The summer I turned 12 my mother gave me a choice: start caddying with my brother Will or spend another school vacation at the Boy's Club where they made you swim naked and lined you up by the side of the pool to check your toes and butt, making sure you were clean before you could jump into the water.
This was in 1967, three years after our father, a paper salesman whose true passion was volunteer firefighting, died of a heart attack after taking in too much smoke from a grass fire on the New England Thruway one brutal Saturday in August. It was the summer I followed Will to the club, reluctantly, the summer he aced the 12th hole and came this close to another hole-in-one. And it was the summer he chucked it all and instead of going to college like he planned, joined the Marines and went off to fight the war in Vietnam.
Everybody agreed my brother was the best caddy at the club So you're Will Gallagher's kid brother? You as good as he is?
All my life I'd been hearing that, from the nuns whose chalky cheeks reddened at the memory of his deportment to the hairy-assed counselors at the Boy's Club where Will led the drum section before Daddy died and summers became an opportunity to make money. Their gruff voices softened at the memory of the rifle shots that cracked off the snare drum slapping against his knee. During my first parade, sweating in the thick donated wool sweaters they made us wear, fine for Memorial Day when the raw wind whipped off the Sound and tore through our ranks as we marched down the Avenue, itching torment by the Fourth of July in Mamaroneck, the bugler in front of me, an older kid I didn't even know, turned around and snarled, "I don't want to hear a note out of you. Just fake it."
At St. Mary's, Will was the world's greatest living altar boy, worthy of the Vatican Hall of Fame, the one, as Father Shea never hesitated to tell me when I raced into the sacristy, breathless, fumbling with my cassock's buttons, yanking a surplice over my head, who was never late for even the earliest Mass. So even before I tipped Rex Chapman's electric golf cart over on the final day of the member-guest tournament, there was little doubt I would ever be the caddy my brother was.
Mom didn't want me alone in the apartment while she was working and Will was off at the country club. "I'm not coming home and finding you've been spending the whole day watching television and eating those Cheetos," she said. We lived on Railroad Avenue, in an apartment so close to the tracks that the kitchen dishes rattled in the cupboard every time a train passed. Even with Mom's job as a secretary at the gas company, Will had to help out with the rent, food and the rest of the bills, on top of which he was saving to start at Holy Cross in September. His future was riding on the member-caddy tournament at the end of August; first prize was a $500 scholarship. He'd come in second the year before and had been practicing ever since, even using red golf balls to play during the winter.
The week after school let out for the summer Will and I walked up the Avenue to Woolworth's. My favorite haunt was the pet department in the basement, where the air was warm and moist and reeked of dogs and soggy newspapers and clumps of wood shavings on the floors of the hamster cages. But Will led us directly to stationery on the first floor. Scanning the display, he quickly chose a 3 by 5 memo pad, a 19 cent job with blue-lined pages between brown covers, just like the one he carried in his shirt pocket. "This will get you started," he said.
We climbed on stools at the lunch counter and ordered cherry cokes. At one end, an old man with hollow, whiskery cheeks flicked the ashes of his cigarette on a plate smeared with bright yellow egg yolks. Will took out a paperback from his back pocket _ Death Be Not Proud _ and laid it on the formica counter. It was on the reading list for incoming freshmen.
"The only way you learn how to caddy is by doing it," Will said, "but I can give you a few tips."
The sodas arrived, a tiny iceberg of crushed ice floating on top of the paper cones. Will took a careful sip and took out his notebook. The cover was bleached with sweat, its pages dog-eared and smudged.
"You need to keep track of who you caddy for, how many holes, what they pay you. That way you always know how much money you make. See this...?
He put the notebook in front of my face and pointed to a line. "Go ahead, read it."
"Jencks, Hook. Huh?"
"You know what a hook is, right?"
I winced and shook my head.
"Jeez, you got a lot to learn. All right, listen up. When you hit a golf ball, it can go three ways: straight, left or right. If it goes left, it's a hook. If it goes right, it's a slice. Just remember, hook-left, slice-right. Got it?" He turned the page.
"Now here, this is a good one: 'Stephenson. Covers.' See, some members, they don't mind if you take the covers off their woods on the first hole and stuff them in the bag. That way you don't have to put them back on every hole. But Mr. Stephenson, he had his clubs custom-made in Scotland and he bought these special leather covers." Will rolled his eyes. "Man, he goes crazy if the covers aren't on all the time."
