Thoughts from this weekend’s Masters, but first this…
There was a boy years back who was a waste disposal prodigy. Not a liquid waste expert, more of a solid waste kind of guy. His parents first noticed their son’s gift on his second Christmas. The boy was 18 months old and still hadn’t walked. They were worried about that. Many of their friends and some of their extended family strongly suggested, some even commanded, that they take him for testing. “Something’s wrong with that boy,” nosy Aunt Selma insisted. “I know it.”
They refrained from following the advice, but were a bit discouraged at his development.
But he crawled, how he crawled, and he took great delight, as any child should, in getting into messes. The thing about him that was so different, to their amazement, was that the messes he got into ended up cleaner and neater than before he got into them. Amazing stuff.
On the boy’s second Christmas, after all the gifts were opened and the stockings laden with candy half explored, the mother went into the kitchen to fix a late breakfast. The father stayed in the living room and snoozed on the couch while watching the boy. The dad had been up late Christmas Eve, dutifully fulfilling his Santa Claus duties late into the night.
The man watched his boy crawling around, practicing at words and getting into the wadded up wrapping paper and crumpled bows. After a few minutes, the man dozed and was soon snoring like a bear. The boy looked up at his father, a strong man laid to waste by the sleep fairy. He cooed and giggled and then got to work.
Something deep within the boy drove him to clean, to organize, and to dispose. The father, after a few minutes of hibernation, awoke with a start, rubbed his eyes, sat up, and checked on his boy.
“Honey!!!” Dished clanked and clattered in the kitchen, the smell of frying bacon pungent in the air. “Honey… come here! Look at this!” The mother, wiping her hands upon a dishtowel, emerged from the kitchen into the living room to see what was the matter. The mess was gone. Every piece and scrap of trash, every shiny stray tinsel and sticky tape had been gathered and socked away into a box which had then been crushed to the smallest of possible proportions. The boy admired his work. The parents admired their boy. What were the odds, they wondered, a child prodigy at solid waste disposal. We’ll call our little friend Disposal Boy.
Meanwhile, next door, another boy prodigy of the same tender age was opening his presents. One in particular amazed and enthralled him to no end. Against the wall, ignored, went the toy car with colorful buttons that made fantastic noises. Left under the couch was an action figure who could parachute off the roof and maim bad guys with one permanently crooked plastic arm. No interest in either, or in the other toys strewn about the room.
No, what fascinated this boy, what utterly and completely enticed him, was a plastic, goofy looking, golf club. His father, too, was tired, and his mother also escaped to the kitchen to fry up the morning fare. The boy, having never before walked, took the plastic club, pulled himself straight up, and swung the most beautiful imaginary tee shot in the whole county. By the time the father opened his eyes from his own hibernation, and called into the kitchen to bring the boy’s mother out, the boy had already played two imaginary holes. He was just then plying his way around a par five, having teed off in the adjacent hall and trying to stick his second shot onto the throw rug, suddenly a makeshift green, by the sliding door. However, he had hit an errant drive and was just then pondering the risk/reward of a fairway wood versus laying up by the ottoman, conferring with the family hound about distance and club selection. The dad swore later he even saw his son sticking a licked forefinger into the living room air, gauging the wind speed and direction. We’ll call this prodigy Golf Boy.
The years go by, and the boys grow up, as boys are wont to do. Disposal Boy continues to excel in his gift. At leaf raking time in the fall, all the produce of the mighty oaks, all of the scraps from the summer’s bounty, all of it, was collected and compressed into a single used grocery sack, tied neatly and tucked into the garbage pail for the professionals to take away. Indeed, every Monday morning at 5:30 am when the trash truck arrived, the boy would sit upon the couch and gaze longingly out the family room window, watching the steel blue monster with its tattooed trolls riding piggyback collecting the neighborhood refuse. He dreamed of someday working with the big boys.
Sometimes on warm winter days, the collected salt and grime and ice would drip from his parents’ cars onto the driveway. Disposal Boy would be out in no time, shovel and old broom in hand, compressing it all into an empty one-gallon paint bucket, again set lovingly among the week’s trash for the professionals to take. How the springtime did set his heart afire when it was first warm enough to perform the house cleaning and yard work.
One of his best efforts, performed at the tender age of nine years, occurred at his mother’s attempted garage sale. Aunt Selma had finally passed into the great beyond to chatter and yack into St Peter’s ear. She had left every stitch of her belongings to the boy’s mother. Very few things had sold, and the parents groaned at the thought of several trips to the dump to discard the rest.
At supper that night, after cleaning and putting the dishes away, the boy brought his parents into the living room and asked them to sit down. “I have a request,” he announced, “about the stuff from Aunt Selma.” The parents looked eagerly at the boy.
