okay now, I’d be quick to say).

Camaraderie! Brotherhood!
Oh, what a dream!
Three meals a day! Three types of cream!
One for my face and one for the pot
And then it’s me and the cream of the crop.
One by one, my fellow soldiers would drop
From exhaustion or drunkenness or too much fear
And me standing alone and the general near.

“Sir!” I reply, and smart as a whip,
With a salute, and a smile, and a manner that’s slick.
“Earnest!” he cries and he pumps my hand,
“I’ve been looking for you! We need such a man!”

He gives me my orders and off I dash
With two pistols, a rifle, and a knife safely stashed.
Somehow I end up behind enemy lines,
With a knife at my throat and my fingers entwined
With a beautiful spy, a double agent—both sides—
Who I’ve seduced and converted to mine.

She betrays me, it’s true.
“But I expected that of you! I had a plan along!”
With my battle cry said, and leaping from bed,
I shift the knife in a jiff. Then I hear the click
And the spitting pistol whiff
Of a gun going off at close range.

That’s how it always ends, again and again,
No matter what course I take.
I guess that’s the price that you pay for a war
When the war that you’re fighting is fake.

Terry Pratchett’s Snuff: A Short Review

First, a review within a review: My wife got me a kindle for Christmas. I have been skeptical of the kindle – because I have never had one before. I now have one. It is a novel way to read; the real advantage is that there are hundreds of books that I can borrow for free (1. because I have Amazon Prime, again via my wonderful wife, and 2. because there are many excellent books in the public domain). My free book for December is Guns, Germs, and Steel. I will try to review it when I am done with it.

So, a kindle is valuable to me in that I have access to several million titles for $150 (the price of my version, obtained via Google) from anywhere with 3G access. I can carry one item, with these 5 bazillion titles, and write notes about interesting items of text, such as Deuteronomy 20:19-201:

When you besiege a city for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them. You may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down. Are the trees in the field human, that they should be besieged by you? Only the trees that you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down, that you may build siegeworks against the city that makes war with you, until it falls. (ESV)

So, when you are Jewish and besieging a city, don’t cut down fruit trees because “trees are not people and you are not at war with them.” I wonder if C.S. Lewis was considering this passage, among others, when he was writing The Magician’s Nephew. Anyway, I found it extremely interesting and read it this morning on my kindle – I just wanted to share. Tomorrow morning, I will read the next chapter in Deuteronomy and learn the specific applications of Jewish law when it comes to Atonement for Unsolved Murders and Marrying Female Captives.

Anyway, end review within a review. Here’s my take on Snuff.

Terry Pratchett’s new book, Snuff, is good – it’s written by Terry Pratchett, so it should be good. However, I have the same problem with it that I had with Unseen Academicals, his previous new book: I had trouble following it.

I always understood what was going on, plot-wise, but there were a few moments in both Unseen Academicals and Snuff where I felt disoriented. Everything was mapped but there were some big spaces left unfilled by helpful drawings of dragons or medusae or mermaids. It was like the CD had skipped a couple times.

For the most part, Snuff was very very very good. Snuff deals with prejudice and humanity and definitions of humanity and Sam Vimes. There is a crime that is solved. There is a very brutal villain that Sam Vimes puts away neatly. There were some humorous moments, although the Night Watch novels have changed from laugh-out-loud funny to very intense, meticulously plotted detective novels with satire that is trying to branch out from ridicule to new material. I also became very angry at how difficult it was to select and read footnotes on a kindle touch but that is not the author’s fault. That is probably my fault for using a kindle to read an author who uses footnotes extensively2.

Anyway, Snuff was a good book and the fact that none of the characters faced any kind of developed crisis was a minor pratfall. Or at least, it would be minor if this weren’t Terry Pratchett, the author who regularly has the anthropomorphic personification of Death decide to become a farmer, who has a major character allow herself to be eaten by vampires3 because nothing else allows her to achieve victory, who has a major character who has to deal with rage, a drinking problem, self-loathing, and his own prejudices. In Snuff, none of the fictional characters changed in a meaningful way. The Night Watch novels have a habit of forcing people to confront their own prejudice, usually via the noble and sympathetic and prejudiced brain of Sam Vimes.

