A Coat Tale of Two Cities

A collection of reminiscences, short stories and essays
by Larry Maloney

Copyright © 1998 by Larry Maloney.
Illustrations: Copyright © 1998 Carole Best.
All rights reserved.
Published by Muzmo Communication Inc., 1998

The Fun Had Gone Out Of The Game

I’m glad I’m not like some people, whose entire life revolves around the game of golf. Bernie was one of those addicted people until two days ago. But his life won’t revolve around anything, anymore, because we buried old Bernie today.

I wish I could tell you that he died exhibiting some semblance of class related to his addiction, but I can’t. I wish I could say, as an example, that he scored a hole-in-one and his heart had failed from the excitement. But my words wouldn’t ring true because I’d be thinking it more likely, that if he were to die in such a situation, it would be from the shock of having to pay for the customary round of drinks.

Or I would like to have been able to say that he died in his sleep with a smile on his face, perhaps dreaming that he had finally cured his slice. But, no, I can’t say that either because we all know that he couldn’t keep his head down long enough to cure anything. So the truth is, when Bernie practically dropped out of this life, his departure was far from romantic or dignified and he paid the price for his addiction.

The three of us who golfed regularly with Bernie are also paying a price because of his bizarre accident. It’s been quite an ordeal. It’s never easy to lose a friend, regardless of the circumstances, but this accident threatened our very lifestyle. What with everything else, for example, we agonized for several days about the need to attend the funeral. Stormy weather finally solved the problem for us when the golf course was forced to close as a result of heavy rains. Since our scheduled match was postponed, we were able to participate in the funeral service after all.

We satisfied protocol by our attendance but we can’t solve our own emotional problems so easily. Bernie’s interment today was especially unsettling for us because we’d seen him buried before. The first time was on the golf course, under weird circumstances, without pomp or ceremony. And regardless of how philosophical we have been in the past about losses on a golf course, like balls or sweaters or even a favorite club, we were not prepared to deal with what happened to Bernie. None of us had ever lost a real live golfer on a golf course before.

It should never have happened, but old Bernie was stubborn. He’d never acknowledge that a ball was lost until he had used up, at least, the allowable five-minutes-searching-time, regardless of the wildness of the terrain. Maybe we would have reacted sooner that day, except that we’ve had to help Bernie in the rough so many times before.

On the fourteenth hole, he hit a solid line drive, which unfortunately sailed over the fence into the swamp. He was livid. His second attempt started down the middle and then took the characteristic right-angled bend, ending up over the fence somewhere near his first ball. Instead of teeing up a third ball, he stomped off in the general direction his balls had taken, mouthing blasphemous obscenities with every step. We never knew what to expect next when Bernie was in that type of mood.

He declined an offer to ride and so I drove the cart to my ball on the left side of the fairway. I looked back across and saw that Pat and Len had reached their drives. Just beyond Pat, I saw Bernie climbing the wobbling six-foot wire fence, risking continuance of his seventy years of life and completely disregarding our warnings about snakes and alligators in the marshy rough on the other side of the fence.

Pat was lining up his fairway wood, when he heard the first yell. That’s when he caught a glimpse of Bernie struggling waist deep in the muck. Pat told me afterwards that at that instance he had, in fact, hesitated. He was undecided whether to hit the ball then or to wait until Bernie stopped his loud and inconsiderate screaming. It is to Pat’s credit that he was able to hit a respectable shot in spite of what was an extremely unsportsman-like distraction. After the normal amount of posing time that is one’s due, following a good shot, he stopped only long enough to give his five wood a brief wipe with the towel before turning back to check on Bernie.

Len and I arrived at the fence at about the same time as Pat. Our initial feeling of irritation at seeing Bernie, wasting valuable playing time while wallowing in the mud, quickly changed to feelings of amusement and then outright embarrassment. Here was the normally dapper Bernie, our esteemed elder member, hatless, hair flying, and arms flailing. His upraised, mud-splattered face was hardly recognizable as he howled to heaven. We wondered how the officials of the club membership committee would have reacted to this sorry sight with its flagrant abuse of the dress and grooming codes.

Bernie’s impatient yelling grew louder as he waited for us to take action. I admit there was a slight delay while Pat fumbled for a coin. Len finally lost the toss, but only after insisting on two out of three. Wisely taking his long shafted putter, he reluctantly climbed over the fence and reached one hand back to us to form a human chain. He extended the putter and Bernie eagerly reached and clutched it with both hands as his shouting changed to a gaspy snivel.

I hate to see a grown man cry and I called out encouragement, “Just hold on, Kid, we’ll get you out.”

We dug our heels in and the tug of war began. For a moment I thought we were going to prevail. Unfortunately Len, whose normal backhanded, overlapping grip, is extremely weak, even with two hands, had no chance whatsoever. With only one hand on the club, he simply could not hold on. The club was soon pulled out of his hand, and with resistance gone, we all fell back. That’s when Bernie sank slowly out of sight.

As I thought of my last words to Bernie, “We’ll get you out Kid,” we saw two giant air bubbles break the surface of the mud and I swear they were Bernie’s sarcastic last breaths saying, “Yeah. Right.”

The help that arrived soon after managed to grab the short end of the putter handle that still protruded from the mud and they pulled Bernie free. After lifting him over the fence, we propped Bernie up in the golf cart, as best we could. It was difficult what with his rigid arms still extending over his head as if stopped at the top of an exaggerated and very upright backswing. Len made it even more difficult as he climbed all over us trying desperately to pry his cherished long-shafted putter out of Bernie’s death grip.

We leaned against the cart, shaken and distraught.

Because of the long delay, we graciously let the group behind us play through. They rewarded our demonstration of golf etiquette with a barrage of remarks; remarks which were quite rude at best, questioning our intelligence and our parentage. Then they threatened to report our misuse of the golf cart; first, for letting an alien-like-being ride in a members-only golf cart, and second, for allowing that alien-being to ride in a standing position.

The Fun Had Gone Out of the Game

We took stock of our situation. The four of us had started out early that morning, fresh and enthusiastic, sure of getting in 18 holes before the rain. Now, covered in mud, backs and arms aching from the exertion of our failed rescue, and behind our expected schedule, we had become the butt of scornful remarks from other members. We also realized that in addition to being made to feel like pariahs, we’d probably be disqualified from winning any prizes because we were now reduced to three players.

We were a discouraged group and what made it worse was that we were quite unsure of ever being able to find another Bernie; a guy whose whole life was golf and a guy that you could always beat for a buck or more.

Pat bitched that he’d never collect the 55 cents that Bernie owed him from yesterday and Len continued to grouse about losing the use of his putter. They weren’t very pleasant company.

I got extremely tired propping Bernie back into the cart each time he fell out. I didn’t mind but because of the extra exertion, my score suffered badly.

It’s just as well that I don’t take the game seriously because although we finished the final five holes, the fun had gone out of the game.