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Volume 37 Issue 15 • August 2 - 8, 2007
now in our 37th season

Men at Play

by Robert P. Barsanti

On Wednesday, I stood amidst a thicket of blueberry and scrub oak, holding a silver horseshoe in one hand, a bourbon in the other, and my hopes not to embarrass myself I set on the ground next to me. 

Horseshoes has never been a game for me.  Nor has bocce, volleyball, croquet, or softball.  Unlike my host, I would never carve fifty feet of brush for a regulation horseshoe court, borrow the clay from a local tennis club, or light the whole thing for night time play.  But that didn’t stop me from standing in the square and aiming the shoe at the 14-inch spike. 

At the time, I was playing with a Canadian.  Unlike those of us from the lower 48, this Canadian hadn’t had a sense of shame or fear imprinted on him at an early age.  Instead, he flung the horseshoes in roughly the right direction in between swills of beer.  To our American chagrin, he managed several game ending ringers.  Luckily, also being Canadian, he had no idea he had won.

All the silly sports come out in the summer.  The light lasts into prime time, the fog rolls in during the evening, and we find ourselves in the company of friends.  When I was a kid, playing on Plymouth Road, we had to come in when the streetlights came on.  Up until then, we ran through the yards of the neighbors fueled by Kool-Aid and Space Bars.  Now, as an adult, we can stay out after the lights come on, but we no longer have the energy to run through the yards.  Instead of tag, we play games that won’t spill our drinks. 

We played spill-proof golf on Friday.  Golf is much more to my taste, yet I have more affection for the sport than it has for me.  We have all advanced to a level where we don’t embarrass ourselves on every hole and where, if we played and practiced a little bit more, we could really waste a lot of time away from those that need us.  So much of our summer games seem to be such wastes of space, time, and money.  George Carlin is right; all of the golf courses should become house lots for the homeless.  Yet, my Friday afternoons would be so much poorer for its loss.  I spend much of the week looking forward to losing on the golf course.

Mark Twain was right; golf is a good walk spoiled.  But, it is hard to find a better reason for that walk.  My constitutionals around Miacomet give me the opportunity to send valuable golf balls into environmentally sensitive areas.  Red Tail Hawks circle my errant drives.  The sun sets on my grandmotherly putts.  The ocean roars to my greenside shanks.  Without golf, I could be of use; I could be cooking for my children, folding the laundry, or painting the fence.  Instead, I am walking in the moors and wasting time and money.

Even that is too simple.  Golf, horseshoes, and the rest of the silly summer sports have an intricate Virginia Reel of customs and rules.  Most of those rules involve bragging rights.  Losers walk off the court.  You have to let the winner tee off first.  You have to pay your debts right there on the golf course and you have to buy drinks afterwards.  The winner can preen and look smug: the loser can taunt and mock.  In my most recent match, the loser stuffed empty beer cans into the winner’s golf bag.  The winner, on the final tee, repaid the favor with poison ivy.  On another round, we spent much of the round loosening each other’s golf bags from the golf carts and laughing ourselves hoarse when the bag fell to earth.  Even the Canadian enjoyed that.

It’s just another outdoor game, it comes to little more.  Every game of horseshoes, bocce, or golf is forgotten six hours after it was played.  Very few men go to the nursing home with their Challenge Cups and Member-Guest trophies up over the TV.  The dance of golfballs and horseshoes lasts about as long as every other dance does.  Yet, no one dances for the sake of dancing.  When we dance with our wives and our loved ones, we dance with them and for them. We don’t dance in order to win or feed the kids or paint the fence.  We dance because we love. 

So it is with men and golf.  In the words of Robert Frost,” by indirection, we find direction out.”  In our world, men can’t look at each other and proclaim their love for each other.  Instead of saying “I love you,” we say “I love to beat you.”  It’s far easier to sight a bocce ball, a thirty foot putt, or a horseshoe than it is to proclaim affection.  We parcel out our love in gimmes and two dollar Nassaus; we write valentines in score cards; we make presents out of poison ivy and crushed beer cans.  The dance is the same at Sankaty as at Miacomet.  Only the money and the drinks are different. 

On Wednesday, I did embarrass myself.  Slightly more than half of my tosses landed on the clay, never mind near the spike.  I may have scored two or three points.  Time will happily wipe that particular score card clean, as it has my golf , bocce, and croquet scores.  Like the ice cubes in my tumbler, all of it will melt away in the heat of a July evening.  As the darkness settles in around us, what remains are the voices of friends spun and woven into a rope that binds us together, even if it says “I look forward to crushing you again.”

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