At first, as this whole experience was getting started, I was worried that I wasn't going to be able to write quickly enough to effectively document and capture all that was going on. Now that it's winding down, I'm struggling to come up with anything interesting to discuss, and this lack of material is beginning to mutate itself into an actual case of writer's block. Ever since I got back from the wedding in Los Angeles over Labor Day, I've felt a little like I did during my last semester as a college senior. The end is in sight, making the daily grind that much less appealing. I've battled to stay productive in some form or fashion each day, but it's a battle I feel I'm losing, especially in terms of writing.
I was at the course this morning at 6:45 a.m., and 20 minutes later, just as I was getting settled in the shack, my head back and my feet up, I was called to board the shuttle. Now. My ride over to the course is spent in a haze, as if I had actually dipped into my REM cycle, even if just for a moment.
I'm now walking stride for stride with Hank, a cheery, good-natured guy who, at first blush, reminds me of a stronger, more-athletic version of the actor Gary Grubbs (I know...very obscure reference, but the string of celebrity doppelgangers continues). Or, more accurately, I'm trying to walk stride for stride with him. The man slows down for nothing. No wasted step, no wasted movement, no wasted moment. Just make sure you're there at the ball when he arrives, give him the yardage and a target line, and he's good to go -- a caddie's dream. Exchanging backstories on our way towards the first green, he tells me that, while he now makes his home on the west coast, he's originally from Texas, and that he went to high school in Houston. A friendly, easygoing Texan who thinks four-hour rounds are for the birds? This loop keeps getting better and better. That is, until he utters the following five words:
"I went to Texas A&M."
(Actually, is A&M just one word, or is it three? I'm guessing not even the school knows. Why would they? They don't even know what the "A" or "M" stand for anymore. Bravo, Aggies. Bravo.)
Considering all of the positive qualities he's exhibited thus far in our 14-minute relationship, I wouldn't have pegged Hank for an A&M alum, but then again, the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist. Now, I'm faced with a dilemma: to be or not to be a Longhorn. This typically isn't a dilemma at all, but these aren't typical times. The UT athletic department is currently an unmitigated disaster, making me hesitant, and even a little embarrassed, to admit to my burnt orangeness. It kills me to say that, but it's true. I know Hank wouldn't hold it against me or treat me any differently, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't spark a prideful twinkle in his eye. The entire collegiate sports world has their collective nose turned up towards Austin, as if they're watching the New York Yankees or Dallas Cowboys crumble, and I don't need it being done to me at close range. My alma mater will remain my little secret, at least for the time being.
This is not the only thing I am unsure how to explain or admit to. The other is my age. The mere thought of the number thirty-five gives me brain cramps, so I'd rather not say it out loud if at all possible. And mercifully, rarely do I have to. Guests always ask me how I ended up here caddying, and though it took a number of drafts, I eventually figured out a succinct, straight-to-the point explanation: "It's something I thought about doing for a while, and I finally got up the courage to go through with it." This is a perfectly serviceable answer, partially because it's the truth, and partially because it's an appropriate explanation as to why someone in their mid- to late-twenties would be looping. And, as long as my beard is trimmed short enough to keep the gray hairs at bay, I look like I'm in my mid- to late-twenties, meaning most people don't see any reason to press the matter further. They never give it a second thought.
Today, though, my boyish (good?) looks weren't enough; my age -- nor my alma mater -- would stay hidden for the duration. In fact, they'd be revealed in conjunction with each other. As Hank and I are flying up the fifteenth fairway, he asks me where I went to school, just making conversation. There's no getting around this anymore. Prefacing my answer with a warning that he's not going to like what I have to say, I tell him, and we share a quick joke about it, and -- of course -- about how the circumstances of our football teams have recently flipped. Thanks, dude...I needed that reminder. Then he asks when I graduated, and though I could just as easily lie, I don't. This is always the uncomfortable part -- the moment right after the reveal. Normally, when I say that I'm 35, there's an awkward silence, as the person processes how much older I am than I appear. Of course, in my head, they're also ruthlessly judging me, questioning what I'm doing with my life, wondering why I'm carrying their bag instead of having somebody else carry mine. With its extended awkward silence, this time was better than usual, as Hank first had to complete the graduation year-to-current year math before commencing the (imagined) judging.
Between trying to keep pace with Hank, the shame of being born in '77, and the internal chastising for helping an Aggie with anything, I was beat by the time we walked off 18 (so much so that later, I would fall asleep while on the phone with Emily...at 4:30 p.m.). I checked my schedule to see what upcoming loops I'd been assigned, and that's when I noticed what date it was -- and what date it's about to be. I will be leaving here for good in just over a week. Just over a week...wow. It was strange seeing it on the calendar earlier, and it's strange typing it out now.
While I've always had a ballpark figure in my head, I've been avoiding determining an actual departure date to this point, mainly because a part of me refuses to believe that it's almost time to go. In many ways, it feels like I just got out here, and in many ways, it feels as if I've been here forever. My guess is that there are millions of (unformed) thoughts I have on this -- on this entire experience, on what happens next, on the fact that I can't push my thirty-sixth birthday back any -- and I hope that I'll be able to Heisman this burgeoning writer's block long enough to coherently express them. The jury's still out on that, but we'll see. Maybe.
In the meantime, though, given my dwindling number of days on the Oregon coast, I decided to spend a small part of my afternoon doing something out of the ordinary, something lighthearted yet deeply spiritual, something that in -- gulp -- just over a week, I'll no longer have the opportunity to do: