Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Stream of (Total) Consciousness: 8/7/13

Beyond my hairline and my ability to sleep through the night without using the bathroom at least once, one of the biggest things that has deteriorated for me with age has been my awareness of what time of year it is. When I was younger, this was never an issue, because my whole world revolved around school, and whether I was in, out, or taking a break from it let me know exactly where on the calendar we stood.

Once I graduated college and joined the real world, though, everything got a little less clear. Gone were the reference points of spring break and winter vacation and "Back to school," commercials; in their place were these seven-day, rinse-and-repeat cycles. From Monday to Friday, everything was the same, and every Saturday and Sunday was a welcomed, all-too-short reprieve from this monotony. The scale of focus had shrunk; it was less about the big picture (the time of year) and more about the immediate future (the day of the week).

And now, out here in Middle of Nowhere, OR, that scale of focus has become even smaller, reduced down to a series of nameless, 24-hour sequences, played out over and over again. It's completely irrelevant what day it is; at most, it only matters what time of day it is -- so that I can either get to the resort at the appropriate hour, or so that I can get to sleep early enough in order to get to the resort at the appropriate hour.

This reality was painfully apparent earlier this week, as I was forced to perform deductive gymnastics to figure out what day it was while trying to silence my 5 a.m. alarm. It felt like Monday, because I didn't want to get up, and because I'd taken the previous day off, which was Saturday, which meant that it was now Sunday. I used to hold onto my weekends with everything I had, refusing to do any sort of work unless I absolutely had no choice. But now, here I was, pulling into Caddie Parking at 6:20 a.m., prepared to hold my Sit & Stare pose for the next eight hours, as I waited to see if I was going to get an assignment or not. Coming off a four-day job, I didn't like my chances of picking up anything beyond a one-and-done.

I had barely settled into my chair, though, when over the P.A. system came a 10-minute call to board the shuttle to Pacific Dunes. I couldn't believe it; in just a few weeks time, I'd gone from doing nothing but sitting to barely having enough time to sit and watch a segment of SportsCenter. And after scrambling to shove my peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my pocket (no was in a Ziploc bag) and applying an ample amount of sunscreen, I logged into my schedule and saw that this was a three-day assignment, with two of those days consisting of 36 holes. Were my days of riding the pine and stockpiling splinters really, maybe, possibly in my rear view mirror?

As a caddie, it's always nice when your player has some game, and my guy, Rick -- who was in from the great city of Austin, TX -- had some game. More importantly, though, he was an unbelievably great guy with whom I clicked immediately. He was psyched to be out there, and he was psyched to have me on the bag, and we both fed off of that energy. Figuring out what club to hit and how every putt would break was a collaborative process, and each positive outcome was followed by a celebratory fist bump. Thankfully, we were making good decisions, he got things going a little, and I kept creeping closer and closer to making it through an entire round without a single, blatant screw-up.

But alas, the quest for that elusive cigar continues.

At the start of the day, the first thing I noticed about Rick's gear was that he had two unattached towels tucked amongst his clubs. This was an immediate red flag, because it meant that there were two additional items I could potentially lose. Loose towels and putter head covers -- those are my equipment nightmares, especially when the wind starts blowing 30 mph. My initial instinct was to grab the smaller of the two towels and stuff it into one of my pockets; that way, I wouldn't have to worry about it unsuspectingly falling off while I was on the move. But from the outset, he kept grabbing it and walking with it between shots, so I decided to leave it on the bag for accessibility purposes. Big mistake. I did my best to keep track of it, but after a few holes of constantly checking -- and constantly seeing that it wasn't there, only to realize that he had it -- the towel plummeted down my ever-changing checklist of what I needed to be taking care of.

And sure enough, as we were walking off the seventeenth hole, he went to grab the towel, only to find that it wasn't there. I scrambled around for it, digging into the bag, hoping it had just slid down between the clubs, but no such luck. I offered him my spare that I carry around in case I lose my primary one, but he had no interest.

"We need to find that one," he said. "That's my U.S. Open towel."

Perfect...the thing had sentimental value. And in reality, "Finding it" meant hoping that somebody behind us -- a golfer, caddie, or marshal -- would come across it and turn it in. There was no going out and conducting a "Search and Recovery" mission. The thing was maybe 6" x 6"; the golf course we were on was probably close to 200 acres. Not exactly favorable towel math. 

