The Jade Head
Breathing in deeply, Bob took time to enjoy the sweet smell of freshly cut grass that permeated his nostrils. But his feeling of self satisfaction was fated to be short-lived. When he looked down the fairway of the long par-five first hole, he saw the receding tiny orange projectile hooking off deep into the thick woods on the left. Why do I always screw up? he moaned.
“Better tee up another one, Bob,” his regular golf buddy Jim laughed. “And don’t forget you’ll be hitting three.”
“Oh, go drill some rotten teeth,” said Bob to his dentist friend. “I can damn well keep score myself without your help.”
“Don’t mind him, Jim,” Carl said. “ He’s just sore because he’s not gonna have any money left after we’re done with him. He should’ve known better than to have agreed to play for ten dollars a hole.”
“Wait a minute, here, I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet,” said Bob. “I’ve still got my second wife and our two kids trying to cash my support checks. And then there’s the car payments on that damned red Mustang convertible that you conned me into buying in a moment of mid-life weakness.”
“Hell, I’ll bet half the kids from Gail aren’t even yours,” said Sam, who was also Bob’s lawyer for the messy divorce as well as the fourth member of the foursome. I shouldn’t have let you agree to pay up so fast the second time. I should’ve made you hold out for a DNA test.”
“You’ve been watching too much “Law & Order” on TV. We’re not talking the O.J. Simpson trial here. Besides I love all the kids anyway whose ever they may be. I don’t want them to think of me as a cheap bastard like my old man. He only left me with a ramshackle ole barn out in the Hollow full of empty whiskey bottles and hungry mink eating each other up. And while you all know Gail can be quite the bitch, I can’t complain too much since I wasn’t always a model husband myself.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” said Carl.
The four golfing partners had grown up together in the small Central Illinois town of Loganville, not far from the Indiana border. They had gone through a lot together in the first forty years of their lives. And they had few secrets from one another. In fact nobody in the town did. Everything was an open book. That was the way it was there.
Bob teed up another brightly colored ball, his slight paunch drooping over his belt as he stooped. This time he played it safe using his old number 2 driver and pulled his swing. The ball only went a little over 125 yards, but he was relieved that at least it was on the fairway this time. Carl was up next. He hit the ball almost 250 yards using his number 1 wood.
“Look at that fucker go,” he said, exuding self satisfaction.
“You da man,” said Jim.
When their turns came, Sam and Jim didn’t hit as far as Carl, but at least their balls went a lot farther than Bob’s. After several more lackluster shots, Bob joined the others on the green.
“You sure wreaked havoc on the grass, Bob,” said Jim. “It’s a wonder they still let you on the course.”
“Just aerating the fairway, Jimbo. I saw you taking a pretty good divot yourself on your second shot.”
Then the usual good-natured argument over the score started up. Bob claimed to be lying six, Sam and Jim five and Carl four. After a bit of badgering from Carl who always played with the intensity of the high-pressure car salesman he was by nature, Bob fessed up to seven strokes.
“Jesus,” said Bob. “You could’ve at least given me the one I fanned. This isn’t the Masters you know.”
“I know you for the cheatin’ bastard you are. If I give you one stroke, sure as shit you’ll take ten.”
Since he was furthest from the hole, Bob putted first as Jim held the flag. He tapped the ball too hard and the steep downslope took it almost as far past the hole on the other side. It took two more putts to get it back up and finally in the hole. Jim and Sam only took two putts. Carl sunk his for a par. His elation was hard for Bob to stomach. And this was only the beginning. It went like this or worse for seventeen more holes. Bob’s low point was on the fifteenth hole where he hit two consecutive shots into the pond and Carl called him a candy ass for refusing to go into the muddy water and play one of them. Bob was mad enough to get in the water. The only thing that stopped him was that he didn’t want to give Carl the satisfaction of seeing him all wet and muddy.
