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Happiness on Easter Sunday
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Written SPRING 2004
Years ago--in my twenties--one of the best compliments I ever received was from a friend from Huron College whom I adored. (I was, alas, “too good a friend” to date, the kind of lie that I will eventually undress on this website--but only when finish the book I’m ghosting.)
Basically, she told me that I was attractive to women (in theory, remember; she didn’t actually find me attractive "in that way") because I was a good mix of sensitive "artist/intellectual" and the traditional North American "macho" male.
I filled in the "macho" part, apparently, because I loved to play ball hockey and softball, watch football, the Sabres and Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada, gloat everytime the Tigers beat the Blue Jays, and, of course, consumed copious amounts of chicken wings. I was even learning, despite my teetotaling heritage, to appreciate a pint of lager down at the local authentic English drinking pub called "the Poacher's Arms."
The other part, according to my lovely yet unreachable friend, came because I was the forerunner of what is now referred to as a "metrosexual." I actually enjoyed all that "sensitive" and intuitive stuff that girls in college say they like (until the guy in the leather jacket, hot car and a cigarette comes along). You know what I mean: discussing literature--they get positively slippery if you talk Dickinson or read them poetry--and film and movies and fashion and make them mix tapes with Maria McKee (ballads) and Tori Amos doing Nirvana covers or Everything But the Girl remixes and the odd surly, sullen alt-rock god they've never heard of and then punctuated with Leonard Cohen, which inevitably leads to a third glass of wine and late nights weeping over stuff they say they really, really like to talk about, like the meaning of life and God and redemption and loving Jesus and how they hate themselves for doing that guy in the leather jacket with the hot car and the cigarette and o dwight you're such a good friend and then they put their head on your shoulder and hold your bicep like it's a stuffed animal and you can feel them breathing and sighing and their breasts rising and falling and you think you might be able to kiss them now but you know that you really need to just be there for them right now and so you don't and just sit there until the record stops and you have to flip it and then she's all you should take me home now I guess and you hate yourself endlessly.
(Yes the 80s, when flipping a record was an abstinence technique and when we “sensitive” guys secretly told each other that old joke about how "chicks dig that sensitivity shit"...)
On Sundays, of course, we would rub the sleep from our eyes, well-earned after 4 hours of sleep following an evening supervising one of Huron's seemingly endless weekends of plastic beer cup pubs in the Student Activity Center. (Shall I tell you about carrying the son of a former Prime Minister up from the bottom of the ravine he stumbled down in a alcoholic glaze?) Having cleared my head and opened the window to make sure that the stale beer stench on the bottom of my shoes didn't follow me out the door, I'd head to Metropolitan United Church to hear the Reverend Dr. Maurice Boyd preach.
This too, I'm told, made me "attractive" to women, tho' none of the Huron girls I hit on seemed to echo my friends sentiment, perhaps because I actually did hang on every word the great Irish preacher/poet uttered, and what 21 year old co-ed wants to compete with a celtic sermonizer with the stature of Olivier?
Now, 15 years later, I honestly hope that this description of me (minus the ball hockey and with softball replaced by a little bit of golf), in some small way continues to be something like true, even on this glorious day of medical house arrest. (I have 24 hours to fill a bucket in order to determine whether my Revlimid drug trial takes me toward good or ill!).
To that end, let me remind you of a few things we can celebrate, both macho and sensitive.
1. Tigers! As of right now (4/12/04) the Detroit Tigers are 5 and 1. I'm a life-long Tiger fan. My dad took us to my first pro-ball game the summer I turned 6--1968--the year that Al Kaline and Willie Horton and Norm Cash and Mickey Lolich and Denny McClain took it to the high-kicking Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, the loquacious Tim McCarver and the rest of the St. Louis Cardinals to win the World Series.
Much later, on several occassions in 1984 I convinced friends to drive the two hours from London, ON down to Detroit in order to scalp tickets and watch what might have been the greatest, most balanced team in Tiger history, if not the entirety of major league play. And in 1988, while working as a "Don" at Huron College I took great pleasure in cheering the Tigers as, in the last two weeks of the season, they chased and overcame the Toronto Blue Jays seven game lead with eight games to play, a triumph made especially sweet because my "charge" as a Don was made up of a floor of mostly spoiled 19 year-old private school brats from Toronto.
