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If you like true stories about golf and murder, you’ll like this

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In the years before I’d gotten the job, my dad would describe it as the golf mecca. The Pro Shop was the first to stock the newest, name-brand clubs; the greens on the executive course always rolled true and stayed soft through November; and every few months, management would replace the grungy, cracked range balls with a new shipment of pearls. Even the name was refreshing: Somerton Springs Golf Center of Feasterville, Pennsylvania.

One night, years later, my old man told me over dinner that he’d spoken to management and set up a job for me. He was my hero. I imagined the negotiation: He’s escorted into some back room with one light where a bearded Greek man sits alone at a corner table, shrouded in shadow. My dad throws down a briefcase packed with unmarked, non-consecutive hundreds. My son gets this job, he says. The Greek opens the case and thumbs through a stack of bills. He nods, approvingly. My dad nods back. [Exeunt.]

When we pulled into the parking lot a few days later, I thought we were lost. There were beer cans in the bushes, broken glass on the blacktop. The ‘R’ had fallen off of the face of the building: “P  O SHOP.” With a Baltimore accent, it was still accurate. Dick’s and Sports Authority had swept the marketplace like the Genghis and Attila of sports equipment. Nike, Taylor-Made, Titleist—they all sided with the corporate giants, leaving Somerton without a leg to stand on. Mecca was a wasteland.

We went inside and after a brief introduction, my dad left me with my two new bosses. They showed me around the facility, explaining what I’d be doing. My job was on the goose-infested range, riding back and forth in one of those rusted, motorized, ball-gathering prisons that are every amateur golfer’s favorite target: with each pass, some halfwit inevitably gears up and tries to intentionally top a driver off the mat to produce a low, stinging laser, as though trying to slay the mechanical beast.[1]

Most golfers probably don’t know this—or maybe they do and just don’t care—but that impoverished, caged serf hates that. I hated that. See, they don’t build the ball-gathering contraption as a single, all-in-one machine. Those don’t actually exist. What that poor bastard out there is driving is a regular golf cart with a makeshift cage constructed around it by the lowest bidder who can provide his own scrap metal. He’s lucky if it’s bolted together; if not, maybe a series of Master locks with lost combinations. Sometimes it’s just duct tape and hope between a man and the Almighty, or in this case, a 200-mph bright-yellow rock.

My “company car” was impressively dilapidated. A pathetic, abused savage. The rust had spread like an untreated rash, requiring a leap of faith to believe that the thin metal enclosure was once painted; the color was a blind man’s guess. On the front face, the bottom of the cage ran along the hood of the cart, but left a gaping hole on each side as the curve of the vehicle led away from the right angle formed by the metal.[2]

The openings could be covered by the sole of a shoe and my legs were just long enough at the time to secure the gap. The problem, however, was that there were two of them—and a gas pedal. So in alternating intervals, I would enjoy the sheltered security of a 250-yard retreat away from the firing squad of wealthy white hackers, followed by an increasingly terrifying approach run into the teeth of high society. Time and again, I’d have to choose which hole to cover: left or right. At times, I’d consider driving spread eagle, covering both points of entry with my feet while reaching down to push the gas pedal with my hand—but no, that was impossible. The crowd of screamer-hitting yuppies whom I’d grown to despise would laugh at me. And my whole life, every broke teenager’s life in Feasterville, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.

They didn’t like me very much either, the patrons. When the collection baskets were full, I would pull the cart in, transfer the balls into a large, grey garbage can and run them through the ball washer next to the tee boxes. Every now and then, someone would approach me with a big smile and strike up a conversation. They seemed genuinely friendly at first, but the small talk inevitably concluded with the request for a few extra balls. They’d tell me they just ended on a bad one and couldn’t leave on a shot like that. Sometimes I’d oblige and shell out a handful, but that ended once I realized it just attracted more of them.[3] So I’d receive the courtesy of an eye roll and some sarcastic remark about the vital, life-or-death importance of my entry-level job as they walked away.

The general dislike between myself and most of the regulars was at a constant, resulting in mutual ignorance until one day while filling the washer I noticed a man a few feet away holding his driver.

“Sorry sir,” I said, turning on the machine. “I’m not allowed to give you—”

“No, no. I don’t need any balls,” he interrupted. He looked nervous, his hands twisting the shaft of the club like a pepper grinder.

“Something else I can help you with then?”

“Yeah. I think I, uh, I think I hit one of ‘em out there.”

“Okay.” I stared, confused. “Did it go straight?”

“No, not a ball. I mean, I—I think I hit one of them.” He nodded toward the range. “A goose. I think I caught one in the neck.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

I walked over to the next stall so the cart wasn’t in the way and made my hand into a visor. Peering out over the field under the late afternoon sun, I could see a group of geese, one of which appeared to be either dead or very good at yoga.

