"Awesome!" A Blog.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Golf memoir No. 2

A friend had recently invited me to hit balls at a driving range equidistant between our two homes, so we settled on a place that sits along the San Francisco Bay coast, just a few miles south of that great city. This particular plot of earth is also directly beneath the flight path for SFO, so menacing jumbo jets in all their surreal glory look to be in very real danger of getting pelted by well-struck Callaways. Myself an avid and tireless planespotter, I thought the combination of golf and see-what-the-guy-in-the-window-seat-is-reading views would be worth the price of admission and then some. Also, there was a bar, which I thought could be fun afterwards.

We bought our buckets and approached the large, screened-in range (were it not for the tall screen walls, the high bay winds would no doubt carry off a significant portion of their range ball inventory, comically plonking them down onto the heads of sea lions, who would then feel disinclined to return them). It was one of those double-decker structures, where a second story houses another range of mats and tees. Finding the first story full-up, we climbed the stairs to the next. We located a few neighboring mats, and after some gentle joshing and good-spirited canavery, we selected our warm-up clubs and teed the first ball.

It becomes salient, at this point, to note that the edge of the astroturf mat went right up to the precipice of the second story, so that not twelve inches from my left foot was an unprotected drop of at least fifteen feet. I should also note that a golf swing involves the transfer of a lot of momentum in the direction of that very same left foot. Look at photos of golfers who have just completed their swings: the entire weight of their body rests on the outstep of their left sole. One misstep and I'd tumble off the platform to the ground below, no doubt taking a few 160MPH Maxfli's in the knees and teeth on the way down.

Think: had I taken any missteps in the past, on flat ranges? Dozens of instances sprang to mind, perhaps amplified by my rapidly maturing acrophobia. There was that time in high school, when I'd swung my driver so hard that I came to rest a good ten feet out into the range...the five-iron with the head so heavy it carried me off into the air after my ball...the time I fell over to my left simply because I saw a woman of average beauty. True or not, my mind was beginning to shake on the rails of reason.

Wincing a bit while stepping up to my ball with a fairway wood, I gamely waggled and settled into striking position. How was I going to do this without falling off the structure? One solution might be to swing incredibly slowly, perhaps like a mime in a strong wind, I reasoned. Or maybe a chuck-swing, a 1/4-arc bleck meant to look like you're practicing punching out of trees with a low iron. Okay, I thought. Hold it right there. Nobody punches out of trees with a 3-wood. And regardless of club choice, nobody at the San Mateo Swat & Swill practices odd-looking, unsexy utility shots in front of the other off-shift cell phone salesmen. These are the kind of specialty shots that Nick Faldo might practice once in his career, on the professionally landscaped, heavily-treed Bilbao estate of Seve Ballesteros. The guys at the Swat & Swill? They're trying to crush shots as hard as they can, because (a) they want to show off, and (b) they make a living lying to people who know that they're morons.

I'll just act like I'm deconstructing my swing, I think. I'll swing slowly enough that I can't fall off the structure. No one'll notice me. I wear glasses, for goodness' sake — most guys at cheap public driving ranges already write me off as invisible. I might as well be a successful woman with computer skills.

I draw the club back, twenty-five years' worth of muscle memory guiding my arms. I feel goofy, but I keep the timing in proportion. I cock my wrists at the top and begin the downswing. Don't want to fall, don't want to die. Just got to get the club head through the danger zone and not topple off the building. Swinging real slow, now. Real measured.

The sweet spot of the thirty-year old stiff-shafted persimmon club hits the ball and it flies away with the beautiful, calm clack of one croquet ball striking another. Pay attention to what I just said. This sound does not occur in nature, particularly on golf courses. Modern "woods" are engineered to give off a satisfying metallic TING!, the sort of thing you might hear when a cartoon railway worker drives a spike with his big silver hammer.

The sound was so unusual, in fact, that the fellow in front of me turned around, looked at my club, and then furled his nostrils as though I were standing there in overalls swinging a mattock. The ball landed a respectable 230 yards downfield, an achievement that seemed impossible given my "underwater clown" swing velocity. It was what you might call a breakthrough moment, sort of like when Benjamin Franklin bumped his head on a towel rack and invented the post office.