Now, at 5 and 1, it's hard to not be conjuring those kinds of memories and dreaming of a Phillies/Tigers World Series in October. (Keep dreaming, yes, I know, but anything over a .500 season this year should mean "Manager of the Year" for Allan Trammel.)
2. Lefty! Last year a relatively-unknown (despite having already won three tournaments in the first months of the 2003 season) left-handed Canadian named Mike Weir conquered the world’s most prestigious golf tournament, The Masters. Yesterday, another, but far more popular lefty, Phil Mickelson, won the same tournament in what was arguably the most exciting back nine in the history of “major” golf events.
OK, so golf is a pathetic bourgeois pursuit, a way for out of shape white guys to trick themselves into thinking that they still can do something like “sports” all while spending profoundly foolish amounts of money on equipment, “memberships” and fees (oh, and post-round massages since we really can’t do “something like ‘sports’”) while manipulating and destroying huge chunks of pristine lands by unnaturally bending, molding and fertilizing God’s good earth.
Yup. All of this is absolutely true.
And yet I love the game and its bourgeois preoccupations. (Tho’ I gave up recreational golfing cigars several years ago largely because fighting a sinus infection costs way more, even with excellent (thank God!) health insurance, than a round at a great course.) So what? A few bourgeois pursuits aren’t so bad in a guy’s life, are they? C’mon, I’ve got freakin’ cancer! you gonna tell me I can’t find a bit of joy in playing—or in this case, watching—a bit of golf? C'mon, I dare ya. You got cancer? huh?
And, yes, The Masters is run by the Green Jacket and seersucker’d southern mafia who preside over the Augusta National Golf Club, gentlemen who run the tournament and guard its “brand” and legacy with all the whimsy of mid-Stalinist-era Soviet Russia and with more self-absorbed hubris than Madonna circa 1992. (There goes my chances of ever playing what may be the most beautiful and challenging golf course in America.)
Yes, these overlords of the season’s “first major” need to lighten up a bit and not take themselves and their tournament so seriously. Perhaps they could allow Jim Nance and the other announcers they hand pick for CBS to work their tournament to engage in something like enthusiasm while on the air, not forcing these otherwise fine journalists to look quite so pathetic and scripted while they slavishly follow the tournament’s infamous and far too self-conscious Masters-specific lexicon of words and phrases that may or may not ever be used while covering their "pristine" event. (Just allowing typical golf commentator etiquette rather than the proto-typically and oddly southern, tight-lipped, molar-grinding, emotionally forced, passive-aggressive, hushed, daddy-abused-me-behind-the-barn smile and tone of Augusta’s local members would be a good start.)
And yes, it would be a good thing to let a woman become a member there (tho’ a more civilizing and progressive gesture would be to ban nicknames like “Hootie” from anyone who graduated from university more than five years ago).
Augusta National’s guardians of virtue have an awful lot to learn, and it shows--even when they are trying to do the right thing.
For example, Augusta’s membership are rightfully concerned about the reputation of their Club’s course and tournament, and (as is their charge and duty) they want to preserve it--to expand the recognition of their “Master’s” brand while deepening the “mystique” that surrounds their (very) private club. But, like the short-sighted leaders and founder/presidents of many, many other “non-profits” who are concerned with legacy (you can count on this website having more on that notion in the coming months!), they concentrate on all the wrong things--like insisting that TV announcers call the tournament's ticket-buyers “patrons” and never, ever "fans," or limiting the amount of coverage that can be shown (about 40 % of the TV time that the other majors get), in order to distinguish the Masters from the PGA's other, “lesser” tournaments.
Duh. The miracle that is Augusta National (along with the world’s best golfers continually begging to play it) provides all the legacy this club will ever need. (That and the lingering ghost of Bobby Jones, whose putting and racism do battle for his own legacy every time Tiger Woods pulls his Buick up the club’s tree-lined entrance.)
