Posted by: Dave | May 28, 2010

It’s All About Us


As the Baby Boomer generation begins our gradual slide into retirement, it will be interesting to see how our children reflect upon our accomplishments, especially in contrast to the generation of our parents, who mostly comprised what Tom Brokaw famously referred to as The Greatest Generation.  It was a title that stuck, and for good reason. Their accomplishments are noteworthy in a historical context, when simple survival, either through the dust bowl, the depression, or from enemy bullets, defined success.  After turning back tyranny on two fronts, they came home to build families and businesses. Many were successful beyond their wildest dreams.  They were mostly unified in their vision of a strong America, and possessed an optimism buoyed by success and security.           

The Greatest Generation then spawned The Baby Boomers.  We “Boomers,” are a statistical bubble.  A “frog in the snake” created when tens of thousands of service men returned home, got married, and established families in an environment of prosperity and promise.  Most succeeded in providing for their families what they were lacking in their early years.

History notes that our generation had different objectives than our parents.  In some cases we set out to be everything our parents weren’t: more focused on our country’s internal flaws of inequality, intolerance, environmental negligence, and in the beginning, an unpopular war. We made our first marks not with battlefield bravery, but through our protests on the National Mall, in town squares, and on college campuses. 

Most historians also agree that we were more self-indulgent, and more demanding.  We have been rarely motivated by duty or simple patriotism.  During the seventies, we were referred to as the “Me Generation.”

We attacked The Greatest Generation’s view of societal mores that had clear boundaries of acceptable behavior. We became more inclusive and understanding, but also created a “no blush” generation that interpreted poor decisions as accepted lifestyle choices, where the worst sin was being “judgmental.”  We replaced Bob Hope and Red Skelton, who could deliver long monologues without ever saying an off-color line, with humorists that bring every scatological joke imaginable from the locker room to the living room.  Traditional, family oriented television programs were usurped by entertainment that glamorized self-indulgent lifestyles that were neither realistic nor tenable. It became popular to emphasize family flaws in our entertainment. Any assertion that a traditional marriage was better for raising children was met with howls of criticism from the cultural elite. Our family structure is barely recognizable in many quarters, with divorce and out-of-wedlock birth rates that are twice that of our parents.  We pretend it is ok so as not to be “judgmental.” In short, we became more liberated but less stable, and consequently more dependent upon government than our parents. 

We have also been at war within, a hyphenated menagerie of placard-wielding activists, many of whom identified ourselves as something other than Americans first, but still ready to take to the streets and fight over a multitude of issues. We have agreed on little, from the definition of marriage to whether or not English should be our official language. Even the brief unity that enveloped the country after 9/11 quickly dissipated with much criticism focused on our government and our way of life, as if we deserved it.

The Greatest Generation grew up in cities with safe neighborhoods.   Many of our Baby Boomer parents roller skated on city sidewalks and played in the city parks.  They walked to their neighborhood schools and delivered newspapers on bicycles.  Today, most of our cities have become urban cesspools.  Detroit, once a shining city that provided jobs for tens of thousands, is now an urban cesspool with city blocks that are being bulldozed in hopes of developing urban farmland.

No better metaphor for the Baby Boomers may exist than Bill Clinton, who was handed, by his Greatest Generation predecessors, a world, for the first time in fifty years, not threatened by the Cold War.  But as he oversaw a period of great economic prosperity and national security, his behavior was marred by self-indulgent personal transgressions that may be his enduring legacy.

So the Boomers replaced patriotism with activism, but to what end?

We had some victories, but we also made some messes, and that may be what we are remembered for.

Our greatest mess may be our sense of entitlement and the accompanying debt that we are leaving our children.  The problem will grow as the trickle of babyboomer retirees becomes a torrent over the next decade.

How fitting it may be then, that the table has been set for one great last protest.  But this one will be focused not at the institutions of our parents, but at our own children…a massive angry gray crowd filling the streets, all unified for once in agreement that we deserve the entitlements that we voted for ourselves-not only our social security, but our “right” to free prescription drugs, and now healthcare.  And we will probably win…due to our low birth rates, we outnumber our children. 

So if one of us has spawned the GenXer’s version of  Tom Brokaw, don’t be surprised if the tone of our definitive epitaph is more resentful instead of awestruck. A more cynical study may be in order, with a more appropriate title, such as “The Baby Boomers:  “It Was All About Us.”

But why worry now?  The crisis is years away.  For some, the motor home is packed and the medicine cabinet has ample supplies of Cialis. 

Margaritaville is just around the next bend in the road.

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Posted by: Dave | April 22, 2010

Who Let That Lion Have Its Way With My Bald Eagle?


The College of William and Mary, one of the most prestigious universities in the nation, announced last week that it had selected the “Griffin” as the new mascot for its athletic teams.  The Griffin is a mythical creature of yore, half bald eagle and half lion, and according to Terry Driscoll on the university’s web site,

“Its arrival brings William & Mary a mascot that unites strength and intelligence, recalls our royal origins and speaks to our deep roots in American history. With the body of a British lion and the head of an American bald eagle, this mythical creature commands attention. It is an inspiring figure, not least of all for its glorious green & gold feathers.”

William and Mary’s original nickname, the Indians, was phased out in the 1980’s and replaced with the less objectionable “Tribe.”  In 2006, the NCAA ruled that the college could keep the nickname of Tribe, but had to eliminate the green and gold feathers, as being offensive to Native Americans.  The college also had a history of Native American related mascots, including an Indian pony and Colonel Ebirt (Tribe spelled backwards.)

Hence, a search for an appropriate (politically correct) mascot and logo ensued, with the final result being the selection of the Griffin.

But isn’t it ironic that the NCAA considers feathers together with the word “Tribe” to be offensive to Native Americans, but we can take the bald eagle, one of the most revered symbols of the strength and freedom of our nation, mate it with a lion, adorn it with green and gold feathers, and call it “inspiring?” And won’t the bald eagle be relegated to ridicule as a mascot, prancing on the sidelines of the football field and basketball court? Sensitivity to using an American symbol wasn’t that important.

Just like the Griffin, which was chosen to inspire the William and Mary faithful, I suspect that long ago the choice of “Indians” and later the “Tribe” had the same intent. Schools chose mascots as objects of inspiration. This is one reason why legions of Fighting Irish,  Mountaineers, Cowboys, Sooners, Miners, Volunteers, Dukes, Rebels and Cavaliers, to name a few, haven’t stormed the gates of football and basketball arenas claiming compensation for the slights created by reducing their heritage to a nickname or historically inaccurate mascot.

Some references, I will concede, were blatantly offensive, and should have been changed.  The nicknames of Savages, and Redmen, hardly evoke respect.

