One joy scatters a hundred griefs. – Chinese proverb
Living in a family of ten to twelve (sometimes fifteen) people, you learn quickly to adjust to chaos, welcoming the unexpected as a coal miner embraces sunlight. Dad of course exhausted from plugging unexpected leaks and implosions among his contractors and clients attempts to impose some order on both home and family: clean this mess, fold these clothes, file those papers, make those beds. Indeed he’d have an easier time driving off a thundercloud with a leaf blower. For on those rare occasions when the day’s events unfold according to some loose plan or schedule, you feel almost isolated, unnerved by the sudden immersion of order, the lone working gear among the scattered piles of monkeys and wrenches. What is this sensation, you say to yourself, this . . . calm? The absence of fear and anxiety, of noise and confusion only proves to make you anxious and confused until you knock over Mom’s prized Belleek vase to regain your sanity. The cycle begins anew.
This weekend Dad asked me to accompany him down to the Eastern Shore for a three-day golf tournament with several clients and business associates.
Typically trips like these would not bother me much. As a game, golf offers an alternative play-style to football and basketball, not requiring much in the way of teamwork or referees. In a world dominated by red cards, yellow flags, and black-padded umpires, golf forces you play against yourself and adhere to your own honor and integrity, both self-imposed. Where else do you compete solely against yourself? Issue fines against your own score? In soccer and basketball, the very act of falling, of drawing and selling the foul to the referee is a natural or expected part of the game. Deceit is thus woven into the fabric of the game. At least in hockey, the players possess an option to knock each other’s heads into the glass. Fans simply shrug: “Hey, it’s honest. They truly are pissed.”
My golf skills – little that they are – frequently falter amid the company of strangers; the stage fright dips my shoulder or bends my wrist, launching the ball into the trees or dribbling it ten feet behind me. Like quicksand, one mistake escalates into several and a bad hole infects the whole back nine. Your companions, perhaps out of concern for the spread of the infection, politely hold their breath and say nothing, which only serves to compound your shame. Among friends and family, I may stumble and duff the ball from time to time, but their teasing adorned with that cruel honesty natural among brothers proves more relaxing than the gut-wrenching solitude of forced courtesy. With a clear mind and a relaxed swing, my game improves: the ball flies straight and in play. The stress drains away. Thus, I have come to the conclusion that golf – much like road trips and dating – is better among friends.
Yet for the weekend’s tournament, players rotate each day between various teams, allowing individuals to chat and interact with as many vendors and business leaders as possible. Essentially, my team would shift from day to day; each morning offered a new opportunity for embarrassment. By the time we arrived at the golf course, my imagination echoed with the patient but tired sighs of Dad’s colleagues as I finish off another sleeve of ball, depositing my last Pinnacle into the nearest water hazard or sun-burnt skull. The whole scenario frightened me to death.
Moreover, what on earth could I talk about with these people?
As a geek, I possess many interests: science, movies, books, games, comics, anime, art, philosophy, theology, mythology, and other weird or unusual topics. Last night’s baseball game and the recent rise in 12-SEER air conditioning units are sadly outside of my realm of expertise:
“Hey man, did you hear that Utah got into the PAC-10? Crazy, huh?”
“Uh . . . sure. PAC like Pac-man, right? Classic. Just got Super Mario Galaxy 2 myself, last week. Those levels with the stone mushroom were crazy sweet. Ready to seek out some green stars soon . . .”
“Kid, did your Mom drank a lot when she was pregnant?”
Public speaking-wise I’m a mess (privately my imaginary friends affirm that I can be quite eloquent). Ironically enough, I typically find myself at ease with the wives: discussing tea, parenting, schools, and the horrors of cloth diapers (don’t get me started). My sole hope was that after the first day, I could garner some sympathy for my father and improve some of his business transactions in consideration of his physically awkward son.
The night before the tournament, Dad and I enjoyed an early dinner with Mom and Katie who had driven down some hours before to visit the coastal outlets. Throughout the whole of the meal, I picked at my food – a delicious French Onion soup and stuffed chicken – absently developing a list of possible conversation topics for the following day. At the moment my mind had churned out a few random dirty jokes and a quote or two from Lee Iaococa. Realizing that these trivial tidbits might only last me a hole or two, I had just decided to spend the rest of evening and early morning transfixed before Sportscenter when Dad got a phone call from Patrick. After a moment he hurled the phone to Mom, who sat nibbling on a limp asparagus stalk.
“Tiff’s in the middle of contractions. Nearly six minutes apart . . . She’s having her baby tonight.”