Fall 1991, Volume 8.2
The Golf Center at Ten-Acres
Ron Carlson was born in Logan, Utah. He grew up in Salt Lake City and was educated at the University of Utah. After ten years' teaching at the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut, Mr. Carlson returned to Utah to write fiction and to teach for the arts councils of Utah, Idaho, and Alaska. In 1986 he joined the faculty of Arizona State University.
Ron Carlson is the author of a collection of stories, The News of the World, (W.W. Norton 1987/Viking Penguin 1988) and two novels, Betrayed by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Truants. His work has appeared in Playboy, The New Yorker, Harper's, McCall's, Sports Illustrated, The North American Review, TriQuarterly, The New York Times, and other magazines and newspapers. His stories have been included in several anthologies including Sudden Fiction, Editors' Choice 1986, and Best American Stories 1987 (edited by Ann Beattie). His monologues have been produced at The Sundance Playwrights' Institute, The Philadelphia Festival Theatre, The Manhattan Punchline and The Salt Lake Acting Company. Mr. Carlson was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in fiction in 1985. His next book, a collection of stories titled Plan B, will be published by W.W. Norton in the fall of 1991. He lives with Elaine Carlson and their two sons in Tempe, Arizona, where he is the Director of the Creative Writing Program at Arizona State University.
See an interview with Ron Carlson in this issue of Weber Studies.
I'm sitting in a lawn chair in the shade of our house, spraying the kids as they run across the front lawn. We've clothes pinned an old bedspread and a tarp over the swingset, and the kids run from this tent to their playhouse as I try to strafe them. I am drinking real strong coffee which I made ten minutes ago as part of my save-the-afternoon mode, but I haven't typed a single job letter. I came across Janey and Calvin lying on the den rug like two wounded children in the sick blue light of the television, and we built the tent.
The kids dart into their tent and roll on the old padded blanket that years ago belonged to U-Haul to dry themselves and then they jump up in a second and peek back out at me. Calvin is fearless and skips back and forth openly on the yard, relishing the flashes of chilly water. Janey is playing it safe. She's excited hopping up and down every time Calvin returns and she helps dry him off and send him out again, but she has only ventured out once or twice.
I am quite divided. One part directs the hose to douse my youngsters and the other seems to watch from the roof. This is what I get. This is the extent of my new life, watering the tender children in my own yard, a golf pro sitting in a green chair, drinking coffee strong enough to chatter his molars, while his wife builds her world around the only Russian in the region to own a chain of pizza parlors. I smile. It's what you do with rue, don't you know: you smile. I smile at Janey's secret face peering through the seams of the tent. I smile at Calvin's bold grin, his body glistening in the sunlight. At two, he is already a good runner. Janey is as self conscious as I am, poor creature, and she has words for things. "Oh my god! Oh my god!" she cries every time Calvin runs back and she dries him off. And then she tries a variation from TV: "Thank god you're here!" It's all quite dramatic. She pokes her pretty face out and sees her father again. "Oh my god!" she says, her voice suffused with a nurse's concern, a sister's love.
A police cruiser pulls up in front of Roger Alguire's house and I put down the hose and go over. There are two officers in the front seat. Roger Alguire is in the backseat. His face is waxed and grimy, the skin under his eyes purple. It is the first time I have ever seen him look eighty, which is his age. I have a short conversation with the policemen and help retrieve Roger's metal detector from the trunk. Across the street, Janey and Calvin peek out of the tent. The police found Roger in Glade behind a convenience store. "Can you get him something to eat?" one cop says, escorting Roger to the door by an arm.
I grab the kids and raid our fridge and go back over to Roger's kitchen and heat him some pizza. Calvin is still wet, but climbs on the old man's lap anyway. Roger hasn't said anything. He seems oblivious to all of us, wet Calvin playing with his hand, Janey standing at attention in the corner, ready to run, and me putting pizza on a cookie sheet.
Calvin eats half the pizza. I want to ask Roger how he managed the twenty miles to Glade, but I just sit with him and wait for his color to return. Finally he starts nodding wearily, tracing the picture of Lenin in a chef's hat on the white Pizza box. He pats Calvin's little round belly and says, "How's my boy?" I can tell by his eyes that he's back, so I gather my children and we slip out. It's bath time back at our house.
