Sunday, July 23, 2006

This Series Is Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition: The Golf Course Tractor Operator Can Go Fuck Himself: Chester Saves the Day: Post #6

Maybe the White Sox are just getting me down lately, man, but I wish I hadn't started this farkakta golf course thread, because now I have no idea how to get myself out of it. That's what it is now, a Houdini trick.

Most of the on-the-job anecdotes coming to mind bore even me ... even the one about driving a Cushman cart at top speed while singing "Fight the Power" with two heroin addicts from the projects of south Waukegan (there is not one iota of exaggeration in that synopsis, I swear to Jesus). And the one about writing the quote, "Sure, abortion is murder, but it's murder in self-defense -- Ivan Stang," on the office chalkboard when the rumor got around that the head greenskeeper had knocked up his girlfriend (who was the recently hired assistant greenskeeper -- and his wife and her husband were bound to be pretty disturbed about that -- not to mention his teenage son, who was working with us that year). Well ... maybe those anecdotes are kind of funny. But those happened during my fourth, and last, season (in 1989), when things were totally different -- different crew, different boss, and different atmosphere. If a constant state of disaster is an atmosphere. I was a cynical old salt by then, a disgruntled communist. And it was a shitty summer.

Shit, maybe that's the problem -- the 1989 season had all the best stories in my flavorite genre, the "things went totally to hell but we can laugh about it now ... sometimes" post-traumatic stress comedy genre. The 1986 season was too happy to make for a good story. In 1986 I was a new boot, wet behind the ears, and I had a great time. I mean, yeah, I grew as a person and all that shit, but so what? What is this, a Chris Makepeace picture? I was shooting for Caddyshack, not Meatballs. And they don't mix well. Carl Spackler takes young charge under his wing and teaches him about life, love, and varmint poontang?

OK, well, maybe someday I'll get to that dark, dark 1989 stuff. But for now I think I'll slog thru 1986, and if it sucks, I'll chalk it up as practice. The excuse for the whole blog is pretty much practice anyway. Keep the typing speed up, you know how it is. Anyway, it's worth it to finish what I started, if only to properly introduce the character of Chester.


Chester was the only constant character throughout all of the four years I worked at the golf course. Of all the people working at that stupid place -- grounds crew members, bosses, and pro-shop jerks (I call them jerks, because they all looked down on us, being dirty and sweaty all the time) -- only Chester was there for the entire run. He's like the goddamn R2D2 of the whole megilleh, I guess.

Chester died in 1999, but I am incapable of imagining him not dragging the five-gang mower rig behind the big blue Ford tractor every day, mowing the rough. Many days over four seasons, the only words out of Chester's mouth were "Morning," "Mow the rough," and "See you tomorrow."

Maybe because he talked so little, it seemed extra special when Chester did say something. It was kind of a Chance the Gardener thing. He even looked like Chance.

Over the years I only got to know a few things for sure about Chester's thoughts. He thought it was a waste of money to buy non-generic cola. He thought we all drove the Cushmans way too fast all the time. And he thought, "Mow the rough."

Keep the reels greased, keep the tank full of diesel, mow the rough. Today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. The eagle shits on Friday. Count the years till retirement.

In 1986, I think Chester was in his mid-50s, but he seemed older. Of course, I was younger then, so everybody seemed older. (Thank you, Yogi Berra. You may sit down now.) At any rate, he had a lot of rough mowing to go, which I guess is why he used to tell me every time I got grouchy, "Yer just heeere f'r d' summerrr." (He kind of drew out his syllables a little sometimes, kind of like William Burroughs, a little bit, and crunch up other ones, like Harvey Pekar.) "You c'n do dat staanding on yer head!"

I thought I might get a little closer to Chester, emotionally or whatever, when I found out that he used to play single-A minor league baseball with my great-uncle Alex (I'm not even sure how I found out about that -- my family is pretty bad about the whole history thing, which is probably why I only found out last Christmas that Uncle Alex used to scout for the White Sox in the late '30s ... apparently he didn't help them much, but it's the closest family tie to an MLB club I have, I think). But when one morning on a coffee break I mentioned this to Chester, he just gazed off into the distance, smiled a little, and said "Oh yeah! Alex. Good people." Then he put down his cup and went out and mowed the rough. The subject never came up again.

Chester lived alone. I don't know if he was divorced or a widower, but I think he was married at one time. I think he had at least one kid who had grown and moved to the West Coast, but I'm not sure. I don't know if he felt lonely or not, but the handful of times I saw him feed crumbs of bread by hand to mice in the maintenance barn, he seemed kind of lonesome to me. He'd been laid off years earlier from a factory job with the Pfanstiehl Company in North Chicago, and the golf course job did not pay very well, so he lived very frugally.

A lot of the time, he seemed pretty grim, and I wouldn't blame him, but other times, he'd surprise you by breaking into song. When he was unusually happy or otherwise lively, he'd belt out a few bars of the Charley Pride hit, "Crystal Chandelier."

Actually, he'd only sing the first few words: "Ohhh, d' Cryyyyyssssstaaall Chaaaannn-d'-leeeer!" and grin. I dunno if he expected one of us to "take it," in a folksinger's-credo sense, and finish up the verse, but he never said "Take it!" so it's his own fault if he did.

More often ... well, this needs a couple words of explanation. The important point here is that we were all always really focused very sharply on the weather at all times. Not only because a sudden thunderstorm could mean death -- literally (a couple workers on golf courses in the midwest did die from lightning strikes during the span of my career) -- but also because rain meant Slack Time. It you got caught "by surprise," you could sit in one of the rain shelters (hopefully one not also occupied by wasps) for a while and goof off, or if you saw it coming, you could come into the barn and ... try to goof off, although the boss would probably make you change some tractors' oil or some productive work like that instead. But even that was light duty, relatively speaking

So, whenever we were all getting pretty tired of the grind, we used to hope very hard for rain. We were pretty vigilant at all times for dark clouds in the west, Chester being no exception. At the first sign of possible precipitation, Chester used to break into an old Glen Campbell favorite -- "Wichita Lineman." But just one phrase --

"I neeed a smaaallll vaacaaaaationnn!"

Then he'd hold out his upturned palm. If no raindrops fell on it, he'd shrug, grin, and go mow the rough.


Feral Mom said...

Ah, but see, now you're in the shit. You must keep telling the tale, tale teller. I like me some character development, so I'm digging Chester. But I have to admit, I'm waiting for the hose-straddling scene with baited breath. Does that one occur during the happy summer ('86) or the disgruntled, commie summer ('89)? Either way, I will continue reading.

Stronger Than Dirt Pete Moss said...

Oh, yeah, the hose ... that was sort of an ongoing thing, spanning seasons and moods. Although I'm thinking '87 and '88 actually saw the most high-pressure rubber-tube-stradding action. But then that's nothing compared to what the Fire School boys ..... nope, that'll have to wait.

I am slightly hung over (it's Des's fault! or maybe not) so no attention span is available for story-yapping today, sorry. Maybe tomorrow.