“Yes?” they responded in unison. The boy brought out a little notebook, upon which he had written, “Thoughts on Refuse.” Several pages were dog-eared, and yellow stickies stuck out haphazardly from the tattered pages. “I’ve done some figuring,” he continued. He opened his journal and studied one particular page for a moment, closing it after a bit.
He looked up. “Give me one hour. Out there.” He pointed out the window to the overstuffed garage. ”Tomorrow.” The parents nodded enthusiastically. The boy’s fists and jaw clenched, his eyes squeezed shut tightly, as if he had won the heart of the girl of his dreams. “Yes!” he exclaimed slapping his journal against his lap. “Yes! My work awaits!”
By the next morning when his parents awoke, the boy had dismantled and discarded and decompressed and a bunch of other “d” words known only to those who work in that craft. Every piece of ugly furniture, every old virginal book that no one had read, every last scrap had – every bit of it, a whole double garage full – every bit was consolidated into a five gallon bucket, neatly labeled, “Waste.”
Next door, Golf Boy also advanced in years and expertise. By the age of five he had placed second in the annual county Putt-Putt contest. The only reason he hadn’t won is because Henry Stalson, the defending champion, a grown up with nothing of note on his docket, had cheated on his scorecard. The boy knew it too, saw the middle-aged man with the comb over alter his score when no one else was looking, and said nothing. The boy respected the game too much.
By the age of eleven, not only had the boy won the same tournament six consecutive times, the county Putt-Putt committee had renamed the course after him. The final year he played, local TV stations were filming his every putt. Each swing of the club was a masterful carving of time, mass, and gravity, the boy a Newton and Galileo and Socrates of the carpeted links, all rolled into one. Never had the miniature fairways been so mastered, so toyed with.
In fact, by the end of the day, on 18 holes, the boy had scored a seventeen… even today, videographers and media engineers the world over study the film to try and discover how this impossible feat happened.
By the boy’s 14th year, he had won the state title in real golf, winning by 8 strokes. He hadn’t told anyone, but on his last hole he had closed his eyes before every shot.
The next year, at 15, he played the title course left-handed, still winning by 11 stokes.
As the boy grew in talent, the local world, and then the regional, and then the national, all took note of his mastery with club and ball. Soon, trucks and vans and cars with the letters ESPN were parked on his street. After another year passed, vehicles with ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, CNN, and HDTV were also parked there. Everyone wanted a view of Golf Boy.
Meanwhile, Disposal Boy went unheeded. As journalists were prone to be untidy in their worship of Golf Boy, messes were often left in the neighborhood upon their departures. On one particular morning, Golf Boy west out to shoot some baskets in his driveway. Cameras clicked; laptops emerged, and the hounds circled.
“Swing a club for us! How do you do it?” The boy ignored them. “When are you turning pro?” Golf Boy quickly retreated into his house to the disappointment of the media.
Eventually they all dispersed, but not before trash and cigarette butts and candy wrappers and Obama stickers were strewn around the grass. Disposal Boy quickly gathered them up, to no one’s notice.
Fast-forward thirty years. Golf Boy is retired to an island off the coast, alone with his trophies and green jackets and clarets and a gazillion dollars. He is trotted out each golf season for commentary, but the next great golfer has already mesmerized the eager eyes of the faithful.
Meanwhile, Disposal Boy rents a three-bedroom house in a so-so neighborhood where he lives with his wife and children. His employer, the Consumer City, pays him barely enough to feed and clothe his kin, yet he dutifully carries away the waste of his fellow citizens.
One might ask, “Which man is more valuable?” To answer that, one might wonder this: if all of the Golf Boys out there went on strike, for how long would society continue to function normally? If all of the Disposal Boys went on strike, how long until our fine citizens would transform into savages?
Why do we fawn over a man who can strike a ball with a piece of metal and make it go where he wants in fewer attempts than all others? Why do we look down upon the man who collects our own waste and keeps the stinky stuff away from our tender lives?
Have you ever forgotten to set the trash out at the curb and had to live with it for just a second week? Have you ever trimmed fat off of your chicken dinner and had it sit out in the hot sun for a few days?
We elevate the desire to be entertained over the desire to be well cared for. If the golfer calls in sick, life is still fine. If the trash man calls in sick, well, I think we know the answer.
So, enjoy the Masters. I know I will. One of the items on my bucket list, which I have yet to write down, is to visit the vaunted course at Augusta. My own golf game has been going steadily downhill since the day I started, but that doesn’t diminish my desire to see that course, to walk up and down the fairways, to imagine hitting off the tee over Rae’s Creek on 12. Just to walk the course, just to see it. And I myself miss the glory days of Tiger.
But remember levity in your life as you idolize the worthless, and perhaps tip your trash man.