He flipped the notebook shut and returned it to his pocket, giving it a protective little slap. "Just little things, but they like it if you remember."
Before I went to bed, I took a Bic pen and drew the letter "H" on my left palm and on, the right, an "S."
The next morning, we picked up Gilley Patrick on the way to the club. Gilley's Fairlane was at Peabody's getting the transmission replaced again. I sat in back of The Green Turd. Mom wouldn't let me hitchhike so I had to go with Will, even though it meant having to get up at 6 in the morning. I'd been on the toilet three times before we left home and I still felt the fear churning inside my stomach.
Will said caddying was a job where if you were willing to put in the time, and the weather held, you could make a lot of money. Even on the slowest days, he would often do two loops.
His personal best - 54 holes - ended in the dark one cloudless Sunday in July. When he got back in, his neck caked with dirt and dried sweat, his face gray with fatigue, one of the older guys sitting on the porch bullshitting with Sal and Frankie Z. looked at him and said to his cronies, "The kid's a mad looper."
Few caddies were willing to work that hard. Gilley Patrick usually pulled into the parking lot below the caddy shack sometime after 9 a.m. (about the same time Will was midway into the first nine of his first loop, knocking back a grape juice and ginger ale Transfusion at the snack bar behind the 5th green). And if Gilley wasn't out by 11, he was gone, his Ford aimed at the far end of Todd's, the stretch of beach claimed by the high school kids.
"2-S, man, that's the way to go," Gilley said as Will turned off the Post Road onto North Maple. "You get a 2-S for four years, by then the war's over."
"I heard you can get drafted before college starts," Will said.
"No sweat." Gilley took out a pack of Camels, rapped it against the dashboard. "You just stop sleeping for at least three days before the physical."
"How do you do that?" Will said. "You gotta sleep."
"Not with uppers."
Will glanced into the rearview mirror, checking to see if I was listening. I pretended to look outside the window.
"You take speed, you won't be able to," Gilley went on. He lit the cigarette and blew out the smoke in a thin, milky stream.
"It gets your heart beating real fast. Then, just for insurance, you sew some uppers into the waist band of your underwear."
I stuck a finger into my chinos and pulled out the top of my jockey shorts. "You gotta wear boxers," Gilley said, as if he anticipated my confusion.
"Gilley, where'd you get this bull?" Will said.
"No way, man. You're popping speed right up to the time they check your pulse, they figure you've got a bad heart. Even better than a 2-S." He balled a fist and stamped the dashboard.
Gilley swiveled around in the seat. I didn't even have time to shut my mouth.
"You're deaf and dumb, kid. Got it?"
I nodded, although as usual, Gilley was full of it. He was accepted at Georgetown. His Dad had already paid the dorm deposit. Will didn't have it so easy. His grades and college boards (650 math, 700 English) were good enough to get him into Fordham and Boston College, but only Holy Cross offered enough scholarship money.
"That's your lamest idea yet," Will said. "Your luck, they'd probably find the pills and throw you in jail."
"Hey, I'll take jail over Vietnam any day."
Gilley took a final drag and flicked the butt outside the car. Caught by the wind, it bounced off the rear window, exploding in a trail of red sparks.
Will parked the car behind the club pool and we climbed the hill to the golf shack. The gravel on the path crunched under our sneakers. The course was quiet, except for the tick-tick-tick-shhhhhhh of the sprinklers and the diesel rattle of the greens keepers' three-wheelers slicing tracks through the silvery dew coating the fairways.
Behind a hedge of boxwoods flanking the first tee was a low, shingled cabin that housed the pro shop, where members bought balls and clubs and garish clothes, a storage area for clubs and, at the far end, overlooking the first fairway, a tiny cubicle where Sal Vendetti presided over a hundred caddies who ranged from kids like me to a small wizened band of full-timers who worked the Connecticut-Florida circuit.
Sal's office was just big enough for a scarred oak desk and a soda cooler. Shelves on the back wall were stacked with miniature Table Talk pies - lemon, cherry, apple - that cost 30 cents and could be devoured in a single bite. On the porch outside, visible through a window above the cooler, wooden Coca-Cola cases stood in a tall stack.
Sal sat at the desk, peering through bifocals at the sports pages of the Daily News that were spread in front of what looked like a medicine ball under his cream-colored Ban-Lon shirt. His arms were tanned a walnut brown and smooth but deep wrinkles furrowed his forehead.
"Hey Sal," Will said, "here's my brother I told you about."
