It took me twenty-five years to make a decision.
December 3rd, 2009
I woke up to my cell phone vibrating on the nightstand in my hotel room. I cringed at the artificial softness of the blanket as I tossed it aside, and then reached over to click the phone off. It was the date that struck me, December third. Immediately, I had the feeling that I had forgotten something. The feeling a husband might have when he returns home on the night of his anniversary. I tried to shake the notion as I rose out of bed, and made my way to the window. I pulled away the layers of flame retardant drapery, and looked into the nondescript parking lot. The sun had just begun to brighten the morning sky, but offered no warmth to the scenery. Surrounded by strip malls, a four lane divided highway stretching infinitely in each direction I thought of people experiencing similar views from identical hotel windows all over the country.
It was an important day, another in a series of days that were supposed to shape my future. The mixed feelings of hunger and anxiety occupied my stomach as I retreated from the window to start my morning routine. I flipped on the television, and sat back down on the bed. I wasn’t interested in the familiar rhythms of the Sportscenter anchors, and I began flipping through the channels. Finding the pay-per-view guide I briefly debated the merits of jerking off, before deciding against it, and instead I made my way to the closet. The row of neatly pressed khakis and polo shirts belied my sloppy tendencies. I selected and outfit, and placed it on the comforter of the extra bed in my room. I stepped out of my boxer shorts, balled them up, and tossed them towards the empty suitcase against the wall. Nude, I walked into the bathroom, and for the second time that morning I thought about December third.
I didn’t want to look at myself in the mirror, but there it was, and I paused for a second to allow myself a moment of vanity. The reflection looked older than I was, but about right for how I felt. I ran my fingers through my hair disappointed with the increasing amount of premature gray. I alternated between sucking my stomach in, and pushing it out to its fullest circumference, all the time wondering what had become of my abdominal muscles. In order to salvage the mood of the morning I clenched my fists, and watched the pronounced muscles of my forearms flex in the mirror. Satisfied with this last bastion of physical strength I looked away, and turned on the shower.
I always needed to be conscious of how much time I spent in the shower. The healing powers of the hot water would lure me into staying too long, and provide a comfortable environment for the exploration of my thoughts. It was during times like these that I often wondered if my mind would ever be at ease, and sometimes I convinced myself that if I could stay under the pelting water that I would be all right. But, hot water doesn’t last forever, and the sudden tepidness of the shower reminded me that I was probably running late. I shut off the water, and allowed myself to air dry as I rushed through a minimalist regimen of personal hygiene. The stubble would have to say, and I left the bathroom still wet enough to leave footprints on the carpet.
I dressed quickly, and rushed to loop a belt through my freshly creased pants. I pulled a baseball hat on over my wet hair, and went to the nightstand to retrieve my cell phone, and money clip. I ignored an incoming message from Paul, and put the phone into my front pocket. I grabbed my money clip, checked quickly for the room key, and while sliding it into my back pocket I noticed that the pocket was not empty. I felt the object in my hands, and was expecting a fifty cent piece, but when it revealed itself I suddenly realized that I had not worn this particular pair of pants for quite some time. I rubbed the small silver medallion between my thumb and forefinger, and thought again about December the third. This time though, I was blessed with total clarity.
I stared at the piece of metal for a full minute remembering its significance, and relieved that I had found it again. I was no longer feeling rushed, and I took my time packing up my suitcase. I grabbed my golf bag, double checked the room for anything I might be leaving behind, and then left my Residence Inn life behind, hopefully for good. On the ride down the elevator I left a message for Paul, and then shut off my phone. I knew he would understand, and honestly I wasn’t concerned about him at that moment. Loaded into my rental car I drove straight for the airport, not even looking twice at the exit I would have taken to get the golf course.
The entrance to The Lake Club was not what I was expecting. After hearing it described as a place of golf decadence, I had envisioned a massive gated entrance complete with uniformed security. What I found was a non-descript gravel driveway cutting through a dense row of pine trees directly across the street from Franco’s Pizza and an Exxon station. The drive to Dune Harbor, Michigan had taken nearly ten hours, and the sun was rapidly falling in the sky by the time I reached my destination. I had traveled west with a distinct purpose, trying to put as much distance as possible between myself and the Philadelphia suburbs where I grew up. I had packed lightly, filling my Honda with just a duffel bag full of clothes, my computer, and my golf clubs. I wasn’t eager to get back on the course, but my new job as The Lake Club’s assistant golf professional would require me to play.
I followed the one lane drive for nearly a half-mile before rounding a bend, where The Lake Club unfolded in front of me. Suddenly, there wasn’t a tree in sight, just sand dunes, and perfectly mannered fairways. As I slowed to take in the course I noticed a golfer and caddy walking in solitude towards the green closest to me. They seemed to pause, noticing my presence, and wondering why their peace had been disturbed. It was clear that they expected to have the course to themselves, and I felt like an intruder as I pulled away. The road took me around a lake, past some guest cabins, and ultimately led me to the clubhouse, a massive stone and log structure that looked like it had been standing there for a hundred years.
