One of the oddthings about the literature of love, as I have observed it, at any rate, isthat more of its pages are devoted to chronicling the inception of affairs ofthe heart than to their endings.
Plutarch, forexample, describes in exhaustive detail the moment when Antony began to haveThat Certain Feeling for the minx of the Nile. He is not nearly so verboseabout their tragic finale. Throw a stone at any newsstand and you will hit atleast two fan magazine accounts of the early stirrings of the Big Romancebetween Clark Gable and his fishing rod. But I have yet to encounter a reporton the moment when the great lover switched to grouse shooting.
This may be duein part to the fact that certain passions are widely believed to have noterminal points. After all, love, according to the inscription Abraham Lincolnplaced inside the wedding ring he gave to Mary Todd, is eternal. Anotherexplanation may be that writers find it easier to describe the ascent of arocket than the descent of a spent cartridge. Whatever the explanation, therewould seem to be in the literature of love, if not precisely a gap, then atleast a small hollow.
I am in aposition to fill it.
Even though Ican recall absolutely nothing about the moment when I fell in love with golf, Iremember every astonishing detail of the moment when the great game and Ireached that parting of the ways which Mr. Winchell has marked on the map ofour language with the word "phfft!"
I was at thetime, like the celebrated lad from Shropshire, one-and-twenty. That's where theresemblance between us ended. While he was knocking out bucolic verse for Mr.Alfred Edward Housman on the banks of the Severn, I was hunting a job indowntown Manhattan. I found one in the office of a public accountant namedJames Carl Peterson.
Mr. Peterson,who was my senior by a mere five years, was a pleasant and attractive youngsquirt who, a year after squeaking through Harvard at the bottom of his class,reached his position of eminence on the ladder of success in an eminentlytraditional way: he married the boss's daughter. I never did meet the daughter,and if it had not been for my extraordinary love affair with golf, I probablynever would have met the boss. The real boss, that is.
His name wasArthur M. Hawley, and he had been practicing accountancy and playing golf foralmost half a century when his daughter fell in love with young Peterson. Soonafter the honeymoon it occurred to Mr. Hawley, who had already put quite a dentinto his eighth decade, that the time had come for him to hand on the torch. Hetook his son-in-law into the business, changed the firm name to Hawley &Peterson and took himself off to his favorite golf club.
Peterson, likehis father-in-law, was an ardent golfer and I found before very long that muchof my business day consisted of listening to my boss's account of difficultholes he had played in the past and how he intended to play them in the future.Since I have always been a good listener and when paid for doing so I can riseto surprising heights in this difficult art, it was almost inevitable, Isuppose, that sooner or later young Peterson would begin to mistake my blankbut rapt look for an approximation of the passion that possessed him.
"What areyou doing next Sunday?" he asked one day.
"Huh?" Isaid, since I had not heard his question.
"I've beentelling my father-in-law how interested you've become in golf, and he suggestedthat we ask you to walk around with us some Sunday so you can get an idea ofwhat the game is like," said Peterson. "I'll pick you up in my car, andwe'll drive out to Mr. Hawley's club. Think you can be ready by 9o'clock?"
When I wasone-and-twenty jobs were not plentiful; and jobs like this one would, at anyage, make hens' teeth look as commonplace as a head cold. Sunday morning, at 9o'clock, I was ready.
"Mr. Hawleyused to shoot in the low 80s, but he's slowed up a lot," young Petersonsaid to me on the drive out to the club. "He's very proud, though, of thefact that at 76 he still breaks 100 without too much trouble, as you'llsee."
What I also saw,after we reached the club and I was introduced to Mr. Hawley and we walked outto the first tee, was that the old man didn't really care very much about whomhe was playing. I could see, the moment the tall, spare, white-haired figureaddressed his ball, that golf was not a game to him. This was passion.
