Sweet Omen Alabama

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Photo credit: Miami Herald

On Dec. 12, the people of Alabama found themselves in a tenuous position. Would they dismiss the sexual assault allegations leveed against religious conservative Roy Moore, and vote in support of their Evangelical, pro-life, pro-gun past?

Or would they pull the lever for pro-choice, economic progressive Doug Jones and bank on their future?

When I looked at the Alabama senate race, of course I saw the allegations of sexual abuse against Moore, but I focused on the personal and religious commentary that is just as common here in Kentucky: Democrats are baby killers who want to take away our guns; Muslims hate “our Christian way of life”; gay marriage is wrong/evil/an abomination; outsiders don’t understand our heritage; the Civil War was not about slavery but about states’ rights; can you prove Barack Obama was born here?

I moved to rural Kentucky from California’s Silicon Valley in 2014. One of the first questions people asked was, “where do you go to church?” They talked openly and often about guns and the Second Amendment. Obama and his wife were the butt of jokes. Any mention of women’s reproductive rights were conversation killers. And people voted accordingly.

What we need are jobs. Coal is not coming back. Factories are not coming back. Whether we like it or not, Kentucky needs non-southerners, companies from other places —places like Silicon Valley — to take a chance here and invest in us.

Yet it remains hard to convince them to come.

In Silicon Valley, my husband worked in high tech, and his company often looked to make investments in states like Kentucky and Alabama, states that had an available, trainable, workforce, but there was often a social roadblock.

A story about Louisiana stands out.

The governor was on a mission to bring new industry to Louisiana, and he was using both state funds and the federal disaster relief monies they’d received after Hurricane Katrina to do it. Louisiana had so many displaced people from New Orleans and elsewhere who needed homes and jobs, and they’d partnered with the local community college for high tech training. The local Barksdale Air Force Base helped with community outreach and support.

A government task force there had built a data center in Bossier City, just across Red River from Shreveport, close to the Texas border, and my husband agreed to look at the exciting possibility of opening a new office.

Unemployment was high, education levels low, and job prospects few outside the Air Force. But Louisiana had invested their state and federal funds well, erecting a a new, first-class building with state-of-the-art networks and power grids.

Before the trip, a representative of the task force called and asked what he’d like to do to get a feel for the place: go to the horserace track, gamble on the river boats, or fire weapons at a shooting range. The last option was to take a tour of Barksdale Air Force Base, which is what he opted to do.

The task force director took my husband on the tour of Barksdale AFB in his Suburban, the back filled with rifles and shotgun cases. At one point, the director proudly pulled a big revolver from between his driver’s seat and console to show it off, along with a special bullet he said he used to shoot coyotes and other wildlife. He said, “Of course, it works on criminals, too!”

When they drove up to a security gate at the AFB, they were not stopped, just waved through. It is important to note that Barksdale AFB is where they keep nuclear war heads, old and new, stored in rows of bunkers. Hundreds of them. Barksdale is where long-range, supersonic bombers, B2’s, operate, loaded and ready to take off with nuclear payload at any instant.

They drove in their suburban, unchecked, past a runway where bombers sat with their engines running. All without bothering with security.

Then came dinner with task force members, all men, where the night’s conversation went to guns, hunting and fishing, derogatory remarks about Middle Easterners, and jokes about women.

My husband and I are not naive, nor are we Californians. Between the two of us, we have lived in a dozen states from Texas to Minnesota to Iowa to Washington, and we were both raised in similarly conservative, rural areas — Rush Limbaugh and I share the same hometown, after all — where families go to church on Sundays, men carry guns in their trucks, and factories have long-since shuttered their doors.

But now we lived and worked in California, a place where jobs are so plentiful they can’t fill them, and what my husband knew immediately (and sadly) during his tour and dinner with the Louisiana task force was this: he would never be able to convince his best managers — who might be Indians, Iranians, Asians, Muslims, Atheists, African-American or Hispanic women — to relocate to Bossier City with their families to run the office, no matter the state-of-the-art building or how plentiful the workforce.

What if the best person for the job happened to be a Lesbian. Could she move there, with her wife and children, and be welcomed, respected, accepted?

The Louisiana governor might have been ready for outside companies and progressive industry, but the culture was not.

Watching the Alabama senate race play out — and seeing the jaw-dropping Vice video where Frank Luntz asks voters to share their views —I remembered Louisiana. Like Bossier City, small towns in Alabama and Kentucky desperately need jobs to come in from the outside, but there is little to no tolerance for outsiders, for those who do not agree with local views on religion, abortion and guns.

President Trump and members of Congress basically threw up their hands in the run-up to Alabama’s special election, dismissing Moore’s accusers, but also remaining silent on the hot issues like guns and abortion.

Alabamans, they said, did not want or need a bunch of outsiders telling them what to do.

Sound familiar?

The reality on the ground is this: our towns are dying. We can no longer survive — our communities will not survive — if we continue to cast single-issue votes on the Bible, guns and abortion that have nothing to do with policy and economic growth.

On Dec. 12, Alabama broke with tradition. They voted to try something new.

Come the 2018 elections, those of us in the south and the so-called flyover states would do well to follow Alabama’s omen, their brave and progressive lead. If we truly want to make our towns great again, we have to open our doors and our minds. We have to stop clinging so hard to the past that we cannot reach forward for our future.

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The deplorables are alive and well

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Obama is weak, not tough enough, not a real man.

Those are the words I heard most before we elected Donald J. Trump 45th president of the United States. What we need is a man who isn’t afraid to be politically incorrect, a man who will project raw power, a man we can be proud of.

What we need, I heard over and over again, is a man’s man.

