Mickey Mantle

Exceptions to the Rule. Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Exceptions to the Rule

 

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.

(Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

 

Every rule has exceptions, ergo there are a few exceptions to the rule that professionalism and drugs or alcohol; just don’t mix.

This exception has occasionally held true at least in the literary world, although in the world of today’s top sports professionals it may also hold true for those athletes who are bulking up with androgenic or anabolic steroids while trying not to perform under the influence of other mind-altering substances. Perhaps, this is because steroids do in fact beneficially alter performance, although contrarily they also have been known to have severe adverse effects on the personality.

Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Lance Armstrong come to mind with enhanced performance. But then again ask Taylor Hooton’s father what he thinks of steroids after his 17 year old athlete son abused them, became depressed and committed suicide. Or ask the remaining family of steroid abusing Professional Wrestler Chris Benoit who killed his wife, his son and then himself.

Mickey Mantle may have been an exceptional case of an individual who could abuse a substance and still perform. John Daly almost made it too, but eventually fizzled out when alcohol finally overwhelmed his natural talent. Usual odds favor the probability that substance abuse will result in the crash and burn of any career.

In the literary world Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was reputed to be a cocaine addict, yet thrilled the world with his tales of Sherlock Holmes.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge actually admitted that his poem Kubla Kahn was ruined and left unfinished because while in the state of an opium reverie a “visitor from Portlock” knocked on his door and interrupted his entire thought process. He said he lost perhaps a dozen lines.

Then there is the case of Lewis Carroll, whose possible pedophilic addiction to pre-pubescent girls may have been quite a bit more sinister than using either opium, cocaine or both. Just ask Alice.

And who can tell how many modern rock music icons have written beautiful songs while under the influence of marijuana, opiates, amphetamines, LSD or booze; both before, during or after the fact of whatever substance they happen to be abusing at the time.

But for the ordinary, average every day working stiff citizen, I wouldn’t recommend at all playing golf, going bowling, skiing, playing softball or tennis, writing a song or a story or sometimes even attending a christening or a wedding, while under the influence of anything.

That is not unless the people you are up against or mingling with are hyped up on the same chemical substance as the one you are. In this circumstance you might be perceived as being fantastically talented, but only in relative terms.

  • Hey. After I snorted coke last night I had ten great ideas for making a million dollars.
  • Yeah. And after ten beers I shot a 65 on the driving range. You shoulda seen it.

First of all, being a legend in your own mind, you undoubtedly are not all that great at whatever the sport might be. You are also not creative enough to write or sing worth a wit, and you are not clever enough to hold a decent conversation while partially coherent mumbling or slurring; although as you utter them, those words resonate as music to your own ears.

One should always remember that although you might be inclined to think otherwise; the superstars who abuse drugs and alcohol have an amazing talent that gives them a towering leg up to begin with before they decide to waste, squander, or even exploit it in a myriad of other non-commercial enterprises. However, in our ordinary, mundane world, water will always seek its own level.

 

“It is cocaine,” he said, “a seven-per-cent solution. Would you care to try it?”

(Sherlock Holmes)

The Monk, the Mick, and Me

The Monk, the Mick, and Me

I was a far better student than an athlete. But actually discovering that one does not have a great deal of athletic talent is not always so easy to admit.

Having grown up in the heyday of the 1950s and 1960s New York Yankees, my love of the team caused me to equally love the sport. This was the era when the game was dominated by the likes of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Billy Martin and Whitey Ford. It was also a time when it seemed inconceivable for the team never to go all the way every season and ultimately to win the World Series.

A friend who lived up the street, Armand, shared the same enthusiasm for the both the game and the Yankees that I did. He was an overweight affable, good-natured blob known by the neighborhood kids as “Tons of Fun.”

We set up a pitcher’s mound and practiced frequently after school, giving each other mutually positive reinforcement by telling ourselves how great we both were.

What I did not realize was that Armand was fat, slow, not very athletic, that mutual ingratiation is never a substitute for actual talent, and that no matter how good you think you are, there is always someone else out there who is infinitely better.

Thus, when I eventually tried out for the Little League A-teams, I was hopelessly outclassed as a pitcher. I could not believe how hard some of the other boys could throw, had to give it up, and then rotated to second base. It a new problem arose. Since I had received no real formal baseball instruction I also failed at that position, and was told I should go down to the B teams where the disgraced second tier players did not even get uniforms; but only hats.