But in the wave of fear of offending a vocal constituency, other less offensive nicknames and mascots have been lost. We now no longer have  William and Mary’s Tribe and feathers, but Stanford has also replaced its Indians with homage to a color: “cardinal” and countless other universities and schools eliminated their Native American nicknames, such as Braves and Warriors, replacing them with admiration for politically correct animals, weather phenomenon, and birds.

By the way, how do you cheer for a color?        

(The Florida State Seminoles and a few other schools get to keep their names due to support from local tribes.)

So in the end, what has been accomplished?  William and Mary has now “honored” the American Bald Eagle by using part of it as a mascot, and no one takes offense.  And we are somehow being respectful to the Native Americans by eliminating almost all references to them, no matter how innocuous. Now based on their own request, they are longer mentioned, but bypassed, and possibly, forgotten.   

The Griffin really doesn’t offend me, but it does evoke fear. You see, I hope to have grandchildren, and one day I can imagine myself taking my grandchild to a William and Mary football game, and as I exhort the little urchin to do their best so that maybe they will be accepted at such an esteemed university, the innocent lad or lassie will see the Griffin cavorting on the sidelines and turn to me with innocent eyes and ask, “Gee, grandpa, where do Griffins come from?

Sources for this article include William and Mary’s website, which has a history of  their mascots, and Wikipedia, which has an extensive collection of articles and background information on the subject, including a list of sports teams and mascots derived from indigenous peoples.

Posted by: Dave | March 31, 2010

Renting Cars and Free Enterprise 101


In my business travels I recently began noticing the new phenomenon of city operated rental car garages. I have patronized these garages in Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Baltimore, but I’m sure there are others.

The garages work like this.  All rental cars serving a particular airport are kept in a large, multi-story parking garage/reception center located several miles away from the airport.  Patrons board airport authority busses to be transported to and from the garage, and, once deposited at the reception area, proceed to the counter of their rental car provider.  After renting their cars, the customers proceed to the garage deck holding their rental car, and continue to their destination. All rental car operations are centrally located and controlled.

I see these facilities as a direct attack on our free enterprise system.  Because all of the cars are kept in one place, it is impossible for the rental car companies to differentiate themselves from each other through their services at the point of sale. 

At airports without these garages, rental car companies have the freedom to position themselves according to the quality of the service offered at the point of sale. A higher-end provider pays the additional cost to locate their rental cars at or very close to the airport, offering the customer superior service through better convenience and reduced exposure to the elements.  Finicky business travelers greatly appreciate the time saved and increased comfort, and are frequently willing to pay for it.  Rental car companies on the lower end of the cost spectrum locate their car lots away from the airport, often requiring the customer to ride a bus to their car lot, but provide the rental cars at a less expensive price.  Consumers require different solutions, and our economy has supported a plethora of rental car companies over many decades offering wide variances in price and service.  The chaos of the free market system enables the rental car companies to meet the diverse needs of the consumers and also empowers the consumer to choose the solution they need based on lower cost or better service.

But the free market isn’t neat and tidy.  Airport vehicular traffic, always congested, is complicated by customers renting and returning rental cars in multiple lots surrounding the airport, and with busses transferring customers to and from distant lots.  Rental car lots are unsightly and take up large swaths of landscape due to the need to maintain large “at ready” inventories. 

Enter a well meaning city planner who provides a simple answer to the problem.  The city builds a large garage where all rental car companies servicing the airport must locate their cars. The city provides transportation for the customers to and from the facility, and everything is neat, tidy, environmentally friendly, and controlled. 

It all looks good on paper, and I have to admit, looks good to the eye.  But we are sacrificing the innovation and creativity of the free market at the altar of control and neatness.   By putting all companies in the same facility, higher cost providers lose the ability to justify that cost through superior convenience to their customers, while lower cost providers are robbed of their ability to provide less expensive solutions than the city facility.  

Landowners, who may have leased their property to the car companies for rental facilities, see the value of their property go down, and the previous owner of the land that now hosts the rental car facility probably had his property condemned “for the public good” through imminent domain.

In the three airports I visited with these facilities, I stood in a long line to board the airport authority bus, was directed on the bus by an airport authority employee in a drab outfit (obeying the sign not to require him to lift my bag if it weighs more than 25 pounds) and driven 10-20 minutes to the rental car garage.  I was finally recognized as a customer when I reached the counter of my rental car company employee.  

Too bad if my time and comfort were important enough to warrant a higher price for the convenience of renting a car located closer than the airport operated facility.  The same goes for when I return my car at the conclusion of my trip; I must add additional time to return the car to the city rental car garage, which is located somewhat distant from the airport.  The city isn’t concerned with my inability to plan appropriately.  That’s my problem.

The same applies if I want to rent a car really cheap, and am willing to ride to a location more distant than the government-operated rental car garage.  It’s not allowed. 

These facilities remind me of the urban scenery I used to see when I traveled in the Czech Republic and former East Germany.  The urban landscape was populated with cookie cutter multi-story apartment complexes that housed the citizenry; all rectangular, all drab, and all very efficient.

Posted by: Dave | March 31, 2010

Here Comes the Pizza Tax!


Along with so many new overreaching powers of the federal government that come with the new Health Care Reform Act, we will now have a federal sales tax on the usage of indoor tanning beds.  For the first time in our history, the federal government has enacted a sales tax on a retail transaction.  But this is only the beginning. The sales tax and its cousin, the Value Added Tax (VAT), have long been desired by liberals as a way to fund our government’s voracious appetite for money.   

Now that the federal government has a sales tax, the only discussion remaining on the table is what will be taxed and for how much. And now that we are all our brother’s keeper under the new health care plan, any activity deemed as unhealthy by the government can be taxed as a means of protecting us from ourselves, and more importantly, an excuse for raising money. 

We’ve seen this with state sin taxes on cigarettes and alcohol.  States first began taxing cigarettes and then suing tobacco companies because of dangers associated with their product.  The excuse was rising health care costs associated with smoking.  However, the money, ostensibly raised for the purpose of health care, was squandered on other projects, so the states still face a continued requirement for more funds.  Of course, this will be true of the new health care bill and the pittance raised by taxing the use of outdoor tanning beds.  Protecting us from ourselves is one of the reasons the tax was justified.  The congress was originally considering taxing Botox treatments, but apparently the plastic surgery lobby has more say than the tanning bed industry.  Just listen to the rationale of The American Academy of Dermatology, which strongly opposed the Botox, but applauded the inclusion of the tanning tax as a replacement because of the significant health risks associated with indoor tanning. According to the Academy, indoor tanning before the age of 35 is linked to a 75% increase in the risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, which has also become more common in young females. Meanwhile, nearly 30 million Americans hit the tanning beds each year and about 2.3 million of these people are teenagers. An indoor tanning tax will therefore “serve as a signal from the federal government to young people that indoor tanning is dangerous and should be avoided,” said Dr. William James, president of the Academy.

Right, Dr. James, and every kid that buys a pack of cigarettes uses the same rationale.