In recent days, the president has defamed the FBI, saying the agency’s “reputation is in tatters” and calling former Director Comey a liar; he has insulted war heroes, the Navajo Code Talkers, with jokes about Pocahontas during a ceremony in their honor; he continues to denigrate the NFL and professional black men for kneeling; he has tweeted fake, xenophobic videos which led British parliament to call for the cancellation of his state visit.

And now, he has thrown his full-throated support behind the candidacy of Alabama’s Roy Moore, alleged child molester and sexual assaulter, for U.S. senate.

Here in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, I roll my Walmart shopping cart past a young mother wearing her Proud Member of the Basket of Deplorables t-shirt.

One year post-election I wonder, what exactly is she proud of? What matters to her?

As regards Roy Moore, it does not seem to matter that Sen. Maj. Leader Mitch McConnell initially said, “I believe the women,” before changing his tune and allowing the GOP to support Moore financially.

It does not matter that nine women have made credible allegations against Moore. That, when he was in his 30s, he was banned from the mall for preying on teen girls and watched by law enforcement at ball games because they did not trust him around cheerleaders.

It does not matter that the president’s own daughter tweeted, “There’s a special place in hell for people who prey on children.”

Special place in hell or no, President Trump — himself accused by more than a dozen women of sexual assault — has decided the election of an accused pedophile beats losing the Alabama senate seat to a democrat. And plenty of Trump supporters believe he is right.

I remember the indignation, the outrage, the downright fury of Trump supporters when Hillary Clinton made her infamous “basket of deplorables” remark during a campaign speech. Who does she think she is?!

Yet if you read Clinton’s statement in full, the president’s words and actions, with the support of his base, continue to prove her right. “You can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it. And unfortunately, there are people like that and he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people, now have 11 million. He tweets and retweets offensive, hateful, mean-spirited rhetoric.”

Clinton did not say that all Trump voters are deplorable. She said half. And you need only look back at t-shirts worn to Trump rallies to find the half:

Trump that bitch.
Hillary sucks, but not like Monica.
Rope, tree, journalist — some assembly required.
Fuck Islam.
Make America White Again.
Build that fucking wall.
Grab my pussy. I dare you.
Donald Trump. Finally, someone with balls.

Powerful, politically incorrect, a man’s man.

A man who, as President of the United States, belittles and insults colleagues, friends and enemy regimes alike — Pocahontas, Liddle Bob Corker, Flakey Jeff Flake, Crooked Hillary, Little Rocket Man — while throwing the full weight of the White House behind a serial predator: “Go get ‘em Roy Moore!”

On Dec. 3, the Waco Tribune editorial board warned the following: “The problem with continuing to look past these daily presidential digressions into hate-mongering, conspiracy theories and artless put-downs is that, sooner or later, this could provoke an incident that costs lives.”

No matter. The president’s base, his core supporters, remain on board his famed Trump Train.

There are those who say they are simply religious conservatives, one-issue voters — not racists or xenophobes or sexists, oh heavens no — who vote strictly against abortion rights, or for their guns. They are not, as Hillary Clinton claimed, deplorable.

And yet, come Dec. 12, these same folks down in Alabama will throw their full support at Roy Moore, an alleged pedophile and powerful man’s man (not weak like Obama) and they will be cheered on by Trump-loving Kentuckians, fellow religious conservatives, in their cause.

All for the dream of nabbing a Supreme Court seat.

Ivanka Trump was right. “There’s a special place in hell for people who prey on children.” And that place, according to her father, appears to be in the United States Senate.

Deplorable.

The patterns of horrible men

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Patterns matter. Ask any math teacher.

Toddlers see the pattern in separating red blocks from blue blocks (the reds go here, blues over there); grade schoolers learn their multiplication tables by deciphering patterns; high schoolers see that algebra and trigonometry and calculus are all about function, how the pattern of one number logically begets the next.

Patterns help us see how things work.

Last week, President Trump threw his support behind an accused sexual abuser, senate candidate Roy Moore down in Alabama. To this point we’ve had Bill Clinton and Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly and Kevin Spacey, Woody Allen and Harvey Weinstein. We have a pattern.

We’ve even had Donald J. Trump himself, one month before we elected him president, bragging about his pattern of sexual assault on tape: “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

Now we’ve got Roy Moore, a man banned from the mall and the YMCA because he was known to prey on teenage girls; a man watched by law enforcement at ball games to make sure he did not hang around the cheerleaders; a man who remains tied or ahead in the polls because his supporters would rather vote for an accused pedophile than a democrat.

Think about that. The patterns of these men tell the story, yet we gladly turn a blind eye to their horrific behaviors, so long as we get our own way. Because we’ve established a pattern, too.

If an accused child molester is what it takes to get us tax reform, nabs another Supreme Court seat, and keeps democrats out of office, the people scream, Amen and sold! Show us to the voting booth!

The patterns established this first year of the Trump presidency are alarming. For example, you need only follow Trump’s own statements and tweet-storms to see the pattern of his rages: Stephan Curry, Jemele Hill, Rep. John Lewis, Rep. Maxine Waters, Rep. Frederica Wilson, LaVar Ball, Gold Star father Kzhir Khan, Judge Curiel, Muslim immigrants, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Puerto Rican Mayor Yulin Cruz, CNN’s Don Lemon, the Haitians he wants to deport, Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch and, of course, his favorite punching bags: NFL players and Colin Kaepernick.

If a toddler sees the pattern in separating red blocks from blue blocks, you could say the president does the same with people. White men like Sheriff Joe Arpaio, convicted in criminal court, gets a pass, a presidential pardon. But the president maintains a long and growing list of disrespectful, ungrateful brown and black people who must be called out in public, and shamed. In Trump’s America, ungrateful is the new uppity.

You could argue, as I’m sure many of you will, that the case of Kaepernick and the NFL is different, a special and offensive circumstance in its own right. But is it?