Come on, guys, as long as your club and its tourney have magnolias in April, narrow fairways, wickedly fast greens, Amen Corner, Hogan’s Bridge at 12, those dopey green blazers, great golfers making its rounds (and being beaten by it) and Americans continue to have short, selective memories regarding stuff like “when did you first permit negroes to join your club?” and you’ve got all anyone needs to make a great and glorious sporting event.
But all of the insecurities, short-sightedness and other nonsense that Augusta’s members inflict on their event couldn’t overwhelm the extraordinary display of golfing prowess and real-live human drama provided by this years event, beginning this past Thursday with the death of Bruce Edwards, Tom Watson’s caddie for 30 years who succumbed that morning to ALS (Lou Gerrig’s disease). Watching Watson tee off on Thursday, literally just minutes after hearing of his friend and employee’s death was a kind of torturous inspiration, and then seeing Watson pound his fist on the table in the media trailer and say “we will stop this damned disease” provoked a far better “amen” than golf ever did.
The next day, when Arnold Palmer walked up 18 for the last time at 6:04 pm was also a suck back the torrent of tears moment, in part from sadness and in part from gratitude. Damn, I thought baseball was supposed to be the metaphor for life?
But in terms of pure golfing drama, watching Mickelson, Ernie Els, K. J. Choi and the rest of the field as they rounded “Amen Corner” and headed for the Butler Cabin and sporting immortality was a great way to spend the last half of my Sunday afternoon. Between the back-to-back aces on 16 by Padraig Harrington and Kirk Triplett, Choi’s 220 yard second shot for an Eagle 2 on 12 and a whole bunch of great shooting by Els and Mickelson up to Lefty’s birdie on 18 to win… well, that was just plain inspiring golf.
But just as exciting and ennobling as the play, were the fans--er… sorry Hootie--patrons, whose reception of Mickelson was nothing short of Palmer-esque, and deservedly so. After years of reckless golf and the resulting shoulder-shruggery, it was good to see a well-mannered, happy, and disciplined Mickelson finally rise to the occasion at a major.
While it didn’t choke me up or anything (there may not have been any tears left after Bruce Edwards’ death, Arnie’s retirement, Mickelson’s victory had something noble, something fundamentally humble about it, and it was, some how, inspiring.
And so, there you have it. A life long and long suffering Tiger fan and a fellow-lefty tired of watching Phil play the bridesmaid at Major is happy on Easter Sunday.
But none of it comes close to this:
it was Easter Sunday.
You know, when I’m honest with myself, on most Sundays I’m desperate for church, for community, for sacrament, for grace and forgiveness and direction and the possibility of beauty from ugly things, but when I’m honest I know that it’s a very rare Sunday when church will actually offer these things that I know my soul is craving, these things I know that need.
But this is Easter. This is the only week apart from Christmas that I actually and unquestionably feel like I m part of the church or that it offers what we need.
They read the Scriptures aloud. They offer me body and blood. They declare my sins forgiven, then lift an aria high to the heavens and send me into the world to live deeply, full of hope that my tentative and half-assed life can make a difference, all because of this one simple true thing:
He is risen.
Like I said, I love Easter.
Mel might have figured out a way to tell the world that Jesus got the shit kicked out of him for us, but he forgot why we know it “worked.”
But my pastor--the wonderful Rev. John Galloway of Wayne Presbyterian Church, Wayne, PA--www.waynepres.org--did, with a mind-boggling intimate Easter sermon on the resurrection that climaxed with his testimony of standing this autumn at the grave of his wife, who died, like Edwards, of Lou Gehrig’s disease, and finding that the promise of resurrection bathed his grief with hope.)
A little kid reminded me today, when she took my hand and shook it during the "Peace," even tho' I mispoke and said to her, all weary and confused from my steroids: “Happy Birthday, he is risen.”
Full of grace she said back to me through her laughter:
He is risen indeed.
I have hope today, whether I golf again or die tomorrow. Resurrection means this dope can look ahead toward eternal life as a redeemed, remade MAN on a remade EARTH living under the rule of God in his Kingdom, with nary a Left Behind book in site.
And chocolate to boot when we get home from church..
How cool is that?