“In addition, because the United States currently spends about $1.8 billion on treating skin cancers each year and $300 million on melanoma alone, the tax will significantly reduce the future costs of treating skin cancers,” Dr. James said.  (And continue to allow dermatologists to apply Botox without raising their prices.)

Of course, if the beds are so dangerous, there are other ways to address their usage, such as requiring labels on the beds explaining the danger, and banning their use by minors.  The good doctor testified on behalf of these measures on the 25th of March before the Food and Drug Administration.  No steps, however, are apparently as effective as raising taxes.

Of course, the revenue stream will not be adequate to fund the new health care entitlement, so more funds will be required.  Because we will all be our brother’s keeper under the new health care plan, any number of new sales taxes on targeted items can be created in order to save money and protect us from ourselves.   The camel’s nose is under the tent, and soon the entire herd will be having dinner with us. 

Our first lady has chosen childhood obesity as her noble cause during her husband’s presidency.  We all know that too much sugar contributes to obesity.  Adding a 10% federal tax to high sugar content items will be an easy sell to the public: it will reduce consumption of sugar, while raising money for health care.  The money will be “earmarked” for obesity-related health care costs. (And spread the health care burden, since fat people who consume a lot of sugar probably don’t frequent the tanning salons.)

But of course, there still won’t be enough money (there never is) so soon we will be facing taxes on other foods deemed unhealthy by the government, who is the arbiter of all truth and wisdom.  Soon we may have federal sales taxes on beef, bacon, white bread…the opportunities to demonize certain foods as an excuse to raise money are endless.

You better enjoy your pizza now, the price is going up soon.

References used in this article include the Puget Sound Business Journal, Wikipedia, and CNN.com

Posted by: Dave | March 30, 2010

My Peace With Golf


“…and by the way, we’re going to play a round of golf with some friends, so bring your clubs.”

Those words, spoken over the phone by my brother-in-law and close friend of nearly 30 years, rang in my ears like a guilty sentence. I protested profusely, but he wouldn’t relent. I was going to be forced to play golf, again. I was filled with dread about my upcoming weekend visit.

I have spent most of my life hating golf and the people who played it. Golf was a game I could not play and a club I could not join. It always represented a barrier – a bridge too far in an otherwise successful life. It’s not that I haven’t played the game before. I have. But I wouldn’t exactly use the word “play.” I worked at golf, and golf responded in a manner of a boss who could never be pleased – frustrating and humiliating me to the point that I eventually left it.

Before I ever touched a golf club I held the game and those who played it in deep disdain. I was predisposed to it – trained by my father at an early age that the game was meant for other people.

He was born on his dining room table to a less than prosperous family in West Virginia in 1922. My grandmother died when my father was 11 and he and his two other siblings were farmed out to relatives because, in the wisdom of the day, a single father couldn’t be expected to raise a family. The kids worked for their keep. They hoed tobacco, plowed fields, and cared for farm animals. Later, when my grandfather acquired enough money to take his children back under his own roof, my father, as the oldest, became responsible for a plethora of domestic duties. He cooked dinners and washed clothes, and supervised my younger aunt and uncle. With the depression as a backdrop, he grew wise beyond his years as the motherless family struggled. Liberated by the draft and World War II, he spent the first four years of his early adult life at sea, fighting the Nazis. Because of his difficult and stoic upbringing, I do not think that the concept of recreation ever made its presence known to him.

Like most of the Greatest Generation, he returned home, got married and started a family. But unlike many of the rest, he never experienced the professional nor financial prosperity of others. It’s not that he didn’t work. It is, quite frankly, all he knew. He was loyal, dependable, and extremely trustworthy. But for a myriad of complex reasons I cannot begin to understand, he never advanced. So he and my mother raised four children on a shoestring budget, and we all learned to work.

In our family, weekends were meant for working on chores or my father’s huge projects. Over the years we almost doubled the size of our modest home by adding rooms ourselves, all while tending to a very large vegetable garden and, at one point, raising rabbits for food. We all had jobs, from paper routes to mowing grass to babysitting. Everyone knew how to work.But play was something different. It just wasn’t done. We saw other people enjoying the concept of leisure. We saw the boats, and knew of the little league sports, but also knew that those were not for us. There was no money for it, and no reason for it, either.

My father was a quiet man who was extremely uncomfortable in any setting that could remotely be called social. He could no more imagine walking into a golf clubhouse and joking it up with the guys than he could imagine riding a rocket to Mars. He didn’t play cards, didn’t hunt, fish or go to ball games with other guys. There was no group of guy friends, no men’s night out, no raucous laughter and slaps on the back for my father..We were all, therefore, miserable at team sports. I was the only one who even attempted it, running track and cross country, but only for a short while.  Like many young men, although I had deep respect for my father, I wanted to be nothing like  him, and I wanted a radically different life than the one I knew. I entered the Army through the ROTC program at a small university. Upon graduation, I found myself in the “club” of commissioned officers, many of whom played golf. As one of the many benefits of military service, military posts almost always have nice golf courses. Military members and families can play for ridiculously low greens fees, enjoy reduced prices for golf equipment, and even get lessons from the club professional. But that was the farthest thing from my mind when I arrived at my first duty station in Fort Benning, Georgia. The drive onto post is flanked on both sides by a beautiful golf course, with long, scenic fairways and table top greens. But it wasn’t golf I imagined as I would drive past as a young Second Lieutenant, but rather firing positions, avenues of approach, and kill zones.

I continued to run “recreationally” through my adult life. Running is the antithesis of golf. A runner is normally alone, running before work, sometimes in the dark, solitary in his thoughts. Runners, unlike golfers, have little to talk about. There are no pristine courses, challenging holes, or expensive equipment; no “running” holidays at plush country clubs. Time spent running isn’t wasted. The runner is training his body, always improving his fitness. It is time well spent, and is the perfect recreation for one who doesn’t really recreate.

On the contrary, golfers wear stylish clothes to play in. They pay lots of money for expensive clubs and they hang out in places with fancy names like Burning Tree, Sand Ridge and Oak Lawn.

They can spend a day out on the course, devoted to nothing but themselves, concentrating on their ability to hit a little ball into a hole in an idyllic setting of manicured fairways while riding around in an electric cart, followed, of course, by drinks in the country club. The good ones do it with great regularity. I will never forget one Easter Sunday watching our neighborhood golfer walk out to his car, deposit his clubs in the trunk, and proceed down the street to play eighteen holes of golf, just as he had done the day before. He won the “long ball” driving competition at his country club, but, strangely, his marriage was on the rocks.

It is reasonably accurate to say that some of the most successful people in business and in the military are golfers. I do not agree that most business deals are made on the golf course, but I do submit that those who are comfortable in a golf clubhouse and out on the course are probably comfortable in most business and social settings. Those qualities pay dividends in the business world and in the military.