The Chicago Tribune’s Steve Chapman, in his article on Sep. 26, makes an interesting case: “If you don’t like how Black Lives Matter pursues its agenda, you should welcome the NFL players’ approach. It’s silent; it’s not disruptive; and it’s entirely nonviolent. It doesn’t block traffic, occupy police or frighten bystanders.” And if your issue is that you believe these black players are disrespecting the flag, consider that “no flags are harmed — and it could be taken as a form of respect for the flag to mutely signal your belief that the ideals it represents are not being realized.”

Is there room to consider Chapman’s argument, or have we established such a firm belief-pattern of our own — to never change our minds, even when presented new and plausible information — that we are destined to remain stuck?

This is exactly what has happened down in Alabama. Voters, mostly Christians, long ago made their choices and established a pattern they can live with, and now they must vote for, must elect, the accused pedophile because at least he is not a democrat, and they cannot break the pattern.

Patterns help us see how things work. Ask any math teacher.

Then ask any American: do the patterns of men like Roy Moore and the president define who you are, who you want to be?

Why we don’t tell

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In case you’ve forgotten, this is what 16 yr old girls look like. Credit: The Breakfast Club – 1985.

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When Beverly Young Nelson held her November 13 press conference about the abuses of Judge Roy Moore down in Alabama, I keyed in on her high school yearbook. I focused on that yearbook the way you focus on a bad car wreck, on the carnage, and I hit the “record” button so I could watch her entire story over and over and over again.

And yet, looking back, it was not her yearbook at all. It was the way Ms. Nelson talked about her neck, the way she described Moore pushing his hands on her neck, the force and the fear she felt, as he tried to shove her face into his crotch.

He was in his 30s. She was 16. Why, everyone asks, didn’t she tell?

I know why. I know why because the same thing happened to me. And I did not tell a soul — not a friend, not my mother, not a stranger, not my husband, not anyone — for 34 years.

I finally told on the weekend of my 50th birthday. I was on a trip with my high school girlfriends in Breckenridge, Colorado. We had been hiking on one of those perfect, sunny, spectacular summer days, having a great time laughing and our telling our same old stories the way old friends do.

Then, we were coming down the mountain in a gondola when one of the women mentioned his name. She was telling a joke. Everyone laughed, but I felt a wave of panic, an intense, physical wave like the kind you feel when you dream you’re falling, and it seemed like I was watching this scene from outside myself, from outside the gondola even, like I was dangling from the cables, struggling to hang on, altogether invisible to the women who’ve known me longest, and the best.

On the ten minute walk from the gondola to our condo, I played in my head what to say. I knew if I did not start talking, start telling, the instant we were inside, that fear would win. I would change my mind.

“Everybody grab a drink,” I half-heard myself saying. “I’ve got a story to tell you.”

There was a low, murmuring clatter as the women mixed their cocktails and gathered around the condo’s dining room table — my sheet-cake there with its blue icing, our high school colors spelling out “Happy Birthday!” — but the only words I heard them say were, “Oh god, there’s a story.”

I stared into my friends’ worried faces. And I carefully peeled the label off a beer I did not bother to drink as I told every last detail.

Over these decades I have listened to so many friends tell their secrets. The woman whose father was such a great grandfather that she can never tell her family lest she ruin him for them. The woman who grew up behind a literal white picket fence whose father laughed while holding her mother at gunpoint. The man who told me he’d been raped repeatedly as a teen by his parish pastor, only to realize the same pastor had raped his mother and his sisters.

I have listened and I have felt shock and compassion and amazement. I have hugged them and cried with them and thanked them for trusting me with their stories, for being brave. And I have naively encouraged them to name names and tell their stories to the greater public — “Tell everybody! Expose the bastard!” — and been incredulous at their expressed regret in telling me, at their decision to go on maintaining their secrets.

What I know now is this: after I told, I only felt worse. I only felt more shame and fear. Shame that people, my people, knew. Fear that the few I’d told would tell others and that I would be talked about with pity.

Telling does not equal healing. Telling is not cathartic or therapeutic. Telling does not mean feeling better or lighter or relieved. Telling is not the end, just another horrifying beginning.

When I got home from my big birthday celebration in Colorado, I knew I had to tell one more person. My husband of 20 years. But unlike the long, detailed account I gave my childhood girlfriends, I only had enough energy left for the basics. I promised I would tell him the whole story later, but it’s been two years. Later may never come. And now feel guilty about that, too.

This additional guilt is what I feel every time I hear someone ask with rolling-eyed disbelief, “If it’s true, why did she wait decades to tell this story?”

Telling is not a relief. Telling is simply an additional burden to bear; the extra, overwhelming weight of being forever linked, publicly, by body and by name, to the person who abused you.

And then … there’s the yearbook.

The Game

Game:

Eager and willing to do something new or challenging, i.e. she was game for anything.

A secret and clever plan or trick, i.e. she was on to his little game.

Mammals hunted for sport.

 

Female at Birth

Page seven of the Minnesota Women’s Golf Association (MWGA) handbook lists tournament rules of eligibility. I read through to the last item and call my mother.

“Listen to this. Entries are open to amateur golfers who were female at birth. I’d say that’s a call to action.”

“To prove what?” she says.

It is mid May, and I’ve quit my job to go back to school. In September. I have never not worked, and this little book has arrived in my mailbox, in my hand, just at the onset of leisure-panic. “I don’t know what to do with myself.”

“Only you could make a summer off sound like punishment,” Mom says. “Sleep late. Clean your house. Visit me!”

I read on. There are four tournaments, each played on a course I’ve never set foot on. My husband, Rex, glides by and slaps at the pages with the back of his hand. “Play some golf. I sure as hell would if I were you.”