After a long era of being on hold, a period during which we waited for the next thing to happen in our household, things have begun to shift. Everybody in my family is shaking out. Calvin starts: he has three emergencies a week. He falls off the kitchen counter having left no evidence of how he achieved the weird height. He is now a tough kid to watch Ñ I mean, he disappears. You'll have him underfoot and turn to pour a cup of coffee: he's gone. You'll find him beneath the bathroom sink checking out the Draino or sitting cross-legged beside the milk in the fridge, the door about to close. Janey has become a smart aleck and says, "Sick!" to anything her mother or I say. We were worried about her fitting in and now she's somehow become the leader of the pack at school and is busy not letting other kids fit in. And Tina. My wife has changed wardrobes. She goes to lunch twice a week with friends and talks it over. She may be sorry she married a golfer. She my be through with motherhood. I watch her when I can.
My work has run its course, though I don't talk about it. I went in with Mitch, Tina's brother, on a sad nine hole course at the edge of town, and now it's closed. As Mitch said the day he carted the TV out of the clubhouse: "How much golf can there be? There can only be so much golf." But that wasn't exactly it. The Golf Center at Ten-Acres was trouble from the start. We got a deal on the property, at least Mitch told me it was a deal. He knew I had the last of my prize money in the bank, and I think now he knew what we were getting into. But I should have seen it. I should have been alerted simply by the weird yellow color of the fairways and the cloying stench that rose from every bunker. The course was riddled with bumps, and of course later I was able to witness the garbage emerging: the tires, the home appliances. But for a long while I thought it might be all right. We tried. I'm not a good pro and Mitch is no host, but we tried. I knew we were finished when one day on the fourth green, as I waited for three dentists to putt out, the small pond beside the fairway caught fire. The next day I just stayed home and mowed the lawn and edged and raked. That was that. Some days now I water the kids.
Roger Alguire is our neighbor. He was the first television weatherman in this city. He began weather reporting in 1953 and then was the regular weatherman from 1955 until a few years ago. Roger is a tall, handsome man with resplendent wavy white hair who is no longer recognized in Fry's or Safeway as the weatherman. He is recognized as the tall man who spends his evenings in the local parks with his metal detector, scanning the ground for lost coins. He used to be seen every night with his wife Gretchen, who was also tall, and who also had a metal detector she swung over the sandy ground. They made an exotic couple in the park, darkness about to fall, moving rhythmically along the paths and through the playground, their postures somehow noble and aloof like rare animals feeding in the twilight. From time to time, Roger would kneel and fork something from the soil and drop it into the large pockets of his trousers.
One night Roger and Gretchen showed us their treasures. After dinner Tina left our front door open and we went across the street. In an empty bedroom, Roger and Gretchen had displayed their findings on a wall of bookshelves. The money was in mason jars: bottles of pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, half a jar of fifty cent pieces, and stacks of silver dollars. There was a shelf of tools, pliers and screwdrivers, and a shelf of nuts and bolts in peanut butter jars. On one shelf were seven pistols, cleaned and polished, and beside them twenty knives of every sort. On a velvet drape hundreds of gold and silver rings, many with stones. Beside the rings, were four feet of pins and brooches. Four directional compasses, a dozen watches, and a shelf of unidentifiable parts of things, little springs and levers. On one side were the one-of-a-kind items: an alarm clock, a tall silver trophy with a motorcycle on top, a silver cup inscribed with the name "Brian," a folding shovel, a toy locomotive, and a shiny brass whistle. There was more. Everything had been cleaned and laid out beautifully.
"We've found just over a thousand dollars, U.S. money," Roger said. They had a ledger. "Money isn't very hard to find."
"A thousand dollars," Tina said.
"People don't respect their change anymore," Gretchen said. "They throw it on the street."
"It's not the money," Roger said. "It's the finding." He waved his long arm at the shelves of bright objects. "These things would be lost. We found them. That's the excitement."
Gretchen smiled. She was a steady friend to him and shared all this. "And it gets us out of the house every night."