Usually, Pratchett uses literary and fantasy tropes to effect this change in the characters. In the previous Night Watch novel, Thud!, Pratchett has an alien entity attack Sam Vimes psyche, ostensibly causing him to break out into uncharacteristic outbursts of rage. Obviously, this speaks to the very human need to blame our faults on something, anything else. And here’s Sam Vimes with something that he can blame.

But he doesn’t. He already has rage in abundance. And how much is the alien entity, anyway? He’s just able to keep control but only because there are other people who watch him and prevent him from acting (which severely complicates some of Sam Vimes’ own rationalizations, because Sam Vimes operates under the heavy burden of being his own authority). He keeps control. Just barely.

Contrast this with Snuff. Sam Vimes can see in the dark and talks to the Summoning Dark, that same alien entity that is now his friend and gives him a witness statement to a crime. The fun of the fantasy detective novels that Pratchett produces is that they don’t have this deus ex machina.

I am not sure what Vimes’ character arc was, which disappointed me because Sam Vimes is one of my favorite characters. In this novel, Sam Vimes doesn’t even get hurt. He is never in peril. Even the guy that attacks his child doesn’t get beaten to death or even threatened by a deranged Sam Vimes; instead, the villain gets a chummy “You are thick, aren’t you, buddy?” speech from Sam Vimes, which is used in several other places en lieu of demonstrative and characterizing exposition.

Additionally, the book does not have an established villain. Pratchett uses psychopaths as villains because they represent the depth of human evil. But this novel’s psychopath is very poorly portrayed. It’s almost as if Pratchett was going for a sparing vision of a Hitchcock-ian, periodic-fleeting-glimpse-of-the-monster entity, only he forgot to show the villain at all.

Finally, I wasn’t sure what Pratchett was satirizing. The wholesale butchery and dehumanization of Goblins would have been very sad if it were better shown – but I felt like I was missing something. Also, Pratchett usually creates some aspect of sympathy about his villains, which was lacking in this novel.

In general, this story felt told and not shown. That said – it’s still a Terry Pratchett Discworld novel, which means it is told better than just about everything else out there. It’s a much nicer read than Guns, Germs, and Steel. It’s just sad that Snuff wasn’t as good as Thud!.

1 Well, if I actually wrote notes in books.

2 I also secretly hope that the kindle was what was making the story difficult to follow.

3 These are vampires before Twilight. You know, the original kind.


Butterfly with Broken Wings
I was waiting for the train yesterday when I looked down and saw a butterfly. This butterfly had blue and red and yellow and orange spots. And it was sunning itself on the ground — or so I thought.

I wanted to see the butterfly fly, so I tried to startle it into the air. Instead of floating like a neon leaf, the butterfly flopped onto its side, flopped onto its other side, and limped along for a few inches. Then it resumed sunning itself and sighed.

I looked closer.

The butterfly’s wings had slipped – that’s really the only way I can think of describing it. The bottom wing was on top of the top wing. The butterfly was also missing 2 legs.

I cupped the pathetic thing in my hand (it fluttered ineffectually). If I pushed the wing like this… there. Fixed.

The butterfly, distressed that I had touched it (I seem to remember someone at the Wild Animal Park screaming at me for touching one once), skeddaddled (well, as much as a butterfly can skedaddle).

It fluttered away and then crashed. Fluttered again and crashed. And again. And again, moving slowly higher each time. Despite the psychotic loop-the-loops, painful wing flaps, and even more painful crashes (I assume, I do not speak Butterfly), it was gaining altitude.

Two feet. Thud.

Two and a half feet. Thud.

Three. Thud.

And right when I was thinking that this butterfly could be a powerful metaphor for perseverance, a bittersweet vignette about hope and pain and suffering and God and doctors and the perils of being a fragile insect, a bus pulled into the train station parking lot and crushed the butterfly.

My First Game of Golf

In our first complete round of golf, my best friend and I scored twice par – that’s twice the score of a very good golfer. But we were outside, we were together, and we didn’t take any mulligans1, even if we did play all our holes from the kiddie tees2.

After a restless night, during which I had several “I’m-a-golf-prodigy!” dreams, I met my friend very early at the luxurious confines of the Emerald Isle Golf Course in Oceanside, California. Eager to test our skill at the “Most Challenging Executive Course in North County,” we disdained practice on course’s driving range and strolled into the clubhouse to pay our greens fee.