“Don’t listen to him,” Mom says, but as usual I ignore the very advice I’ve called to ask for.

“I’m just a casual golfer,” I say to Rex.

“You’re not a casual-anything. You’re a vicious competitor.”

Sold.

I fill out all four entry forms.

 

Team Green

You used to think golf was for (a) the old-money country club set, decked out in their finest Polo and Burberry, and/or (b) the Caddyshacked retiree, clad in blue and orange plaid.

Then, a week shy of your twenty-fifth birthday, you took up the game because your new boss – let’s call him Dennis – told you to.

Dennis had promoted you from within the ranks to a management position in The Company. He summoned you to his office. You sat in a low-slung chair in his high-rise suite, with its inlaid marble floor, and squared off with him from across a span of mahogany so massive you thought you might need to shout. Dennis took the last drag off of his cigarette. He snuffed it out, lit another.

“I hear you’re not a golfer,” he said.

“Never played.”

“See this bright green logo?” He snatched up a piece of The Company’s letterhead and pointed to what you knew, if only you could see it from here, was its tony, downtown address. “We’re Team Green, and the team plays golf. Do you want to be part of the team or not?” It sounded like a question, but you knew better. It was the same tone he’d used in your final interview. “You’re a newlywed, right? If I give you this job, you’re not going to get pregnant are you?”

“You can’t ask me that.”

“I just did.”

“But you can’t.”

“Right. Do you want the fucking job or not?”

 

Overly Zealous Competitors

The MWGA’s first tournament is a two-day event, and Rex takes off work to caddy for me. In the parking lot of Island View Golf Club, I lean against the car bumper and force my feet into brand new, spiked shoes. It feels a bit like the first day of school.

Golf courses are typically overrun with men. Not here. The few men I see are caddies, on hand to serve the hordes of women stalking the grounds like crocodiles, checking out their competition. It is dead quiet.

“Man, these girls look serious,” Rex whispers. “You’ve got balls, I’ll give you that. You couldn’t pay me to do this.”

On the first tee I meet Lynn, my playing partner for the day. Lynn is friendly and chatty. I play well. I play well, that is, until hole #12 where I over-swing and hook my tee shot towards a Spotter by the trees. My ball disappears into the woods, so I re-tee and hit a provisional ball into the fairway.

I walk to the Spotter. “You can look for your first ball,” he says, “but if you find it you have to play it. Or (he draws out the or) you can abandon it and play the provisional.”

He winks, I think.

Back in the fairway, Friendly Lynn is hovering like a stealth fighter over my provisional ball. “You can’t ask the Spotter for advice,” she says.

“I didn’t ask for any.”

“If I report it, you’re disqualified.”

“I didn’t ask for any.”

“I’ve been to Rules School. It’s an automatic DQ. If you abandon your first ball you should run up here and hit this one immediately. If I were an overly zealous competitor, I could choose to look for your lost ball, even though you’ve abandoned it, and if I found it before you hit the provisional, the first ball would be ‘in play’ and you would have to play it whether you liked it or not.”

Did she just say ‘overly zealous’?

I finish my first day in last place, and the darkening sky starts to sprinkle. Overnight, it pours.

At seven a.m., Rex and I don our rain gear and stuff my golf bag full of towels. He says, “The course will be a mess. They won’t let you play in this.”

We play.

My feet are soaked the instant I step on the course, and I notice my fancy new shoes have open-mesh vents. On the tee, I say hello to my two playing partners for the day. It is our last conversation.

For the next five and half hours, it rains, and these women walk separate from me, as chummy and giggly as schoolgirls. It’s like that time in the ninth grade, I think, when the popular girls decided to teach me a lesson (for what, who can remember) and banned me from their lunch table.

“These are some really nice ladies,” Rex says, fishing for a laugh he doesn’t get. He tries his caddie-best to encourage me, but I am not feeling vicious and I silently will him to please, oh please, just stop talking.

At the end of the round, we sign our cards, attesting to our scores like one might attest to a Last Will and Testament. I note that I am still in last place.

In the car, I peel off my shoes and socks and wrap my pruned feet in dry towels. While Rex drives us home, I call my mother looking, of course, for sympathy.

Mom says, “Well, what did you expect? You never did like playing with girls. I don’t know why you thought this would be any different.”

 

You Could Get Hurt

As a 20-something newlywed, you had no plans to get pregnant, but you would probably have had Dennis’s baby if it meant getting that job.

Between the salary bump and bonuses, your income would triple. Dennis might not be the boss you dreamed of, but the job certainly was. For years, you’d watched your single mother trudge off to work the second and third shifts at the hosiery mill. The nighttime hours and the machine noise and the constant dust and dirt wrung her out. The asbestos poisoned her lungs. All you’d ever wanted was to have an office (with a door), to sit behind a desk in a high- backed chair (that swivels), to wear pantyhose and high heels (real Italian leather!), and to go to important meetings (where you could act “important”).

You wanted to work in a place where people were so goddamned busy they had to order in lunch.

And, well, there you were.

Your peers thought you were too small-town for the job and, not to mention, a girl, but you had news for them. You’d grown up in a neighborhood full of boys. You raced your beat-up bike downhill, and even when you wrecked and slid sideways in the gravel, you wore your scabs and scars like trophies. You played baseball on the street with sometimes fake, sometimes real, bats, and you would slide into base, even if that base was a white Frisbee on cement, to help your team win.

When you were eight, your mother signed you up to play softball. Softball! With girls!

“Girls don’t play baseball,” she’d said. “You could get hurt.”

Then, like some kind of insult, she handed you a brand new softball. This ball-for-sissies was so big you could barely hold it in your hand, much less throw the stupid thing.

“I can’t throw this,” you said, trying to hand it back to her. “I don’t want to play.” “I already signed you up. You’re playing. You’ll figure it out.”