O.K., it was my money and Mitch made the deal. There is a picture of us putting up the sign: Golf Center at Ten-Acres. I liked the idea of owning a course, but I was never a good pro. I'm a good golfer and enjoy the game. At the University of Houston I was number one my last two years, and after that the three years I toured I paid my way plus banking almost ninety thousand. But I can't chat. There are too many times when I don't know what to say. Some guy will chip from sixty yards and bump the flag and I don't have a phrase. Some guy fanning in the trap, one, two, three, and so? What should I say? I've played with those clever guys, quick and funny, but it's not me. There is a lot of pain in nine holes Ñ three guys looking at you, waiting for a word.
When Gretchen died, about a year ago, we lost touch with Roger for a while. He wasn't in the parks and we didn't see him much. Things were different for us then, we were busy with a toddler and getting Janey settled in school and I was still going out to the Golf Center at Ten-Acres. Our golf carts were always getting flatsÑnails, screws, metal sliversÑand I spent a lot of time repairing them. Tina hadn't started having her lunches. We were just a family. I went over to Roger's house a week after the funeral and asked if I could give him a hand with anything, and he shucked me off civilly, just as I would have done to him in the same spot. It was all "How you doing?" and blustery good will, and in five minutes I was on the porch shaking hands and backing off.
Then a few weeks later, I started seeing him when I'd take Janey over to the big swings in the park some nights. He wandered alone, head down, listening for the whine of metal and watching the dial on his apparatus: green light for good metal, red for junk. He'd be there when we left. Some nights if I was out in the car I saw him along the canal in the dark, and once taking the sitter home after Tina and I had been to a movie, I saw him working his way across a vacant lot by the railroad tracks. It was midnight.
When you fail, even when it is something easily foreseen and almost expected, even if it is not exactly failure at all but some sure mix of stupidity, bad luck, and betrayal involving a golf course, even then, if you are a grown man with two little kids who seem headed for harm, and a mortgage that predicts with fiduciary certainty that you will lose your house in six months, when this kind of failure descends upon you, a freshly unemployed golf pro, you will look up from your pillow at your wife as she comes in late another night from some job interview, some rendezvous with her employer Sergei Primalov, a king of franchisers, a pizza czar, and before she drops her skirt to the floor, you will feel the wires cross in your heart and go hot with feelings you don't even know about.
Roger Alguire called me one day, this was six months or so after he'd buried his wife Gretchen. The kitchen was still his wife's kitchen; it had the feel of a woman. I've been in bachelor's places and they don't have the towels, the ceramics, the sense this is a room in which things have been cooked and cleaned for years and years. A bachelor's kitchen is not about the stove; it is about the fridge.
"Something's going on," he said. "And I need to talk to you." He sat me down and poured the coffee. "There's no surprise in this really," he told me, pushing the ceramic creamer to me. "We were married fifty-two years. Multiply it out, all those days. We knew each other. We," here Roger stopped and reset himself, lifting both hands from the table, "we could tell what each other was thinking."
I must have been nodding, because he said, "No, I don't think you understand. We could read each other's minds. These last few years we barely needed to speak. There were times . . . " Roger rose and poured us both another drop of coffee. My cup was still full. "There is going to be a message. She's going to be in touch."
Before I could react, he went into the garage and brought back three ancient golf clubs. They were wooden shafts, a wedge, a putter, and an eight iron, the heads deeply rusted. "I found these in the park, on the same path we used to walk. A foot deep. They weren't there before." He handed them to me. "Will you let me look around your golf course?"
It was a nice kitchen, really, a sunny room in the back of the house. There were a lot of ceramics on the window sill, squirrels and rabbits, and there were two red roosters on the wall. I didn't know what to say to Roger Alguire. The four or five times it has mattered in my life, I have not known what to say. There isn't a quick comeback or the right word in me. I told him I'd help him. I told him of course he could dig around on the Golf Center at Ten-Acres.
The only clue that Tina had given me in the seven years we have been wed is a clue that she has given me about seventy times and the clue is: "I thought things were going to be different than this." Unfortunately, I know what she means. She thought it was going to be great to be married to a golfer. She liked the tour and she liked the clothes you wear in such places and she liked her plans for me. I had been the only quiet man she'd ever dated and I now know she mistook it for something it is not. She didn't know that life was a little too public for me. Many nights, as she dresses to go out I hang around the bedroom waiting for other clues. There will be other clues. I dread them.
