There’s a few dozen caddies who show up to work each day. While Clam’s assigning the bags—which takes about half an hour—we mingle and talk.
Some of the younger caddies go back to sleep. They lie down on mattresses and sofas, put their caps over their faces and their caddie towels over their legs, and curl up near each other like puppies.
The rest of us form little circles of conversation. Some caddies stick to one group, while others hover, drift, and circulate.
Henry O., or Hank, orbits around each group like a satellite, listening, taking notes. He’s a junior in high school and publishes the shack’s serious newspaper, the Weekly Looper. “Serious” because there’s also a satirical paper, the Weekly Pooper, which is run by Larry, one of the older Murray brothers.
Henry’s parents are divorced and he lives with his mom, who’s a trial lawyer and dating a pro hockey player and not home a whole lot. He’s often spotted alone at Los, the Mexican fast food place near the golf course. He’ll be there with his laptop and a notepad and a newspaper, eating a burrito and sipping a Coke, very contentedly reading and writing and looking out the window waiting for a thought to ripen. Sometimes he’s seen watering his mom’s lawn or taking out the garbage with the kind of calm resignation more typical of a middle-aged dad than a teenaged caddie.
Amidst all the morning talking, some caddies stay off by themselves, listening to music or dwelling on something, spinning around in their own private worlds.
One of those caddies is Ron Surlas. He’s called “Surly,” as if one of the Seven Dwarfs. He writes a back page rant for the Pooper called “The Angry Caddie.” Its opening line is—even though Ron isn’t very pissed off anymore these days—"I am so sick of this shit."
Ron’s a senior in college. He was in Army ROTC as a freshman, but got disgusted with it when they had to start training with machine guns and charging at fortified pop-up rubber dummies and his ears wouldn’t stop ringing afterward even though he had had earplugs in. That was at the same time he started drinking and taking and smoking a lot of stuff in order to ease that disgust. He’s sobered up and mellowed out now though, and is thinking of becoming a Jesuit after graduating.
Ron spends most mornings leaning against the oak tree with a book like Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning and a highlighter and a thoughtful frown on his face. He’s become a sort of informal shack guidance counselor/pharmacologist/confessor, willing to listen to very stressed out caddies and offer them pithy advice and paths to absolution. A typical Surly prescription is to brew some chamomile tea, draw a hot bath, take a few Vicodin, and read a book by a Holocaust survivor (Frankl) or a former slave (Frederick Douglass).
So, the way Clam sends us the bag assignments is through this printer in the shack, which is connected to his tower. In keeping with his Wizard of Oz-style labor relations, the printer is part of this assemblage on the wall that looks like a very creepy and mechanical face, a face that scares younger caddies with the monstrous quality that only furnaces or clowns can have.
The printer is the mouth of the face. The ears are two black telephones—one is connected to Clam’s tower, one to the bag room where the assistant pros hang out. Only one caddie is allowed to use the phones. It’s an elected position, to be the Operator, and Hntsa got voted in this season. When a call comes in it’s like a baseball game in which we’re the bullpen and the call’s from the manager in the dugout, with Hntsa nodding and saying, “mmhmm” and glancing at the caddies being mentioned on the other end.
The nose of this face-on-the-wall is a school bell and its one cyclopean eye is this rectangular light with a plastic cover over it that says BAGS. The light flashes and the bell rings when Clam’s going to send the day’s work to the printer. The sheets of paper are that old-fashioned connected-together kind, with perforated strips on the edges that you peel off. The paper comes out of the printer like a tongue.
The Operator is also the person who has to read off the assignments. So, once the sheet prints out, Hntsa grabs a plastic crate, flips it over, stands on top of it and announces the bags using a portable PA system. The caddies surround him, everyone hushed and shushing, looking upwards, some caddies leaning out the windows of the shack. It’s a Norman Rockwell moment interrupted only by a caddie farting or belching or fighting with another. As Hntsa reads off the assignments and we hear who we’ve got, the caddies react with fist pumps and high-fives, looking for who else they’re going to work with, making eye contact and nodding or raising their eyebrows. That’s if the bags are good. If the bags are bad, then it’s sighs and swearing and the lowering of heads. There’s rarely enough bags for everyone, though, so just hearing your name makes you feel like you’ve already won.
It’s a daily sacrament, the morning bag assignments. If you hear your name called, you’re going to get something, but it might be bitter and hard and unfair, or it might be sweet and easy and just. And if you don’t hear your name, then it’s nothing, waiting, neither punished nor rewarded, just ignored.
Below the face-on-the-wall is a small votive altar. Whenever a caddie brings birthday treats, an extra cupcake or doughnut or can of soda is placed on it. The rookie caddies—"rakes," as we call them—have to bring in candles and light them there. You can tell a lot of the rakes just steal from home one of those unused decorative living room candles that their moms have stored in the basement and forgotten.
There’s a papier-mâché pig’s head on the altar, which got there earlier in the summer when a rake’s mom sent a piñata with him to the shack for his birthday.
Apparently this kid, Peter, his mom is an arts and crafts zealot and sculpted and filled the piñata herself. She dropped off Peter and the pig and just waved bye and headed to yoga, thinking we’d be ok going at this thing without any grownups around.
The pig was strung up over a branch of the oak tree. Everybody grabbed old golf clubs that were lying around the shack. Some of the older caddies took out clubs from the trunks of their cars. We formed a line and somebody made a blindfold out of a caddie shirt. Joe Murray was holding the rope of the piñata and making the pig swing back and forth and twirl around. A few caddies took swipes at it. Surly hit it hard and punched a hole in it that a couple of Tootsie Rolls dripped out of. Joe’s brother Bill—Bill Murray, who despite a name pointing in the other direction is a rather unfunny and literal young man—grabbed an iPod and hooked it into a boombox. Inspired by the pig, he went to Pink Floyd and Dark Side of the Moon and put on “Brain Damage” and blasted it. One of the girl caddies, Lorena Manzano—who’s a champion junior golfer and who smokes unfiltered Lucky Strike cigarettes at the shack in the morning while reading Tolstoy and just looking totally unapproachable and intimidating to everyone who doesn’t have a USGA handicap as low as her own—she took a two-iron out of her trunk, got in line, waited her turn, and then took a very professionally-groomed swing at the piÃ±ata.
She dug that two-iron right into the pig’s ass, the clubhead getting jammed for a moment, just before she yanked really hard and grunted and flexed her well-toned biceps—all this with a cigarette dangling from her mouth—and split the pig open lengthwise up to its throat, like a duffel bag being unzipped. Sacajawea dollars and Snickers bars and $10 Potbelly gift cards and Tootsie Rolls and bouncy balls and pocket-sized New Testaments gushed down onto Lorena, knocking the cigarette out of her mouth as caddies crouched near her ankles, grabbing, squealing, everyone grabbing, then shoving, as she pulled off the blindfold and prodded caddies out of the way with her two-iron. All this as Dark Side of the Moon came to an end on the boombox with the lingering throb of a calmly beating heart.
Then the nose on the face-on-the-wall rang and the eye flashed and the assignments printed out and everyone got quiet and began unwrapping candy bars and disappointingly flipping through New Testaments while Hntsa went inside to get the print-out and read us the day’s work.
The pig’s head was ripped off from the body and, after being kicked around for a couple days, was put on the altar underneath Clam’s wall mount proxy, and has been there since.