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Author of this essay:

Abbot John
(Nov 11, 2007)

by Abbot John

It used to be my opinion that a man would rather be called a sadistic thug than have his taste described as gauche. I have since changed my mind. I now believe that a man sometimes needs to be a sadistic thug in order to deal with the kind of people who go around calling other people gauche. This is a considerable shift in perspective; and one that I did not easily make. I can not, however, take any of the credit. All that I accomplished I owe to golf.

Golf is a gentlemen's game. No matter what kind of criminal history a man has, or how he mistreats his dog, when he takes up golf, he eradicates his past...well, the parts he prefers to keep hidden, anyway. If he stays true to his game, in devoted servitude, he will be born anew... and in noble circumstance.

As anyone knows who has followed my travails during the last few years knows, I undertook the job of moving my home and offices from New Jersey to Pennsylvania. A move, even one less than this, is filled with problems. Foolishly, I thought I could manage them with grace and dignity. I couldn't. With each passing day it became more and more apparent that I had become the victim of optimism. All those indispensable people - the architect, lawyer, banker, general contractor, wife - assured me that it was going to be easy, and it wasn't. I tried to hang onto my status as a Gentleman of the Public Golf Course and to be both circumspect and fair, but there are limits even for a GPGC. I was in over my head. For someone in my position, constructing a new building has no learning curve. I didn't have a list of caveats and helpful hints made from the last time I did this. This building was virgin territory for me. And no list of my present mistakes will help me the next time I construct a new building. There isn't going to be a next time. What I learned I will take unused to my grave.

I now know never to suggest to an architect that something would be nice here... or there. That utterance will cause a change order and some blueprints to appear on your desk waiting for a signature. Change orders are calculated at a rate that is an order of magnitude higher than the original contract. I also learned never to deal with people who have byzantine contracts that require you to phone your expensive lawyer. The bill mine sent provoked me to complain that I felt violated. "Screwed?" he retorted, and I could hear him click that timing clock they use in chess games, "let me tell you, phone sex is more expensive. I hope you enjoyed it." I learned never to assign the job of picking office furniture to your wife if she doesn't approve of the whole project. She will tell you that it is easy to select office furniture and that she welcomes the opportunity to help. But then she will procrastinate until, at the last minute, she tells you she's going to Cancun for two weeks with her bridge club.

Despite my confusions the project had moved to completion and was past the punch-list phase, when my wife, who was still lounging in the Yucatan, told me that a head cold prevented her from returning as planned. She wanted me to join her, but I was preparing for the day I had to sign my name a thousand times. The Closing.

The Closing consists of vaguely familiar people and some strangers who are all sitting around a table on which there is a stack of paper eighteen inches high. And all eyes converge on you.

The first document I had to "sign here and initial there" had a subsection entitled "The Meaning and Use of the word 'AND'. " It was a long paragraph that indicated that the word 'and' herein used could be construed to mean - and; or; and and or; or and/or, depending on the context.

There have been only a few times in my life that I felt completely empty - not empty as in Sunyata, Zen's great Void - but empty the way a gas tank can be empty and often is. After the "and" paragraph, there was nothing left of me.

Symbolically down to $13.58 of liquid assets, I faked a frown of cognition, pretending that I was actually reading the words you're supposed to read before you sign a contract. I looked at the printing which had become an unintelligible blur and did as I was told. As I wrote checks to contractors, agents, and maybe banks, my hand was visibly shaking. It took all the self-control I had to make all the numbers fit into the proper spaces.

It was the task my wife was supposed to do that nearly did me in. This was the problem that made me change my opinion about sadistic thugs and people who call other people "gauche," and why golf - when played for the pure love of it and nothing else - is an exercise in aristocracy, the Rule of the Best.

Left to my own devices, I got out the Yellow Pages and called a couple of interior decorators. The first call went to voice mail so I left a detailed message and called the second. A secretary made an appointment for 10 AM the following morning.

Arriving at the appointed time, came an elegant man who wore an ascot tie under the perfectly opened neckline of his shirt, a navy blue blazer, and cream colored pants that had a crease my father would have described as "sharp enough to cut bread with." Trailing noiselessly behind him was his tweed clad, crepe-soled assistant.

After a brief introductory nod to me and some kind of murmur about, "discussing possibilities," he began to speak directly to his assistant - as if I were not a party to the negotiation. Using the Imperial "we" he proceeded to inform her that what "we" needed in the waiting room was something that would "Pop!" We had something crimson in mind, something from Eames. She responded by hissing a model number to which he sighed, "Of course." My eyes popped. Eames? I said to myself. Eames is beautiful stuff but light years beyond our financial reach. I could hear the sound of a bankruptcy auctioneer's gavel as I padded along behind the silent stepper. The interior decorator continued to find very expensive things that would "Pop!" And in colors that were beginning to upset my stomach.