On a windy day, I drive Roger Alguire out to the Golf Center at Ten-Acres. I haven't been out in a while, and more things are missing. Mitch has taken all the carts, of course, and the tools from the repair shed are gone. They weren't his. The Clubhouse is still intactÑthat's my lock. I can still see Mitch in there when we first opened. The foursomes would stagger off the ninth, choking and nauseous from a day of Ten-Acres fumes and there would be Mitch in the Clubhouse, his hand on the beertap, grinning like a buffoon. Well, they all hurried by the window to their cars. He didn't sell two kegs of beer the whole year we were in business.
Today the breeze helps and we only catch periodic whiffs of the putrid chemical smell, an aroma like something dead and treated. Both ponds are dry and I see the rear end of what looks like a Studebaker emerging from the center of the small one. There is a lot more junk climbing out of the ground on every fairway and the greens are riddled with new mounds. The Golf Center at Ten-Acres. Roger Alguire ignores all this and simply adjusts the dials on his metal detector and starts off the first tee. The grass is still a vibrant eerie yellow-green, feeding on some fuel.
I remember when things started to go bad, I stopped one day at the hardware in Casa Mirage for painting masks we could sell in the Clubhouse. I asked the clerk there what he knew about the golf course and he told me it was built on the old Ocotillo landfill. "It was bad," he said. "Golf won't save that property."
Roger calls to me from the middle of the fairway and I hustle down there with a shovel. It seems ridiculous and useful at once. He's got something on the meter, a small shape. Off to one side some huge bald thing is rising through the turf; it looks like the top of a bus. After a minute with the spade, I've uncovered, along with a wicked mess of thin copper wire, a metal tackle box. We kneel on the lawn and Roger opens it.
I don't know if there are any clues about people in the way they dress to go out. Some woman selects clothes from her closet and you're not going. It brings out the child in a person. When she is getting dressed and you're not going, it always seems portentous. Why that skirt, those new pantyhose? You've been wondering about her anyway and it's time to bring it up, the wondering. How will you do it? It's not an easy thing to bring up, really. You've lost your job or it lost you, some emptiness, and you're hanging around the house all day. When the phone rings it is not for you. You're a visitor here who happens to take care of the kids. How will you confront your wife with your feelings? Some night after you've been out digging up your own golf course, bring it up. Try it some time, when your ego is ashrivel, flaccid as an attitude in hell, go in and call the question.
"Tina," I say. She's pulling a powder blue sweater over her camisole.
"Where's Calvin?" she asks, her head still inside the wool, her naked underarms in my face. She's impatient to be gone having had the kids all day for the first time in five months.
I go into the kitchen and check the refrigerator first and then spot a movement in the living room. He's squeezed between the couch and the window, pinching flies. I hoist him to my hip and walk back into the bedroom. Tina has shaken out her hair now and is brushing it sharply one way and then the next.
"Tina, are you jogging the back nine?" I say. She brushes her hair, wincing with each stroke.
"Which course would that be?" she says, clapping the brush into the drawer and closing the drawer with her hip. But it is too late. Her hair shines and snaps like a prize animal's, a pony, something at a show where there will be ribbons. She knows which course; she knows the phrase from when we were first married and on the pro tour. On off days men in their ridiculous jogging suits would jog the fairways, their chins erect, unwittingly announcing that they'd taken a woman while on tour. They were new again: look, I can run.
"What's in your heart?" I ask, a stupid question in a blind moment from the cliff's edge, and Calvin squirms on my hip and says, "Dad," as if objecting to something, but Tina doesn't even turn my way. I look at Tina looking at herself in the mirror. My wife. She looks good in blue.
When you fall apart, when you crumble, it doesn't happen all at once, and you don't know about it the way you've known about others who suddenly cracked up; in fact, for weeks it only feels like too much coffee, too much pizza, not enough sleep, but you wonder if anything is the matter, if there is damage, so you look around for any signs and there are none for you to see, nothing crooked in your landscape. So listen: the way to tell is if you ever say no problem. Listen to hear if you say no problem.
As I said, things are shifting. Tina is busy. She has a leather daytimer and she's at it all the time, the phone pinched to one shoulder, writing things down. Her calendar thickens. After our little interview, I try to gather enough of myself together to keep from going absolutely down the drain. I watch Calvin as best I can and keep him from harm. It's diverting. He is a kid uninterested in TV; no ten hours of cartoons for this guy. If I turn it on and stand and watch half of a soft drink commercial, Calvin is down the block and half over somebody's pool fence. Calvin likes the back of the TV, and I have found him back there several times, licking the terminals: audio in, video in. Sometimes, I'll just put him on my shoulders and tour the house imagining our furniture on the driveway in the final garage sale.