Throughout most of my military career, surrounded by inexpensive golf courses, I avoided the game. I saw only those examples of the stereotypes I wanted to believe, and used them as an excuse to deride and criticize golf and those I knew that played it. But I was quietly jealous and harbored deep insecurities that prevented me from pursuing the sport.

One morning I joined some of my fellow officers as they started a game. They had their clubs and golf shoes, and they laughed and bantered as they sauntered up to the first tee. I had never been on a golf course before. I watched them as the three teed off and followed their balls down the fairway. I bid them goodbye, got in my car, and drove home to my young wife and daughter, where, like my father, I knew I belonged.

But I wanted to play. A few years later, I bought a set of very cheap clubs and took night lessons at a local high school. My swing seemed to be reasonable, but I would normally hit balls that simply rolled across the grass.

Later, in Germany, I met a friend who assured me he could teach me the game. He had introduced me to skiing, so, why not teach me golf? So, with the strong encouragement of my wife, my friend and I proceeded to the driving range, he with his camcorder mounted on a tripod, and me with my used clubs. We worked on my swing for many sessions. We analyzed it on film. It looked good. But the balls still had no lift. Maybe it was because I was left handed but I swung right handed. We didn’t know. We finally thought I was good enough to approach a course and play a few rounds, which I did. But it was anything but fun. It was a grand struggle, where I fought to keep my frustration below the boiling point. The balls rolled down the fairways regardless if I used a nine iron or a five wood, and I worked harder and harder.

More determined than ever, I paid for a few lessons from the local golf pro. I don’t like golf pros. They make a living teaching people how to do something that is totally pointless and has few redeeming benefits to society. They probably grew up in a nice neighborhood, their parents belonged to a country club, and they learned about leisure at an early age. After all, that’s what they were doing for a living.

The golf pro pretended to observe me while I swung away intently. He made a few pointers, said I was doing great for a beginner, took my money (twice) and returned to the clubhouse. I saw no improvement.

But I approached the game just like I had approached everything else in my life. I worked hard, very hard, to at least attain respectability. After work, several times a week, I would hit 3-4 buckets of balls. Gripping the club tightly in my hands, I would swing with a vengeance, analyzing every aspect of my backswing, my stop, and downswing, trying to determine the mystery that made my balls stay so low to the ground.

Occasionally, almost rarely, did the balls behave as I would see others do – nice long, high arcs, then bouncing a few times to their destination.

I bought a very nice set of Taylor Made clubs, and continued practicing. I even bought a book by Harvey Pennick. But I didn’t purchase a driver. Seeing good golfers use their drivers with erratic results, I thought I should stay conservative and hit off the tee with a more forgiving three wood. Besides, I hadn’t earned the right to use a driver yet. I wasn’t good enough, and I didn’t deserve it. The same applied for golf shoes. I wouldn’t buy any until I earned them, and they look stupid anyway. My running shoes were comfortable and would suffice for now.

I accepted a few invitations to play with some of my friends and acquaintances, but I was miserable. Never able to really keep score because I played so poorly, the recreation was drudgery. I felt guilty for playing so poorly, for swinging so many times, and with such intense effort, but all the while dragging the group down with my rate of play and my obvious frustration that I tried so unsuccessfully to hide.

Everything I have attained in life has been through hard work. I am the type that goes through obstacles rather than around them – works harder but not always smarter, and with great determination.

But golf would not relent. It fought me and tortured me and it would not permit me to glean a scintilla of enjoyment from it.

Finally, it just faded away. I never decided not to play anymore, but I just quit.

Like a headache that just isn’t there anymore, it just disappeared from my life.

My nice clubs sat in the garage for five years without being touched. I never intended to play again, and focused my anger at the game and golfers, imagining that they were predestined for enjoying the pursuit, and I was predestined to watch from the outside.

That was until last July.

I found my golf bag in the garage, adorned with spider eggs and dust. Mouse droppings lined the pockets. A blank scorecard left over from the last round I had played was still hanging half way out of one of the pockets. No score was recorded. I cleaned my bag, wiped off my clubs, and placed them in my trunk. I didn’t even take a few practice swings. Maybe I would get lucky and we would get weathered out or we wouldn’t have to play for some reason.

Upon arrival at my brother-in-law’s, I protested that I didn’t want to play, but the protests fell on deaf ears. Saturday night I slept fitfully, overwhelmingly anxious about the miserable day of my destiny. Finally, the dreaded Sunday morning rolled around, dawning bright and sunny, perfect for a challenging game of golf. My brother-in-law had repeatedly assured me that we would hit at least one bucket of practice balls before the round. With that, and a few puts on the practice green, I would do fine, he assured me.

We ran late. And driving to the course, in between all of my whining, my brother-in-law informed me that our golf partner lived on a golf course. Great, I thought. We’re playing with a real golfer who will have no patience for the ungifted.

Our friend drove up in his convertible BMW and we exchanged niceties. I worked hard to be relaxed and jovial, and present the appearance of anticipation of an enjoyable morning.

We proceeded into the clubhouse to confirm our tee time. In my anxiety, I had led our threesome toward the counter, not realizing that they had left their clubs outside.  Before I could inquire about our tee time, I was scolded by the golf pro, who informed me that clubs and bags should be left on the sidewalk and were not welcome in the pro shop. It was going to be a long day.

Our next surprise was our tee time, which was an hour earlier than we had expected, due to some level of miscommunication. We were to tee off in fifteen minutes.

I grew pale and flush, and was almost apoplectic with fear. I would not be able to practice, not even hit one ball, before I would be required to enter the perilous territory that awaited me. 

The weekend being beautiful and sunny brought out the golfers in droves. The tee times were behind schedule, and there was a large crowd around the first tee. Golf carts were stacked up behind the tee box, and a dozen or so golfers were hanging out in groups, awaiting their turn.

The most nerve wracking moment in golf is the drive made on the first tee. Usually executed in front of a crowd and often miffed, it can be horribly humiliating. If a poor player is in the group ahead, he gets blamed for the slow play – identified from the beginning by the miserable shot off the first tee. It sets the tone for the rest of the game.

We tossed the tee to determine who went first, and of course, I “won.” My moment of dread had finally arrived.

As I approached the tee box, I made an important decision. I didn’t care anymore. I hated this game and the people who played it so much, I didn’t care what happened. The club could miss the ball entirely, or it could roll no further than the women’s tee box, and it didn’t matter to me. I wasn’t coming back, I was only being nice to my brother-in-law, and after today he wouldn’t ask me anymore. I was done.

I stepped to the rear of the tee box, took a few practice swings with my three wood, and approached the ball. Reminding myself that nothing I did today mattered, I relaxed my grip, took an abbreviated backswing to reduce the chance for error, and repeating in my head the reminder to “relax and swing slow” I hit the ball.