Back at the Nineteenth Hole in the mock Tudor clubhouse, the foursome quaffed a pitcher of ice-cold Budweiser and playfully ribbed each other as they settled their bets. Bob, who had only won two holes and was down one hundred dollars, was the big loser, and Carl, who had won eight and was up one hundred forty dollars, the grand winner. Jim and Sam were only little losers, down twenty dollars each.
“Come on, Bob, cough up,” said Carl stretching his open paw across the table and rubbing his fingers together like a money lender coming to collect.
Bob made a big deal of pulling the wallet out of his back pocket and taking out five crisp twenty dollar bills fresh from the 7-Eleven ATM. He chucked them over the table in Carl’s direction like they were nothing to him.
“It wouldn’t be so bad always losing to you, Carl, if you didn’t look like such a geek in those god awful yellow plaid pants and that chartreuse golf shirt,” he said, remarkably oblivious to his own kelly green slacks and Day-Glo pink Lacoste shirt. “I don’t know why they don’t throw you out of this fuckin’ country club.”
“Well, at least I got in,” said Carl.
Ouch! That was hitting below the belt. Bob didn’t like to hear that he was the only one of the three who was not a member of the club. Twice over the years he had tried to join and been blackballed. He always blamed it on his father-in-law, his first wife Barbara ‘s father, who had come from one of the town’s fine old families. Big Pappy as they called him, was big in more ways than one and owned a department store, a bank, some farms, and several other businesses, not all of which were inherited. Bob had gotten Barbara pregnant in high school in the back seat of the Thunderbird that Big Pappy had given her for her sixteenth birthday. Although the ole bastard would have been happy to shoot Bob and get it over with, Barbara’s mother was adamant that the family honor could only be saved by a march up to the altar even if it had to be with someone like Bob from the wrong side of the tracks. So there was no real shooting, just a run-of-the-mill shotgun wedding.
The marriage into a rich and socially prominent family could have eventually enabled Bob to rise above his humble white trash roots to reach the lofty heights of Loganville society. But living in a small bungalow bought by Barbara’s family and working for a construction company owned by Big Pappy, Bob had felt trapped. It wasn’t long before he walked out the door, leaving her to take care of the baby. It’s no wonder Big Pappy hated him. What else could Bob have done though? How was he to know that the old man would carry such a grudge? But what really pained Bob was how they had turned his son Alan, who was now grown up, against him. If only he’d have spent some time with Alan when he was young, he had thought. He could have taken him fishing or to see a ball game, things that normal fathers do. Why was he always too busy, screwin’ around with his own friends? Oh, well, it was too late now. Alan had gotten a job with General Motors after he graduated from college and moved away to Michigan. Not so far, but far enough that Bob hardly ever saw him.
Besides, Bob rationalized, he had never much liked the country club. It made him feel like a catfish out of water. Even though he had graduated from the University of Eastern Illinois, passed his exam to be a Certified Public Accountant and become a proud professional, he still felt like everyone there was looking down their nose at him. Maybe it was because they were. To them, he was still little Bobby Wayne, Jr., the son of one of the biggest drunks and losers the town had ever produced. And many believed he was likely to suffer the same fate.
The sad thing was that in his darker moments Bob feared they might be right. Sometimes he did drink a little too much. And his bad luck with women had left him with barely enough money to pay the rent on a small two-bedroom row house back behind the K-Mart. Nope, there was no way he could afford a grand, six-bedroom, estate-style house like his friends had in the Loganvale subdivision between the country club and the lake. Except maybe if he won the state lottery, or more likely robbed a bank.
Bob had not been a total wastrel though. He had managed to sock away a little money for a rainy day. Unfortunately, it looked like the rain was starting sooner than he’d planned and it wouldn’t be long before he’d be wetter than a drowned rat. Business had been bad since General Motors had shut down its central foundry, which had paid one out of every ten workers in the town a pretty good wage even if the greedy union never thought it was enough. And the little local accounting firm he worked for had stubbornly struggled to survive in a shrinking market, refusing to sell out to one of the majors seeking to establish an office in the town. The situation had finally come to a head last week. He and the two other accountants, who weren’t partners in the firm, had been given their pink slips. The lump sum payment in lieu of notice wasn’t much, but it was better than a kick in the ass. But not much.
