The Agony and the Ecstasy

The Agony and the Ecstasy was my favorite dish at a stylish Japanese restaurant on the Upper West Side during the ‘90’s and has stayed with me since that time as a short hand description for living. As a dish, it was tarted up with wasabi and overpriced Tokyo style curry poured onto rice, but as a metaphor, is aptly descriptive of my life as a constant outsider. What curry and wasabi agony that was offered by the dish was paired well with the moderately ecstatic Asian sweet potato humming nicely with some carrots, interposed by the mediating beef, its fat and broth filling out the dish. It was a particularly nasty looking green which gave it the look of Star Trek food, the kind that would give Scotty and McCoy fits when offered by alien dignitaries.

One of the habits that I have is that if I like a particular dish at a restaurant, I get stuck on it and will only order that same dish over and over again. The corollary to this rule is that after about two years, I stop going. Two years is about when I get tired of it. As I had mentioned in prior posts, the half life of human desire is about six months. In two years, whatever passion I had for the dish drops by four half lives or over 90%. Without a meaningful change in the dish, the natural refractoriness of my dopamine receptors kicks in –refractoriness refers to a nerves inability to give off the same intensity of signals if used again and again. The dish, once ambrosia becomes sawdust.

I am ecstatic when reveling in the new. I like the new car smell on the latest gadgets as they come out of their box, and figuring out the essence of a new surgical procedure has that same allure. New people, new surroundings, new foods –this is what gets me going. Of course, life wouldn’t be what it is without the agonies, and I engage these with the conviction that no matter how overwhelming the circumstances, brain chemistry dictates that the intensity of feelings on the agony side of things will wane too. All bleeding stops eventually, we say in the OR. So it is that life change takes about two years to settle into a steady state. A new job, a new relationship, fresh grief – any life change takes about 2 years to reach a digestible state. It took Tiger Woods two years to win again after all.

Which makes you think about marriages and how they survive romantic love. The old coffee machine that we got on our wedding day lived with us for the past 17 years. It was a Krups combination drip brew and cappuccino maker. My wife, Jennifer, says it was a metaphor for our marriage. At the start, we kept a variety of beans to grind fresh for every pot, occasionally making espresso and cappuccino, but eventually, we settled on cans of Melita Classic, which we found to be a superior ready to brew grind. At about year 7, I broke the pot, but Jen found a replacement. Two years ago, the heating element broke, but Jen managed to find a source for spare parts and she performed the necessary surgery on it to repair it. It was this year she realized that our coffee was not as good as it used to be after she tried the coffee that came out of our friends very expensive European coffee maker, and it was it some sadness we are saying goodbye to the old machine –the new one arrived from Amazon. It’s letting go of the past, accepting change, and anticipating the new that is both agonizing yet full of hope. Marriages, by definition, are rife with moments of agony and ecstasy, but when faced together with your partner, they become surmountable.

If I am to escape the fate of the old coffee maker, I have to actively engage, fearlessly renew, and aggressively freshen. Sophomore slumps are the result of passivity and laziness of the mind. Looking back on seventeen years of marriage, I can see that at some point, I was a drip coffee maker, once shiny and new, but now I am a fully automatic, self cleaning espresso machine, slightly used, but perfectly serviceable. Ciao.


Golf Absolution

Watching Tiger play yesterday was a revelation. The perfect circle of the swing creates a shield that blocks out the impositions of the real world and connects the axis to a spiritual plane.

I had called Tiger the equivalent of a trained circus bear, poked and prodded into performing well in what is basically an unnatural act. It is unnatural to place balls at great distances with accuracy -as much as it is for a bear to walk on a giant ball on its hind legs while wearing a top hat. I had questioned the place that his golf came from, but this was a mistake.

How Tiger became so excellent will always have some alchemic mystery lodged in the perpetual nature/nurture debate. Spiritual fulfillment was on display, and through that round, there was even some measure of golf absolution.

Golf played well comes from the heart.

Golf Chatter and a little about Tiger

The first true spring day arrived with temperatures in the high seventies and low eighties, and everyone else got the same idea that I did. Wakonda Club’s greenskeeper, Mr. John Temme, did something magical last fall and the results are apparent. After being covered in a blanket of 3 to 5 feet drifts as recently as two weeks ago, the greens and fairways emerged and almost instantly greened. The turf is near perfect despite it being so early in the season and everything is green. The greens haven’t been rolled to Augusta speed yet, but challenging nevertheless. It’s the fairways though that have finally come to fruition, nearly two years after the club pressed a giant reset button on the whole course and resurfaced the whole course from tee to green. Last year, the greens came into full bloom, but it is this year that the fairways are back to true form. It is fully 3 years since the project was proposed and now we are enjoying some of the best conditions I have ever played on so early in the season.