I parked my car next to one of the three others that were in the lot, and followed a sign that directed me to the golf shop. I walked down a hill, around to the rear of the building, and passed the putting green where a lone golfer rolled putts with a glass of scotch sitting at his feet. If he noticed my presence he didn’t acknowledge it, keeping his gaze fixed on the target hole. The door to the golf shop was locked, but the light was still on, and through the glass I noticed Randy Weld gathering up some papers on the counter. I knocked gently on the window, and it startled Randy for a moment before he turned, and recognized me. A wide smile came across his face as he set his papers down.
Randy was a large man, easily over six feet tall. He carried his extra weight gracefully, still very much resembling the great athlete he had once been. He had a shock of neatly maintained white hair, and a deep tan from spending the winter in the Caribbean. A long time friend of the family, he had played high school baseball with my father before going to Florida for college, and then the mini-tours. He played one year on the PGA Tour without success, before calling it quits for good, and taking a club pro job. Through the years Randy had held a handful of head jobs including one back in the Philadelphia area before settling at The Lake Club, a choice position that allowed him to winter at a course in Jamaica. Randy had been my salvation a few times during my life, once pulling me out of my first ever slump as a player, and now most recently giving me a job. I probably could have gotten a similar position at a lot of courses, but the low intensity environment of The Lake Club was what I needed.
“I was just about to give you a call, I didn’t think you were going to make it tonight,” Randy said after he opened the door. He shook my hand vigorously.
“I got a little bit of a late start,” I answered.
“Well, you’re here now. Might as well come on in for the tour, and then I’ll take you over to where you’ll be staying.”
Randy flipped on a few lights, illuminating the spacious golf shop. It was a showroom of clothing and equipment, each high end manufacturer allotted its own space.
“We sell almost exclusively high end stuff in here, not a lot of people coming in looking for discounts if you catch my drift. The club business is almost all custom-fitting these days, of course I don’t have to tell you that. Basically, we just set up the launch monitor, throw some numbers around, and sell them the 200 dollar shaft upgrade. Think you can handle that?”
“Sure,” I said. “Optimize launch angle and smash factor.”
“You’re going to fit right in,” Randy chuckled. “Come on, I’ll show you your office.”
We walked behind the shop’s counter and through a door that opened into an office. A computer sat on a bare desk, and a couple of club boxes sat against one wall. On another wall there was an empty locker and a large supply closet.
“This is your locker, use it however you’d like. Put everything in there, don’t use it at all, I don’t care. We are on staff with Titleist, though, so at least a place to put your freebies. Uh, pretty much everything you could need supply wise is in this closet. From pens to score sheets, light bulbs, everything,” Randy stared into the closet for a moment, confirming its contents, and then went on with the tour. “Down that hallway is the bathroom, and I’m in that office there,” Randy nodded towards a closed door.
“Looks good,” I said.
“Great,” Randy answered with an enthusiasm that I lacked. “We’ll have a good year, we’ll still be slow for a while, so they’ll be plenty of time to show you everything you need to know. You want to get out of here? I bet you’re anxious to see the place.”
I agreed, and I followed Randy out of the shop. He gave me a quick rundown on lock-up procedure, and then gave me a set of keys that he took from his jacket. We went around to the bag room, where I met Duke, who seemed to be in charge of everything that happened outside, and then back out in front of the clubhouse Randy revealed the secret location of the employee parking lot, and then pulled his car around to lead me towards my living quarters.
The drive to my small house lasted less than five minutes. We were barely back on the main road, before pulling into another narrow driveway. About fifty yards from the road stood a single level log cabin. A light illuminated the front entry. I parked next to Randy’s Mercedes, and by the time I could shut off my engine he was already opening up my car door, offering more explanations.
“Here we are,” he said.
“Looks great,” I offered.
“I wouldn’t get too excited,” Randy deadpanned. “I stayed in much worse back in the day, though,” he continued, leading the way over to the garage.
“You can park in here if you want, but it’s a manual door. There’s an entrance to the house in there, it’s all the same key, it’s on that ring I gave you. Come on, we’ll go in the front.”
Randy opened the door with a key from his own ring, and we walked into the small cabin. It took him a moment to find the light switch, but soon enough the cabin was in full sight. A sitting area opened up in front of me, sparsely decorated with a mismatched couch and chair. A brand new television sat atop a folding card table.
“Like the entertainment center?” Randy asked. “Cable will be hooked up sometime this week.”
“Looks perfect,” I laughed.
“Ok, so yeah, that’s the living area. The kitchen is around here. I don’t know if you cook or anything, but there’s all kind of pots and shit in here. I had Maureen stock the fridge with some basics, get you through a couple meals until you can find your way around. There’s always Franco’s, which I’m sure you saw on your way in. Pretty good food there.”
Randy opened the fridge to prove that it was, in fact, stocked. I looked in at a case of water, some Gatorade, a carton of milk, a six pack of Miller Lite, eggs, butter, a loaf of bread and some cold cuts. The freezer opened next housing a couple frozen pizzas and an ice-maker.
