Tuesday, February 18, 2003

A Zen Thing

“Jesus…I’m so fucking hung over.”
“Here, take a couple of these.”

I look down at the 2 little red pills in my hand. A second—or maybe an hour later—I pop them back with a belt of cola from the fountain in the closed snack bar next door.

“What were those?”
“Just a little pick-me-up, perfectly safe.”

I look up to see the small grin at the corner of her mouth—flaming red bangs waving just over her eyes.

I turn and look out through the two-meter wide hole over the counter. Out past the awning, rain pelts the field. The clouds ripple and shift through a wide range of greys, but the rain seems unchanged all afternoon. The only people here other than us, the staff, are a few die-hards under the covered part of the range. You can barely hear the dull click of balls beginning their arcs. The rain falls, straight and even, with a biblical certainty.

“Hey, why don’t you take this into the bathroom. Don’t worry about it, I can handle the cash,” she says with the same little grin. Not much of this girl remains in real focus for me now, except that grin and the back of her neck. She was eighteen and I was seventeen. We had crashed at a coworker’s house party the night before, and I looked it. In her palm is a little half-joint. I shrug, smile and reach for it. “Just what the doctor ordered,” I say.

Twenty minutes later, I’m wandering under the covered part of the range, picking up empty baskets. Stan waves me over to him.

“Hey man, how’s it going?”

Stan is already looking back down towards the tee as he speaks. He settles into his stance and then straight into a swing, without any practice or waggling. A smooth arc—a gentle rush of air and the click of easy contact—my eye follows the ball out and quickly loses it. The rain seems slightly louder after his shot, as my attention shifts.

Stan is average in height and built slightly. He’s balding on top but has curly salt and pepper hair. He always wears the same basic thing to the range: a black Lacoste short-sleeve shirt and black khakis. Stan’s face is weathered more than his years should indicate, but he smiles easily. He has a thick grey moustache, neatly trimmed. From a quick glance—or a brief description—you half expect Stan to have shifty little eyes. You expect the eyes of a salesman, but his eyes are dark and deep. A few minutes after parting from Stan you begin to wonder if he blinked at all.

He is the most regular of our regulars—essentially there every evening. He was the last to arrive of three customers on this day.

“Want a lesson?”
“Sure Stan.”

He walks to the edge of the mat and looks at me. Stan holds the club out in front of him, lightly waving it back and forth. “It’s a Zen thing man,” he pauses and then resumes, “You have to be part of it all—the ball, the club—but also the tee and the field. You have to be completely in this moment. You need to reach for the unobtainable: crystalline clarity.”

He walks back to the tee and resumes his stance. “You have to let all of it go: your tragically unrecognized greatness; the exorbitant price of lessons; the fucking outrageous cost of good clubs; the nasty thing that prick said to you at work today; the quick and unfulfilling sex you had with your wife of twenty years this morning; the fucking in-laws coming this weekend; the countless daily outrages against your very fucking soul—let…it…all…go.”

Stan exhales and unwinds effortlessly into his swing. Images of birds, kingfishers, executing perfect dives that barely leave a ripple, cross my mind. The ball disappears into the haze. Stan is already teeing up the next ball. He hasn’t even bothered to follow the last one.

My eye is caught and held by the coal and ash colours of the clouds above the range. Some stray shadow—maybe some half-remembered pain—crawls up my spine as I stare into those clouds. “Thanks Stan,” I hear myself whisper from a vast distance. I turn to the clubhouse without looking back.

I am giggling under my breath but I don’t feel it as humour.


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