Frankie Z., the assistant caddy master, perched on the cooler smoking a cigar. He had on a pair of canary yellow pants and a white sleeveless tee shirt. I had never seen anyone with so much hair. Puffy black tufts covered his shoulders and arms. They pushed out from the top of his shirt like pillow stuffing. "What's your name, kid?" he said.
"Ever loop before?"
"Jesus, Sal, the friggin' bags are bigger than he is."
Sal said, "Shut up, Frankie.
"Will was a midget too when he started, no? Now look at him, string bean." Sal turned the page and smoothed it down. Behind his eyeglasses he looked tired. "I'll see what I can do, Will. You ready to go? Mr. Otto's got a foursome. He asked for you."
In the pre-calculator days we grew up in, Will was a kind of golfing computer; members competed for his services. In a glance, my brother could gauge the distance from a ball lying in a fairway to the green hundreds of yards away. He was able, with eerie accuracy, to divine the proper club for every shot, choosing the wood or iron that was always ideally suited to a member's strengths and weaknesses or gauging the currents of wind and the vagaries of summer weather that held a ball in flight or caused it to plummet short of the target. Even the gyroscopic texture of the closely-shaved grass on the greens were no match for his eagle eye.
"Wait out there," Will said, nodding toward the steps that led off the porch. Below stretched a sloping hill where the grass had long been scuffed away by caddies waiting for a loop. At the bottom was a well-tended lawn with a small green bunker at the far end and a semi-circular sidewalk that led nowhere. This was the trapshooting range. In the fall, members practiced shooting clay pigeons, their blasts falling harmlessly into thick woods that bordered the front nine. Next to it was the caddyshack, a small, white cottage with forest green trim on the door and the single window. I peeked inside and saw a large empty room with a linoleum floor. Wooden benches lined the walls on two sides. A space heater squatted in the far corner with a blackened aluminum pipe periscoped through the roof. Sal kept the shack locked most of the time, agreeing to open it only on the most miserable rainy summer days or when it began to freeze in autumn. Caddies waited on the hill for Frankie to lean over the railing and decide who went out next.
"Hey, kid!" Frankie was pointing at me. "Yeah, you. Wanna go out? Or you want to fuck around all day? Get up here. You got a loop." Ears burning, mouth watering with sudden nausea, I climbed the stairs, the condemned man.
In the beginning, I was afraid of caddying; scared of the balls hurtling through the air, fearful of the members whose bags I carried. They were captains of industry, lions of Wall Street, rich and powerful figures of influence although from what I saw of them the club was dominated by tightwads, drunks and psychotics who played to the death or acted like the balls they swatted around were made of solid gold.
Tracking their golf balls kept me in a constant state of dread, heightened to panic on overcast days when a tiny white sphere could easily vanish into the bowl of clouds inverted over the course. Balls hit straight were no problem; I just waited for them to bounce on the fairway. But when they skidded into the rough or, worse, the woods, terror engulfed me, twisting my insides, draining the blood from my cheeks, making my mouth dry as chalk.
"Caddy, how far is that?"
Mr. Tutwiler was peering off at the 4th green, a par 4, 325 yard dogleg. I fringed my eyes with an open palm, mindless that the sun was behind me, and stared intently at the horizon. Mr. Tutwiler was wearing a red cap, madras pants and a pink shirt. His golf shoes were brown and white.
"Uh, maybe 300 yards," I said.
"What! That's nowhere near 300 yards."
I could feel my ears start to burn. "Well, it's probably, uh, I don't know, 150."
"Oh Christ, just forget it." He stood over his bag staring at the clubs. "Well, what do you think I should use?"
"Um. Uh," I said, desperately stalling, hoping he would decide before I had to, then realizing with a sickening feeling that he was waiting for an answer.
"No, no, five, five."
"Five wood, iron, what?"
"Five, uh, five iron."
"Jesus Christ, caddy. Give me the seven iron. And step back." After that, he stopped asking my advice.
It was the longest three hours of my life, so I was shocked when he turned friendly on the 18th hole. "So, how long have you been caddying, son?"
"This is my first day."
"You don't say. Well, you're one of the finest young men I've ever had." Of course, I beamed and immediately began fantasizing about how big a tip he might bestow. Flat rate for a single was $3.50, but I had heard Will and Gilley talk about members, flush with victory or too many Bullshots at the snack bar, who had given ten bucks for a single. Climbing towards the green, I began dreaming of the hamburgers I would buy at Dirty Lou's, digging into a hot fudge sundae at Nielsen's, even bringing home a pint of chocolate chip.