At two-thirty, we walk over, Calvin and I, and meet Janey at school. She taught us early not to wait near her door. We are to stand at the corner of the schoolyard and we are not to wave and call her name. This is major, she told us. Her class spills out of the door and I see Jane gather her minions around her, six or seven first grade girls, and they talk in a circle for a moment and then she dismisses them and eventually saunters over to us. Most days Calvin has escaped me by then and he's half way to her. "Sick," she says as he grabs her arm. "This is really sick. Dad, can't you control your own kids." Calvin loves this behavior and he grins and falls down and gets up and laughs and laughs. Janey laughs too, but between breaths, she says, "Oh, sick, just sick."
I see a lot of Roger Alguire. He's back to life, commuting with his metal detector to and from the Golf Center at Ten-Acres. He's working through the second green and onto the third hole, and he wears a goofy straw hat festooned with the fishing lures from his first find. Mornings I see him head out as I'm walking Janey to school, and he waves. Some mornings he waits and Calvin and I go with him.
I don't care how dumb you are, dumbest among men, so dumb you voluntarily sign over your high five figure bank account to your brother-in-law to buy a golf course that smells night and day like a dead thing, even if you are that dumb, when your wife starts seeing another man, although there is no tangible change to point to, no physical trait or blemish, you will know. If she is your woman and you are dumb in a major way, dumb as a stone, a sand-pile, a dirt-clod, a tongue-tied golf pro, you will still know. And you will know who it is, even if you have never met the man or heard his name, or seen an ad for the chain of pizza parlors he owns. You'll be watering the kids one day in the front yard, and three will go to four o'clock and you will go in for another cup of real strong coffee, and when you return the whole afternoon will tell you: you're not a viable part of the picture any more, your wife has a new orbit.
There is a strange thing happening at the Golf Center at Ten-Acres. It is a heavy spring day, the clouds piled in ripe gray loads as far as I can see. Roger Alguire drifts slowly across the fourth green, squinting in concentration at his metal detector. Calvin follows him holding onto a piece of rope tied to Roger's belt. There are a few brief powerful gusts before the rain and Roger turns to me where I stand in the sand trap leaning on the shovel and says, "Blow wind!"
"Blow wind!" Calvin says. For a moment they both lift their heads to the sky, listening. The first fat drops sizzle into the sand, and I turn back to where the fourth fairway lies like a minefield of little holes. A newcomer would think we've got real moles. But then he'd see the strange thing. Clear back to the first tee I can see other men wandering the grass, some on their knees prying at the soil, almost a dozen of them searching for things at the Golf Center at Ten-Acres. Four have already come over and asked if I was the owner and paid me five dollars. On the sign Mitch and I erected last year, it is listed as the greens' fee.
Calvin squeals in the falling rain and runs toward me across the bumpy green, avoiding a bicycle handlebar protruding from the grass. "I've always loved the rain," Roger says, walking over to me. "But, of course, as a weatherman you can never say that."
Tina has taken a job. She is the new manager, not assistant manager nor manager-in-training, but manager of Sergei's Pizza. I thought she was going to be a legal secretary. When she'd go to lunch, she always dressed like a legal secretary. I thought business school. I thought tutoring. No. She runs Sergei's, twelve hours a day, six days a week. And as she frankly put it to me the second night of her job, the second night she came in at one-thirty: it means we may get to keep the house.
All the other things, the things I would like to say, to know, I can't ask: does Sergei come by? Has he ever touched you? These questions lack something. They shrivel in the shadow of the question of our house. A house is a big thing which guards your furniture from the weather and provides some quiet from the world.
When I was a kid, seven, eight, nine years old, I used to watch Roger Alguire do the weather on Channel Four. It all came back to me when we first moved in here and I found out who he was. In those days his hair was white only on the sides and he wore classy tweed jackets and a tie and he really moved around the weather map. He had markers and drew the fronts with arrows, and the pressure areas with circles. He also drew lightning and spirals and little triangles for precipitation. He wasn't like a pal or a coach or some kind of lost host for the climate, the way the guys are today. He had an earnest grace that made him seem complicit in the creation of the weather. You believed him. When he drew the arrow, it made you get ready.
