Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

From Shanghai to Anchorage

My new Mac has gone from Shanghai to Anchorage to Indianapolis, and is now in Denver as of six minutes ago, according to the FedEx page. I don’t know if that means it will get delivered today or Saturday or Monday, but I have my fingers crossed. I think FedEx is generally better than UPS or USPS, so maybe they won’t drop the ball.

I have been doing this Rails coding for my old friend Jason, and as a token that I’m fixing more than I’m breaking these days, he sent me the Real World Golf game for the PS2. This was my choice, by the way – it’s something I wanted to mess with for a while. I have this strange interest in golf, although I am not that interested in spending $16,000 on a new golf club or paying some “pro” $800 an hour to have him improve my swing (or not). But I am interested in the social aspect, and it’s a kind of exercise that’s more interesting to me than, say, racquetball, or running.

I’ve only played golf twice, both times on a 9-hole course in Edwardsburg, Michigan. According to my dad, this Garver Lake course was a junkyard when he was a kid, and the owner had a stripped down, beat up, army surplus tank that they drove around to haul cars to their resting places. They cleared out almost all of the junk (there were still a few spots hidden in trees where you could see part of an old car carcass, or a piece of metal sticking up from the ground, like the remains of an old battlefield in France) and the course wasn’t bad. My uncle Jim had an old set of clubs that he got at a garage sale, and my uncle Al was a regular golfer. His son, Alan Paul, was a few years older than me, and was on the school golf team. (He was also on the football and wrestling teams, and made some rushing record for the football team that was a state record and might still stand. So yeah, slightly more athletic than me.)

I must have been about 14 when I went out there a few times. When my parents split, my dad lived with my grandma and uncle Jim for a bit, and then lived with my uncle Al for a while, until he bought a place. We’d go on these week-long visits in the summer, which were largely boring, because I was at that age where all I cared about was playing Dungeons and Dragons with my friends and watching MTV, and I couldn’t do either away from home. So golf was a diversion, and a good one at that.

Edwardsburg, as I’ve mentioned before, is not big. It’s population is smaller than my high school graduating class. So this golf course is a pretty sleepy place. The clubhouse was more of a shed than a country club manor house. The one thing I remember is they had one of those old-timey Coke machines that had the 16-ounce glass bottles behind a glass door, and you put in your money (probably like 35 cents) and then popped open the glass door and took your bottle. So yeah, any memory of drinking Coke from glass bottles is a good one.

I couldn’t play golf then – I still can’t, probably – but I think the problem then was I was too light and too short to really get any power behind my swing, so a 75-yard drive was phenomenal for me, but it turned a par-3 into like a par-12. What I did like was just the process of walking across the course. This was at an age where I spent a lot of time exploring, walking through the woods behind our subdivision, or riding my BMX bike in places I’d never seen. Once I got my license, this process lost its appeal, because I could drive to these places in no time flat, and I became a tourist and not a traveler. But back then, the experience of just walking across the mowed grass, looking at the woods and little bits of water hazard and sand bunker, that was something I could do all day, game or no game.

Like I said, I did horribly. I think in 9 holes, I was at like 83, 84. But both my uncle and my cousin were supportive, and gave me a lot of tips. And even with my bad game, it was still great to go out with them and do something fun like that. Golf is bonding in that way, and it makes me wish I had three good friends here in Denver, so we could load up the car and drive out to one of the ten million courses here and have a good Saturday morning talking and playing.

I guess one of the other reasons I think back to this a lot is that my Uncle Al died almost ten years ago, from brain cancer. And he died in my birthday, which is harsh. And what’s more, he lives in a neighborhood right near the Conrail yard, where there are tons of EPA superfund cleanup sites from hazardous chemical runoff, and he had well water, and that always makes me wonder if it was from the water. I don’t know. I do know that he was a great guy, the nicest to us, and I enjoyed the time I spent with him in the couple of games we played out on Garver Lake.

So now I have this computer game. It comes with a weird controller that consists of this pair of gloves that you wear, and those clip to a pair of cables that come out of this base unit. So when you stand there in front of the TV, any movement of your hands, including the velocity of movement, is detected and sent to your PS2. And in the game, when your dude is standing on the fairway and you’ve selected a three-iron or whatever, it can sense how you’re holding the club (you have this fake plastic club to play with; you could also use a real one, but I’m afraid I would break something) and it will control the player accordingly. If you half-swing and put no movement into it, you’ll tap the ball. Stuck in some high grass? Hit low and follow up high and you’ll chip it out of there. To get a good solid drive, you give it a really hard back, behind, forward with all of your might and it will knock the ball a few hundred yards. It’s actually damn hard to get a good swing, mostly because your back, your core muscles, and your arms all have to put some force into this unnatural movement. But it’s fun. I don’t know if I would go out on a course for a few reasons: cost, nobody to go with, and I don’t want to look like an idiot. But I know I could use the exercise, and I would be more apt to walk ten miles on a golf course than walk ten miles on a treadmill. So who knows.

Another big eBay day – three going, two awaiting payment. That might not sound huge, but I had like five auctions end yesterday, so my mailbox was a flurry of eBay mail. Anyway, better get started.