From my dream. Original from wikipedia.

There was no one inside. As we approached the counter, a portly, thirty-something man with a goatee and a slightly glazed look manifested out of a back room and greeted us.

“What can I do for you dudes?” he coughed. There was a strange smell about him, like sulfurous leaves.

“We’d like to play a round of golf!” Chason3 said in his most winsome voice.

“You want a cart?” The Portly Man asked.

“Nae!” I screamed4. And that was that.

We paid $19 each for the greens fee5. Apparently, this is not an exorbitant price, but at the time I felt ripped off. $19 for what, exactly?

“This is the best part of the day,” Chason said, once he left the office. Proud of my restraint, I was inclined to agree with him, even if it was 7 on a foggy Sunday morning.

“Aye. Tha’ office reeked.”

“I was talking about anticipation. Anticipating a game of golf is the best thing in the world.”

Chason was right.

All went well – for a given value of well – until the third hole.

In a stunning display of beginner’s luck, we both managed to double bogey and bogey6 the first two holes, which I considered quite the accomplishment, since on the second hole I hit my ball into dense brush, then into mud, and then into a tree.

Chason, who tends to be more successful than I at games of patience and skill, was lamenting our mutual accomplishment.

“I got PAR last time.” What a jerk.

Then we arrive at the 3rd hole. There was a lake in between the tee and the green.

We hit several balls into that lake.

At the time, we did not know that hitting a ball into a lake meant you were allowed to place the ball on the other side of the lake without penalty. Well, you do take a stroke penalty for hitting the ball into the lake, but you don’t lose five golf balls. When you are poor like we are, losing golf balls is more a penalty than some stupid number that you write on a card.

Escaping from the trees, a la Seve.

Escaping from the trees, a la Seve. Screen capture from here.

Before starting the sixth hole, Chason and I agreed to take a break in order to practice chipping onto the green. It was an agreement borne of desperation and frustration and my secret desire to play from the ice plant, which I had discovered to be a spectacular lie on the fourth hole. The little pieces explode everywhere!.

“Are you guys practicing?”

This was during my backswing on a difficult 25-foot play over a bunker, a small stream, a footpath, and some mud (the cart path). Not only did this idiotic question ruin my Jim Nantz7 impression (“Earnest, for double eagle.”), but it also caused me to miss my swing. I watched forlornly as my ball soared far and away – completely missing the ice plant. Goodbye, ball…

Then I realized we had been spoken to and cowered in fear. I was sure the ice plant was out of bounds or meticulously maintained.

“It’s our first time playing, so we thought we’d take a couple practice swings.” Chason is very good at diffusing tension with innocuous statements. “We’re novices.”

Chason was speaking to a gigantic toad-man with a moustache, who was sprawled over a golf cart’s front bench.

Toad with a moustache

The man in the golf cart: Mr. Toad. Original from wikipedia.

“You want to get moving. The three guys behind you are playing pretty quick.” In case we hadn’t taken his meaning, he added, “You want to start playing this hole.”

Chason and I looked at each other and shrugged.

“We’ll let them play through if they catch up,” I suggested, with a smile. I picked up my bag of clubs (which had fallen over) and began climbing the short hill to the teeing ground at six.

“Can’t do that! There’s a single behind them and another threesome behind him. And more behind them! If you let them all play through you’ll be here all day!”

With that, he drove off.

I am sure his sudden appearance affected our shots. Chason led. In a reversal of his usual technique, he drove the ball much further than he intended – out of our field of vision8. I, in reversal of my usual technique9, reached the green in one stroke!

“Nice shot,” Chason said grumpily.

Chason was in the mud on the cart path, but managed a spectacular chip onto the green (our abbreviated practice had helped!). For men of our (lack of) quality, this was a remarkable accomplishment. He rolled off the green after he chipped on to it but it’s the initial stroke that counts.

“Can you guys wait for a bit? Let them play through?” The toad-man had rematerialized. He paused and considered my shot. “Nice shot!”

“Thanks?” I asked. Hadn’t he just asked us to start playing?

“Can you guys mark your balls and let them play through?”

The repetitive toad streaked off before we could answer. Bemused, we marked our balls (I tried to make my mark extremely conspicuous) and the threesome behind us played through.