I felt pretty smug, holding the flag, and was still smiling when Mr. Tutwiler took the pencil from behind his ear to fill out my card. I tried to see what he was writing but the way he crabbed his gloved hand made it impossible. "Good job, son. I'll be sure to ask for you next time." He handed it back and wheeled towards the clubhouse before I could see what he had given me. At home that night, I made my first entry in my caddying notebook: "18 holes. Single. Tutwiler, George. $3.75. Cheap."
My brother was tall and slender, as sleek as a two-iron. His hair was coppery-red, stiffened and gleaming with Vaseline Hair Tonic. After Daddy died, he sat at the head of the table and Mom always served his dinner first and piled it high with the best cuts of meat and endless seconds. Once when I did something wrong - yelled at Mom, refused to do my chores, I don't remember what exactly - he marched me into the bedroom and took off his belt. "You're not serious," I said.
"Take down your pants." His face was grim, unyielding.
"You're not my father."
"That's right. Your father's dead. And I'm in charge. Now take down your pants, or I'll do it for you." He grabbed at my belt buckle and for some reason the thought of him taking down my pants frightened me more than the strap.
Will aced the second hole in June. It was a Monday, I'm sure, though I wasn't there to see the ball skip twice on the green and roll slowly, "like the hole was calling it home," as he described it, his brown eyes glittering at the memory.
I'm certain of the day because Monday was caddies day, the only time we were allowed on the course with clubs of our own. Even then, if a party of members came up behind, we had to stand in the rough and wait for them to play through. And no shorts either, long pants only, no matter how broiling hot it was. The members didn't want us confused with their own kids.
Zach in the pro shop had Will's ball, a Titleist, its dimples faintly grass-stained, mounted on a silver-plated egg cup that Will kept on the bureau of our bedroom. To the mirror, he taped a photograph from the sports page of the .Greenwich Time showing him with a self-conscious, eyes-rolling-skyward smirk, holding the ball aloft. "Caddy Sinks One," the caption read.
A few weeks later, a package for Will arrived in the mail from the Lifesaver Company of Port Chester, New York. Inside was a leather-bound book with four rolls of lifesavers - cherry, wintergreen, orange and assorted and Will's name written in calligraphic script above an inscription: "Our business is making holes in one. We congratulate you on yours." Will wouldn't eat them, no matter how much I pestered, pleaded and begged, not one. "It's a trophy," he said. "You don't eat a trophy."
In July, the fairways started turning brown.
Frankie Z. was caught with a waitress from the dining room in one of the rooms on the top floor of the clubhouse that was reserved for members when they had fights with their wives. One day he was there, leaning insouciantly over the railing, the next day he was gone, the object of much discussion among the caddies who were convinced that the woman he had been caught with was really a member's wife.
Sal asked Will to be his assistant, guaranteeing him as much money as he could make caddying, well, actually, not as much money but a steady income, and that was the important thing at the time. I assume that's why Will took the job.
He still had to get to the club early, to open Sal's office, load the cooler with sodas, sign for the delivery of pies, and start pulling out the bags. Will gave me the job of loading the cooler with fresh soda and let me take a Table Talk pie. And my luck changed too. I started caddying for Rex Chapman.
Mr. Chapman was in his mid-40s but had already had two heart attacks. His doctor didn't even want him playing golf anymore and only permitted it by getting Mr. Chapman to promise he'd use an electric cart. Most members who took carts didn't use caddies, but Mr. Chapman liked to have one along. In a club of pricks, he stood out as a good guy. He was a stockbroker, a florid, flamboyantly handsome man with one of the foulest mouths in a profane society of tough-talking men. When I hear someone saying "So-and-So swears like a sailor," it's Rex Chapman who comes to mind. "Motherfucking-cocksucking-sonofabitch-bastard!" he would scream as his ball sliced into the lake on the 9th or skittered past the hole. Then he'd light up another Kent.
"Looks like a four wood to me," he said to me on my first loop with him. We were standing on the third fairway. "Any objections?"
I shook my head.
"Good. If it's the wrong one, I've only got me to blame." Then he winked. I liked the way he winked. I tried to imitate it in the bathroom mirror at home when I was looking for armpit hairs, but I never could mimic his easy nonchalance.
That night, I wrote in my book: "Chapman, R. 18 holes. Cart. Single. $10!!!!."