The next five dozen balls went much the same way, up and down the irons and woods, swinging so slowly that at any given moment you could have stuck your face into the path of my swing, blocked my clubhead with the surface of your open eye, and closed your eyelid around it so as to keep me from easily pulling the club back. A magnificent feeling reared its golden-coiffed head within me as ball after ball soared straight and true over the grass.

Once in a great while I will allow myself to think that I have achieved something remarkable (the last time being that late, late drug- and alcohol-fueled night in 1998 when I noticed the little arrow hidden in the FedEx logo). Upon the depletion of our buckets, my friend and I trotted back down the steps to the bar. In my giddiness, I peeled a twenty out of my wallet, handed it to him, and grinned a nearly inaudible "Hiiii!" He was on the case immediately, and before long we were mulling things over a couple of draft beers and a bowl of used popcorn. I pulled off my cap and smoothed my sweat-soaked hair. It seemed like I was onto something. Was it too late to join the tour? I'm pretty much tour-quality, I reasoned. I can hit the ball straight, I'm used to high levels of stress (thanks to my job of drawing unemployed cats whenever I feel like it), and on more than one occasion I've had gin while waiting for the morning paper to arrive.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A brief statement on the position that golf occupies in my life.

If you're like me, you more or less grew up on a golf course. I don't mean a place with lush grass, zippy carts, and people named Brent, or Brad, or even Bob. My nines were mangy red-dirt places in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, where you paid five dollars to the blind old lady at the counter in the "clubhouse" (a rickety wooden shack where one presumed that, after dark, they moved aside the ancient picnic table and began filming the mule-sex videos) for the all-day rights to go out and lose your ball down rattler holes. If the other players on the course even had names, they were likely Bodie, Bud, or the haunting, telltale "Junior," a moniker that, in those parts, implied an entire family's wholesale dismissal of written language. [Cut to "ma," washing clothing in a tub on a sagging porch, discussing the alphabet with the off-screen documentary journalist: "Ain't need no alphabet what ta tell Junior he's gon' die by skeeter bites he keeps stickin' his willie in that mule come twilight, that's when they come out, don'tcha ken."]

My main course, a place that went by the name of Sierra Pines, is now a series of fallow, untended apple orchards. In its heyday, which I'll casually define as the time when I played there — since I seem to have been the only guy who ever replaced his divots — there were a couple cranky gas carts that tourists used, a pretty horrid looking groundskeeper (read: cirrhosis on a rider-mower) and a wizened club "pro" who exhibited neither professionalism nor any real understanding of the game. To wit: the time he held the blind old lady hostage in a drunken rage, and the police shot him in the arms. Unerringly in-character for Sierra Pines, the pro went back to work alongside the blind lady a few months later, albeit in a diminished teaching capacity, as his arms now bore a striking resemblance to driftwood. In true foothills fashion, I actually took a lesson from him after he'd been shot to pieces (not money well spent, as I'll tell you soon).

Like most golfers, my extreme emotional problems lead me to swing too hard at the ball. In my case, this leads to a strong slice (when a struck ball shoots out, then curves off to the right). At one point, perhaps around age fifteen, I'd hit a wall in working on this problem, and my dad, sick of watching me not listen to anything he was saying, decided to buy me a lesson with the "pro" one day. It should have been telling that on the clubhouse price board, a half-hour lesson was the same price as a gin & tonic.

I stood waiting at the driving range, five-iron in hand, bucket of balls at my feet. "Destroyed Cochlea Mel," let's call him, came shuffling down the pine-needle strewn path. "ORZENBLATT? ORZENBLATT?" he called. Figuring he was looking for me, and not the pot-bellied six year old swapping at pine cones with a switch of cedar, I waved him over.