Then, as my club proceeded past my legs and continued through a nicely controlled follow through, I watched the ball as it climbed skyward, almost straight into the air toward the fairway – like a fly ball destined for short center field. My club continued all the way around behind me as I watched the ball in amazement as it continued in a nice parabolic arc, bouncing to the ground, and coming to a halt on the first few yards of very short grass known as the fairway.

I’ll take it,” I said, with a smirk, and not wanting to take my eyes off of the amazing site of my ball sitting in the short grass, retrieved my tee, and proceeded toward my assigned golf cart, staring at the little white ball that was winking back at me a little over a hundred and fifty yards away, in the short grass. This was hardly a tee shot that would make a real golfer proud, but it wasn’t humiliating, it wasn’t frustrating, and it was, well, respectable enough to be unnoticed among the gathered critics awaiting their turn.

My other partners teed off, and using their drivers, proceeded to hit very long balls, one being lost in the trees, one in the rough, and the other nicely placed in the fairway. For the first time I can ever remember, I wasn’t “away,” didn’t have to shoot first, and more importantly, didn’t hang my head.

On the ride out to the course, I had made another critical decision. I had decided that once I made it out of the tee box, I would only play with a nine iron. I decided to do that because there was no point in using a six or a five since they only rolled across the grass anyway. At least if I swung with a nine, the ball might get a little height on it and, even though I would be ridiculously shorter than everyone else, I might get to enjoy the site of my ball silhouetted against the sky, even if it was only traveling 110 yards to everyone else’s 150. At least I could play, and at least it would be some semblance of respectability, if they didn’t look too closely at my club selection.

I was rewarded with nice, low arcing shots, that although short, behaved somewhat in their intended manner, and enabled me to stay on the course, not killing worms.

Our friend proved to be a long ball hitter with no control, and had to take numerous mulligans and lost many balls, while I plodded along, using my three wood and nine iron, my putter when I was on the fringe of the green, and if forced, a sand wedge.

And our partner wasn’t critical of our play. He lost a lot of balls, but didn’t seem to care. I played my game, reminding myself to relax and swing slowly – real slowly, and keep the ball where you can find it. And most importantly – tell yourself you don’t care.

To my astonishment, I had enjoyed myself!

On the way home, I was giddy with excitement. I had played golf – even kept score, for the first time in my life. Had I finally knocked down the demons? Is it possible to enjoy this maddeningly frustrating enterprise? Is it possible to be in the club?

But what had I done wrong all those years? Was it so simple – just remind myself to relax? Was that the key – the overwhelming barrier that had prevented me from playing this game before?

I have since played numerous rounds of golf, occasionally being the instigator – calling friends to organize a game. I still haven’t been to the driving range and don’t own a driver, but I have conceded to buying golf shoes.

I even keep score, but I don’t pay much attention to it. Its not that I don’t care – I do, but I will not let the temptation to improve become an obsession – indeed a barrier. I‘ve learned that most golfers aren’t really that good, and take multiple repeat shots, mulligans, and gimmes. I even meet in the clubhouse for a few beers. Frankly, I get along fine, and am quite comfortable in this imagined forbidden territory. I have reached a level of contentment with the game and myself that I could have never imagined even a year ago. The demons are gone, as are the stereotypes.

Thoughts of my father crowd into my soul when I play. I know that I am experiencing something he could never dream of for himself. But in his own way, he strove to make it possible for us, even though in his stoicism, he couldn’t express it.

Every now and then, when I’m enjoying a round in the company of my friends, and I happen to make a nice shot, I say to myself, “thanks, Dad, that one’s for you.”

Posted by: Dave | March 29, 2010

Our Tiger is a Pig


 

     The Tiger has fallen. The greatest athlete of our generation has now lost hundreds of millions of dollars, ruined his marriage, and destroyed his reputation before millions of previously admiring fans all over the world. I was one of those fans. I was one of the legions of adult males who rarely watched golf on television, but since the advent of The Tiger, would find myself riveted to the screen watching his victories pile up in amazing fashion.

     I love sports, while simultaneously nurturing a disdain for most athletes. I never was one, and couldn’t have been one despite my wildest fantasies to the contrary. I am jealous. So I watch the super-human endeavors of these gifted and driven individuals, while sometimes despising them for their talents and the subsequent fame and success. And when they fall, usually due to some thoughtless act or character flaw, I am embarrassed to admit, I sometimes derive a perverse pleasure in their demise. I smile as I watch them lose their money and fame as they do the perp walk of disgrace into oblivion.

But Tiger was different. Here was an athlete who I could applaud not only for his abilities but also for who he is. Tiger had it all: the son of an Army officer, mixed race, overcoming racism to beat rich white kids at their own game. And Tiger didn’t have the baggage that is so frequently associated with many successful black athletes – the bling, or the thuggery, for instance, of the likes of Iverson and Vick.

     This is an unusual occurrence. My greatest athletic heroes are generally those who perform above their abilities and make it where “making it” is the definition of success – Rudy, for instance. But usually the Rudies of the world disappear into the fabric of our daily lives after their one shot at greatness, because, well, they just didn’t have the talent.

     Creating a Tiger, or any elite athlete for that matter, demands a singleness of purpose that the rest of us can hardly imagine. From the earliest opportunity, the hours of practicing, physical conditioning, and sacrifice require the entire family to forsake what the rest of us would call the normal existence of work, school, church and play. “Play” supplants all other pursuits. Private coaching, sports psychologists and professional trainers are usually required at an early age. No sacrifice is too great when creating a star. But in many cases that singleness of purpose results in the omission of life’s more important lessons. Enter The Tiger.

     Earl Woods said that he wasn’t trying to raise a golfer, but a man, when he was raising Tiger. Really? Tiger had a golf coach when he was four. Not fourteen, but four. Mr. Woods, did he ever have a Sunday School teacher?

     What Earl Woods produced is a golfer, not a man. He cared nothing for his marriage or his children as he prowled around like a frat boy aided by willing accomplices who helped him procure his conquests and then hide them from his wife, sponsors and legions of fans. Even his mother was shocked to learn the truth of her son’s behavior. This was no “transgression,” but a life style. Tiger had no shame. The man who couldn’t be bothered with second tier golf tournaments didn’t mind trolling for booty at the pancake house or cocktail bar; no silicone-enhanced trophy was too low class for his attention. Of course, there was too much at stake to deny him his needs. Too many people were making money on the Tiger machine.

   His gorgeous wife wasn’t beautiful enough, but there was just something about that pancake house waitress he couldn’t resist. I think I am going to puke.

     So now Tiger’s story will be shared with the likes of Bill Clinton. Not an asterisk or footnote on his record, but a paint splotch so huge and obscene that it will overshadow his other accomplishments, much like Bill Clinton’s cigar.
    
But we should have known this outcome was predictable. You’re too important to let church get in the way when you’re one shot down on Sunday morning, whether you are eight or eighteen. And apparently there was no time for Earl to tell young Tiger that there’s this thing called marriage and once you say “I do” it means you don’t with the rest of the female population. Too much had to be worked out on the putting green to share those father-son tidbits.