They were much better than we were at golf: they played from the big boy tees and they took shots without fifteen practice swings.

Each also scored par and looked unhappy with that score.

Despite their unhappiness, they were thankful for our yielding to them. I did not enjoy speaking to them because, despite my rather pointed attempts to indicate that the marker in the center of the green was mine – yes, that marker right there, just fifteen feet from the pin, yeah, got there in one stroke – they did not compliment me. At least Mr. Toad had complimented me.

Also, they had their golf bags in strollers and looked like women. So there.

After they passed us, we thought no more of them, except for the time that I was nearly knocked senseless by an errant drive. When the apologetic player came running after his ball, I politely told him that I had not stopped it from rolling down a very long hill.

Such, I believe, is golf.

I reverted to form on the green. It took me three putts to move a 1-inch diameter ball 15 feet10. I wish I could blame my inadequacy on the magic teleporting toad man but he waited until we finished the hole to reappear.

“Can you guys wait at the next tee for the single golfer to play through?” he gasped at us. He was driving his golf cart. I do not know why he was out of breath.

“Can you guys let him play through?”

Was this guy a broken record? Chason looked confused too, so I knew I wasn’t hearing things.

“Not a problem!” I said. Then Mr. Toad was very rude.

“How did you finish the hole?”

Women Walking

Also, they had their golf bags in strollers and looked like women.

We didn’t see Mr. Toad after that, which was good for his sake and ours.

Chason and I did follow his orders. We waited around the tee at the 7th hole for the single golfer.

We were intimidated; hole 7 is a par 4 and the longest hole on the course. We would both probably have to use … fairway woods. Or *gulp* drivers.

Allow me to explain:

The first time that Chason and I went to a driving range11, he had five clubs. Two were drivers and he told me that we would not begin our practice with them.

“Why not?” I asked.

“We just shouldn’t,” Chason responded lamely. “My dad said so.”

After thirty minutes of struggling with short and long irons, I gave up and decided to drive the ball. Chason, sufficiently encouraged by my vocal, whiney mediocrity, decided to join me. I picked a driver, put a ball on the range’s plastic tee, and swung out of my shoes.

My driver’s head whipped through the air. Molecules wailed as their bonds were broken and this club, this missile, this blade, pared electron from nucleus and atom from atom.

I felt the club connect but I wasn’t wasting time looking at the ball. I raised my eyes to admire the ball’s flight as it soared heavenward, rebel to gravity and an assault on the very throne of the Most High. It was a star returning to orbit, a rocket headed to the moon. I couldn’t see the ball, of course, but this was before I got my glasses. Also, I had hit it too far to see it.

Chason gasped. And then he gasped again and kept gasping. There was this strange sound, like laughter.

I looked down. The ball sat innocently on the tee. Chason was convulsing in hysterics. What had I hit, then?

I lined up my shot again and, with a more deliberate swing, drove the ball about 100 yards downrange and 100 yards to right. I put the driver down gingerly and returned to struggling with irons, with which I hit the ball consistent distance and consistently straight, for a given value of “distance” and “straight.”

After Chason’s first swing, when he almost hit me in the head with his drive, I felt better.

To make matters worse, the 7th hole played downhill, with a large pond to the left and a stock of trees to the right. If we hit it too far to the right, there was a major highway that could catch the ball. Unfortunately, the sign at the tee told us that the major highway was out of bounds. Since we both had terrible slices12, we were likely to lose more balls.

Our terrified contemplation was interrupted by shouted swearwords. The single golfer approached.

A pear-shaped man in a golf cart, the Single Golfer would drive twenty yards, alight from his cart, swing furiously at a golf ball, and swear as the ball sailed 30 yards. He even did this on the green. With his putter.

He stopped short when he saw us lounging around the 7th tee. He stared at us with his mouth open: two skinny, polo-shirted young men with strange-looking equipment and a certain, swaggering confidence. We stared, too, at Mr. Toad’s fatter younger brother.

“Don’t mind us,” Chason said, winsomely, “We’re complete novices.”

I pretended to cough and hid my smirk behind my hand.

Chason continued: “Why, I lost three balls into the water hazard on hole 3!”

“I know what you mean.” Mr. Toad’s brother said sadly. “All my practice yesterday was for nothing. I had to take four mulligans on that hole!”

Again, I smirked and coughed. I had practiced the previous day and my practice had paid off, because I was actually making contact with the ball. Also, we had lost five balls on hole 3, combined, and hadn’t taken any mulligans.

“Thanks for letting me play through, guys.”

“Not a problem.” Chason said. I nodded and busied myself with my golf bag, which had punctuated the converstaion with a large crash13.

Chason and Mr. Toad’s brother made small talk for a few brief moments while the man prepared his tee and selected a club. I had heard from one of my friends that driver sizes had increased in recent years, but that did not prepare me for the sight of this man’s driver. It was a football on a stick.

Mr. Toad’s brother waggled his prodigious bottom and took two abbreviated practice swings. Then, without ceremony or rhythm, he drove his ball 100 yards down the fairway and about as far to the left. It did not, to my disappointment, land in the lake.

Grumbling and swearing, Mr. Toad’s brother teed up another ball. Without an intervening practice swing, he drove his ball slightly farther down the fairway and slightly less to the left. With a satisfied huff, he sprang toward his cart, shouted his thanks, and whirred away. I think it was the fastest the man had moved in a month.

Chason and I waited until the guy was out of earshot before we burst into laughter. We were novices, true, but at least we weren’t as bad as that guy.

“Do you think we made him nervous?” I asked.

“Why, though?” Chason wondered. “I did say we were novices.”

We watched as Mr. Toad’s brother dawdled between cart and ball and we realized that we had not made him nervous, because he hit his second stroke into the lake. And we had other things to worry about.

It was our turn on hole 7. I had honor14. I took it in hand. I also took an antique golf club, a donation to my cause from Chason’s grandfather.

Apparently inspired by Mr. Toad’s brother, I swung at the ball and failed to connect solidly. The ball plopped off the tee and into the nearby ice plant. Since I had 200+ yards to the hole, I was not excited to wreak havoc for the grounds crew.

“You know, I think that ice plant is out of bounds,” I said. There was a loud gasping noise from behind me, like cruel laughter at a close friend’s humiliation. Fortunately, that sound abruptly ended with my next swing, which sent the ball straight and true and onto the green.

In the end, it did take me four putts to finish the hole, which is the essence of my golf game: inconsistent; poor to fair; needs improvement.

Chason, out of breath for whatever reason, selected a 3 iron from his bag. His shot, accompanied by good-looking practice swings, followed the path of Mr. Toad’s, downhill and to the left.

Since being gracious in competition is one of my finer qualities, I did point out that Chason had missed the water hazard.

Chason was much farther away than I was15, so he had the privilege of shooting again. He had a fairly good lie, too: the ball was cushioned on a bed of long grass. There was a tree about five feet in front of him, but it was spindly and not in the ball’s flight path. The green was open to him, like a large, mischievous pancake made of grass.

“Watch this,” Chason called. Knowing Chason’s penchant for consistency, I stood parallel to him on the fairway. And so I watched, as Chason carefully lined up his shot and smacked the ball into the tree.

The best part wasn’t that Chason hit the tree after taunting me. It wasn’t that he tried to watch the flight of the ball and that I could see the confusion on his face. Nor was it his acrobatic flinch away from the rebounding ball or that he threw himself to the ground in fear.

No, the best part was that Chason reacted two seconds after the ball bounced back toward him. It was at rest on the ground when he moved.

My putts and Chason’s tree shot non-withstanding, we were improving. It was probably the laughter.

The next hole Chason called “JM corner” because I managed to hit the green in one. I scored PAR and Chason did, too, even though he hit the ball into the woods (literally). We managed to avoid the lake again, on 9 and 10. Chason hit a ball out of bounds on 11 and I put a ball onto the roof of a nearby house but despite these mishaps, we were having success.

We weren’t good but we weren’t playing really, really poorly anymore. Just poorly. Holes 13 to 15 are a blur. We even managed not to lose a ball on 15, another hole over the water.

I was saving myself for 16.

16 is a beautiful little hole over a lake, 90 yards from tee to the center of the green. After our success on 15, 145 yards over water, I felt I could do no wrong. Since I had honor, I took the first shot. And so I punched16 that first shot into the lake.

My second tee shot lodged itself in some tree roots on the lakeside.