Golf was no different. At first, you didn’t want to play – didn’t even know how to keep score – but by God, almost from your first try, you could really smack that ball.

You took a few lessons, and it wasn’t long before the game helped you mask so much inexperience and insecurity. Unlike the men in the office, you’d barely chalked up two years at the state college in your Missouri hometown. These guys had gone to highbrow, preppie-colleges and spent their summers sailing and playing tennis on Cape Cod and The Vineyard; their families belonged to country clubs where they’d been playing golf since they were big enough to walk.

You, and your golf game, puzzled them. “Are you sure you’ve never played this game?” they said. “Hide your wallets, boys. I think we’ve got ourselves a ringer!”

 

Erections Lasting Longer than Four Hours

The MWGA Four Ball is a two-day partner event at Golden Valley Golf Club, and Dr. Ruth West, a good friend and tournament regular, offers her services as my partner. “Only one of us has to score on each hole,” she says. “If you get in trouble, I’ll carry us. If I get in trouble, you will. We’ll ham-and-egg-it. How easy is that?”

Dr. Ruth plays most weekends with Rex and me, and she is perpetually on-call. Her pager goes off constantly – a major infraction on any golf course – but we are so entertained by her “emergencies” that we look forward to hearing the beep beep beep.

Q: I’ve got this rash and all the sex is making it worse. What should I do?

A: Stop having sex and see your regular doctor on Monday.

Q: I forgot I had a tampon in and now I think there’s, like, three of them up there.

A: The nurse can help you. Really. You don’t need me. The nurse can do it.

Q: (nurse) She’s dilated eight centimeters.

A: Call me back when she’s ready to drop. All I have to do is catch the baby and I can be there in twenty minutes.

And there is always, always a Viagra crisis.

“Do they really get erections lasting four hours?” I once asked.

“Four and longer,” she said. “It’s pretty humiliating, so it must be worth it. These guys walk into the ER carrying a jacket in front to cover it, and then they have to sit in the waiting room. There’s usually a woman with them, too, who looks totally embarrassed while trying to act supportive. And if all that’s not bad enough – surprise – he gets me: A Woman Doctor! I have to grab hold of it and insert a giant needle about yea-long and drain all the blood out.”

I laughed. “Men are stupid.”

“Thank God,” she said. “Men keep me in business.”

Unfortunately, the Four Ball does not go well. Ruth’s game is off and she hooks most of her drives into the trees. I hit the ball great but can’t sink a putt.

No ham. No eggs.

After day one, we are in next-to-last place. On day two, we get outplayed by a couple of seventy-five year olds with matching straw hats, lifelong golfing buddies who can barely swing a club but somehow post winning scores.

In the parking lot, Ruth and I are loading our clubs into the trunk when I recognize one of the women I played with at Island View. She introduces herself as though we’ve never met.

“We played together two weeks ago,” I say.

She tilts her head.

“In the rain.”

She squints.

“At Island View.”

She shrugs her shoulders, smiles, and walks away.

“Friend of yours?” Ruth says.

 

There Must be a Catch

The Company took the game so seriously they sent everyone – male and female, high and low handicappers, rookies and veterans – to golf school at a Ritz-Carlton in Florida.

You called your mother from your luxury suite to tell her about the view. “It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen,” you said, and rattled off your “schedule” for the week.

“They call that work?” she said. “There must be a catch.”

A team of golf pros covered it all. First, there were etiquette lessons. You learned where stand on tees and greens, where to park (and not park) the golf cart, where to lay unused clubs on a putting green, the proper way to tend, hold, and pull the flag, how to mark and unmark the ball, how and when to call infractions on yourself and/or on fellow players, etc….

Then there were stroke production lessons that covered the driver, fairway woods, long iron play, short iron play, bunker shots, chip shots, and putting.

For playing with customers, The Company had its bible of rules: do not discuss business after your customer hits a bad shot; do not discuss business if he displays a temper and/or throws his clubs; do not discuss business if you’ve hit a good shot and he hits a bad one; do not, under any circumstances, take mulligans, give yourself a more favorable lie, nor take ‘gimme’ putts. This is cheating.

If your customer, however, does these things, you must never indicate any degree of scorn nor displeasure.

A sports psychologist lectured us about the mental part of the game. “Unlike other sports, you can’t get amped up and play well,” he said. “Adrenaline is your enemy. Golfing well is about calm intensity.”

He buried an entire table with instructional books: Think to Win, The Mental Edge, Golf is Not a Game of Perfect, Zen Golf….

Evenings at Golf School were a smorgasbord of spa treatments – hot stone and eucalyptus massages, lavender-infused facials, and reflexology – to loosen up your sore muscles and to keep you “relaxed.”

On the last day, you learned how to keep score in the myriad of side-betting games: Nassau, Sandies, Barkies, Wolf, Arnies, Aces and Deuces, Gruesomes, Skins, Criers and Whiners, etc….

All expenses paid, of course.

 

Mikayla

The MWGA Match Play Championship lasts an entire week and is contested on the

top twenty for degree of difficulty in the United States. I am cowed by the venue before I ever set foot on the course.

During the qualifying round, I play with Mary, a woman who looks to be about my age, and Mikayla, a nineteen year old hauling a golf bag with Augsburg College stitched in giant maroon letters.

Mary points to Mikayla’s bag and whispers to me, “We should be scared, I think.”

My game comes together and I play well-enough. Each day, a series of strong competitors comes and goes. I outlast them. At home I tell Rex I’ve made it to Friday’s championship match and that my opponent is none other than Miss Augsburg College.

“You’ll be fine,” he says. “You’re an animal.” But he has not seen Mikayla play golf, and I am sure she is going to destroy me.