     So now we see the collapse, once again, of a great athlete. I have a feeling that for the first time in his life Tiger no longer cares about the applause, the wins and the money, and he would trade it all to have his honor back. I imagine that today, Tiger might rather be, well – me: unknown to the world, fighting my battles in anonymity, and able to keep my failings between me, my God and my family.

     Tiger will find it hard to sit across the conference table from sponsors that have staked their entire advertising budget on his skills and reputation, only to have a mildly interesting conversation about waitresses and porn stars. But one day he will have a more difficult task. He is going to have to look his children in the eyes and attempt to explain to them why their mother just wasn’t good enough. Not once, but fourteen times.

Tiger let me down too, but I am way below his radar screen for those he should care about. I believe in forgiveness and I hope that he can turn his life around, but I am not required to cheer for him, and I won’t. I’ll find someone I can respect to root for, but they probably won’t make the cut on Friday.

     I’m finished with Tiger and, for that matter, golf. I never liked watching it anyway except when Tiger was playing, unless I wanted to take a nap.

Tiger has come from behind so many times. He knows how to play golf, but does he know anything about life? And will any of us care? I’ll take my place in the gallery of those who don’t.

Posted by: Dave | March 28, 2010

Iran: The Silence is Deafening


 

While Iranian freedom marchers are being killed and beaten in the streets of Tehran and other major Iranian cities, the United States watches as a seemingly disinterested bystander.  Our administration should be seizing on these events to weaken an intransigent regime that continues to oppress its citizens, develop nuclear weapons, and threaten Israel on an almost daily basis. 

President Obama should steal a page from Ronald Reagan’s playbook.  During the rise of the Solidarity movement in Poland, Reagan played a key role in strengthening their cause through the powerful use of several tools at his disposal. He revamped Radio Free Europe, (which had been weakened during the Carter Administration) by installing stronger transmitters to beam a constant barrage of messages relating to the benefits of freedom and self-government across the Iron Curtain. Through covert operations, radio receivers, transmitters, and printing materials were smuggled directly to Solidarity movement organizers.  This equipment helped them to organize their movement, while the constant flow of encouraging information provided strength during extremely difficult and dangerous periods. Reagan’s messages gave them hope, confidence and courage.  Also using the bully pulpit of the Presidency, Mr. Reagan continued to extol the blessings of liberty, outwardly challenging the communist regime, and at one point, famously taking his message to the very gates of the Berlin Wall.

The result was an internal and largely peaceful revolution that grew from within the citizenry to overthrow the communist government, an event that most of us couldn’t have imagined during the difficult half-century of the Cold War.  Of course Reagan took many additional economic, military, and intelligence related actions, but members of the Solidarity movement agree that Reagan’s messages and support were critical to their success. 

Instead of negotiating with the Iranian government, our President should be challenging them to permit their citizenry to rule themselves.  The president is greatly admired by many in the Middle East and his words would have great impact.  He should question the legitimacy of the government due to last summer’s rigged elections, and, like Reagan, encourage the protest movement. Mrs. Clinton, as Secretary of State, should be “on message” with similar points. 

Additionally, covert assistance, capitalizing on modern technology, should be provided as additional aid to the dissident movement.  It is possible, and hopeful, that these activities may be occurring secretly today, but given this administration’s public distaste for these types of operations and the recent apology tours taken by the administration, it is unlikely.

Instead of encouragement, we answer with only silence, at least publicly.  And in what must be an incredibly frustrating move to the dissidents, we give credibility to the government by negotiating with them in the hopes that they will politely halt their development of nuclear weapons and play nicely with the rest of the world. 

Timid souls may point to Iran’s missiles and potential nuclear capability and the fear of what may happen if Ahmadinejad is threatened with losing power. It is indeed possible that he may strike out, but better to have that occur sooner, while they are still struggling with the new missile guidance and nuclear technology, rather than after it has been perfected after several more years of development, and launched from a position of strength rather than weakness.

The benefits of a peaceful regime change in Iran are huge.  A moderate Iran would no longer threaten Israel, export Improved Explosive Devices to Iraq or Afghanistan, and take its rightful place in the community of nations. Assuming we aided the movement, we would become immediate allies. Take away Iran’s bluster and you also have a weaker North Korea, because they have one less despotic ally.

That may be a Utopian vision, but it is indeed possible.  In the 1970s, who could have imagined that Poland or the Czech Republic would later become strong allies, or that East and West Germany would unite without firing a shot?

But this vision is not without its risks. It is possible that a more dogmatic regime would replace the one in power now and continue to oppress its citizenry. But a new regime, under those circumstances, would more likely be consumed with maintaining their own hide and consolidating power rather than destabilizing the Middle East and threatening to wipe out Israel. 

What a simpler world President Obama and the rest of us would live in.  We, along with the Iranian dissidents, are listening.

Posted by: Dave | February 18, 2010

Sow Cows and Beer Commercials


Like 99% of the rest of the American male population, I skipped the Olympics’ men’s ice skating competition and retired to an early slumber.

Much to my irritation, my wife woke me up some time around midnight to tell me that the American, Evan Lysacek  had edged out the Russian, Evgeni Plushenko, for a gold medal.  Yawn.

I try to get excited about ice skating.  But despite little Scotty Hamilton’s full throated exuberance when he exclaims, “He nailed the Lutz, he nailed the Lutz…!” male figure skating evokes no passion in me.

Maybe it’s because after witnessing countless Winter Olympics, I still don’t know what a Sow-Cow is, or how to distinguish it from a Lutz or a toe loop.  For the record, a Sow Cow is actually a Sal chow, and was named after its inventor in 1904.  You can learn about Sal chows by entering Sow Cow into Google, which tells me I’m about as informed as the rest of the human population on the subject.

That is why my guess is that men’s ice skating has the lowest viewer ratings of any night of the winter Olympics.  The predominant consumer of sports entertainment is men, and American men, like it or not, do not have an appreciation for a sport unless is involves body contact, pain, blood, or a ball of some sort.   Otherwise, it needs to include females in skimpy outfits.

Additionally, most of us like to watch a sport we may have participated in at some point in our lives.  That is why I’ll stay up late to watch downhill racing.  I have actually stood at the top of a double diamond trail and attempted to make it to the bottom without killing myself.  Like downhill racers, I have experienced face plants and had ski poles impaled into my rib cage before careening helplessly down the side of a mountain.  

But the last time I went ice skating, I wasn’t trying to attempt a  Sal chow or a Lutz, I was trying to muster up the courage to ask a cute red cheeked blonde for her hand during the couples dance.  Nothing would be more wonderful, I imagined, than holding her hand while we skated to “Betcha By Golly Wow,” by the Stylistics.  I kept my eyes on her while I practiced my turns all night, even getting to the point that I was turning by crossing one foot in front of the other, until the last couples skate of the evening approached.   As the rink disc jockey announced that the couples skate was approaching, I summoned up the courage to request her hand, but alas, she declined. 