Life in the minor leagues was equally disappointing as I gave up 12 runs in one inning the first time I ever pitched, was again banished to second base, then yet again to right field, and only then as a bench substitute.

Being in abject fear of getting hit in the face, I was terrible at charging ground balls. I was also unable to judge fly balls because I had to wear glasses that were always bouncing on my nose, which caused distortions in the arc of the fly balls as I ran to catch them. It is difficult enough to follow something traveling through the sky in an arc as you run for it without it also zigzagging in an unfocused blur at the same time.

I lasted two seasons before I realized that I could not hit, pitch, field or catch, so with great sadness about my spastic lack of coordination, hung up my spikes for good.

My brother’s interpretation of how to stay on the A-team was quite more simplified. He maintained that as long as your father was a coach, you got to stay no matter how bad you were, or if nothing else you just sat at the end of the bench. But you still looked good because you had a uniform.

For us this would never be an issue, as our father did not even go to any of our games.

However, I still attended opening day at the A-Leagues, with its hoop-la parade always being very envious of the athletic skills exhibited by the other boys, how their parents were always so proud of them and especially how the girls seemed to gravitate to them with open armed bear hugs at the end of every game. Consigned to the sidelines, I had to be content with becoming expert on charting the scoring hieroglyphics on the inning sheets. Live balls were elusive, but the science and math of what they had already done, I could deal with.

As a young boy I was a baseball fanatic but never got to see the Yankees play at the Stadium because my father, being a New York Giants, fan took me instead to the Polo Grounds where we usually got cheap bleacher seat tickets.

All was not lost however because we always had a bird’s eye view of Willie Mays playing center field.

Except for that, trying to watch baseball action a mile away from the infield was a disappointing bore; including the fact that my own favorite team was not on the field. It was also boring for the pair of fellow bleacher rats sitting in front of us as these two Hispanic macho-men made mutual dollar bets on how long each one or the other could hold out while they tried to set the back of each others hands on fire with magnifying glasses.

My father told me stop watching them and to at look at Wille instead, but statistically speaking how much action during a game does a center fielder really get anyway? It was complete ennui except for Willie’s one-handed basket catches, which I was also told by my father not to try and emulate.

  • Willie can catch those because he’s a pro. Don’t do that in Little League.
  • Don’t worry dad. When all you do is sit on the bench it doesn’t count if you drop them.

This great disappointment however was allayed in a completely unanticipated and surprising way.

When Dan Topping owned the Yankees, he would sometimes bring the players out to the East End of Long Island in a gray twin-engine seaplane for a day of golf at the famous National or Shinnecock Golf Clubs. Shinnecock, being less than a mile away was within easy walking distance from our house.

The seaplane would touch down on Shinnecock Bay, and then come up the Fort Pond channel to finally sweep up onto a concrete landing ramp across the street from my father’s summer cottage. Every time it came in all the children on the street would race over to see who was getting out, then watch various celebrities being picked up to be whisked off in limousines.

One day the guests were Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford.

For me it was a dream come true to actually see my baseball heroes as close as a stones throw away and not like tiny tin soldiers. However, we were always admonished by our parents not to harass the men by maintaining a respectful distance.

  • Those men are coming out here to relax. They don’t need a bunch of little boys pestering after them.

It was too bad for my financial future that I did not disobey my mother and get my baseball trading cards or a new baseball personally autographed by those three heroes. Then again it probably would have made little difference anyway, and a worse catastrophe if the cards or balls had actually been signed, because after I went to college my mother threw out the shoebox filled with a collection of 1950s and 1960s cards. I thought they would be safe if I left them hidden under my bed.

  • Hey, Mom. Where is my baseball card collection?
  • I cleaned up your bedroom and threw out that shoebox. It looked to me like a pile of cruddy cardboard junk.
  • Right then. Mickey, Whitey, Yogi and Willie were consigned to the same fate as Clarabelle’s little loaf of Wonder white bread?
  • What in the world are you talking about?

Much later in life I came to appreciate that throwing out a man’s sentimentally cherished “good stuff” is a phenomenon endemic to the female gender. It is an innately bad trait that can be ascribed not only to mothers, but also to wives.

  • Hey honey. Where’s my favorite Yankee’s World Series t-shirt from 1978?
  • In the Goodwill bin. It had a hole in the armpit. Yellow sweat stains in the armpits too. Yuck.