“Want to retee?” Jason asked. The ball was in the water hazard, technically.

“I am not Mr. Toad’s brother!” I shouted. Jason shrugged and hit his ball onto the green. Then he started waiting.

My first two swings dented the swollen, muddy tree roots that trapped my ball. The third swing bounced the ball off the tree and into the lake.

I dropped a ball on the edge of the water hazard and watched it roll into the hazard. Once I got the ball to stay put, I realized I was at the bottom of a large hill.

Eventually, I got on the green. After I putted the ball back down the hill a few times. Eventually, I got the ball in the hole with a score of 13 (I think). Chason scored a 4.

I was even jealous of him on 17 when he drove his ball into the sand trap. Part of it was because I had driven my ball into the large net on the right side of the course, which meant my drive had gone 20 yards; a larger part of it was that Chason was going to get to play out of sand. I was not. Instead, I chipped the ball very poorly onto the green and three-putted.

Chason, out of the sand!

Chason, playing out of the sand. Original by DeltaMike

“I’m getting tired,” Chason said after he holed his ball in one putt for another par. It was the 15th hole that he’d scored better than I had. On the next hole, 18, when I drove my tee shot 20 yards, I agreed with him. I was tired.

It was 12 pm, we’d been playing golf for 5 hours, and had very, very high scores17. My back was aching, I was sunburned, and the early morning was getting to me. We finished the hole and went to breakfast.

Where we planned out second round.

1 A mulligan is a do-over.

2 At most golf courses, there are several sets of colored markers on the teeing ground. Red markers are for women, white are for boys, the infirm, and the elderly, and blue are for men.

3 Chason is not his name. It has been changed to protect his identity.

4 We decided, ahead of time, it was in the true spirit of golf and the true spirit of our finances to carry our clubs. Since golf is from Scotland, I decided it was in the true spirit of golf to scream in an appropriate accent.

5 A greens fee is an admissions fee. At famous golf courses, it is hundreds to thousands of dollars.

6 A golf score primer: Each hole has a PAR score (PAR stands for ‘performance at regulation’ or ‘professional average rating’). PAR is usually a score of 3, 4, or 5; PAR is a very good score. Each swing you take is a ‘point’ (actually called a stroke). A bogey is an extra stroke (so, a score 4, 5, or 6); A double bogey is two extra strokes. Both bogey and double bogey are bad scores. Birdie and eagle are very good scores; you take one fewer stroke than the PAR score (a 2, 3, or 4).

7 Jim Nantz is a famous golf announcer.

8 Chason hits golf balls with the ferocity of an anemic infant, which is to say, not very hard.

9 After missing the ball several times, I usually hit the ball too far.

10 A PAR score presumes that you will take two putts once you reach the green.

11 Two weeks before this round of golf.

12 There are many terms for crappy golf shots. Slice is when the ball moves right from a right-handed hitter. It’s extremely common.

13 I think it might be narcoleptic.

14 For the unschooled and non-elite, honor is a fancy golf term that means you go first.

15 In golf, the player the farthest away plays first.

16 A ‘punch’ is a golf shot that drives the ball long and low. It’s useful in gusty conditions, when you’re in a forest, or – if you are Chason or I – all the time.

17 Remember: high scores bad.


There is a truth:

You don’t know how bad your vision is until you get glasses.

I learned this truth when I went to the luxurious offices of Doctor Wu1 to get my eyes examined2. After a brief jaunt into The World of The Reader’s Digest Large Print Edition (in which I learned 75 Tips That Airlines Don’t Want You To Know and started to feel very nervous about my eyesight) and some eye tests (in which machines irritated my eyes), Dr. Wu called me into his inner sanctum.

I knew what the reading charts were supposed to look like:

Standard Snellen Chart

Snellen Chart

But this one looked like this:

Very Blurry Snellen Chart

EarnestVision™ Snellen Chart. This is actually what it looked like.

I could see all the letters – except for the very bottom – when I walked into the room. But Dr. Wu sat me in a chair and had me look at blurry letters (which he conscientiously scrambled) while covering my left eye with a large and uncomfortable plastic machine.

I am nearly blind in my right eye. I confessed this to Doctor Wu.

"That is okay that is why you are here." Dr. Wu spoke without punctuation or contraction.