No podium for Dave that night.   

The Summer Olympics folks noted a ratings problem and took action. They replaced prime time yawners, like synchronized swimming and rowing, with women’s beach volleyball (and it has nothing to do with the skimpy bikinis and hot bodies of the competitors).  It’s because all of us, at some time or another, have played beach volleyball.

So I have some recommendations for the Winter Olympics people, and NBC in particular, who is rumored to be losing $200 million on the event, and would probably welcome the advice.

Women’s ice skating outfits are skimpy enough, but we do need to make men’s ice skating a little more interesting.  Men’s ice skating should become a contact sport.  The contestants should enter the rink as paired opponents, like boxers, and would be graded not only on their ability to perform their maneuvers, but also their ability to prevent their opponent from executing theirs.

The music, of course, would complement the aggressive nature of the sport, and the judging criteria of artistic merit would be replaced with “strategy and tactics.”  Imagine the excitement of kick boxing in ice skates and foppish outfits. 

NBC could augment little Scotty Hamilton’s narration with color commentary by, say, Lawrence Taylor.  

The commentary would go something like this:

Hamilton:  “Looks like Lysacek is about to try the Triple Lutz…”

Taylor: “…or he could be faking a Sal chow to get Plushenko out of his toe loop early…ooh! what a great body slam by the American!”  

Hamilton: “…Plushenko can still do a Sal Chow to help his points. “

Taylor:  “Yeah, as soon as he picks his teeth up off the ice.”

Hamilton: “…and the American’s music selection of “Walk This Way” is so much better than “Smoke on the Water.”

I can just imagine the beer commercials.

Posted by: Dave | November 7, 2008

Voting Day


I started my walk this morning the same as usual, at approximately 5:15. The weather was brisk, about 40 degrees. The sun wasn’t up yet, and the air was permeated by the hickory-laced fragrance of someone’s fireplace that didn’t quite die out before they retired for the evening.

As I rounded the turn toward the long straight away that fronts our elementary school, I noticed two gentlemen in the predawn light. They were both carrying signs, sticking the wire frames into the soft dirt, one on one side of the school driveway, one on the other. As I proceeded closer, the blue-gray light revealed colors and letters, I was able to read the names. One man carried signs reading “Webb,” another reading “Allen.”

Both men continued their task, jockeying for the most viewable terrain from the street, quickly putting each of their signs where they would offer the most benefit for their respective candidates. It is voting day. Our local elementary school serves as our voting precinct. In less than an hour, the parking lot would be full, a line will form outside of the gymnasium, and my neighbors will exercise their right to cast their vote. Months of television and radio ads, mud slinging and obfuscation will soon come to a climax and a winner will be declared.

This is what it comes down to. Two men, motivated for their candidates enough to get up in the cold predawn light, doing what they can do to support a candidate they have likely never met, never been in the same room with, and will probably never know. The candidates, probably still snug in their beds, are unaware of the actions of these two anonymous supporters, but totally dependent upon their actions and tens of thousands more just like them.

This is what the pundits call “grass roots” efforts. Volunteers, motivated by a passion for issues of the day, willing to toil anonymously on behalf of their cause and their candidates, hoping they can make a difference. Maybe one person, still sitting on the fence, will see the name on one of these signs as he approaches the gym, and decide to cast a vote for their candidate.

I stopped my walk and watched, far from their view, obscured in the darkness. Each, without speaking, returned to their cars, opened their trunks, and retrieved another armful of signs, and proceeded to the other entrance to the school. Again, they placed their signs, a quiet competitiveness about them, as they sought out the best locations.

Neither one of them spoke to each other, but they weren’t rude either. There was no confrontation, no argument, no aggressiveness toward either party.

This has to be what the founders imagined when they crafted our constitution and imagined this magnificent experiment. Not the attack adds, or the million dollar fund raising events, or the October surprises, but anonymous believers, loyal to their cause and candidate, trusting in a system to work it all out.

I continued on my walk, and as I passed them, I bid them each good morning, and wished them the best of luck.

Posted by: Dave | January 30, 2008

To Byron


I saw Byron shortly after starting the first semester of my freshman year at the small southern college I was attending. I saw him, but didn’t want to know him, or especially, to be associated with him.

I had always dreamed of becoming an Army officer and had enrolled in ROTC as the first step in that dream.  I saw this as an exclusive and almost elite pursuit, and looked forward to joining a brotherhood of men who were tested and hardened by the rigors of military training, garnering the respect of all who knew us, not only for our patriotism, but also our physical prowess. I knew that not everyone was suited for this challenge, but I was ready.  I had dreamed of joining ROTC and training for military service for many years, and now I had my chance.

 It was our first day in ROTC and my first opportunity to stand in formation.  I had prepared for hours by shining brass and polishing my shoes to a bright, high gloss. I was proud and eager to line up with the others as we donned our uniforms for the first time in great anticipation of the challenges that lay ahead. To my surprise, I noticed a ridiculously out of place figure in same formation as me. He stood less than five feet six inches tall, but his short stature was the kindest of his physical shortcomings. His chest was awkwardly caved in, producing a rounded back and a posture resembling that of an old woman. He had spindly legs and arms that were slightly more bent than necessary, even when supposedly straight. When at the position of attention, he looked stooped and frail, his posture crying out for repair, inviting derision, but not pity.  What was he doing here?

I wanted nothing to do with him. Surely the selective brotherhood I desired could not include him. But there he stood, still and proud as the rest of us. As he marched, his inability to straighten his legs caused him to lift his knees unnaturally, giving the appearance that he was perpetually ascending shallow stairs, and the front of his impeccable uniform waved like a limp curtain over his sunken chest. 

I saw him again a few days later. To my horror, he was in attendance at my first Ranger class. The ROTC Department held optional, highly demanding weekly training sessions for those cadets who aspired to attend the elite Army Ranger School.  The first day of Rangers of any semester always included a large group of tryouts, usually 40 to 50 or so. Therefore, it was necessary to weed out those who didn’t have the desire or the physical ability for the demands of Ranger training. The Ranger Cadre were not about to start the semester easy. After marathon calisthenics, pushups, low crawls, and the horizontal ladder, we went on what must have been a five-mile formation run at a screaming pace. Many tryouts dropped out of the formation, and I saw Byron, in the field behind the ROTC building, humped over with his sunken chest heaving as he panted for more air. He didn’t return the next week or the rest of the semester. I was happy that he didn’t.

To me, and I’m sure to many of the others, we secretly didn’t want him to make it. If Byron made it, the bar was set too low. It would appear that what we were doing wasn’t all that difficult or exclusive. Therefore, he was tolerated at best, but from what I witnessed, never accepted.