When we walked off 18, I informed the pro shop about what we were missing, and they essentially gave me the same answer that this cop gave Seinfeld after his apartment was robbed. To his credit, though, Rick didn't get upset, nor did he let the incident negatively affect what he paid me for the round. Maybe it would turn up, maybe it wasn't that big of a deal, or maybe he realized that it could've been he who had actually left it behind. Or maybe he was one of those rare people with the proper amount of perspective.

Regardless, I had come through this perceived transgression unscathed, and I still had a job for the afternoon. More importantly, though, it had been a good reminder to a) have more confidence in my instincts, and b) keep all loose towels either in my pocket or in the bag itself. There's just no reason to risk the potential fallout. It hadn't been pleasant, but at the very least, this had all been a good learning experience that would ensure that I'd never make the same mistake again.

Or so you would think...

Remember how I told you that Rick had two loose towels? At the start of the afternoon round, the second one was still on the bag -- the one I had managed not to lose. It was a little larger, and thus, too big to stuff into my pocket, but it had remained securely weaved through the clubheads in the bag through our first 18 holes. This is actually a pretty common practice; watch any professional tournament on TV, and you'll see the caddies with a towel draped over the top and fitted in between the clubs. I have a towel of a similar size, and that's how I have it set up on my own bag. In fact, I've had this same towel for over a decade, and while it's been washed no more than five times in that span, it's fallen off with even less frequency. So this amongst-the-clubs setup was a proven winner -- it's worked for me, it's worked for Tiger, and it worked that very morning. Surely it had to work in the afternoon, right?



Things got off to a fine start, but as I was walking off the sixth tee, I looked down and saw nothing but clubheads. There was no towel in sight. Phenomenal. You know that flash of dread and panic that hits you when you remember you forgot to do something or you realize your keys aren't in your pocket? Imagine that rush with a heavy sprinkling of "You have got to be kidding me," and that's what washed over me. Un-freakin-believable. The towel wasn't on the bag. It wasn't in the Rick's hands. It wasn't at my feet. My only hope was that it was in the approximately 30 yards of grass immediately behind me that was still in my field of vision, but unfortunately, it wasn't there, either. It was gone, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

So now the question became: what do I do about the fact that there's nothing I can do about it? In other words, should I fess up and admit my mistake? Or should I keep my mouth shut and hope to get away with the crime?

Whether it's professional athletes and performance-enhancing drugs or politicians and inappropriate junk pictures (I guess there's probably not another kind), there are never-ending examples of people trying to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. And these situations almost always end the same way -- badly and fully exposed. So from a purely logical perspective, it never makes sense as to why anyone wouldn't simply own up to what they've done immediately, accept the consequences, and move on.

But when you're faced with this dilemma yourself, and you are the primary offender, things aren't always quite so clear -- at least not initially.

Or, it wasn't for me, at least. Line No. 1 on a caddie's job description is to take care of the player's equipment; for the entire round, the player's clubs and head covers and towels are in your hands, and it's up to you to return everything to them on the eighteenth green just as it was when you got it on the first tee. I had failed to do this. In fact, I had failed to do it twice. In the same day. With just hours separating the identical screw-ups.

And it was that reality that created the biggest hurdle between me and the truth: embarrassment. Yes, there was concern about getting fired, and yes, there was concern that this guy with whom I'd developed a great rapport might get mad at me, but it was the embarrassment -- of failing at my job, of messing up something so simple, then messing it up again -- that had me looking for a way out. I understood that, at some point, he was obviously going to realize that the towel was gone; it was just a question of when. But until that moment of reckoning came, I would be able to continue avoiding that embarrassment.

Somehow, someway, I made it through the rest of the round undetected, but I knew my grace period was running out. I knew that once I handed the bag back over to him, and once he started getting organized before taking it to his car, he would undoubtedly notice the towel was missing. How could he not? Given this inevitability, I'd already determined how I would handle it: by taking full responsibility and insisting that he take the cost of the towel out of my pay. And as I set the bag down, and he got out his wallet, I braced for the impending impact. He then handed over my tip money, we discussed the next day's tee time, we talked about how great the day had been, and...


That was it. There was no mention of the missing towel. I don't know if it was because it was black and had always blended into the black lining of his bag, making its absence inconspicuous, or, even worse, he had simply trusted me to take care of his belongings, and therefore, didn't think to double-check everything. But whatever it was, he didn't say a word -- and in turn, gave me an unexpected way out.