I told the man I’d handle it and jogged over to the Pro Shop where my boss, Bill Flaherty, was fitting a customer for a new set of irons. My other boss, Joe Moretti, wasn’t around or I would have gone to him. Bill was the one who probably qualified on paper to do the job, but lacked the interpersonal skills and common sense to manage an ice cream stand let alone a golf center. At six bucks an hour, there’s no need to make a kid wear khakis and a collared shirt to clean the goose shit off of yellow golf balls. I called him over and explained the situation.

“Alright,” he said. The bell chimed above the door and another customer entered. “Ah, damn.  Hang on.” He went in the back office and returned with a shovel and a shoebox. “Here, you gotta handle that. There’s a dumpster behind the offices across the little bridge. You know where I’m talking about?”

“Yeah,” I said, confusedly.

“You got this, right?”

“Yeah. Yeah, sure.” He gave me an ‘Attaboy and a pat on the shoulder. Then he went to deal with the customer. I went outside with my—things.

I was fourteen years old, it was my first job, and I’d had it for all of three months. I didn’t know any better. My understanding of a job was more likely fall under the statutes of indentured servitude: boss tells employee what to do; employee does it; at the end of the agreed upon time limit, employee is released.

I’d walked the gravel path from the shop to my cart hundreds of times, but suddenly every step felt heavy, like each one brought me closer to an unwanted promotion: ball-collector to undertaker. I looked at the shovel like a foreign object and the undersized box had me wondering if Bill had ever actually seen a goose up close.

The man was still there when I returned. He was looking at the ground, still gripping his driver. I said hello and walked past him to the cart. He stared, mouth half open as if about to say something, but he didn’t. I shut the cage. In retrospect, I’m not sure if he was shaken up from having killed a goose or just couldn’t believe that the disposal of animal carcasses had somehow found its way into the job description of a fourteen-year-old.

People continued hitting as I pulled away. Most of them probably hadn’t seen what had happened, and even if they had, it was understandable that they’d continue to hit. The death of a goose isn’t exactly a big deal. That is unless maybe you’re driving a golf cart out to scoop it into a fucking Footjoy box or something. Even then, it’s just a goose, right?

Just beyond the 150-yard marker, I pulled a U-turn and stopped, covering both holes with my feet, just in case. I sat there for a while before realizing I’d forgotten to ask people to stop hitting. Luckily, the grief-stricken golfing assassin had finally found his voice. I sat back and watched as he made his way his way down the row of stalls, like a slow-moving wave, asking people to momentarily hold their fire so I could step out.

It was rare that I had a moment to myself to just sit motionless out in the middle of the open field without any feeling of guilt over not staying busy. No motor running. No wheels turning. No clang of golf balls being flung into metal baskets. Just the soft sound of leaves blowing in distant trees and the occasional pitter-patter of a ball landing, bouncing, rolling to a stop. Suddenly they didn’t seem so threatening. The moment was almost perfect.

Through the X’s of the metal grate, I stared out at the other geese, wondering why they were still standing there. Hadn’t any of them seen what just happened to Fred? I shook my head and promised myself I’d laugh hysterically if another one got hit just then. That might sound sick, but Darwinism-in-motion is pretty funny in that you-had-to-be-there kind of way.

The golfers had stopped and were staring out at me as I emerged from my fortified transport and fetched the shovel from the rear bed. The lid to the cardboard casket had blown open. I looked it over, studying it one last time, trying to figure out how to fit an adult goose inside it while avoiding any sort of impromptu dismemberment. But after a short while, I found myself wondering how long it would be before someone grew impatient, teed one up, and hit me in the neck with a golf ball. Do we have bigger boxes? I grabbed the shovel and approached the goose.

When it saw me, it moved.

When I saw it move, I didn’t.

A lot happened in the next five seconds.

Up until it moved, I had assumed Bill had given me the shovel to transport the goose from the field to the box, which, in fairness to him, probably was his intention. But in those five seconds, that entire situation had been erased and replaced with something far worse.

At a young enough age, and in an honest moment, most kids would say they’re used to being wrong about most things. They think adults know everything and that Dad is Superman. Thus, in a moment of distress, a young mind often prefers to simply lean on what it’s been told—so I did. I was given a shovel and a shoebox and a “handle that.” So five seconds later, those two words had gone from a request to dispose of a dead animal to an order to kill a living creature with an archaic gardening tool never intended for combat.

I stood over the goose, feeling my face involuntarily squirm as it twitched and gurgled. There was a dark purple blood coming from its mouth in bubbles, which caught me off guard. The other geese had waddled away, apparently keeping a 15-yard rule of thumb regarding the minimum amount of space that should remain between oneself and a stranger suspiciously loitering about with a shovel. I looked up at the gallery of now very concerned golfers who may not have heard the goose or seen it move, but who I was sure could see me standing over it with a shovel. I knew I couldn’t back out. It was my job, and I had already come into the public spotlight to execute it. I’d passed the point of no return.