There were tournaments all summer but the member-guest in August was the biggest and most important. It gave members a chance to show off their club to clients and friends. The scuttlebutt on the hill was that some members even brought in ringers, club pros from the Midwest and Puerto Rico.
Will was always in demand but for the past few years he had always caddied for Mr. Otto, who had been assistant Treasury Secretary under Eisenhower. He was tall and fat and not a very good golfer and he was convinced Will gave him an edge. I don't know if Will wondered what was going to happen now that he was working for Sal, but it all came to a head the week before the tournament when we ran into Mr. Otto on the Avenue. He was with a short, fat kid about Will's age who had the dirtiest tangle of curly red hair and the first tie-dyed tee-shirt I'd ever seen. I was shocked when Mr. Otto said it was his son who was home from Stanford for the summer and working on Wall Street.
"Will here is probably the best caddy I've ever had, Jamie," Mr. Otto said. "Quite a golfer too. Probably could teach you a few things about that wild swing of yours. What do you say, Will? Maybe throw in a lesson for my boy."
Otto's kid rolled his eyes, as if he thought his father was the biggest asshole he'd ever met. Will gave a non-committal shrug and Mr. Otto was either oblivious or deliberately ignored his son's attitude. "So, all set for the big match. I'm feeling lucky this year?" he said.
If Otto's kid hadn't been so snotty, Will probably would have told Mr. Otto he couldn't caddy anymore, but he just nodded. I looked at Will and he knew what I was screaming inside, what I wanted to shout at the scruffy little creep. "Will's assistant caddy master now. He doesn't caddy for anybody. He runs the whole damn place." I should have said something, but I could tell from the look Will was drilling me with that he'd kill me if I opened my mouth. He looked at Mr. Otto's kid and said, "You bet."
"Good man," Mr. Otto said. "Well, take care boys. We've got to head up to Van Driver and buy Jamie a suit." His kid let out an exasperated sigh. Right then, I felt sorry for Mr. Otto having a kid like that.
"Boy, what a jerk," I said when we were back in the Green Turd. Will grunted, but didn't take the bait. We rode in silence down the Avenue. Waiting for the light at Railroad Avenue, I asked him how he was going to be able to caddy for Mr. Otto.
"It's just for two days. I'll get there early and pull all the bags before I go out. Sal can handle it."
But of course, Sal wouldn't hear of it. The next morning I was outside his office, pulling out sodas for the cooler when Will told him about his talk with Mr. Otto. I could see them through the open window.
"Forget it," Sal said, "Member guest is always a zoo, you know that, kid. Couple of hundred golfers, foursomes off the first tee every ten minutes. You gotta work."
Maybe if Sal could have told him the truth, everything would have worked out, but I guess he couldn't. "Sorry kid, you don't caddy no more. You're my assistant."
Will was ready for that. "Well then, I'll just quit. Go back to caddying."
"No way, kid," Sal said. "You want to quit, fine, but you don't caddy here no more. Not for me."
Will didn't say anything for the longest time. Neither did Sal. It was like sitting in the Pickwick Theater on Saturday afternoon watching two gunfighters stare each other down.
Will rubbed his chin the way he did at night when he was sitting at the kitchen table going over the bills with Mom, trying to stretch our money. Then he put his hand down and said, "Fine then." He turned on his heel and walked off down the gravel path and disappeared around the corner. A few minutes later, I heard the rheumatic cough of the Green Turd starting up.
I looked at Sal's face and found myself thinking of something that happened to me a couple of days before when I staked out the first hole. It's a par four, 435 yard straightaway, but after the first 150 yards the fairway dips out of sight. If you hook or slice, you could spend hours looking in the rough or the woods and still never find the ball. So before the members tee off, they wait for their caddies to reach the rocky outcropping that borders the fairway just where it dropped off.
When Will and I left home that morning it had been chilly, but by the time I went out with Mr. Chapman's foursome that morning the sun was already high in the sky and broiling. Standing on the rocks, I stripped off my sweatshirt and knotted it around my waist.
I watched carefully as Mr. Chapman swung back and followed through. There was always a slight delay until the crack of the club against the ball reached me but I couldn't see the ball at all. "Oh, Jeez," I moaned. I was scanning the sky when something moved in the corner of my vision and I saw the ball bouncing on the rough, heading straight for me. I froze. I didn't know where to run, so I just waited for the ball to hit me. It did, ricocheting off the ground and smacking right into the balled-up knot of my sweatshirt, and dropped harmlessly at my feet. But three holes later, I was still shaking. And that's how Sal looked, like a ball just slammed into his gut.
