Men and Their Game


Chuck had just lost another round of golf to his old pal Jacky Rosenthal. He walked away from the 18th green hurling clubs into the woods—first his putter, then the nine. His cartwheeling driver sailed over some linden trees, and his five-iron hit an oak and careened into a marsh.

Freed of his clubs, dropping his bag at his feet, Chuck felt his rage dissipate. Jacky had seen it before and said nothing. He figured Chuck would be okay by the time the two sat for drinks at the clubhouse.

Young caddies chased down the scattered clubs, and a groundskeeper retrieved the black leather golf bag. Inside it he found money, brand new golf balls, expensive cigars, and prescription painkillers. He knew better than to ask Chuck if he wanted any of it back.

Over highballs at the clubhouse Chuck and Jacky made small talk, avoiding the subject of golf. When feeling the effects of the vodka, Jacky began to talk of making love to his wife the night before.

"We weren't even drinking," he said. "That's the weird thing about it. It was just one of those nights. In the dark, all I could see were her eyes. And they looked just like I remembered them in college. I felt like I was in some kind of time warp, like we never got married, never had kids. It was strange. I had all this energy too. I thought, there must be a full moon or something."

Chuck listened and began the familiar ritual of comparing his life to Jacky's. He disliked this side of himself, but any time Jacky had a story showcasing some golden moment, Chuck felt compelled to scour his own memory for a story to match, or at least one that made him feel as content. On this occasion, however, he came up short, and felt lesser for it.

"Jenny and I had some good times in the early years," he said, "but these days it's not nearly the same. We still make love, but life has become like some senseless sleepwalk. The other night, right in the middle of an intimate, romantic romp, she asked me if I had made it to the garden store earlier in the day. I had, but that's not the point. The point is, what the hell was that question doing in her head? I'm giving her my full attention as a lover, and she's thinking errands?"

A waitress arrived with fresh drinks. In the distance a hearty bellow announced that the booze was on the house. The voice belonged to their childhood friend Marty Rawls.

"Could be worse, Chuck," Jacky said. "You could be Marty over there. Forty-six, and the poor guy's still alone."

"Yeah, but he's living like he did in his 20s, which means he isn't thinking about the future, which means he isn't stressed."

"You don't know what you're talking about, Chuck. Remember Brian's speech from last month?"

Jacky did his best impersonation of their business associate Brian Stern: "The old days were good for one thing and one thing only, gentleman: energy. We had energy. You couldn't tire us out. Had it in the morning, had it all night. But we were stupid. We didn't know what to do with it. Chuck, you didn't know how to treat a woman. Jacky, you didn't know how to keep a job. I didn't know how to talk to people smarter than me. We drank away too many nights, gold-bricked too many days. We were adolescents right into our late 20s."

"Brian's an ass," Chuck said.

Jacky looked at his watch and gave a sigh. He pushed his chair back from the table, saying he had to pick up some dry-cleaning and head home. He and his wife were going out to dinner in two hours. She wanted to talk about the new communication tools they were employing in couples therapy.

"That stuff actually working for you?" Chuck asked.

"I'd be divorced without it, pal," Jacky said. "You'd find me shacking up with Marty. Incentive enough to stay together if you ask me."

Jacky threw a pair of 20s on the table and slapped Chuck on the shoulder as he walked past. Chuck said he'd call if he felt like playing golf anytime soon but figured he'd be taking a break for a while, maybe go back to his old hobby of building Shaker furniture in his garage.

"It's just a game, old boy," Jacky said as he pushed open the door and stepped into the cool spring air. "You ought to learn to lighten up."