Why he chose to pursue a military career will always be a mystery to me.  He had the intellectual talent to be welcomed into any other group: mathematicians, historians, artists, where his physical shortcomings would not be a hindrance. But he chose us, an institution that thrives on testosterone and whose very existence is about one’s dominance over another in conflict. Maybe it was to run from the demons, the taunts of the jocks and the beauties in high school. If we were tough on him in college, high school must have been merciless. But it was ROTC he chose and wouldn’t give up. He was in all the formations, and all the classes, except Rangers. But I have not one memory of Byron in a social setting. Not one. His demeanor, surely developed over a lifetime of taunting, was difficult and bull headed. During conversation, his thick glasses would constantly fall down over the bridge of his nose. He simply wasn’t pleasurable to associate with, and he did nothing to make himself so.

During my sophomore year I received my invitation to try out for National Honor Society of Scabbard and Blade, the ROTC fraternity. I knew the initiation was extremely difficult, but because the proceedings were secret, I knew none of the details.  I followed all of the preparatory instructions. I made my twelve foot long “Saber” out of two-by-fours from the local hardware store, measuring it to the one hundredths of an inch, as instructed. And, wearing the helmet without the helmet liner just to make it “comfortable,” I presented myself as a “neophyte” ready for initiation 1300 hours on a Friday afternoon in November of 1977 on the front lawn of the ROTC Building. I do not remember all who reported, but I do remember that among the neophytes stood, to my great disdain, Byron York. His invitation was most certainly based on academic performance, not stamina nor stature. I knew that before the end of the initiation, at least one of us wasn’t going to make it, and that it wouldn’t be me.

The physical demands began immediately, with orders to do pushups and situps, low crawls and deep knee bends, all while carrying our heavy twelve foot long sabers – never letting them rest on the ground. Like every Scabbard and Blade initiation, we were greeted with rain and cold. The physical torture continued late into the night, and was aided by pejoratives and the most humiliating of insults. In that situation, one’s shortcomings become fodder for the sadistic taunts of the ruling class. Byron’s stature, and his last name, provided limitless ammunition for that purpose, and helped deflect attention away from me.

We were dismissed in the wee hours of Saturday morning, and had to return, if we could stand it, only a few hours later, at 0600 for continued initiation rights. Only three of us returned:  Stan Carpenter, me, and, and to my astonishment, Byron York stood, his frail posture defiantly holding his position in the rank. The torture and humiliation continued through Saturday, to the point where we all began to experience muscle failure. Having done so many pushups, I was unable to even hold my body in a parallel position, and was ordered to do deep knee bends instead. Byron’s body had given out before mine, and the initiators were left to come up with creative ways to heap punishment, such as having him do the “dying cockroach” until he was no longer able to raise his knees. At one point, he was forced to wear a dress and perform like a cheerleader for the Blade members.

We continued late into Saturday night and by now had marched miles off campus, carrying our sabers through a cold rain into dense woods and to the base of a nearby mountain. I was exhausted. Every step was measured by the pain of blisters in wet boots, every arm movement accompanied with sore muscles. Then, standing in the darkness and the rain, the Blade member said we had to carry ourselves up the mountain. This was an absurd proposition. It was insane. But miles away from campus, and too weak to resist, Stan Carpenter, Byron York and I started up the mountain bearing our twelve-foot long sabers on our shoulders. It had rained so hard the lower areas were experiencing flash flooding. In the darkness, one of us would step off into a swollen creek and sink up to our waist in cold, rushing water. We had to pull each other along to make forward progress, helping each other – now a team of three, determined to overcome whatever nature and the Blade members could throw at us.

We proceeded up the mountain and it began to get steeper. We slipped in loose leaves and mud as we tried to climb. The sabers, now rubbing on raw shoulders, got caught between trees and in vines, and intensified the difficulty of movement in the dark underbrush. Finally, Byron’s body gave out. His short steps became a near crawl upwards, and Stan and I began to help him. The team of three struggled onward. Finally, exhausted, we were no longer crawling up the mountain, but were locked arm in arm. Stan, the largest and strongest, leading, with me in the middle and Byron third. Our arms were locked at the elbows, and we progressed, one lunge at a time, up the mountain, Stan doing most of the work, me pulling on Byron, and Byron pushing with whatever strength he had remaining in his legs and feet.  Our sabers required a separate effort, as we were now dragging them beside us.

A strange thing had occurred and I didn’t even realize it.  Byron was helping me.  Not with his arms and legs, because they had long since given out, but with his eyes, and the mere fact that he was still there.  We were a team.  A team of mismatched strength, but a team of shared determination and will, feeding off of each other, and all of us were going to make it.

Near the top, and now well into Sunday morning, we were finally permitted to stop and rest. There, the Blade members told the story about why we carried the sabers; about the neophyte mutiny that occurred in the 1950s and about why we should never give up. They told us how others, weaker than us, had rebelled, breaking their sabers on the mountainside, escaping down the mountain. Had they only known that at the top of the mountain less than one hundred yards away, was a bonfire for them to throw their sabers into, and a great party of Blade members, waiting to bring them into the fold. Then we noticed, littering the landscape around us, the remnants of dozens of broken sabers, now soaked and glistening in the moonlight, the secret sacrament of the initiation right. The lesson has never left me, and I hope it never does. We were then permitted to break up our sabers. The problem was, we barely had enough strength to do it.  Breaking the heavy two-by-fours was only accomplished by putting them between trees and leaning on them with our full body weight. Byron was so exhausted, he simply got to hold his while Stan and I delivered the final blows. Our initiation was over. We walked the remaining steps to the top of the mountain where warmth and ample supplies of food and beer and pats on the back awaited us.

Byron York made it. He persevered against the worst of odds, the bitterest humiliation and the unfairness of his frail body, and he made it. I knew that the soreness and fatigue I was experiencing had to be measured ten fold on Byron.

I have always wondered about Byron and how he was received in adulthood. I only knew that he entered into the Military Intelligence Corps, which was very fitting for him, and that his first tour was in Korea. I doubt that he was warmly received in his unit, his physical appearance again overwhelming his attempts to gain acceptance in units that brag of their stature and toughness; after all, that was, and still is, the Army. I wondered if he found acceptance, if he knew the love of a wife, a family, and any kind of success. But I didn’t miss him at any of our reunions. His existence was rarely even noted, except for maybe a chuckle about his appearance in a dress. No one had any idea what happened to him, or seemed to care.

Last summer our alumni group was notified that Byron York had recently passed away from leukemia.  The bad hand that he was dealt in life had now followed him to an early death.

We also learned that his military career was a short one, and that he returned home and lived alone.  He never married.  

For me then, Byron will always represent the unfairness of life, unfairness that I will never understand, unfairness culminating in a premature and cruel death.

But I will always remember that on that cold, wet weekend in November 1977, whether I wanted to admit it or not, Byron York didn’t give up – Byron was on my team, and Byron made it up the mountain.

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