And like so muchpassion, I saw a couple of moments later, Mr. Hawley's could not stand veryclose examination: his beautifully timed and surprisingly vigorous swing hookedthe ball off to the left in a slow bouncing roll that went not much more than100 yards.
I looked quicklyat the old man. I thought he would utter some sound or speak some wordindicating his irritation. Not at all. Mr. Hawley did not even look annoyed. Hewas too busy doing something that struck me as odd: he dipped into theright-hand pocket of his knickers, pulled out something I could not see andtransferred it to his left-hand pocket. Then he strode off down thefairway.
Another surprisewas waiting for me when both players sank their putts at the end of the firsthole.
I have a neatmind. Unconsciously, without any effort on my part, it performs smallstatistical tricks. I had not been keeping score. I had merely been walkingalong with the players, watching them and waiting for the spark to be ignitedin my bosom which would indicate that I, too, had fallen in love with golf. Asa matter of fact, I had forgotten all about my mind. Nevertheless, it hadrecorded unconsciously the fact that young Peterson had shot the hole in par,which was five, and his father-in-law had done it in seven. I was astonished,therefore, to hear the old man's announcement as he made the entry on the scorecard.
"Six,"said Mr. Hawley in a loud, clear voice.
I looked quicklyat young Peterson. His face reflected nothing unusual. It occurred to me thatperhaps I had been mistaken. Surely a fine-looking old gentleman like Mr.Hawley, no matter how much he loved the game, was above cheating about his golfscore! Maybe my mind, which was constantly playing tricks on me anyway, hadmerely played another one. Maybe the old man had actually shot not a seven buta six.
I decided tosend my unconscious mind to the showers and turn over the task of more vigilantobservation to its conscious counterpart. The result was rewarding butbaffling. At the end of each hole, three things happened.
First, Mr.Hawley, with great deliberation, would go through the motions of transferringsomething I could not identify from the left-hand pocket of his knickers to theright, pausing briefly to examine the object or objects in the process. Second,the old man would announce his score as one stroke less than the number I knewhe had taken. And third, his son-in-law and my boss, young Peterson, would giveno sign that he was even remotely aware of what seemed to me to beembarrassingly obvious: old Mr. Hawley was knocking off one stroke from hiscount on every single hole.
After he sankhis last putt on the 18th—and he completed the small ritual of transferringsomething from his left-hand pocket to his right, as a result of which heannounced that he had shot the hole in five when the evidence of all my alertedsenses indicated unmistakably that Mr. Hawley had actually done it in six—youngPeterson turned to me.
"All right,now," he said. "If you have any questions about the game, we'll be gladto answer them."
"Well,"I said hesitantly, "I'd sort of like to know what it is Mr. Hawley does atthe end of each stroke when he takes something out of one pocket and puts itinto the other."
My amiable youngboss laughed.
"That's justMr. Hawley's own private invention for keeping score," he said. "Henever comes out to play without a handful of pennies in his right-hand pocket.As he completes each stroke he transfers a penny to his left-hand pocket. Atthe end of each hole, all he has to do is count up the pennies in his left-handpocket and he knows how many strokes he's taken for that hole. That's right,sir," Peterson said, turning to his father-in-law, "isn't it?"
Mr. Hawley, whowas adding up his score, beamed.
"Yes,"he said. "I've been using that system for more than 40 years. It'sabsolutely infallible." He held up the score card. "Broke 100again," the old man said happily. "Ninety-nine. Not bad for an oldgaffer, eh?"
He laughed and Ilaughed with him.
"No,sir," I said cheerfully. "Except that your score isn't really 99.Actually, sir, it's 117."
Mr. Hawley andhis son-in-law looked at me as though I had accused them of bribing the PigWoman in the Hall-Mills murder case. Young Peterson found his voice first.
"What do youmean?" he said.
I was so carriedaway by the excitement of my discovery that I was thoughtless enough to tellhim.