I was somewhat surprised that his "lesson" was actually less about the mechanics of a good swing, and more about how life will betray you, and steal the game you love from you, and featured several grotesque demonstrations (using my own clubs) of how he couldn't even "swing a god-damned nine-iron" [it was a five iron, as I have mentioned elsewhere] anymore. He was right: the sloppily repaired tendons and muscles in his arms afforded no range of motion befitting a traditional swing. It was kind of like watching...A GOLF SWING, BY DAVID LYNCH.

My father is an excellent golfer. He grew up playing the munis — the cheap municipal courses — in Oakland in the sixties. He's not fazed by a forty-five degree downhill lie to a green sixty yards away and he brought his one iron instead of his lob wedge. He probably practiced that combo fifty thousand times as a teenager, while avoiding going home to his four sisters. He'll get it within six feet of the pin, and one-putt. He put his all into teaching me to play, but for the most part I was a C student. Giving me golf instructions was probably a lot like shaking a Magic 8-Ball: "Can you please break your left wrist earlier in your downswing?" "REPLY UNCERTAIN, DAD. I MOSTLY TAKE AFTER MOM?"

The clubs I use now were the clubs he treated himself to the year I was born, 1975. (The year my daughter was born, I treated myself to a brewery tour and a banjo. Say what, Junior? More Testors? Yeah, it's premium, but you get what you pay for, brahhh.) They're ancient Wilson-Staffs with ancient engineering. There's no perimeter weighting, personally adjustable counterbalancing (what in the name of all that is holy is TaylorMade up to?!) or FancyShaft technology. I think the shafts are filled with Cutty Sark, and the heads of the woods are actual wood, made from wood, with, like, a knothole as a sweet spot, and a small tap at the rear of the hosel.

I will be the first to admit that I am annoying about not playing with modern clubs. You ever watch that America's Test Kitchen cooking show, with Christopher Kimball, where he wears a bow tie and acts like he is angry that no one cooks pancakes like Abraham Lincoln anymore? And he always spent the weekend helping a neighbor pull an old red tractor out of mud? That is how I am about my golf clubs. I struggled hard to learn how to get the ball down the fairway, and now here's this generation of two-lesson junior Chrysler salesmen with silver drivers the size of chowder-in-a-sourdough-bowl slapping three hundred yard tee shots without so much as taking off their beer helmets and bluetooth earpieces. These guys swing at the ball like they were trying to kill a mouse with a broom, and their Titleist flies straight and true. Pretty soon all we're going to have to do is pull up to the pro shop, punch a button that says "9 HOLES," insert fifty bucks, and the machine will spit out a card that reads, "YOU SHOT PAR! GOOD JOB. 25% OFF CHICKEN WINGS AND ALL BIG BERTHA MERCHANDISE!"

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Internet is crazy for cat schlong!

Wow, what a crazy ride! Late Saturday, I posted this comic. I awoke on Sunday, took a look at it, and wasn't entirely sure that I liked the big rigid schlong in the last panel. I didn't think it was necessary. So, I changed it. I gave Pat a smooth, Ken doll pubis. He still had on assless chaps, sported a Freddie Mercury mustache, and was aggressively involved in the consumption of delicious meat products. "No one who hasn't seen the original will care," I reasoned.

My inbox immediately began to fill with angry reader mail. "Why did you censor out Pat's d%$#?" one fellow wrote. "Dude it was way better with the cack," wrote another, this time a young female, apparently from New England. All in all, I received hundreds of emails more or less insisting that I reinstate the version of the strip which you see today.

As a working artist, I'm perpetually torn between the desire to put forth what I think is my pure vision for Achewood, and the desire to satisfy the reader's craving for rock-hard cat cock. I don't like to compromise, but in cases like this, it seems to serve the greater good. To this day, I receive email thanking me for going back to the original. I have even toyed with the idea of offering a mousepad or coffee mug that features the phrase, "ROCK-HARD CAT COCK." Perhaps in blue, with underlining, to look like a hyperlink.

TRIVIA THAT I SHOULD THINK ABOUT: Did you know that Achewood has shown over three penises but never so much as a woman's naked breast?

Anyhow, that's my blog for today. I'm also in the market for a jogging stroller, but I don't know which brands are good. How about that for an ending point of overwhelming mediocrity.