Another promising baseball adventure turned up when the family owning the summer cottage next door said they were personal friends with Bob Sheppard, the long enduring Yankee Stadium PA announcer, who had been invited to spend a weekend.

My excitement about this visit ended as another great disappointment when the man turned out to be an aloof arrogant snob, leaving me with the feeling that he thought of most children as being nothing more than intolerable annoying nuisances.

He was condescending, extremely full of himself and would not even give me an autograph, because he said he was “on vacation.” Having lost all respect for him, I harbored my own personal contrary opinion, when for the next few decades I would subsequently hear his name touted, lauded or praised on television broadcasts by the booth announcers.

Despite the numerous accolades, I told people that when I had met him as a child he was just an egotistical dick-head.

Much later in life, when I discovered that my father had a friend, “Monk” De Palo, who owned a bar in White Plains, appropriately known as De Palo’s Dugout, I then had the pleasure of at least a few vicarious baseball thrills.

Monk was about six feet tall, stocky; broad shouldered and sported one of those all too lengthy iron grip handshakes that could break your knuckles if you didn’t pull your hand out fast enough. He also spoke in gruff, gravel baritone intonations that highlighted his street talk jargon.

I have no clue where his nickname originated, because there was nothing at all religious about the man’s aura, or persona, or what he actually did for a living.

Even my father did not know the derivation of the name. He was plain, simply and always: The Monk.

When he was standing in front of someone wanting to make a point in a conversation, Monk had the peculiar habit of jabbing the person in the chest with his index finger as he prattled on. The jabs usually hit the same spot between the left second or third ribs, were somewhat painful, and always produced the desired effect of keeping one’s attention; if not to what he was saying then certainly always to force one to continuously back away while still having to face him.

A conversation with Monk could start in the kitchen only to end up on the porch on the far side of the house because of the constantly halting but necessary bruise saving retreat.

Monk would frequently entertain the Yankee players in his establishment, ergo the derivation of its name, and would sometimes even carouse with them when they went on their drinking sprees.

He loved to tell the story of going over to the bars in Northern New Jersey one night with Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra and Billy Martin, then staying out with them to four a.m. on a marathon drinking bender.

The Yankees had a one o’clock afternoon home game the next day after this foray and Monk had meandered his way into the Yankee locker room just before game time. He found Mickey mantle hunched over on the bench in front of his locker with his head in his hands trying to shake off the ravages of the colossal hangover he had procured the night before in the drinking orgy.

The Monk said to him:

  • So Mickey. How do you expect to play today? You can’t even stand up.

The Mick replied:

  • I don’t know Monk. But I have to play. I can’t let the fans or the team down. But I’m too wasted to be able to run the bases, so I guess I’ll just have to go out there and hit homers.
  • Yeah right. You can’t walk and you can’t even see straight.

The Monk walked away incredulously shaking his head, wondering how Mantle had even been able to show up, much less even play. He then went out to see the game, and proceeded to watch his friend go three for three.

Three hits. All of them home runs.

Another story that Monk liked to tell, occurred at a time that the Yankees became interested in foreign players and wanted to bring some Japanese ballplayers over to give them a look and a tryout. They asked Monk if he could put some of them up in his house, to which he readily agreed, but the head count was too high. Monk then called Billy Martin and asked him if he could house a couple of the players.

Billy said:

  • O.K. Monk, but if I take them in, don’t expect to see them at tryouts tomorrow.

When the Monk asked why, Billy told him:

  • Those are the bastards who started World War Two. They bombed Pearl Harbor, they killed our boys, and now you tell me they want to play baseball. Baseball is an American game, it’s a game only for Americans and it’s only a game for Americans to play. Yeah. I’ll put ‘em up in my bedrooms, but they won’t be coming down to breakfast, because while they’re asleep I’m going to stand in the door with a flame thrower and roast the little creeps just like they were in a foxhole.

Needless to say, the Oriental players had to put up with cramped quarters, but remained alive and well by staying with The Monk or anyone else other than Mr. Martin.

It’s just a good thing for Billy that he didn’t live long enough to see not only multi-million dollar contracts for Japanese players, but also the Red Sox playing opening day in 2008 in Tokyo. I wonder what he would have had to say about that.

Athletic talent is an elusive, largely innate trait much of which is based on eye-hand coordination and facile muscle memory.

Some individuals are born with these certain exceptional genetic gifts that others simply do not have or can never even cultivate. On the flip side, who knows how many more unidentified people live and die without ever having the chance to be “discovered”, although they too might possess this special gift?