When Tina comes home, she smells faintly of Parmesan cheese, a pale, rank odor, the smell of after-sex. Parmesan cheese is O.K. by itself, but you don't want to smell it on your wife. She rustles out of her clothing and slips into bed heavily. We haven't touched for weeks. The sour smell of cheese makes me nothing more than weary.
There is a lot of pizza around our house. Russian pizza, two slices in a baggie, half a pie in the white cardboard box, a grinning Lenin on the cover. Tina uses our house for only two things nowÑto leave excess pizza and to store her wardrobe. I told Tina good for her, that I was glad we would keep the house, that she was alive again after six years with me, but that I didn't want the kids going to Sergei's. I don't want them to run around in a big pizza place and ride the little rides or beg for tokens for the games, and I don't want them ever in this lifetime to meet Sergei Primalov.
Mornings, after Janey has gone to school, Calvin and I take cold pizza over to Roger Alguire's while Tina sleeps. We have breakfast with him. The Russian makes a whole wheat crust for his pizza and it is wonderful cold with a glass of milk. Roger thrives; he's got the Golf Center at Ten-Acres mapped out and he's half way through the sixth hole, a dogleg that runs by one of the dry ponds. He eats his pizza with gusto and washes it down with hot tea. He doesn't ask me about TinaÑhasn't for weeks nowÑso that tells me he's as sharp as ever. He and Calvin are buddies in these morning pizza feasts, and they sit together in one chair. Calvin's picked up one of Janey's phrases, "Are we having fun, or what?" and when he says this, Roger laughs and laughs. At eight thirty, we go out to the Golf Center at Ten-Acres.
When your wife doesn't come home one night, and you call her at work the next day and she says she's real busy and, incidentally, she's real happy, but she can't talk right now, and no, she says, she won't be home tonight either, you will have an odd thought, perhaps your first thought: Well, who didn't know that, you'll think. That's no surprise to me.
Like any other person in that spot, eleven in the morning, I put the receiver back on the wall phone in the kitchen and I look at it for what, a couple minutes. It's your right to look at your phone for as long as you want. Finally, I say something aloud. I say, "No problem."
Calvin and I don't join Roger at the Golf Center at Ten-Acres. What I do is go into Roger's house and take the rusty .38 caliber pistol from the shelf. He's oiled it and it will function. Calvin and I drive to Redtent Discount and buy a box of shells. On the way to Mitch's, every block, the weight of what I am doing increases. Until this drive, I have been well measured. I haven't sighed hard or said son-of-a-bitch, but I cannot put any of what is happening back together again and I'm losing my way. I imagine the scene: I will stop at Mitch's condo, walk by the pool, go up the stairs, ring his buzzer, and when he answers I will put the old pistol under his chin and shoot him fully through the head.
We pull in the lot. It's jammed with Saabs and BMWs. I've got the .38 under my seat. The parking lot is full on a weekday. These people don't work. Suddenly something smells as if we were at the Golf Center at Ten-Acres. Calvin has got the cigarette lighter and is printing burning circles in the seat.
But the sick truth in the sick pit of my stomach is that I don't really want to see Mitch. Ever. And, regardless of your anger, regardless of your rage, regardless of some other thing like electricity gone wrong in your golfer's brain, you cannot drive over and shoot your relatives. For one thing, there's Calvin. You can't drive your children over to shoot people. You're going to need a sitter.
Upon returning home, I am so vexed that I don't know what to do. I should go out to the Golf Center at Ten-Acres and dig for Roger Alguire. I love to dig. It is such a reasonable thing. Roger has taken a cooler full of soda pop out to the course and he sells it to the other people who come out. I should go and give him a hand.
But what I do is put on the coffee and then go out and give Calvin the hose and the nozzle. I climb into the kids' swingset tent. Calvin is squirting the water all over the place. He can barely handle the pressure nozzle. When I stick my head out and call his name, he grins and, using both hands, begins to shoot at me.
