Monday, June 26, 2006

One rotor or two?

My dad used to go golfing and take me as his caddy. This was when I was probably eight or 10, I am not sure. I do know that on one of these golf trips I met the son of my father's boss, who I was told had just come back from Vietnam: A helicopter pilot. I assume this was 1973 or earlier. So I would have been 10 or younger. I was a real aviation freak, I loved airplanes. They told me this about him, that he was just back from Vietnam.

I looked at him and said, "Really?" He squared off to me and said, "Yes. I suppose you have some questions."

He seemed prepared, perhaps resigned. "Yes, I have a question. Did you fly helicopters with one rotor, or two?"

"Two," he said.


"That's it?" he said, amused.

"That's it."

Then my father and his boss urged me to ride on the back of the son's motorcycle. I refused. They said I would have fun, implied that I should like it. I was certain I did not want to do it. When the son roared away I was doubly sure.

But the real story was that my father went golfing. I was his caddy. I was small, very small as a kid. Short, and skinny too. When I finally entered high school in 1978, I weighed less than 90 pounds and stood 4 feet 10 and a half inches tall. I was smaller than everyone, including all of the girls.

No, I am not sure exactly how old I was when he first started using me as his caddy, but I can tell you that a full set of gold clubs can be very heavy. Even a half set. In a leather bag mounted on an old metal frame on wheels. I recall that the handle came up to my shoulder level when I hauled it, two-handed, up the slopes. Mostly I remember pulling it uphill.

We lived in a very hot place. Inland, brown hills, shimmering heat, and back in those days, lots and lots of thick, ugly smog.

It was not cruel and unusual punishment that I should pull this bag filled with clubs, but it was strenuous, and from time to time I refused. I was not interested in going. He took me anyway.

Being so small, the clubs were much too big for me. He did let me putt. I was a decent putter, sinking some that were long shots, and he told me I was good at it.

"Can I play?"

"The clubs are too big for you."

"Can you get me some clubs?"

"That would be too expensive, and you would grow out of them."

"Maybe we can find some old clubs, and cut them down."

"No, that wouldn't work."

So I continued on, as his caddy. From time to time I would still say I did not want to go with him, and he would take me anyway.

One day the boss went golfing with us. I caddied for my father and the boss caddied for himself. When we got to the end of the nine, the boss went into the clubhouse. My father and I never went into the clubhouse. We waited a minute for the boss. I assume he had a quick drink, but I don't know. When he came out, though, he handed me a big, cold can of Coke, dripping with cool condensation. My memory is that he was uphill from me, and I saw the back of his hand as he dangled the Coke to me. His hand was about at the level of my chin.

"For you," he said. To him it was a casual gesture, a courtesy, perhaps even beneath his consideration. I was stunned.

"Thanks!" I said, with gratitude and amazement.

His head swiveled oiver to my father and he smiled. "You never buy this kid anything, do you?"

My father smiled and shrugged.
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