Some fortunate athletes do not have to work at all, or certainly not very much, on their natural talents. The great American golf professional of the early 1900s, John Travis, first took up the sport at age thirty-five winning his first tournament only seven months later. By age thirty-eight he had won the U.S. Amateur Championship.

John McEnroe Senior was a club tennis player when he took is eight-year-old son there to see if he might enjoy playing. The first time John Junior picked up a racket he was able to contact the ball with ease, and within a few years the young lefty had beaten all the teenage players in the organization.

Other athletes such as the golfer Nick Faldo have to constantly work at developing or maintaining their mechanical skills, but nevertheless still have to graft all of that onto an innately gifted predisposition.

Some athletes like Tiger Woods do not know anything other than what they have always done. Tiger started playing golf when he was barely able to stand up. But he also had “the gift.”

The golfer, Bruce Leitzke, rarely practiced, played only half the PGA tour events, yet maintained a ranking as a top ten golfer. He stated in interviews that it was more important for him to spend time with his family than to trudge around on the Tour week after week. He also said that he hated to practice. Ergo, he did not.

Then there are the unfortunate individuals with great innate talent like John Daly, who seem to have little appreciation for their gift and waste it in the clutches of personal demons, addictions or proclivities, almost before they even make a great enduring name for themselves.

For the most part, the rest of us ordinary folk will never develop any talent no matter how hard we work at it, how much time we put into it, how many lessons we take, or how much money we dole out trying and buying the new equipment we believe will automatically make us great. Most hack amateurs and club players of any sport fall into this zone, as did my little league-pitching career.

The general public has a great affinity and admiration for that fractional percentage of individuals who can repeatedly do the marvelous things that the rest of can only dream about.

Subsequently, we pay out enormous amounts of cash for the privilege of actually seeing it so that we can participate at our own vicarious levels.

We make sports heroes into golden idols and then establish love-hate relationships with them.

This outlay of public cash, which has made professional sports a multi-billion-dollar machine as well as the corporate advertising that follows, then recycles this money as it both panders to and then subliminally redirects its consumer’s tastes. Recycling the cash has also made sports into a multi-billion-dollar perverted monster.

I am consistently amused by the “wanna-be” sports fan: The obese armchair couch-potato athlete who in becoming the know-it all critic, takes great delight in constantly castigating or second-guessing his heroes, eating and talking at the same time while beer and hot dog mustard dribbles down his chin.

This is the great irony of the less than capable price gouged ticket holder telling the overpaid ultra capable sports professional how to better perform his job.

  • Look at that play. He stinks. Even I could do better than that.

Fat chance. Literally, because this is the same corpulent guy who can’t even make it up two flights of stairs without requiring oxygen supplements.

Mickey Mantle was a natural born baseball player who although being plagued by the knee injuries that limited his speed and caused him considerable pain, was still able to overcome this obstacle to become one of the greatest who ever played the game.

Team mates like Billy Martin would say that Mantle was also the most powerful hitter to have ever played leaving many people to this day wondering what he could have accomplished if his knees had been healthy.

Today’s power hitters do it with steroids or testosterone supplements while Mantle did it with bad knees and hangovers

He was also the first professional baseball player to make an annual salary of $100,000, which in itself was an enormous milestone at the time, so much so that it made headlines in The New York Daily News.

Unlike today’s players, he was paid for past performance and not given a seven figure prospective contract that paid him simply for showing up at work.

At the same time, he was also one of the greatest examples of a high profile God gifted talent who simultaneously played the game of self-destructive behavior to perfection by batting 1.000 when it came to personally inflicted abuse.

He was able to maintain his performance levels over a long period of time, without having to work very hard at it, being able to quit at the top before the demons, the professional parasites, or the wanna-bes, that always seem to lurk at the fringes of professional sports were able to bring him down and to drag him away across the River Styx.

On May 13, 1955, Mickey Mantle hit three home runs in a single game.

On the night of May 12, 1955 he was out hitting the bars.

Mantle

The Mick

If I knew I was going to live this long, I probably would have taken better care of myself.

(Mickey Mantle: While waiting for a liver transplant donor)

Photo source http://www.historicaldocuments.com

 

 

 

 

Wedded Bliss

Wedded Bliss

 

Any marriage is doomed to fail, if you do not bring the best of yourself to home each night

(Inspirational speaker)

The argument my parents had over my name was a significant harbinger of worse things to come.

