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Wages: Caddyshack Heaven

Chapter 3: Who knew it would be the best job ever?

John Armstrong 28 Aug

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[This is the third of 14 excerpts, running Tuesdays and Thursdays, from John Armstrong's memoir of the working life: Wages.]

In early spring, Blake introduced me to Wes, the course caddy master, and I was hired. The interview took five minutes. Wes was polishing a pair of white golf shoes in the locker room, a fat man in plaid slacks and a brilliant purple sweater. The top of his head gleamed under the lights as he bent over his work.

"You golf?" He looked up for about a second and went back to buffing his shoes.

"A little."

I'd never played a big course like this, but the local kids all played a strange little par three at the bottom of my street. It was a heavily wooded lot, too hilly to farm on, so someone had planted grass, chopped a few trees down and called it a golf course. The holes were madness themselves, twisting and turning back and forth and across each other. You only needed two clubs to play, a wedge and a putter. There was no part of it straight or long enough to warrant a driver, and it was no fun at all unless you were drunk. So that was what I knew about golf.

"Okay, then." He turned the shoe he was working on over and looked at it. "Get Mike to set him up." He went back to cleaning the grass and dirt out of the spikes.

That was it -- I was handed the keys to the kingdom by someone who wouldn't recognize me if he backed over me in the parking lot. I had all this carefully rehearsed golf bullshit prepared and didn't get to use any of it.

A boss to worship

My interview was probably the longest conversation I ever had with Wes. He worked in the pro shop full-time and when he passed us on his way in and out of the clubhouse, sitting on the bench waiting for our foursomes to come out, a brief look of non-comprehension crossed his face; then he said "hi, boys" and disappeared again. Wes was too far up the chain of command to really pay any attention to us. Your second meeting with him would be your last. Mike was the sergeant, the capo, and he handled all assignments, scheduling, beefs, reprimands and punishments short of a sacking. There was no problem taking orders from him, either. As far as we were concerned, he could walk on water, but he had a car, so why would he walk?

Mike seemed to us a living god, only a few years older than we were but everything we aspired to be. He'd left school to work at the course, one of those guys who passes into full manhood about Grade 9. He was maybe 18, but well over six feet and could grow a full beard overnight. He had a strong swimmer's build and long black hair. He looked like the son of Cochise and Mick Jagger and made as much money as my father did, with a nice little side business dealing nickel bags of pot to the members.

He had it all and unlike any adult we had ever known, he enjoyed his life, and why wouldn't he? He could get into bars, and the clerks at the liquor store said "hi, Mike" when he walked in. He lived in a basement suite that belonged to one of the members, and drove a Cougar with primer on the quarter panels, and a tape deck. He had dates with divorcées while we were still whacking off in the bathroom to a Sears catalogue. We worshipped Mike, and he was our older brother, best friend and counsellor.

When servants rule

The work was dead easy. Mike assigned us to a player, or two of us to a foursome. You had to carry two sets of clubs then, but you got paid and tipped twice. There were things to learn, though, and almost none of them about the game. The golfers were trying to figure out how to play the hole, and we were figuring how to play them. Where did he like you to stand while he shot? Did he want you to anticipate the club he wanted and have it ready? Did you offer advice about the hole or wait to be asked?

You learned to carry matches and a bottle opener. If they asked you to go back to the clubhouse and get ice and cups or cigarettes, you ran there and back as fast as you could. What they were really paying for was a servant. Some of them rented carts but still used us to carry the bags, trotting along behind them. We were waiters as much as caddies, and the more deference we showed, the better the tip. The standard fee was five dollars for the round, but depending on what you'd done above and beyond, another five was not unheard of.

Half of it went to Mike, but we weren't complaining. Who knew how much he had to kick up to Wes? And it was wise to keep Mike happy; if he was displeased with you, there were any number of certified pricks you could be assigned to who did nothing but complain for 18 holes and then grudgingly coughed up a quarter. You still had to give them the big orphan smile and the most sincere thanks you could muster. The only real rule was that the customer had to be happy, and if he wasn't, it was your fault.

None of us had ever seen grown men at play among their peers before, and it brought us all enlightenment. When we had dealings with them -- doctors, cops, teachers, priests -- they always had their adult faces on. Even our parents had their mom-and-dad act in place most of the time. But on the golf course, and with a few drinks in them, they were surprisingly like us. They told dirty jokes, they laughed when someone cut a fart, they insulted each other, they borrowed and lent money and they argued. There was a rigid pecking order, and in every group you knew in seconds who was at the top of the pile and who was at the bottom. It was a little unsettling to see that men were only bigger versions of the kids they'd been, and for the most part, who you were now and who you would grow up to be was not likely to change much.

Paid to lie

The best money to be made was fudging the scorecards. When they came out of the clubhouse and got on the links it was all smiles and jokes and a slap on the back; but the minute there was money down, they were ready to fuck each other over without a moment's hesitation. That was when you saw what people were really like, and if they were ready to screw their best friend for a few bucks, then they weren't going to think twice about fucking you. Blake shaved the score all day for one guy who tried to stiff him with a meagre tip at the end of the round. I would have taken my beating, but Blake was made of better stuff and said, "Fine, why don't I have a word with your friends," and walked away with a twenty. Mike said he played it exactly right and held out his hand for his cut.

There was money fairly lying on the ground waiting to be picked up everywhere you turned. If there was no work on the board, you headed for the river and waited for someone to drop a nice new ball into the water. Then you swam out to get it and ransomed it back. If business was slow, we waded the banks looking for old balls lost in the mud and put together lots of three or four for a few bucks, or smileys -- balls with a slice torn through the cover and good for driving at the beach or a backyard -- in bulk, 20 for a dollar. We twisted coat hangers into spiral cups and stuck them on the end of long branches to retrieve balls tucked away beyond arm's reach.

The sun baked and polished us in our cut-offs and old sneakers, and we swam like pearl divers in the South Seas until dark. Then Mike rolled a few joints and pulled a sack of cold beer out of the river and we drank under the trees, a dollar a can, until it was time to weave our bikes home. Life was perfect, or so close it didn't matter. I turned 16 that summer and didn't realize it but I had nowhere to go but down. In terms of my working life, I'd already peaked.

On Thursday, in Chapter 4, John goes straight to hell with a bunch of musicians.  [Tyee]

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