On the first tee, the starter introduces Mikayla and me to Lori.

“All championship matches have their own rules official,” Lori says. “I’m yours. I’ll be walking with you today. I keep your scores and I’m here to answer any rules questions that might come up.” She shakes our hands. “Good luck, ladies.”

A small crowd lines the fairway. After only two holes, I take the lead. Hours go by. I maintain my lead. By the time we reach the most difficult hole on the course – #16 – I am two up with three to play, and I am certain, certain!, I am going to win.

Poor Mikayla keeps looking at her mother, who is walking along as a spectator, as if to say, “How am I not winning this?!”

Then, on the 16th tee, seemingly without fear, Mikayla cranks her drive. Her ball drifts perilously close to the creek on the left, yet rolls to a stop just shy of the water. I play it safe and tee off with a five wood; my ball stops dead in the wind and lands forty yards too short. Mikayla hits her second shot perfectly, dead center of the green. Afraid of dumping my approach shot in the lake, I swing at half speed and the ball doesn’t even make the green.

Mikayla wins the hole with a bogey. My lead shrinks.

On the par three 17th, there is a pond between the tee box and the green. I swing too hard and top the ball and it skids straight into the water. Mikayla wins the hole with another bogey, and she suddenly looks to me like a girl who has never lost.

The next thing I know we’ve played the 18th and the crowd is clapping and Lori is announcing the winner. “Mikayla Baxter wins the match, one up.”

More clapping. Mikayla shakes my hand and says, “Nice match.”

I am barely able to spit the congratulations out of my mouth.

When I call my mother to tell her I’ve lost, when really, I had this thing won, had it in the bag, she says, “I hope you were a good sport. You are not a very gracious loser.”

 

That Bad Taste in Your Mouth

Dennis gave you Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma, and you could tell he ate it up, throwing you into the tank with a region of the country he despised. “Bunch of redneck hillbillies,” he called them.

You had a slight advantage in Missouri because you were from there.

In Kansas, especially in out-of-the-way-specks-on-the-map like Topeka, they were polite but dismissive. “Darlin’, what are you doing out on the road?” a Vice President said while puffing on a cigar. “I bet your new husband misses you.”

In Oklahoma, you encountered your most formidable challenge – the oil company execs – a bunch of foul-mouthed cowboys with initials for first names, like J.R. Ewing knock-offs.

“Well fuck me,” said L.R. the first time you met. You were the only woman in a conference room full of male department heads. “I guess this means we ain’t having our monthly meetings at the strip club anymore, boys. All those good girls are going to lose money ‘cause of you, sweetheart.”

His colleagues laughed. You did not.

He said, “Oh shit, lighten up. I don’t mean nothin’.”

You met F.A. – whom you immediately nicknamed Fat Ass – for lunch at a white tablecloth restaurant in Oklahoma City. He downed one scotch and water, ordered another, and kept telling you how pretty you were, how much he liked your hair, your dangly earrings, your calves (your calves?), your bubblegum-pink lipstick. “I’m harmless as a big old teddy bear,” he said. “But hot damn, girl!”

J.B. kept boxes of Tic Tacs in the top, left-hand, drawer of his desk. Whenever he felt like he’d offended you he offered you some. “Hold out your hand,” he said, opening the drawer. You held out your hand. He sprinkled white Tic Tacs. “A few of these babies will get rid of that bad taste in your mouth.”

And then he would tip his head back like a baby bird, tap in a few Tic Tacs, drop the box back in the drawer, ease the drawer closed, and you would both sit there in silence until the candy, and the tension, dissolved.

After the initial shock of having to deal with a woman, they were all – Missourians, Kansans, and Oklahomans alike – ecstatic about taking entire afternoons off to spend on the golf course.

Playing golf saved your job.

The fact that you knew the game and you knew the rules, that you oftentimes outdrove them or even beat them, gained you some degree of respect. They ratcheted down the nasty rhetoric. You felt like you’d won.

They even bragged about you to your boss. “You better treat her right,” Fat Ass told Dennis. “We can’t lose her till we figure out how to win all of our money back!”

 

Once in the Trees, Always in the Trees

Dr. Ruth and I show up for the State Amateur Championship, the last tournament of the season, at Hillcrest Golf Club in St. Paul.

Once again, we both play miserably.

It is the second week of August, a hundred degrees, and humid as hell. Mosquitoes are thick as spit. The course is narrow, lined with trees, and unforgiving. The greens are so hard and so fast it’s like putting on a glass tabletop. And the caddy I’ve reserved in advance from Hillcrest turns out to be an eleven year-old boy.

“Play a lot of golf, do you Christopher?”

“Nope. Never played. My mom plays though.”

“So … how long have you been a caddy here?”

“Three years.”

“Three years. Wow. You must know the course really well.”

“Nope, not really.”

On the driving range, I run into Mikayla and her mother, who both tell me how great I played in the Match Play Championship. “Are you playing next year?” Mikayla says. “It’s at Olympic Hills, and their greens are a nightmare!”

I recall what my mother said about me being a bad sport and say, “Hey, good luck today.”

On the practice green, I chat with Friendly Lynn, who is not playing but serving as a Rules Official. On the first tee, my playing partner introduces herself and shakes my hand.

“Hey, I know you,” she says. “My friend Lori called your Hazeltine match a couple of weeks ago. She said you lost a heartbreaker.”

As expected, Christopher proves to be a cute little boy but an incompetent caddy. He lags behind and I am always waiting for him to catch up. He does not give yardage to the pins. He does not read putts nor pull the flags for me. He does not know where to stand nor when to be quiet and I am constantly apologizing to my opponents for his breaches of etiquette. On the other hand, he bounces around and smiles a lot so I don’t have the heart to fire him.