For a few days, Will's disappearance dominated the chatter on the hill. Gilley Patrick was really pissed off about it and talked about a caddie's strike, but nobody took him up on it.
Will applied at the Post Office and Gilley Patrick's uncle, who owned Wilson's in Port Chester, gave him a part-time job tending bar on weekends. But Mom still made him drive me in the morning and pick me up at night, but he wouldn't come to the parking lot behind the caddyshack. I had to meet him in front of the clubhouse at the shed where they charged the electric carts.
I think Will expected Sal would call and beg him to come back. Or that Mr. Otto and the other members would get on Sal's case, make him hire Will back. He never said anything, but every time the phone rang, he jumped.
"Will, just call the man," Mom said at dinner.
"No way, Ma. If he wants to talk to me, he can call."
"Cary, talk to him."
"What do you want me to say?" I said. "More potatoes, please."
And then something happened that made everybody forget about Will.
On the grass-less hill where they waited for loops, the caddies got sick of their pants getting dirty. A delegation, led by Gilley Patrick, approached Sal and asked if he could see about planting some grass.
"You want grass? So paint the fucking grass." His cronies chuckled and Sal began to play to them. "That's it. Paint the fucking grass."
It was one of those slow weekdays when the caddies alternated between games of mumbly-peg and a putting tournament under the grove of pine trees by the swimming pool where they could sneak peeks at the younger members' wives or the older ones' daughters.
Gilley took up a collection and sped away to Caldor. Several cans of green spray paint were purchased and then applied to rocks, trees, and up and down the hillside. Inscribed on the side of the caddy shack where it was clearly visible to golfers stepping off the first tee was the legend: "Sal Sucks."
It didn't take long for one of the members to spot it. Sal called all the high school kids into his office one by one. But only Gilley had the guts to admit his part in the conspiracy. "I hate caddying anyway," he said, walking to his car after Sal fired him.
I had just gotten into the Green Turd the next afternoon when Mr. Otto came around the corner, on his way to the 11th tee. Will shut off the car. "Wait here," he said, and hopped out. He ran up to Mr. Otto who seemed surprised to see him. For a moment, Will did the talking. Mr. Otto started walking towards our car, close enough so I could hear what he said next.
"I'm awfully sorry, Will. But I can't do anything about it. That's Sal's bailiwick. Just wouldn't be proper for me to interfere. But listen, son, when you get out of college, you come see me."
On the way home, we always passed the cemetery. Sometimes we'd stop to visit Daddy's grave but today Will drove by without even a glance. "The guy's just full of hot air. He just likes to hear how important he sounds." He pounded the steering wheel with his fist. "Asshole."
He turned left onto Stanwich Road instead of staying on North Street. "Where we going?"
"I got to do something," he said. He got onto the Thruway heading north and got off at the downtown Stamford exit. He parked outside a storefront. The sign said "Armed Forces Recruiting Center." There were posters of Marines and pilots and Navy ships in the window. "Wait here," he said.
When he came out he was carrying a manila envelope. It had his name, his full name, on it.
"Listen, don't tell Mom, okay?"
"What are you doing?"
"Just checking out my options."
"What about college?"
He didn't answer.
Sal hadn't said a word to me about Will. I thought he might want to get back at him through me and was surprised when I got loops every day, good ones too. He even told Mr. Tutwiler I was busy one day when he asked for me.
Two days before the member-guest, I was in front of his office buying a pie and soda when, out of the blue, he says, "I can't just give in, you know."
"Guess not," I said.
"I mean, we're talking about what's right, you know. A kid doesn't make the rules, no matter how good he is. Am I right?"
I shrugged, but even that felt like I was stabbing Will in the back.
"Fucking-A," Sal muttered, shifting in his chair to dive into his pants pocket. He pulled out a handful of coins and jabbed them with his stubby fingers.
"35 cents," I said.
"Does he know how many guys would give their left nut for this job?" Sal dropped the change into the drawer and slammed it shut. With his fingers he pinched the bridge of his nose and then made a fist and pounded his forehead. He looked at me and shook his head, smiling about something I couldn't fathom. He picked up the dollar bill I had given him from the desk blotter. "This one's on me."
"You're a good kid. When you get home tonight, tell that hard-headed brother of yours to call me. We'll work something out."
"What's wrong with it," Charley Stival wanted to know, looking at the cherry pie I was offering him like there was a turd in my palm. "Nothing," I said, "I just don't feel like eating it."