“That was awfully nice of you Randy. I could have managed on my own, and make sure you thank Maureen for me too.”
“You can thank her yourself. You’ll meet her tomorrow. She kind of runs the show in the golf shop, saves us from doing most of the mundane bullshit. You’ll like her, everyone does.”
I nodded. “Sounds good.”
“You still don’t say much, huh? All right, I guess you’re just taking it all in, come on, tour’s almost over.” Randy waved me in the direction of a hallway.
We passed an empty bedroom and bathroom, and arrived in the master bedroom. A queen-sized bed was pushed into one corner, and a dresser sat against another wall. The room was lighted by a single bulb that sat dead center in the ceiling, and the walls were completely bare except for haphazardly hung mirror. Through an open door I could see into the bathroom.
“Here’s the King’s quarters.” Randy joked. “Not much to look at I’m afraid. You can do whatever you want to the place, not that it would make much sense. The can’s through there, feel free to have visitors, just don’t try to rent out the spare bedroom or anything, ok?”
“No problem,” I answered.
“Ok, well I guess that’s it. You all set, have any questions? I have to get home to the wife for dinner. I’ll have you over to meet her sometime once you get settled in. I didn’t want to hit you with that the first night,” Randy waited for an answer.
“I can’t think of anything Randy. I think I’m set. I’ll be fine. I really appreciate everything. I really do, you went above and beyond here.”
“Oh, that’s horseshit. I didn’t do a thing. What are friends for?” He knocked me on the shoulder as he walked past me, and back down the hall towards the front door.
“Well thanks anyway,” I offered again.
I followed Randy out of the house, and he reminded me to be in at ten o’clock the next morning. I watched him pull away, and then went over to my car to bring my things in. Slinging my laptop case over one shoulder and carrying my large duffel bag in the other hand, I successfully unpacked in one trip.
Back inside I took my time unpacking my clothes, and then went to the fridge where I grabbed a bottle of water. I walked over to the couch and crashed into it, remembering a moment later that Randy had said the television was not hooked up yet. I sat in the silence for a minute or two, taking in my surroundings. I chugged the water quickly, and walked back into the kitchen, and stared at the open refrigerator. I was already bored, but not bored enough to cook my own dinner. Unable to think of anything else to do, I walked into the bedroom, grabbed a pullover from the closet, and then left the cabin. I pointed my car in the direction of the only place I knew in town, Franco’s Pizza. A minute later, I was there.
Franco’s boasted its original décor, tables and chairs that looked like relics from the seventies, but any reservations I had about the place were erased by the unmistakable aroma of good food. I surveyed the mostly empty room of tables, and peered into a back room that housed a pool table, and some other games before deciding on a seat at the end of the bar. I pulled a menu from a rack in front of me, and went about deciding on dinner.
“Looking a little lonely all the way down here, get you a drink?”
I looked up over the menu, and the first thing I saw a big, wide smile. Its owner was a young woman in a Franco’s Pizza t-shirt. Her dark brown hair was pulled into a ponytail, and a beautiful face showed no traces of make-up. I realized I was staring, and had been posed a question.
“Gin and Tonic?” I offered meekly.
“Not from around here, huh?” The bartender asked.
“What makes you say that?”
“Oh, just that I know about everyone that comes in here, and not one of them drinks gin and tonic. Where you from, Chicago?”
“Philadelphia,” I answered.
“Long way from home, well we don’t have any of your fancy big city gins here, but I’ll make you up something. You’ll never know the difference.”
With that, she turned and walked towards the middle of the bar. I fought the urge to watch her walk away, and went back to my menu. A moment later a drink was placed in front of me.
“You looked like a lime guy,” she said, pointing out the fruit stuck to the rim of my glass.
“You’re good,” I answered, taking a quick sip of the drink. “You make a good drink, must be the tonic water.”
“Hah, must be. So what are you going to have to eat?”
“How’s the chicken parm?” I asked after a last look at the menu.
“All right, I’ll give it a try.”
“It’ll be right out,” she said, taking my menu from me, and putting it back in the rack. This time when she walked back into the kitchen, I couldn’t help but watch.
Within ten minutes I was enjoying my chicken, and in order to fit a little bit better into my surroundings I made a smooth transition to bottled beer. My bartender checked in on me often, always with the same the smile, and when I finished my meal I thought about sticking around and getting drunk, but remembered my first day of work in the morning. I thanked the gorgeous brunette who had made my night, and in absence of normal behavior like asking her name, I simply left her an inordinately large tip, and left.
I was in bed back at the cabin before ten o’clock, and as much as I wanted to get some sleep I stared blankly at the ceiling. It was a position I found myself in on most nights. Laying in bed, thinking about the past, the future, and of course thinking about my old friend Chris Floyd. Eventually I relented to my fatigue, but not before allowing my mind to drift to the brunette that tended bar at Franco’s Pizza.