The mid sixties were pretty bitchin. Besides skateboards and Schwinn Sting-Rays, muscle cars like the Mustang and the GTO rumbled through the streets. For the maturing baby boomers, Miniskirts, pantyhose, turtlenecks, big curlers and Diet-Pepsi were in vogue. So were Barbie and Ken dolls, Trolls and Superballs. We drank Hi‑C, ate TV Dinners, listened to the top forty on AM on our transistor radios and if you were really hip, you had a lava lamp in your house. It was a fun time but there was serious shit happening beyond the perceived safety of the suburbs.
1965 was a transitional year of turbulence that shook the nation. The Civil-Rights Movement was peaking and Vietnam was becoming a quagmire. The Reverend Martin Luther King won the Pulitzer Prize and was declared “Man of the Year” by Time Magazine the year before. In March he organized a protest march from Selma to the state capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama. Police broke up the march in sadistic fashion with teargas and clubs. It was broadcast across the country and shocked everyone including the president, Lyndon Johnson. He proposed a bill that eliminated barriers blocking the Southern Blacks’ right to vote. Congress quickly approved the bill that became the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The war in Vietnam escalated with massive bombings in North Vietnam and 3,500 combat troops landed in South Vietnam, joining 23,000 American military advisers already there.
That summer riots exploded in Watts, a black community in Los Angeles after California Highway Patrol officers brutally beat a black motorist suspected of drunken driving. Hmm, I don’t think that guy said, “Can’t we all just get along?” Six days of riots and looting ensued and was brought to a halt with the help of 20,000 National Guardsmen. South-central Los Angeles was virtually in ruins. Thirty-four people were killed, over two thousand rioters and bystanders were arrested, and 857 left injured.
“There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a‑changin.’
I was ten years old and never experienced racism, poverty or knew much about war, but I was worried about it some. You couldn’t help but cringe at the terrible images on television. I understood enough to know it was tragic. You could see fear in the people’s faces or terrible anger and feel a sense of dread about what was going on and what was to come.
The only fear I faced was getting a good spanking from my dad. We all got our share of spanking and would have faced the belt more had he not been away so much. It was absolutely legal, ordained in fact, that discipline could be meted out at the discretion of the parent, teacher, Nun, or baseball coach. Cops could beat up on poor black people and get away with it. If someone felt you had it coming, you were gonna get it. I knew about that. At our house, punishment was doled out for a variety of childish crimes including talking back, not paying attention, being a smart-aleck, spilling your milk or getting in trouble at school, fighting with your siblings, breaking something or just being stupid. You could be in the wrong place at the wrong time and be falsely accused. Retribution found you in a variety of painful and embarrassing methods… A swift kick in the ass, a cuff to the back of your head, a swift sharp slap across the face, a body throttle or the dreaded belt. Just as painful was being called stupid or put down like you were an idiot.
Sometimes, you did something stupid but not realize it until after the fact, which was usually the case. My brother Joe got himself into a couple of those predicaments during our stay in San Diego. Before I get into a golf-related story about Joe, we need a little background.
My dad liked sports and was a very good tennis player. He was a competitive college player and had been the champ at a few of the bases we lived at. He was also a bowler. I wondered if he was as good as Fred Flinstone, that was the only bowling I ever watched. Come to think about it, Fred bowled and played golf! He also smoked and drank beer — So did my dad. My father golfed every now and then and kept his bag of clubs in the garage. On weekends he enjoyed watching football games, baseball occasionally, tennis, bowling and golf.
On a folding tray next to his chair sat an ashtray, a cold beer and a huge bowl of freshly popped of popcorn. Popcorn gave him gas, bad gas, the kind that hung like a deadly noxious cloud, usually within a few paces directly behind him. If you happen to walk through it you faced a life or death struggle. You grimaced and your knees buckled as your arms thrashed through the thick of it like a drowning victim struggling to get to the surface for a gulp of precious clean air. That wasn’t the only reason not to go into the room when a game was on. You better not talk and disturb him or walk in front of the TV, that wasn’t looked on favorably. You’d get yelled at or chased away with a threatening glare. Once, I accidentally knocked his beer over and set him off. I was about to get belt until my mom stepped in that one time to save my butt.
When my father was into a game he took his frustration out on the athletes and coaches on TV. Apparently many of them were stupid, morons or idiots, that’s what he shouted anyway, usually followed by a loud “Goddamn it!” I have to admit I do the exact thing myself when I watch the Phillies, Eagles or Flyers … Like father, like son.
How someone could sit through hours of golf on television was a mystery to me. It looked absolutely boring in comparison to the action of football and baseball. No running, facing down a pitcher’s ball, no body contact, getting dirty, tackling or making a game winning play as the clock ran out. Golf announcers whispered as a crucial putt was attempted. … As if the golfer might turn around at any second and chastise them for inappropriate loudness. Polite crowds clapped and the announcers gasped, almost voiding their bowls after a good bunker shot. That year the big three of golf, Jack Nicholas, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player ruled the greens. To me, they didn’t look like athletes, but rather, rich white guys dressed in sporty sweaters and crisp pleated pants. What was the big deal about golf?