When I came home that night, I was ready to tell him, I really was. Mom was at the kitchen table, crying. Will stood behind her, patting her on the shoulder.
"What's the matter?" I said.
Mom grabbed me and hugged me, tight. Her face was blotchy. "I'm okay," she said.
"Mom's just a little upset," Will said.
"Why. What did you do?"
"Nothing," he said. "I'm going in the Marines." She started bawling again.
"Mom." Will started pacing around the kitchen. "Look, this way I'll be able to send you money. I won't be able to make any at college. And when I come back I can pay for school with the GI bill. It's the best way.
"I mean, what's the point? I'm never going to be a rich kid. So why keep fighting it? Why not just accept what we are. At least the Marines are honest about it; there's officers and grunts. So let me be what I am."
But that night, I found him in the bedroom with a list of the member-guest foursomes and the caddy roster, matching up caddies with golfers.
Mr. Chapman's guest was a huge, balding man with a putter I'd never seen before. The head was a trapezoid-shaped wedge that he swung between his legs. He was incredibly accurate, but Chapman played terribly. On the 9th hole he threw his two wood into the lake.
I recorded what happened next in my notebook. "Mr. Chapman and guest. Member-guest tournament. Tipped cart over on 10th. $20."
It happened this way. The tenth is a steep hill with a new green, placed in the valley below the crest. A slice could take the ball into the woods overlooking the lake so if you didn't want to lose it, you had to go up ahead. Mr. Chapman said I could take the cart. I was halfway up the hill when I heard shouts. Were they calling me? Oh God, had I forgotten to give them their drivers? I gave the wheel a sharp turn, forgetting I was on a steep incline. Gravity took over, the cart tipping on two wheels. I jumped clear and from the ground I watched it roll over several times, making a loud, frightening sound, the fenders tearing deep gouges in the fairway. Clubs spilled out of the bags. On the last roll, the blue vinyl seat opened and the battery flopped out with a heavy thud, the cables entangling Mr. Chapman's red leather golf bag like a nest of eels.
I never gave my brother Sal's message. Will was too proud to make the first move, I told myself, but the fact was that in this ballet of egos and wounded feelings, Sal had already done that. If Will was as great as everybody said, he didn't need that stupid job anyway. Besides, why should he have to bow down to Sal? I could justify my silence over those few days with a whole range of rationalizations. But the simple truth, which I danced away from whenever it threatened to surface, was this: for the first time I felt free without him there, overshadowing me even when he was out of sight on the back nine and I was playing mumbly-peg behind the caddyshack. Then I came down with mono. Out on the course, I just wanted to lie down on the bag and go to sleep. Every time I swallowed, it felt like there were golf balls in my throat. Mom made an appointment with Dr. Scofield. He felt my neck and pressed my stomach and his nurse took blood out of my arm. "Been doing much kissing lately?" he said. My face turned red. He called Mom the next day and said that I had infectious mononucleosis, just as he suspected, and that I had to take it easy for a couple of weeks because my spleen was swollen.
For a week, I lay on the living room couch, watching television and drifting in and out of sleep. Mom came home at lunch and made me chicken noodle soup and gave me aspirin for the headache. Will was tending bar and hanging out late with Gilley at the beach during the day. After a while, the sore throat went away but I still got tired easily and Mom said I didn't have to go to the club since school was about to start.
In early September, Will left for basic training. He was supposed to catch a 7 a.m. bus to Parris Island at the Stamford Post Office, but he wanted to play a last round of golf and asked me to caddy for him. We snuck onto the course at first light, before even the greens keepers arrived for work.
We raced around the front nine. Will hit the ball and we charged after it, our footsteps leaving precise tracks in the dew. If we couldn't find a ball, Will just dropped another. It took me until the 9th green to ask him, trying to make it sound offhand, the question that had been haunting me all summer.
"Do you ever wish you could caddy again?"
"No way," he said. With his putter, he swiped at the dew coating the apron.
I felt such relief that I almost blurted out that Sal had wanted to make up. I told myself that it wouldn't have made any difference, when Will made his mind up there was no turning back. But it didn't matter. There was a sick, hot feeling in my stomach that I knew would never go away.
"Next time I come back here," Will said, "I'll be a member. And the first thing I'll do is walk over to his office and tell that fat ass to get me a caddy."
On the 12th hole, Will stared into the bag for several minutes. He lifted a seven iron, let it drop back where it made that familiar rattle. Finally, he looked at me.
"So what do you think?"
"What club should I play?"
