I still remember the day in 1962 when I spotted a newspaper ad announcing that Aliquippa Country Club was recruiting boys who wanted to become caddies.
I'd been trying at age 14, unsuccessfully, to procure a newspaper route (back then, it might have been easier to get into Harvard) and caddying was a great alternative. So I clipped out the ad, secured my Pennsylvania-required "working papers" and arrived at the club on the appointed day, long before the appointed hour.
Caddying shattered my insular world by opening the door to drink my first beer, puff my first coffin nail and win my first poker jackpot. While spending four summers as a bag jockey. I learned many things, and here are but a few:
It Pays to Be a Toady -- George -- an older, gimpy fellow -- was our caddie master. He assigned bags to caddies, washed clubs, retrieved golf bags, kept the area clean and handled other duties too numerous to remember.
If you helped George out as a rookie caddie, he'd be more likely to give you a bag to tote. Established caddies worked exclusively for one or two members and took old George right out of the equation. I liked George, and he taught me much about golf and other subjects. Even after I latched onto a "steady" bag, I helped George out. I'd evolved from money-hungry sycophant to an enraptured raconteur groupie.
Golf Might Be a Metaphor for Life -- One fine summer's day, I was caddying for a dedicated duffer who'd never hit a ball over 200 yards in his entire career. His line drive tee shot on the par-5 16th hole hit the rock-hard, rain-deprived fairway about 150 yards out and rolled at least 100 yards more.
His next worm-burning shot, with a fairway wood, bounced and skipped and hopped till it came to rest about an inch onto the shocked green. All the way to his ball, he kept yelling, "I'm putting for an eagle!" Five putts later, he walked away with his usual 7.
Love Hurts -- Several professional caddies worked at the club. They spent their summers in Western Pennsylvania and their winters in Florida. The first year I caddied, I asked George why one of them had a circular spot in the middle of his forehead that constantly pulsated. George replied, "That's where his girlfriend shot him!"
The following year I asked George why two of the caddie's adjacent fingers were now missing. George whispered, "That's where another girlfriend blasted him!" Two years later this fellow didn't head north. Without my asking, George volunteered, "Another girlfriend finally finished him off!"
Speak No Evil -- Like the servants in "Downton Abbey," I became invisible to the men in my foursome. They said anything and everything they thought and paid me no heed.
To my everlasting abasement, one foursome member, a bachelor physician, began describing in bawdy language all the intimate details of an affair with a married woman. I, of course, was fascinated. Only upon realizing he was talking about the mother of one of my school chums did I feel incredibly dirty. I never told a soul about the affair, but I still experience a slight shudder when I recall the incident.
Plan for Success -- I was with a foursome in which two of the golfers rode in an electric cart when a heavy downpour began. It didn't let up and, eventually, our group decided to head back to the clubhouse.
So everything -- four golfers, yours truly and all the golfing gear -- ended up loaded onto that one clubhouse-bound cart. We were speeding along till the cart hit a nasty hole in the rough. Crack! The cart split in two, and just the glued-down rubber floor mat held everything together.
Walking into the clubhouse, the golfers invented a fairy tale about the safely driven cart mysteriously snapping with only two golfers aboard. I began helping George dry off the soaked clubs. After several minutes, the golf pro appeared and snarled, "Biller, tell me exactly what happened to that cart!"
I angelically confirmed my group's account and refused to recant, even after being threatened with dismissal. For my loyalty, the golfers awarded me triple my normal fee.
Eventually, of course, carts displaced all of the caddies. By the time I joined Aliquippa Country Club as a member 10 years later, caddying was an extinct profession. But I learned to play golf as a caddy and kept playing this great game till about 10 years ago.
Now, however, I don't miss it. I don't even follow it! Such is life.intelligencer
Rob Biller of Fombell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgThe PG Portfolio welcomes "Storytelling" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to email@example.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.