On the last day of the tournament, on one of the last holes to be played, I slice a tee shot deep into the woods. We find my ball nestled up against some tree roots and a big rock. Christopher turns to me and says, “You know what I’ve learned in my three years as a caddy?”

“What’s that?”

“Once in the trees, always in the trees!”

I tell him most golfers will not find that funny.

“Well, just once you get in here, it’s hard to get out. That’s all I’m saying.”

“Shhh,” I say. I try punching out with a four-iron. My ball hits another tree and ricochets even further into the woods.

“See,” he says.

 

End Game

On a Friday afternoon, the first of May, you called Dennis to give two weeks notice.

“I hate to tell you this,” you said, “but I’ve decided to leave The Company.”

You expected him to ask why, to try and talk you out of it, to say, “You can’t leave! You’re the Golden Child! You’re making me too much fucking money!” But all he said was, “Put Glen on the line.”

Glen worked in the office next to yours. You transferred the call and leaned on Glen’s doorjamb while he said “Sure,” “Yep, okay,” and “Yes sir, I’ll take care of it.”

Glen put down the phone and looked like he was afraid to look at you. “He said he wants you out of here in fifteen minutes.”

“What?”

“And if it’s sixteen minutes, he says he’ll fire me. Look, this is the way he does it. You’ve seen it a dozen times. I’m supposed to watch you pack up your stuff, take your security badge and your keys, and escort you out of the building.”

“What about my car?” You have a company car, a perk of the job. You do not own a personal one.

“He said to take a secretary with me and follow you home and take the car.”

“But I gave two weeks notice,” you said, feeling the panic rise. “I haven’t told my clients. I need to say goodbye to everybody. I need to get my last paycheck.”

“He said he’ll have HR call you at home,” Glen said, by now as flustered as you were.

“Look, I’m sorry, but he says he’s calling back in fifteen minutes, and if you’re still here, I’m fired.” He leaned out his door and barked at a secretary, “Somebody get her a goddamned box!”

After Glen took you home and you had the weekend to get over the shock, you tried to feel relief. If you were honest with yourself – which you absolutely were not at the time – you would have just admitted defeat. Team Green played golf, but they played with your life, too. How many days out of a month, out of a year, were you on the road? How many times were you expected to be “one of the boys” and shoot tequila until four a.m. and then be in the hotel restaurant at seven sharp, dressed and perky, ready to make your very best presentation at eight? How many times did you have to change hotel rooms and hide out because Dennis or some other entitled, horny executive came knocking at two in the morning?

The last time you’d gone to a Company dinner, you’d called your husband from the restaurant to say you’d be home by ten.

When you’d snuck into the house at 4:30 a.m. – having never bothered to call to say you’d be the slightest bit late – he’d waited until you got undressed and eased, as silently as possible, into bed before saying, “I’m awake, and I’m pissed.”

The next morning, with you leaning over, ready to puke, in the shower, he’d stood outside the steamed-up shower glass, screaming. “Where in the hell were you till four fucking o’clock in the morning? I’m sick of this bullshit!”

You could not tell him – would never tell him – what The Company, what your life there, was really like. You could not bear for him to think you weren’t tough enough, that you couldn’t take it.

You would certainly not tell him that last night you’d left them all at the bar at two o’clock but that you were so drunk you’d mistakenly taken the freeway north instead of south and then gotten lost downtown and had a hard time keeping the car between the lines on the road and barely found your way home.

You did, however, tell your mother. She listened while you ranted and cried and felt sorry for yourself, while you catalogued every wrong perpetrated against you, but she did not offer the soothing words of comfort you were all but begging for.

When you were finally finished, all she said was, “Good God, I’ve played that game all my life. Try being in the break room at three in the morning. You think because they don’t belong to country clubs or wear fancy suits they’re any different?”

 

Game:

Mammals hunted for sport.

 

____

This essay originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2010 issue of West Branch literary journal.

The dangers of calling bad news #FakeNews

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I do not weigh myself. Based on how my clothes fit, I think I could lose 10 pounds. Or 15.

Okay, maybe 20.

There is a high-quality scale in the back of my closet. I pretend it’s not there. I pretend because, so long as I do not step on that scale or see a number, I can believe whatever I want. I can go right along with my lifestyle and my habits while maintaining the fantasy that, sure, I could lose a few pounds but I’m fine, just fine.

My fantasy keeps me from being forced to believe something I do not want to believe. If I avoid the scale, I never have to admit I am fat, or wrong.

#FakeNews operates on the same principle. Screaming #FakeNews every time we are presented with facts we do not want to believe does not make those facts any less true. It simply allows our fantasies to fester, and to fool us.

Like the boy who cried wolf, President Trump constantly cries #FakeNews.

On Oct. 5 he tweeted, “Why Isn’t the Senate Intel Committee looking into the Fake News Networks in OUR country to see why so much of our news is just made up-FAKE!”

Six days later, he tweeted, “With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for our country!”

And six days after that he said, in response to on-going allegations against him of sexual misconduct from a former contestant on The Apprentice, “All I can say is it’s totally fake news. It’s just fake. It’s fake.”

Whether it’s national security or the Russia probe or climate science or the findings of our Intelligence Community, the president continually declares — without proof — that anything unflattering, anything he does not like, is fake.

On Veteran’s Day, the he said that former Intelligence officials James Clapper and John Brennan are nothing more than “political hacks,” that anything they say about the Russia probe is #FakeNews!

Down in Alabama, four women have accused GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual misconduct, dating back 40 years to when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. Moore has adopted the president’s #FakeNews playbook, and why not? It works.

But it can’t all be fake, can it? That would be a statistical impossibility.

Yet the president’s most loyal followers play along, refusing to give up fantasy for facts.