And as I sit here now, I'm ashamed and embarrassed to admit that I took it.

I walked away intact, without an additional blemish on my record, but the rest of my night was predictably uncomfortable. I talked to both Emily and my parents, and, because of the overhanging guilt, I didn't bring up what had happened to either. Instead, I continued down this twisted, sinister path -- with a slightly more ethical compass -- racking my brain for ways to admit to Rick that I had lost the towel, but without admitting to my failure to initially admit to losing it (hopefully that made sense). I'd committed two crimes now, the hole I'd dug having doubled in size, and I was searching for a shortcut to minimize the damage. Eventually, I decided that, when I first saw Rick the next day, I'd ask him if he was missing his second towel. He'd obviously say that he was, and I could then tell him that the more I had thought about it, the more I had realized that the towel was most likely not on the bag when we'd said goodbye the day before -- meaning it had been lost on the course, meaning I had been the one to lose it. This tale of a middle-of-the-night epiphany would allow me to take responsibility for my mistake without having to acknowledge my lie of omission from the day before. For whatever reason, in my warped state of being, this idiotic idea seemed like a good plan that could make things right with Rick while also helping to clear my conscience.

As I got off the caddie shuttle that next afternoon, I was undeniably anxious, though there was a sense of relief that my self-inflicted anguish was about to come to an end. After a couple of minutes of standard-issued small talk, before I could bring it up, Rick broached the subject of Towel Gate himself.

"They found my U.S. Open towel, the one that went missing yesterday morning," he said. "But then I lost the bigger towel on my way to the parking lot after you gave me the bag back at the end of the day."

(Complete shock and speechlessness.)

(Still completely shocked and speechless.)


I'd geared up for this moment, having played out every possible scenario in my mind. Would I get fired? Would he get mad? Would there be tension between us the rest of his trip? I was ready for any of that, but I was not ready for this, and I really wasn't sure how to handle it. Now, I could truly walk away from the entire incident without having to endure an additional shred of embarrassment. Once again, Rick was (unknowingly) letting me off the hook, giving me an unexpected way out.

And once again, I sit here now, even more ashamed and even more embarrassed to admit that I took it.

What was wrong with me? How had I become this person? This type of dishonest behavior went against everything I believe in, and to this point, the way I've always tried to handle things. Yet twice the door had been opened for me to absolve myself of my sins at the altar of Rick, and twice I had bypassed it for the immoral emergency exit.

Not surprisingly, my night was even less restful than the night before. And as I laid there in bed, it started to make sense how all those celebrities end up in these humiliating situations, how they can defiantly wall off the truth until the truth can no longer be denied. The inherent need for self-preservation is that strong; if you're not careful, it can cloud your judgment and drive you to stack lie on top of lie on top of lie -- all while convincing you that you have no other choice.

I never thought I would be, but I was now living proof of this dynamic; I'd made one, innocent mistake and allowed it to morph and mutate into something so much more, something that had me concocting scenarios and half-truths in order to spare myself from the full weight of my insecurities. It was ridiculous. And while it took far too many hours of tossing and turning and staring at the clock to reach this conclusion, everything finally came into focus.

It was a middle-of-the-night epiphany -- and this time, it was real.

The next morning when I met Rick at the course, I took a minute when we were standing alone to tell him that I had been the one to lose the towel, that I felt bad about it, and that I was sorry. It wasn't anything formal or serious, and it was over before I could really get into any of the details about what had happened. He didn't even seem to care. But before we fully moved on from it, I was able to get out that there was one more thing I had for him -- a peace offering of sorts that would hopefully make amends for my sins, both as a caddie, and as a person:

A new Bandon Dunes towel that I had bought for him in the pro shop.

Being the good-natured guy that he is, he cracked up and initially refused to take it, but I insisted; he'd come to Oregon with two towels, and if I had anything to say about it, he was going to leave Oregon with two towels. My conscience would never have cleared if he didn't.

"And best of all," I explained, "this one clips to your bag, so your next caddie can't lose it."

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About Me

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"It's not a lie, if you believe it." Those were the words of one of my generation's great sages, George Costanza, and the more of life I experience, the truer they ring. And while I still haven't found what I'm looking for, the search for my own personal "truths" is never-ending. Care to come along for the ride?