What was Bob going to do now that he didn’t have a job? He was afraid to admit it to himself, but he didn’t have a clue. One thing he did know though was that he’d be damned before he’d go to work for a large accounting firm. There was no way he was going to come in everyday a nine o’clock wearing a suit and tie and fill out those damn time sheets at the end of the day. Besides, why would they want to hire him anyway? In his early 40s and already washed up. Better not dwell on the negative though, he told himself, remembering something that he’d heard about the power of positive thinking from an infomercial on late-night TV while he was veging out in his chair with a can of beer in his hand. Well, at least he was still alive, and hadn’t drunk himself to death like his father had done at the same age. He might as well break the news to his buddies and take his punishment like a man. Hell, he probably deserved it for being such a fool and sticking with his company all these years after the writing was already on the wall. Corporate loyalty didn’t get you very far these days.
“Hey, guys! I’ve got some bad news that will surprise you. I’ve been uh...let go this week.”
“Hah! Hah! You’re such an idiot, Bob, to think anyone’s gonna be surprised,” laughed Carl uproariously. “Everybody knows that your firm has been shutting down on the installment plan. I’m one of the few clients you have left. And it’s only because I’m your good buddy and want to make sure you’ll keep up your payments on that fine Mustang I sold you.”
“Did you get a good severance package?” asked Sam with more concern as Bob still hadn’t paid him in full for all his past legal services.
“Then let’s sue the ass off them,” the lawyer said, salivating at the prospect of a wrongful dismissal suit to relieve the tedium of his usual workload of divorces and real estate conveyances.
“Are you nuts?” asked Carl. “They’re as broke as Bob.”
“Without a pay check, your creditors are gonna eat you alive. What are you gonna do?” asked Jim.
“I dunno,” said Bob. “Maybe go away someplace cheap down south for a few months to get away from it all. Frankly, I’m downright bored with this town. Nothing ever happens here.”
“It took you more than forty years to figure that out,” laughed Carl. “You’re a real genius.”
“No, seriously, I need to put some adventure in my life,” said Bob.
“Who do you think you are, Ernest Hemingway?” asked Sam.
“What’s wrong with that?” asked Bob. “I’ve read a few of his books and he seemed to know how to live.”
“The only book of his you ever read was The Old Man and the Sea. And that was only because Miss Brown made us read it in sophomore English. I think she picked it out because it was short and didn’t use any big words.”
“What are you goin’ to do about Donna?” asked Jim about Donna Blake, Bob’s long-time girlfriend. “You goin’ to take her along?”
“I don’t know. I’ll have to ask, of course, but she won’t want to come,” said Bob. “She has her hands full with work and her mother and besides she wouldn’t want to leave her kid alone. Teenage girls like Sarah can get into a lot of trouble without their mamas around to look after them. Or at least that’s what Donna thinks.”
“If I were you, I wouldn’t take her anyway, she’d only scare away all the gorgeous, bikini-clad women that will be swarming around you when you take off your shirt at the beach and reveal your rippling muscles and six-pack,” wisecracked Carl, poking Bob in his sagging stomach.
“There’s only one kind of six-pack you know anything about,” retorted Bob, sucking himself in. “Drink up and let’s get out of here. I’ve got a lot of things to do now that I’m retired. I can’t be wasting time hanging around with a bunch of losers like you guys.”
“You gonna go to the Rotary Club meeting next Wednesday?” asked Jim.
“I don’t know,” said Bob. “Depends on how busy I am.” Everybody laughed causing Bob to turn red with irritation.
“You should go. It’s a great opportunity to network,” said Jim using a term he had picked up from one of the high-priced management magazines he left laying around his dental office to try to attract a better-paying, business-oriented clientele. “You could send out some feelers to see if you could get any leads on a new job.”
“I’ll think about it,” said Bob who really wanted to avoid the unpleasant reality of having to look for another job as long as possible.