Golf is a game full of tactical decisions, most of them so small and automatic that you hardly realize you're making them. At every distance and at every incline and turning, you decide whether to cut it close or go around, which club to use, how hard to swing. But the truth is there is no real tough stuff. You never have to decide, for example, somewhere on the seventh fairway to turn around and play back through six. It is a game with a clear etiquette and the rules are followed. Things are kept quiet and the person farthest from the hole plays first. The greens are smooth as felt and the traps are raked to look as if you were the first one to make a mistake. It is not a game to prepare young people for the simmering rigors of marriage and mortgage. It has not prepared me.
After one full night of thought, a night of wandering our house, room by room, checking on the kids, sitting on the bed and then every chair in turn, and then the lawn furniture as the dawn came up, an old .38 pistol in my lap, trying to think of the one thing I could do to make things even a tiny bit better, I make a tough decision.
I put all of Tina's clothing in the street. It is a quiet activity which I do with thoroughness. By sunrise I have done a careful job, folding the clothing neatly into stacks at the edge of the street. Tina has a lot of clothes. Roger Alguire comes out to get his paper and he calls to me. "Looks like no more pizza."
"We've had our share," I say. I want to go inside before the huge pile of clothing can make me sad.
"When the kids get up, come over for some eggs," he says. "And bring back my pistol," he adds. "Before you hurt yourself."
The parking lot at the Golf Center at Ten-Acres is full when we arrive at nine. I've never seen it full in my life. Men and women are scattered all over the nine holes, scanning the course and digging here and there. A group of five sit on the lip of the trap along the second green and watch a man trying to wrestle something from the ground. Behind them two hundred yards I can see a man and a woman circling in the rough beside the ninth fairway, their metal detectors poised. They have found something. The pocked greens and fairways today emit a different odor, less sour, something. It actually smells like Tina when she gets a permanent, toasty and serious. Several people wave at Roger and three guys come up to me opening their wallets.
By noon the clubhouse is full. I'm frying burgers and Roger is serving drinks, pop and beer. I still have a beer license. I've spent the morning filling a cigar box with greens' fees and keeping an eye on Calvin. Janey walks up and back in front of the Clubhouse like a hostess. On or near all the little tables are the things my patrons are finding in the ground. Carburetors, desk lamps, silverware. It is Saturday. Through the windows I can see hundreds of people wandering the Golf Center at Ten-Acres.
Sometime in the mid-afternoon there is a scream. I've let my guard down and begun smiling, and when I hear the scream I know in a second it's Janey and that everything is up in the air again. "Dad! Dad! Dad!" Janey screams, running into the room and collapsing on my knees. "Oh thank god!" Several people look over. "Dad. I've got to tell you something." Janey goes on, her face now practical, the nurse.
"Good," I say. "Here I am."
"Dad," she says putting her hand on my wrist like a counselor, "Calvin ate some pennies." She points out where Calvin stands on the practice green, his chin down.
Outside I lift him up and ask, "Did you put some pennies in your mouth?" He clips his chin tighter against his chest.
It's a bad moment. I hear the tinkling of fishing lures on a hat, and Roger Alguire is at my side. He takes Calvin from me. "Did my boy eat some money?" he says and Calvin hugs him around the neck. As he does, his fists unclench and a few pennies spill to the green.
Calvin will do anything Roger says, so that when he's instructed to lie on the grass, he gets right on his back his arms straight along his sides. Roger sits on the bench and holds the metal detector across his lap. He is adjusting the control knobs on the handle. "You know this will read to eight feet?" he asks me. "You think I ought to just go out to the cemetery?"
My face registers a look I cannot control or imagine.
"It's all right," he says. "I'm kidding. I just need more time. I'm eighty and I need more time to adjust to everything. We were married a long time." He stands up. "Are you ready, Calvin, my boy?"
Calvin's eyes go large and he nods.
Roger steps on one of the fallen pennies and places the head of the device over his foot. The metal detector whines. "O.K.," he says. "Are we having fun, or what?" Several people have come up to the edge of the practice green to watch the demonstration.
"It's all right, Calvin," Janey says. "It's an experiment." She stands behind me and peeks out. Calvin lies still and beautiful on the lumpy practice green. My neighbor Roger Alguire runs the head of his metal detector slowly over the little boy from head to toe and back again. Things have stopped for a moment as people look up from their digging here at the Golf Center at Ten-Acres.