"But the last time I took a reading test I lied about the letters! I just guessed!"

"That is okay just try to read the letters for me and do not guess."

"But I can’t see them!" I wailed.

With a sigh, Dr. Wu made the letters bigger.

"I think the one on the top is a B," I said. Old habits die hard.

It was a K. I saw it when Dr. Wu uncovered my left eye.

"Okay so you have 20/500,000,000 vision in your right eye that is not to bad but we can really fix that easily with just a test I am going to scramble the letters and we will check the left eye my eyes are almost that bad when I am not wearing my contacts." Dr. Wu babbled while I blushed and made excuses for my eyes.

My left eye (now covered) didn’t need as many excuses; it could read everything except the very tiny line on the bottom of the chart.

"I could probably guess for the bottom line — if you wanted me to."

"No I do not need you to do that all just get ready to see if these are at all clearer." And then Dr. Henry Wu flipped a couple lenses in front of my left eye3.

"I can see! I can see!" I shouted. And I laughed with the joy of learning that bottom row of letters read JEUDOP.

And jubilant as my celebration was when my left eye – my good eye – was corrected, it was nothing compared to my rapture when Dr. Wu corrected my right eye. I was giggling like a little girl. I could read all the little letters! Before, I hadn’t even known there were letters there.

Now that he could no longer correct my vision (and because I had stopped hanging on his every word), Dr. Wu decided to up-sell me. It was rather abrupt.

"Do you need trifocals?"

"What are they?"

"They are something you don’t need." He never said that. But that was what he was saying.

"No." That was what I said to each of his offered features, although I did agree to some kind of special SPF lens because he didn’t have to explain why I needed it. In retrospect, I don’t remember why I bought the SPF lenses: glasses don’t get skin cancer.

That — the up-sell — is probably the disadvantage of buying your glasses at Costco: your optometrist is a part of the wholesale materialism.

The upside of the up-sell was that I paid $150 for the glasses – and got a shredder, too.


My glasses came a week later. In the meantime, I could only imagine the sights I would see. I had only that brief glimpse of clarity from Dr. Wu’s office to sustain me.

I was not disappointed. Once I was wearing my new glasses, I could read street signs and window signs and the hours at Jack in the Box. My wife and I went to the supermarket and I didn’t have to keep track of what she was wearing, because I could recognize her face from 50 feet away. I could read the complete preservative information on a can without having to smash the can into my face!

I was like a kid who had just learned to read. And my wife played the gracious parent.

"What does that say?" She asked, pointing at an aisle marker.

"Beans! Spices! Mexican Food!" I shouted.

"What does that say?" She pointed at the fine print on a can of soda.

"No preservatives!" I cried.

"What does that say?"

"Twenty-three-point-five cents an ounce!" I nearly wept. I could read even the little UPC numbers on the bottom of the barcode.

It was gratifying and exhilarating and sexy, like moving from the photo-realistic paintings of the 18th century to 19th century impressionism. But in reverse.

Go get glasses. It is worth it. Very much so.

1 Dr. Wu is not the doctor’s name. It has not been changed to protect his identity. I just can’t remember his name and lost the receipt.

2 My wife made me get my eyes examined when she realized that I kept getting lost at night because I couldn’t read street signs until I was past them. I wanted glasses that way I could see my golf ball land. And, yes, so I wouldn’t get lost at night.

3 Considering the revelation that followed, I expected slightly more fanfare.

Leviathan Lullabies

Leviathan Lullabies

Sweet and soft and soothing sounds

sing silent in the deep

as Leviathan makes her lullabies

and tells her children sleep.

Sleep, sleep, angels of the deep;

let nothing break your reverie.

For longer lives will keep

In blissful cold harmony

Than far up, above and over

the abyssal plain of home,

where simple, sinful soldiers sever

fin from fat and soul from bone.

Think not with spirits pure

of straying from your bed,

For mother’s wrath is hard to bear,

even worse if you are dead.

I wrote this poem in English 160, Robert Maniquis’s class on the early Romantics, while we were learning about Blake. Hence the Blakesian tone and imagery.  The poem is original; the subject matter is simply my own conecption of what whales would sing to their children about, considering that the majority of human fairy tales and nursery rhymes are somewhat dark (as are, it seems to me, many lullabies). It is not intended as a commentary on whaling.