We all have them, whether accumulated by birth, marriage, accidental meetings, or ill-considered adolescent acquaintanships. However they made their footprint, no matter the innocent or devious method used to insinuate themselves into our lives, we all have those people on the periphery who can turn minutes into hours, evenings into eternities, weekends into life sentences.
Every once in a while, when you least expect or want them to, they come in from the edge and call or bump into you on the street, or despite all your best wishes, celebrate another birthday. There is no final solution, but oddly enough, golf can offer the occasional blessed respite.
For the most part, our innate arsenal of avoidance mechanisms usually kick in: the classic tapping of the pound key followed by, “Sorry, have another call, it’s long distance;” the old standard, “Great to see you but I have a doctor’s appointment, and yes he does work odd hours, he’s a specialist, you don’t want to know;” or the ever-popular, “You’re right it has been too long, far too long, we must get together, but we’re leaving for Bahrain in the morning, we’ll call when we get back.”
But karma eventually bites and accruing exponentially in some cosmic vault is payback for all the calls displayed and therefore unanswered, all the spontaneous fits of coughing, all of the theatric moaning, all the feigning of imagined symptoms of an unpronounceable exotic new strain of flu, all the “You’re looking great too, but I have kumquats on the bar-bee and must run” lines delivered through clenched teeth with all the disingenuousness of a politician, any politician.
Over the years, nay, decades, it does pile up and when that dull accountant (they’re all dull, aren’t they?) in the sky hits the total button, there can be one heck of a bill to pay.
The personal account almost came due a year and a bit ago. On the eve of that potentially soul-calcifying Sunday, as the recorded reminder of our date with the stultifyingly boring half-cousins via a labyrinth of bad marriages blinked on the answering machine, from the depths of dread, a sense of time and place finally surfaced, and I loudly proclaimed: “I can’t go. It’s the final round of the Masters!”
It was then that my wife of lo these many wonderful years, and all the others in between, uttered the immortal line, “Saved by the ball.”
There was a dramatic pause, as usual, before she added, “Again.”
She was right, as always. Over the years my love for and fixation on that tiny white orb and what happens to it when I or anyone else happens to strike it, have saved me from no end of commitments of the terminal drudgery variety.
Over the years the ball of choice has gone from a Spalding Dot to a Double Dot to a Titleist, skipping an orange period right to a Tour Edition to a Wilson Ultra, back to Titleist to a Callaway Blue to a HX Tour to a ProV1, and, finally, to a Srixon URC. But the effect has been the same – the ball, by any other name, has saved me.
There have been the countless lunches and dinners, the weddings, the divorce celebrations, the weekends away, the funerals. It’s been soul-saving to have the exit before I enter.
In fact, it may be one of the most oft-overlooked, but in the long run most important, benefits to be considered when making career choices. The potential for exit strategies, that is.
Look around at the wise guys. The ultimate is medicine. Doctors have escape clauses in spades – the fake beeper, a personal favorite. So do lawyers. They just have to say, “Honey, I’m going on the clock,” and they’re free and clear, getting out of everything up to appointments with the mother-in-law, and heading for the course or the nearest big screen with their doctor buddies. Beeper or clock, they’re golden.
What about the rest of us? For example, look at a guy like Kastanza. Sure architecture sounds great, but where are the built-in (so to speak) ducking the sister-in-law’s bake sale excuses? They’re not there. And salesmen, plumbers, astronauts? Zilch. Everybody else has to fall back on his recreational pastimes for parachutes. But they’re not all fool-proof.
Tennis (do people still play tennis?) on TV is like watching Pong. So what if it’s Wimbledon (or Wimbleton, as everybody but the Brits call it)? Who’d believe you’ve got to skip a baptism for that? Football or hockey? Only the last round of the playoffs and the final have any excuse credibility. (Betting doesn’t count.) Baseball? They play a zillion games, only four of which matter, and they’re all in one week in October. You couldn’t get out of cutting the lawn playing the baseball card. B-ball? Please.
Only golf is the mortal lock – you have to be there, you have to watch, you can’t miss it. They are unique, moments of history unto themselves, played out on different courses under different conditions, and with different guys not named Tiger playing for second.
A cautionary note: the ball is really only all-powerful for the majors – The Players and the Tour Championships, and the Ryder Cup. And they’re nicely spaced throughout much of the year, giving the ball a good chance of covering those annual nuisances. Remember, the ball is not going to work on the level of, say, the Booz Allen Classic, that Presidents Cup thingy, and it doesn’t roll with something called the FedEx Cup. But for the things that matter, it’s pure.
Used wisely and with sufficient gravitas, and given the respect that it deserves, the ball might even rescue portions of Sunday afternoons at Pebble, Muirfield Village and Firestone from minor events, like say, a nephew’s birthday, a god daughter’s graduation or beers with the chess club captain from grade 10 who Googled you and wants to “catch up.”
So, when things get dark and there doesn’t seem to be any justice, hope, sanity beyond your own or reason to bother making it to the weekend, put the ball in play. It might just save you too.