The Things We Carry

from Golf Chicago Magazine (April 2015)

INTRODUCTION

Since Neanderthals scrawled in blood on cave walls, we have been defined and connected by our stories. And every story has included the core elements of conflict, setting, character, plot line, and theme. I’m an English teacher by trade, so I tend to look at the world through a narrative lens. And although my life is its own epic, I’ve yet to find the hero.

The following chronicles the story of eight 30–40 something men — ranging from wildly successful to hopelessly depraved — and their descent upon a California retirement community to escape the soul-killing winter for a “healthy” golf competition. Format: half Ryder Cup, half I’m-still-not-sure-how I-lost. Below is the study guide, with footnotes for key vocabulary. You will be tested on this.

SETTING

Palm Desert, CA, Super Bowl Weekend, 2015; headquarters is a 7-bedroom McMansion equipped with pool, putting green, 9 Flatscreens and a $4,000 massage chair; fridge is jammed with 100 bottles of Stella Artois, 80 eggs, and a vat of pickles.

CHARACTERS

To preserve identities — and marriages — I will use aliases — to be fair though, this is what we actually call each other.

Julie

Named after the cruise director for The Love Boat for assuming the thankless job of coordinating housing, tee times, grocery shopping, including shab provisions; others suspect he secretly relishes cat-herder role because it’s a diversion from work; refers to himself in third person after bad shots; also known as “Greek Tragedy” for shooting a pair of 79s and earning no points.

Ryzer Soze

Named after the enigma from The Usual Suspects; his refrain to our citing the official rules of golf: “You guys and all your rules…”; prefers Crown and Coke over coffee as a morning jumpstart; his Hard Resets generally include an antique.

Digital

Only drinks alcohol if his round is shot; most offended by players not knowing where they lie: During a pivotal match with Soze, “What do you lie, partner? Soze looks back down the fairway wistfully, “One..two…three..four…five…six…” Digital: “F — — it, nevermind.”

The Yeti

Large, lumbering and white as Stewart Cink’s mid-season head; known to chortle loudly at night (or your backswing); full nomenclature: “Eastern Slope Hairless Yeti”; swing resembles an epileptic baboon swatting mosquitos, hence also known as “The Yeti Project” ; only 23 handicapper with the game acumen of a tour caddy; laying seven, 80 yards out on a par 4, “What do you like? Cut 48 or draw 52?”

Purple

Tour pro wardrobe, toddler mental game; excuses are as abundant as matching belts: after blade yank from 130: “Damn it, did you hear that chicken chuckwagon me in my backswing?”

Pastor Frank

Protects his “flock” as the resident chauffeur — drives the “bus,” which resembles a church van except that it teems with alcohol, cigarettes, painkillers, and malcontents, chef — makes coffee and eggs every morning, and spiritual guide — I read his lips a few times: “May God have mercy on their souls”.

Rockefeller

Bet his wife they would have a boy when the ultrasound officially determined a girl: ”Double or nothing”; after a full day of intense gambling on the course, demands action in shuffleboard, Donkey Kong, and Backgammon. Julie’s rebuff of the Backgammon challenge genuinely offends Rockefeller, prompting him to retire to the massage chair awash in self-pity; in a rare moment of self-reflection, “This is the first time I’ve had a dip in and a cigarette going at the same time on this trip. I don’t know what’s taken me so long!”

RISING ACTION

The Yeti asks Julie to “leave the pin in” because he’s “gonna miss” a 45 foot putt, to which Julie responds “No.” Yeti proceeds to drain a 45-foot snake for birdie and a halve. Later, Purple nearly dies choking on a Safeway jalapeno popper, then nonchalantly quips, “you can’t get those at Kroger.”

CLIMAX

Pete Carroll snubs Beast Mode for a quick slant; concurrently, Purple, and gulping Sake, exclaims obstinately, “I’ve got the dinner under control!” as the grill, directly behind him, loaded with eight ribeyes, erupts in flames, jeopardizing our $2000 deposit for the third time.

FALLING ACTION

Yeti falls into a deep shab-sleep in the massage chair again.

DENOUEMENT

Pastor Frank, the winner with a 19 Index, returns the van to Enterprise full of empty beer cans, a bottle of Crown, a bag of eggs, and a jar of pickles.. Rockefeller: “If they’re industrious enough, they’ll find some full Stellas.”

THEME

I’m teaching Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried to my juniors. It’s an examination of war, of boyhood and brotherhood, of love and loss, but most importantly, of the power of story. O’Brien contemplates the space between what we remember, what actually happened, what could have happened, and how we are shaped by the blurred lines between: “Stories are for joining the past to the future…for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity…”

While it would be disingenuous to suggest that a Guys Golf Weekend is analogous to a Vietnam tour, the game of golf — like war-provides the ideal framework for a good story. It’s full of drama (Purple’s jalapeno brush with death), tragedy (Julie’s stellar play earning him no points), comedy (The Yeti saying or doing almost anything), and even Providence (the Pastor’s improbable win). What’s more, with golf, all of these can manifest themselves over the course of not just an entire weekend, but a single round, even a single hole. If you doubt that, just tune in to CBS around 5:30 every Sunday from now until late August.

And so perhaps this is why we’re so drawn to the game — in my case it’s obvious that I’m a sucker for character pieces — because we know every time tee pierces ground, a great story awaits.

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