One of my earliest childhood memories was a loud shouting match between my parents; after which my father left our apartment, and then ran upstairs to hide under his mother’s skirt. He slammed the door so hard that a piece of the plastered kitchen ceiling fell out. I was too young to know the particulars of the contest, but my terrorized confusion led to a small epiphany about what ‘Chicken Little’ had feared the most.

Things did not change much over the next fifty years, as there were only rare incidents when bickering was not the mainstay of my parent’s personal interactions. There was never physical abuse toward each other or very rarely to their children; but they were naively unaware that the aftermath of this emotional abuse could be just as devastating as a real physical beating. Their relationship was influenced by differences in culture, personality and the proximity of my father’s family, as opposed to the great distance to home and family for my mother. Then tack on a few children and suddenly these differences magnify a venue for both direct as well as indirect ventilation of the problems.

However, I do not wish to portray my mother as purely being the victim.  Although the separation from home combined with the influence of my father’s lukewarm, passive aggressive and uncompassionate family were undoubtedly important factors in her unhappiness, there were independent elements of her personality that set the substrate for a state of perpetual dismay and dissatisfaction. Like a baby duck, she must have been so imprintedly bonded to her sisters that it probably had a lasting influence on her inability to let other people into her life or to let them get too close. I have a suspicion that while growing up, the four girls were an inseparable and relatively insular sorority that took great delight in finding faults or imperfections in any one who was not one of them. Perhaps the relative isolation of farm life played a role, but there was still a certain element of xenophobia or paranoia lurking under the surface, making me doubt that no one else could ever qualify to be in their little club. They all developed a mutually reinforced superiority complex. Or perhaps it was just pernicious insecurity and intolerance.

After my mother died my father confessed to me that she also had irrational paranoid jealously about everyone and everything; making it impossible to know if the overall behavioral issues were due to genetics or to environment. In 1944, when he was stationed overseas in Okinawa, she wrote letters accusing him of having had a sexual liaison with a mutual friend back home; which made pleasant reading for a guy stuck on a Pacific island littered with the bloated bodies of a few thousand unburied U.S. and Japanese soldiers. A veritable snail-mail nightmare.

Over a lifetime I witnessed most of my parent”s friends fall by the wayside, as the slightest perceived insult, fault or flaw by any of these individuals caused them to be permanently crossed off my mother’s social register. Her ingrained character traits had eventually caused her to become the queen of cognitive bigotry, while equally detrimental; as she carried her personal grudges around for a lifetime they became an overweight suitcase of perpetual unforgiving.

My father’s method of dealing with the hostile home environment was simply solved by being absent. He worked every day except for half-days on Thursdays and Saturdays, but then had engagements every night of the week including Bowling Leagues, or meetings of the Board of Education, Knight of Columbus, Lions Club, Sons of Italy, or any other distraction, which would facilitate a sort of sanctioned absence. As such he was an excellently competent dentist, a model citizen, and was consistently praised by his colleagues at both the professional as well as the civic level. He was a paragon of virtue.

For example, at Valhalla Hospital, he volunteered his services on Thursday afternoons at the County Prison. As a consequence there may yet be a group of ex-convicts running around today with mercury amalgam fillings that will never fall out. He did that work for decades until quitting one-day for good after a convict severely bit his hand in a physical demonstration of feelings about dental discomfort. This occupational and environmental hazard finally was not worth the altruistic effort. He said:

  • I do the work for free, and I get rewarded with a bite. From now on I don’t care if all their teeth just rot in their heads. I’m done.

When he was out of the house his personality was fetching, as he made friends where ever he went, but always brought his alter ego unfriendly self home at night. Later in life when people told me how wonderful he was, I would say:

  • Not necessarily. After all he wasn’t your father and you didn’t have to live with him.
  • Oh. Yeah. Right. But he’s still just as sweet and friendly as he could be. Sometimes it’s just hard to be a dad, you know.
  • Yeah? But you must be referring to a real dad, right?

On Saturday and then filling out Thursday afternoons he could be found on the golf course playing with my uncle Jimmy. But then in creating agendas that made Sundays as good as any punishment meted out by the Spanish Inquisition, this day was devoutly devoted to Church, yard work, weeding, housework, exterior house painting and then eventually to visiting his mother’s grave or to tightening up my braces. That way, my dental work would not interfere with cash generating business hours.