"Yeah. Club me."
"Shoot, I don't know."
"Sure, you do."
"Well, okay." I looked off at the hole, but this time my insides weren't aching the way they did when a member was waiting for my decision. "Five iron."
"'Kay. Five it is."
Will withdrew the iron and I stepped back. He waggled the club in his hands and then stepped up to the ball. Just as he went into his backswing, I wanted to shout, "No, it's too much! The seven!"
But he must have known, because his follow-through was almost gentle. The ball lifted off, soaring into the lightening sky, a dot, a bird, sailing on a cushion of air. It was a beautiful sight and the two of us watched it together. It landed just on the front edge of the green, bounced straight and high, bounced again, braked and then rolled straight towards the pin where it disappeared. "Hole in one," I said, my voice full of awe. I didn't say what I thought next, "But you can't tell anybody." I dropped the bag and dashed toward the green, hearing Will right behind me.
The pin was in shadow. On the back lip of the hole was the ball. We got down on our knees and stared at it. Half of the ball was hanging over the lip. We looked at each other. Will seemed very serious, not excited at all.
He peeled off his glove and jammed it in the back pocket of his chinos. "Doesn't get much better than that," he said.
He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a ten dollar bill. "Thanks."
"I don't want any money. It was fun."
"Come on, take it. Buy yourself a chili dog at Dirty Lou's. You did a good job."
"`Nam is a lot like looping," Will wrote in one of his letters. "We hump into the bush carrying a shitload of stuff. Some of the guys have trouble. I just pretend I'm carrying doubles in August."
In another, he wrote, "The hardest part of being in the boonies is staying awake at night. So you know what I do? I play the course. Yep, all 18 holes, one by one. My drive off the first tee is always great, but I usually dump in the sandpit in front of the green. On the second, I take a three wood. My first drive slices into the woods and I hear it splash in the brook. So I set up another ball (what the hell, bro', it's my dream, right?) and this one I fire straight at the pin. And so it goes, just burning up the course. I par the next two holes with awesome drives. My chips and putts are primo. I birdie the fifth and kick back at the stand with a double Transfusion. (Man, there are days I'd kill for one!) My drive clears the hill on the sixth and I fade a three iron to the green for an eagle. Gotta go. Finish later."
The Navy chaplain who came to the house after Will was killed at Khe Sanh told us it would be better to have a closed coffin. There we all were, at Reilly's Funeral Home, in a room that stunk of flowers, but this time there was a coffin draped with an American flag instead of my father, with cold, red cheeks lying in a gleaming box. Will's high school buddies came in, home from college in their loden coats and camel hair jackets. Gilley Patrick's hair was down to his shoulders. Two of the older caddies, Fred Williamson and Curly Wallach, drove all the way from Palm Beach. Sal came in, his eyes rimmed black like a raccoon. I never realized how old he was until that day. I was terrified he would ask my mother why Will never called him. I hung by the door, asking people to sign the registry, but kept my eye on Sal and my mother. But he just kept repeating "A good boy, a real good boy." On the way out, he stopped and crushed me in a bear hug. "You're going to make him proud of you," he said. He stared into my eyes so hard that I was sure he knew how I had betrayed Will, but all he said was, "Come see me when the weather gets warm."
I caddied all the way through high school, before I went off to college. Sal always steered me clear of the cheapskates. I made my best money during the summer months, but autumn was my favorite time of year at the club. The pool was drained and covered with a bluish-gray tarp. Sharp breezes carried the leathery smell of dying leaves. The air turned colder, the sky a deep shade of blue that made balls easier to track. The trapshooters came out and the crisp air filled with a new rhythm: the cries of "Pull" met with the cannonade of shotgun blasts. When you climbed a ridge to stake out the third hole, pellets rained down on the woods, making a sound like paper tearing when they hit the dry leaves. Sometimes they'd even hit you in the face, like drops of a cold rain. I never got very good at clubbing; I just waited for the member to say, "How about a five iron?" and then I'd pause and pretend to give it serious consideration. I'd look down at the club and then turn towards the green, up at the sky and then say, "Yeah, that sounds good." Even if the club was wrong and the ball overshot the green or landed in a sandtrap, the member invariably blamed himself. "Damn, guess I should have used a four." Or a six or whatever. He hardly ever took it out on me. I learned that people don't really want you to tell them what to do. They just want to hear that they've made the right choice. And slowly, I began to develop a reputation, as a caddy who could even improve your game, a caddy you could trust.