Saturday, February 7, 2009

Iron Cadillac


I was seventeen when I started working at the Tournament Players Club at Southwind. Friends of my parents were members and had pulled some strings to land me a job. This job was one which country clubs usually populate with young men. In the mornings, we'd set up golf carts with members’ bags. At day’s end, we cleaned off the carts and parked them. Club faces would get scrubbed clean and bags neatly stowed. On and off, we took turns driving the range picker that retrieved golf balls from the driving range.

Every summer, the Federal Express-St. Jude Classic (now the Stanford St. Jude Classic) would be played there and most all the major PGA pros would swoop in for the week. The club and the whole city would be abuzz with excitement. Leading up to the tournament, there’d be pro-am’s and celebrity appearances.

As the driving range became an attractive spectacle, The Commercial Appeal decided to do a piece on the range picker. The reporter approached my boss who grunted, pointed to me and then walked away. Then, as a couple dozen people watched, I was interviewed by a reporter.

The other guys I worked with were all slightly older than me. It was hard work, long busy days in unimaginable heat. We couldn’t wear shorts. Though we made minimum wage, the job came with the perk of nominal tips and the ability to play the course on Mondays when it was closed to members. This is why most of them wanted to work there – to play on Mondays. The specter of this promise controlled their week. This was one of the ways I was different from these guys. I could take golf or leave it for the most part. I played golf poorly and primarily took it up as it gave me something to do with my dad.

Another way I differed from these guys was that come summer’s end, I was headed off for my first year at college. One look at me and anyone could tell that I’d had everything in life handed to me with still more to come.

Though my co-workers loved golf, they were not of the country club set. Finding themselves notches below amid stringent Southern aristocracy, they were perhaps doomed to always be on the outside looking in. They were also saddled with marginal work ethics and a sense of entitlement I've found endemic among some southern white men. They either still lived with their parents or they lived in small lousy apartments. They had no real plan for the years ahead other than to play golf, drink beer and get laid.

The day that this article ran, I opened the sports section of the paper and groaned. I could sense what the day would entail for me. The guys I worked with hazed me unmercifully. At every turn, I was reminded in the most unpleasant manner possible that my newfound big-shot status was not appreciated. In truth, we never called the picker the 'Iron Cadillac'. I'd taken some on-the-spot artistic licence with that reporter. Was anything about me real?

The article (which you can read by clicking on the small version at the right) is not something that has been sitting idle on Slimbo’s Shelf awaiting re-discovery. I never kept a copy. I suppose I’m lucky that The Commercial Appeal’s on-line archive starts at 1990. It cost me three bucks to have them email me this.

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