"It's simpleenough," I said. "I've been watching Mr. Hawley and I noticed that hetransfers a penny from his right-hand pocket to his left after every stroke,all right, except that after the last putt he takes all the pennies out of hisleft-hand pocket instead of taking one more out of the right-hand one. As aresult, he hasn't been counting his last putts, which means on every hole he'sbeen scoring himself one stroke short of the actual count, which means that onthe 18 holes you just played, he really has to add 18 more strokes to his card,and if you add 18 to the 99 Mr. Hawley has you get—"
My voicestopped. My excited and completely innocent explanation—which had been intendedto convey to Mr. Hawley no more than the fact that, while I didn't know verymuch about public accountancy, I was not so dumb when it came to simplearithmetic—had run head on into the look on his face.
"GoodLord!" that look said as clearly as though the horrified words wereactually being spelled out in neon lights. "For more than 40 years,"said Mr. Hawley, "I've been making the same mistake! For almost half acentury I've been accidentally deducting 18 strokes from my score card! Even inmy prime, when I thought I was shooting in the low 80s I wasn't even breaking100! Why hasn't somebody pointed that out to me before?"
I couldn'timagine. Neither did I care to explore the subject further for possibleanswers. All I wanted at that shocked moment was to retrieve something from theholocaust of my innocent creation.
"Look,"I said desperately to the stunned old man and his distressed young son-in-law."I'm sorry. I didn't mean—"
Of course Ididn't. Neither did all those people who announce later, in dazed voices, thatthey didn't know the gun was loaded.
"Not atall," Mr. Hawley said with simple dignity. "You were quite right tocall the error to my attention. In fact—" the old man paused, and he took along look at his score card, and then he surprised me again. He started tolaugh. "In fact," Mr. Hawley said to me as he tore the score card inhalf, "I am in your debt, young man."
It was my turnnow to stare in astonishment.
"I beg yourpardon?" I said.
"It is, if Imay borrow a phrase, simple enough," the old man said. "For almost halfa century I have been spending a good portion of my waking hours trying toaccomplish something that I have always secretly felt is rather pointless,namely, consistently-breaking 100. For the past two years, since I retired fromthe office, all my energies have been poured into the same pointlessambition." Mr. Hawley paused, looked at the two halves of his score cardand chuckled. "Since it is now perfectly obvious, thanks to you, that inactual fact I never achieved that ambition, I can now, at my advanced age,finally stop trying to do so."
The old man'schuckle became a rumble of delight as he tore the two pieces of his score cardinto quarters.
"Matter offact," he said, "I don't think deep down I ever did like this game. Ifeel like a prisoner who has been released from jail," he said as he tossedthe bits of cardboard to the winds. "Now that I've got that out of mysystem," Mr. Hawley said, "I can go back to spending my time sensiblyevery day—in the office!"
He startedtoward the clubhouse, stopped, turned back and nodded to his golf bag.
A TOKEN OFGRATITUDE
"By the way,young man," Mr. Hawley said to me, "would you care to have, as a tokenof my gratitude, a very fine and extremely expensive set of matchedclubs?"
"Well—"I said awkwardly.
"Iknow," he said. "And I don't blame you one bit. There's no point inbeing trapped into doing something you don't like just because a great manyother people seem to—" The old man paused, and he gave me a sharp glance."Do you really like public accountancy?"
"Well—"I said again, even more awkwardly. After all, my boss was standing at myelbow.
"That's whatI thought," my boss's father-in-law said briskly. "Tomorrow morningwhen I get to the office, I'll make a couple of phone calls and see what I cando. Several of my clients, as you know, are in the publishing business,"Mr. Hawley said. "Don't forget to remind me."
I didn't, andthat disposed of my career as a public accountant. As to my career as a golfer,there has never been anything to dispose of. Since that day at Mr. Hawley'sclub I have never set foot on a golf course. So far as the great game and I areconcerned, we reached, before it had a chance to begin, the end of theaffair.