In an effort to bond with her husband and to assume some common interest in one of his activities, my mother actually attempted to play golf. But her golf career was cut short when around age thirty she suffered a protracted recovery after a radical mastectomy, followed by a radical hysterectomy and compounded again by experimental chemotherapy. The stress, nature and consequences of this illness did nothing to smooth matters over between my parents, because although fortunately, she became a long-term survivor of breast cancer, my mother never got over the emotional devastation of a total beast amputation, lymph node dissection and pelvic evisceration. I suspect it may have also ended their sex life.

During my father’s absence, my mother’s frustration inspired her to rally her children around her point of view, resulting in the seriously grievous error of turning my affections and those of my brother and sister against her own husband. She perpetually complained about his behavior or arbitrarily just about anything else he ever said or did. She also did the same thing directly to his face, which precipitated rounds of endless bickering and thus more paternal absence. It became a positive feedback loop of negativity. Thus, because he was never home enough to defend himself, her brain washing held significant influence over me and my siblings, undermining our respect for him as she succeeded in making us believe that he was our enemy as well as her own.

When my mother became mentally disabled, I told my father about this particular habit of hers. He seemed shocked, but I was equally shocked to know that he had been completely oblivious to what had gone on behind his back. However since he was not paying close attention in the first place, this naivety about being an absent father should not have come to me as a total surprise.

He said we should have heart to heart talks more often, with the best response I could muster was pointing out that he was closing in on 90 years old. It was way too much, far too little, and many, many years too late.

Matters were not made better by the fact that my father expected a sort of mandatory, old world Italian, filial style love from his children simply because he happened to be the sperm donor. He wanted his children to run to him with open arms when he came home from work excitedly yelling: “Pappa, Pappa.”It was a fantasy illusion he carried for his entire life, which subsequently led to a lifetime of unfulfilled expectations and disappointments. Because he never understood that respect had to be earned, or that those romantic Hollywood movie scenes do not too often ever reflect real life scenarios, he never did get this type of respect from us. Although he was a man of mostly “good intentions”, they were unfortunately expressed less in his home and more in his social milieu, which then made them part of the pavement in the notorious roadway that winds itself straight to Hell. Over a lifetime we got sick and tired of him coming home to tell us he had “gotten kind of friendly” with some one or another perfectly absract stranger; when this charity was never being expressed domestically.

Spending little or no time with our activities or extra-curricular life, he would often become impatient when taking the extremely rare opportunity to teach us anything about sports involving balls or sticks. Having been a very good multi-sport athlete in High School and College, he had a difficult time teaching those skills and probably should have sent us for lessons instead. If we were clumsy enough not to get it right the first time, he would quickly morph into an ogre; causing the lessons to typically end abruptly; followed by his shallow inability to understand why we didn’t want to continue.  He pushed us very hard to learn golf but the instruction could be as qualitative as his lifetime mantra about it:

  • You know, the golf swing is not really what you think it is.

I guess that must mean that the golf swing is really what you think it isn’t, but that left a lot to the imagination as far as actually being able to execute what it was really supposed to be. In fact I am glad I did not learn his swing because its terrible intrinsic flaws leaves him endlessly frustrated by his lifetime inconsistency.

But he was too stubborn to ever take a lesson himself and to this day seems hell bent on practicing the “what it is not” part but not the “what it is” part of the swing. Over and over and over again, it’s the same old bad swing; practicing the same old routine until it becomes embedded in muscle memory as a nasty bad habit that will only ensure the scoring of numerous bogeys, very few pars and an inexplicable and seemingly out of the blue “others.”

It was almost an iconic yet predictable image to come down his driveway at dusk watching him tirelessly banging wiffle-balls against the seasonally absent next-door neighbor’s summer house, but hypocritically never banging them against his own. After all:

  • If I did that, it might damage my shingles.

Then to make matters even worse, my father attempted to take us out on the golf course one day after only one or two backyard lessons. That was a fatal error, not only for the safety of the turf, but also more importantly for the safety of any other player within the vicinity of our hacking hooks and banana slices. I had a miserable time, hated every second of it as did any of the foursomes backed up behind us. After that it took me years to forget that whenever I walked outside the combined smell of grass, fertilizer and lawn poisons did not necessarily mean I was going to automatically have a bad day. This was also when I became exposed to the counterproductive negative thinking of the amateur athlete; because every time we came to a hole with a fronting water hazard my father would quip before my swing:

  • Now don’t let the water intimidate you.