If you’ve forgotten what facts are, the following are indisputable:

Our Intelligence Community is not made up of “political hacks.” The IC is made up of career military, law enforcement, and intelligence experts who put their lives on the line to keep us safe.

177 journalists have been murdered in the Philippines since 1986, making it one of the deadliest countries in which to be a reporter. Yet on Nov. 13, our president openly laughed as Philippine President Duterte ridiculed the traveling American press pool — whom Trump often calls #FakeNews — saying, “with you around, guys, you are the spies.”

Colin Kaepernick and NFL players do not kneel to disrespect the flag; they kneel to bring awareness to disproportional police brutality against black men.

In the last 511 days, we have had 555 mass shootings in the U.S. The NRA has a financial stranglehold on members of Congress and, because of this and because we misread the Second Amendment — owning guns does not equal maintaining an armed militia — we will inexplicably continue to stand for the mass murder of innocent Americans.

Climate change is real, and the U.S. is now the only country on earth that’s chosen not to be part of the Paris Climate Accord.

Roy Moore has not unequivocally denied the allegations of sexual abuse. Still, 37 percent of Alabama evangelicals cry #FakeNews and say they are more likely to vote for Moore after the allegations.

Where does this get us?

We can continue to apply the #FakeNews moniker to any and all news we find inconvenient, uncomfortable, or challenging. But simply screaming #FakeNews at every turn does not make it so. In fact, it keeps us from being able to discern between what really is fake and what is not, to our own detriment.

Every now and again I find myself at a doctor’s office. And what is the first thing that happens when the nurse calls you from the waiting room? She makes you step on the big, industrial-looking scale, whether you want to or not.

I do everything I can to keep the facts at bay. I set my purse on the floor. I remove any unnecessary clothing like sweaters or jackets. I kick off my shoes. I even find myself sucking in my stomach and holding my breath, as though it might help. Desperate measures and all that. But to no avail.

The nurse taps the metal blocks down the sliding scale until the truth, the much-feared real number, is revealed. It is more than 20 pounds. Way more.

I can scream #FakeNews all I want, but the scale does not lie, the number is the number, and the truth is I have been kidding myself. These are the indisputable facts, no matter how loudly or how often I scream #FakeNews!

Facts are stubborn like that.

Thank God Hillary Clinton is not the president!

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FOX news superstar Judge Jeanine Pirro says, “It’s time, folks. It’s time to shut it down, turn the tables, and lock her up. That’s what I said. I actually said it. Lock her up.”

The judge says “lock her up” with such gravitas, like she thinks we’ve never heard the words “lock her up” before. Sounds like Judge Jeanine has never been to a Trump rally. Can somebody get this woman a video?

Sadly, I’ve got some Breaking News for the judge. Hillary Clinton lost. Hillary Clinton is not the president! Though, to Judge Jeanine’s credit, if your sole source of news is FOX and Rush Limbaugh — where it’s all-Hillary, all-the-time, and where Sean Hannity even called her President Clinton this week — you’d think Hillary had won the White House and given her daughter and son-in-law offices in the West Wing.

Alas, no. We dodged that NRA-sponsored bullet!

Donald J. Trump won the 2016 election, and with his party holding both the House and Senate, “The Apprentice” star who wrote “The Art of the Deal” has spent the first year of his presidency tweeting at North Korea, calling members of Congress playground names, and threatening the free press and the First Amendment. Because everybody knows this is how you “Make America Great Again.”

Like the best in baseball, the president has been pitching no-hitters on policy. Not a single hit! But he still has time to get tax reform done before we start saying “Merry Christmas” (again) so millionaires won’t be saddled with those pesky estate taxes.

And speaking of baseball, Trump won Texas. Go Astros!

President Trump tweets that we are the highest-taxed nation in the world. The truth is we rank 33rd, well-behind countries you’ve hardly heard of like Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Japan.

Is 33rd close to first now? Is this the new math?

Down in Texas, an undocumented ten year-old girl with cerebral palsy is being held by border control. Those Mexicans, they come here, and they’re rapists. Build that wall! Lock her up!

In Tennessee this past weekend, white supremacists marched yet again to show solidarity with the president’s immigration policies. They carried white shields and Confederate flags while chanting, “Closed borders, white nation, now we start the deportation!”

Surprisingly, the president did not tweet about this march, though he likely missed TV coverage as it all happened during his 76th golf outing since taking office.

President Trump has spent almost one-third of his presidency on the golf course. What a relief to know he is just like us!

Four soldiers were killed in Niger, and the president got into a Twitter-fight with a young, pregnant, military widow and her long-time friend, a Congresswoman from Florida. But just a few weeks ago, following the largest mass shooting in American history, the president insisted on having a big church service, one where he could stand at the altar and sing “Amazing Grace,” comfort the families of the fallen, and bring the nation together in mourning.

Oh, wait. Wrong president.

We’ve learned that former FOX News star Bill O’Reilly paid one woman $32M to keep quiet about his years of sexual harassment, and powerful men like Harvey Weinstein are finally being called to account by the women they  assaulted, raped, and harassed.

Remember this time last year when 24 women (20 by name) came forward with similar stories about Donald J. Trump, and we did not believe a single one of them? In fact, we made Mr. Trump President of the United States. That’ll show women who’s boss.

Women! Thank God we did not elect a woman president. Thank God we did not elect Hillary Clinton!

Imagine the boring speeches showing off her depth of policy knowledge. Imagine the lack of threats at the NFL and “Rocket Man” and “liddle’ Bob Corker.” Imagine the innumerable weekend hours a President Clinton would have spent not-golfing or tweeting or traveling to Mar a Lago or being investigated for collusion with Russia.

Imagine, most of all, the stunning lack of Breaking News push alerts on your phone. I ask you, who would want to live in a country like that?