After an hour of this, I think I started to turn a shade of green that did not blend in with the decorator's plans. The hue offended his sensibilities and prompted him to ask, "Is there something you'd like to share? Some general ideas about the space you wish to fill." He was condescending. I don't like arrogant, but I hate condescending. I lost my Zen cool.

"General?! " I stared into his eyes. "Hell, I've got it down to the number of grains of sand I want in my sandbox!"

He was rattled. "Of course you do. Where do we start."

"With perfect imperfection."

"Could you be more specific?"

"Like giraffes."

"Giraffes?" He rolled his eyes.

"Yes, I'm not particularly fond of giraffes but I think they have their place."

"And where might that place be?"

"Behind trees."

"I see. I think we can do that," he lied. Then he snickered, "But how precisely do we translate this into what we want the space to say?"

While we were trying to control ourselves, the front door opened and a dust-covered guy in Levi's and a plaid shirt with a bolo tie stepped across the threshold. I could tell he was waiting for me to acknowledge him, but I was on a roll.

"Yes, I can tell you what we want the space to say.... that there may be giraffes behind trees."

"In this building..."

"Yep. Ok. It's like this. The big things are always partially hidden. The little things should catch your attention, but it should not be perfectly obvious at first as to why. I want a Zen office. I want Shoji screen desk separators, not big plastic things. I want a stone or tiled path from the front door to meander a bit. I want a waterfall near the foyer where customers and salesmen can relax watching it and hearing it. I want to be surprised, not shocked by things that go Bang! or Pop! or... whatever!".

The decorator seemed to recognize the man who entered. He smirked at his assistant who grunted. "Well," he said crisply, "I don't know what kind of exotic theme you've got in mind. Frankly, it all sounds terribly gauche."

The man in the doorway stepped backwards and gestured that he understood he was intruding. "I should have called first," he said.

"Don't go on our account," said the decorator. "We were just leaving. Maybe you can comprehend these... desires."

"Yes, indeedy" said the man. "Wabi Sabi. Great atmosphere. Inexpensive. Right out of Mies. 'Less is more.'"

My burden was lifted. I exhaled. And some people doubt there is a God.

After a pleasant half hour with this true aristocrat, I mentioned that I had to leave to meet some relatives of mine who were waiting back at my Jersey address. The sun was shining and I voiced the hope that I could get to the golf course before it set. The True Aristocrat offered to take me around to the various clubs in my new stomping grounds. "I'm not very good," he said, "but what I lack in skill, I make up for in enthusiasm." To which I said, "Ditto."

I knew I was really going to like what he did with the offices.

Across the river, two of my more affluent cousins had each come to pick up some family heirlooms - a small chest of drawers, needlepoints, dishes, and a couple of rocking chairs - stuff my wife was determined to part with. "Great day for golf," one said as he moved the golf bag in the trunk of his car. The other answered, "I've got my clubs with me. It's too late to reserve a slot at Manufacturers." He turned to me, "Is there a course handy?"

I said, "Sure."

Vic, the Zen Caddie was there. He and two kids carried our bags. My cousins were not impressed with the appointments, the service, the cuisine in the snack room, or the course layout. They had that "Let's get this over with" look on their faces. I wasn't surprised when they decided to shorten the game to the first nine.

I played lousy until the 6th, a par 3 hole. Then, mirabile dictu, my drive landed on the green a few feet from the cup. It skidded up a swell in the green and then seemed to rethink its mission. It paused a moment and rolled back, gathering steam until in plopped into the cup. A man standing near the green confirmed it. "A hole in one! A hole in one!" I shouted. My cousins forced themselves to say, "Congratulations. Good bit of luck there." Vic, who had been quiet, suddenly said, "Luck nothing! That was a brilliant shot. Terrific. What a shot! What a shot!" I practically skipped to the green. My cousins both bogeyed the hole.

As we finished the nine and were getting ready to leave, Vic called me back to tell me something in private. "I want to be straight with you," he said. "You're the 5th guy today who holed the 6th in one. Gophers undermined the turf just above the cup, and the rain yesterday made the hole approach slump like a funnel. Nobody's had a chance to fix it yet." He patted my shoulder and gave me a thumb's up.

Golf, as I have said, is a game for noblemen.

Humming Bird