This of course would absolutely guarantee dumping the tee shot into the pond and would be equivalent to Mickey Mantle standing at home plate thinking:

  • Golly gee. I only have one more chance now, so I hope I don’t strike out again. Maybe I won’t even swing at the ball, then.

A lot of this “quality time” was also spent comparing me and my brother’s short comings to the near perfect attitudes, activities, athletic abilities, and house-chore work ethic of my ass kissing cousin “Little Jimmy.” Most things other than my father’s own social or golf related activities or doing home maintenance, he considered to be a waste of time and so anything I eventually came to love such as fishing, boating, water-skiing or sailing were either self taught or taught to me by someone else’s father.

In their defense, my parents were both individuals of great integrity, also of great moral values and ethics, which they successfully imparted to their children. In addition, my siblings and I did not have to pay for any of our higher education, which totaled eight years for each of us; something that for them must have been a serious financial burden. They fanatically believed in education and were fabulous as tangible providers. Another great thing that my father did for us was to pursue his own boyhood dream of having a water front house by the water and fulfilled it in the late 1940s when he bought a small plot of water front property in Southampton, on Long Island in New York. He then spent the next fifteen years building a house on the lot literally by hand, so as children we had the unusual privilege and advantage of spending all our summers at the beach in a little cottage that was a veritable heaven on earth.

The problem with my parents was the constant lack of emotional support both for each other as well as for their children; which stemmed from the fact that they probably never should have been together in the first place. They never displayed interpersonal affection and I do not believe I ever saw them kiss. If they ever had, this affection came to an abrupt stop early enough in my life not to be very memorable. They never said, “I love you” to each other or to their children. As such, the way they eventually came to deal with both each other, as well as with us, was not with emotional expressions, but rather with expressions of straightforward approval or of disapproval.

  • Good grades, son. Bad hairstyle.

There was only one other incident from my childhood that I unsuccessfully tried to suppress. My mother was never consistently cruel or ever physically abusive. She was simply and ice-cold stoic Protestant who probably thought she was doing me and my siblings a favor by teaching us certain survival lessons in how to best navigate a potentially cruel or dangerous world. It took me years to realize that her one and only so-called “lesson in trust” probably stemmed form the fact that when she was a young teen-ager, a much older Uncle had once seduced her to go on a car ride ostensibly “for ice cream.” He got the ice cream, then tried; or even may have succeeded in a sexual assault. She suppressed the incident herself, only alluding to it twice in her entire life, but never divulging entirely the precise details of what had actually happened.

Then one day when she was smoking a cigarette she must have had her own personal nicotine induced flashback as she called me over to the sofa where she was sitting. She said:

  • Come here. I want to show you something.

Of course I did what I was expected to do and came over by the sofa.

  • No get closer. I want you to look into my eyes.

I didn’t think twice about it and thought that perhaps this was going to be a rare opportunity to enjoy an unusual display of affection, so I inched closer thinking perhaps I might be getting a rare hug or a kiss. But the moment turned ugly when she burned me on the forearm with her cigarette. Then I heard her say as I recoiled that:

  • You should always think twice about trusting people unless you can tell for sure they are not offering false promises.

That was either her pathetic way of going about protecting her “favorite” child or perhaps only taking out personal frustrations during an intensely bad  overdosed hormonal relacement surge. I never told my father or anyone else about it until the night I finally spilled the story to my second wife after she accused me of having deep seeded “Trust issues.”

At the original point in time, telling anyone about such parental abuse would have been the same as saying a priest had buggered my ass. No one would ever have believed it and secondarily, no one would have done anything about it. These were taboo subjects hidden in family closets or behind the doors of the Sacristy.

A friend’s wife, Chris, told me years before my wife had alluded to it that she thought I might have suffered from a lack of nurturing in childhood. At the time she said it, I didn’t really grasp what she meant, and somewhat resented the unsolicited opinion about my personality.  Now I get it.

Golf Swing

Dad’s golf swing. What it isn’t

 

 

The bridge at midnight trembles.

The country doctor rambles.

Bankers’ nieces seek perfection,

Expecting all the gifts that wise men bring. 

The wind howls like a hammer,

The night blows cold and rainy,

My love, she’s like some raven

At my window with a broken wing. 

(Love Minus Zero/No Limit: Bob Dylan)