What should not be overshadowed here by my decision to use a swift, downward stabbing motion resulting in decapitation via shovel in the spotlight of a setting Autumn sun is the fact that I felt an overwhelming amount of sorrow for the animal and thought this the quickest way to end its suffering. It was a humane decision, which I made for all the right reasons, and I stand by that to this day.

It is a common misperception, however, that all it takes to decapitate a goose is the proverbial swift, downward stabbing motion via shovel in the spotlight of a setting Autumn sun. It lived, but felt it—squawking, fighting. I tried to quickly remedy the situation with another attempt, but was again unsuccessful. The goose raged on, flapping both wings, not realizing it was laying on one of them. I didn’t understand. It had been half dead and motionless upon my arrival, yet seemed to only gain strength with each besting of the dull-edged farming tool turned guillotine. A third attempt sent it violently flailing about, gurgling out some horrid sound which I can only assume was the goose equivalent of: for hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee! The operation had collapsed to complete chaos—a failed murderous debacle. The bird could not be defeated. Lost in the perfect storm of guilt, humiliation, and unfiltered panic, I took the shovel by the handle and using the blunt face of the incompetent weapon, wielded it like a large iron flyswatter, attempting to bludgeon the indestructible monster into submission—a stalemate of unconsciousness.

Several swats later, I looked up with tired arms to a sea of golfers, some with their hands held over their mouths, others cupping their palms over the eyes of their children, and one man running at a dead sprint in my direction. It was Joe, my other boss. He had come back from his dinner break to find his range attendant slaying an animal in front of 30+ customers. I thought I was fired.

“Sorry. Sorry. It got hit in the neck with a ball.”

“It’s okay. You’re okay,” he said, out of breath and staring at the goose.

The foul, mangled beast lay there at my feet, alive but severely malfunctioning—frozen somewhere between life and death—dead but not yet deceased. There was the type of life left in him as can be found in the legs of centipede after being mashed between a sneaker and a bathroom tile; trapped in Orwell’s lost land of bullet-riddled elephants, dying in agony but in a world detached from this one where not even the business end of a shovel could damage him further.

Joe laid the shovel down and took me back to the Pro Shop, and then he went back out to get the goose. He found a bigger box first.

When he got back, he kept apologizing, which, at fourteen, confused me.

“It was the right thing to do, right?”

“Yeah, kiddo, it was the right thing to do. Just the wrong person to do it, that’s all. You okay?”

At the time, I didn’t know what he meant by that. Of course I was okay, I wasn’t the one getting clobbered with the damn shovel. I told him was fine and he let me go home early after that.

In retrospect, I’m not sure if I was lying to him or telling the truth. At the time, it certainly felt like the truth: I was fine. There wasn’t a scratch on me and the whole thing felt like it was over in an instant. It wasn’t something I’d wanted to do, and I certainly hadn’t enjoyed doing it, but it was over. I’d killed a goose, but a few minutes later, I really didn’t feel anything. It didn’t matter.

It didn’t matter, yet a decade later, I still occasionally wake up in sheets of cold sweat. It didn’t matter, yet every time I see a goose, I see it broken. It didn’t matter, yet I still remember the look on the man’s face, the Size 12 on the side of the shoebox, the blood coming in purple bubbles—the weight of the shovel. ‘Funny how hard it is to forget some things that don’t matter.

I kept the job and in the two years following, I’d occasionally catch a stare from a golfer that had a distinct way about it and I’d know that he’d been there that day, staring out into the descending sun to see a silhouette of a young range attendant brutally clubbing a defenseless animal into oblivion. I like to imagine what must have gone through those golfers’ heads—seeing what they saw, wondering what fuck happened to the youth in this country. It’s what makes it impossible for me to tell this story to some friends over a few beers without laughing. Death’s nothing to joke about, but consider the alternative. After all, I’m not the one who can’t hit a driver. But even if I was—just a goose, right?

 

[This story was first published in The 33rd — An Anthology under the title: “Where the Deer and the Antelope Play.” The 33rd is produced by the Drexel Publishing Group and is available for a very affordable price at the Drexel bookstore on 33rd and Chestnut in Philadelphia.]


[1] This is one way amateur golfers stay amateur.

[2] Think: ballplayer blatantly cuts across infield instead of touching third.

[3] There’s a remarkable similarity in the relationships between homeless people and loose change, pigeons and crackers, and upper middleclass white men and golf balls.

Ian Micir is associate editor of When Falls the Coliseum. He graduated from Drexel University with a BA in English in June of 2012. During his time at Drexel, he won ten awards for writing, including five in his final year. Micir’s work has appeared in The 33rd – An Anthology and The Classical.

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One Response to “If you like true stories about golf and murder, you’ll like this”

  1. By the way, those symbols that appear above the article represent the categories “All Work” and “Creative Writing,” respectively. Categories just help us to organize the content on the site, and the symbols were chosen long ago. So it’s purely a coincidence (or… destiny?) that they happen to be a shovel and a feather.

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