I wandered into the Lower Grill and ran into T who invited me into his group. I grabbed an Arnold Palmer and marched out and met his playing partner K and we marched along, a happy company. Blogging and operating has made me a social retard because I can no longer make polite small talk.

Me: So K, do you think any differently about Tiger when your wife is not around?

K: You have a way of asking socially awkward questions to complete strangers.

Me: It’s been stewing in my mind for a while.

K, smiling: I think that I admire him for his talents and achievements on the golf course.

Me -looking for ball: Have you ever seen those bears in the Russian circus? They get that way from conditioning -from a life of negative and positive reinforcement from the time they were cubs. I think Tiger’s pathologies only mirror the pathologies in his development. I question the place from where his golf comes from…

Let’s say we have a whole professional tour based on people who love to balance on a ball and they practice and compete out of joy of walking around on that ball, and all of a sudden this bear comes in to compete. He takes all the prizes.

From this whole sad season, it’s become clear to me that Tiger is not unlike this trained circus bear who must be a bit sad and lost when he’s not walking on his giant ball. For Tiger, golf is what he does well. Come two weeks, and we’ll see him take the trophy. I’m rooting for it.

So I shoot a 48, not too bad for a peripatetic round of a triple, bunch of bogies, and three long putts for birdie missed by a hair, missing comebackers through carelessness. It was too fun an evening to care. That is probably why I am a much better surgeon than I am a golfer.

The Automaton, a simulacron of a great golfer

I have changed my mind about Tiger because I thought the man and the player (of golf) could be separated. I have decided that Tiger is no longer the greatest to have played the game. Through his actions, he has shown himself unworthy of the game which values moral and ethical behavior. The Rules of Golf are not just a list of crimes and punishment, but assume an internal moral compass that guides player. Players who abide by these Rules elevate themselves in the process. This includes players who call penalties on themselves on trangressions witnessed only by them. This valuing of honesty and ethical behavior is unique to golf where players have famously penalized themselves out of championships or, tragically, tour cards.

If Tiger behaved this way off the course, who knows what guided his behavior on the course in relation to golf. You can obey the law out of fear of punishment or out of internal ethics and morality. Tiger is no golfist, but revealed to be the golfing equivalent of Deep Blue, the chess playing supercomputer, a soul-less automaton. The events of the past several weeks shows that Tiger has no moral compass, and excels at this great game for entirely banal reasons of conditioning and training from childhood. By this measure, the average golfer who takes stroke and distance for going out of bounds even when playing by himself is a greater custodion of the sport than Tiger.

The Lover

The Lover

Stress tests are used to determine the quality of things. In medicine, we have a stress test that gives us an idea how strong a heart is. In auto manufacturing, there is the crash test. In professional golf, we now have the sex scandal.

The sex scandal is a stress test most often seen in the realm of politics. But the peccadilloes of a politician became passe after ten solid years going with the tapping of shoes in airport bathrooms sandwiched between Clinton and Berlusconi. This is a stress test that reveals dimensions to Tiger that we’ve never seen before.

Tiger married Elin, a beautiful woman, but his aloofness and occasional public displays -hugging wife/children after win, revealed little. The more cynical among us could only wonder -was this all scripted? There are plenty of wealthy men with exquisite trophy wives who are revealed to have predilections across the sexual spectrum -at least in movies and novels.

So what did the past week reveal. If we are to believe the rumors, Tiger likes women with a certain body type -athletic, muscular legs, size B cups, and serious lips. We also find that Tiger has a misunderstanding about the call history function and contacts program on his cell phone. The US Magazine’s voice mail audio reveals that the purported Tiger is worried that his wife is checking his phone call history and requests the woman that he is calling remove her name from her phone number. The problem is that names are not tagged with phone numbers, but do show up in call histories with names when said names are in the contacts directory. Meaning Tiger kept only one cell phone.

What does this reveal? It confirms Tiger’s legendary miserliness or naivete. Billionaires with mistresses usually keep separate cell phones for booty calls and keep it in the golf bag or with a trusted assistant like Stevie. They keep contacts for Ginger, Misty, and Nicki, under Frank, Otto, and Rocco.

If the rumors that he was assaulted with a golf club are true, that means that he took his punishment like a golfer who hits the ball out of bounds. I frankly think he was running for his life after being hit on the head with Elin slamming the club into the back window as he drove out of the garage. Passing out, he hits tree and hydrant.

But what does all of this say about us? Why all the schadenfreude? Why all the venom? First, there is the issue that if there was an assault, there was a felony, and to hide behind gates and walls of privilege stinks to a public that is economically stressed. Refusing the request of the FHP for an interview and all the second hand communication through blogs and lawyers is a poor substitute for a visit to our society’s confessor, Larry King. The second is our need to destroy heroes, crucify them, worship them when they’re dead but kick them when alive. And finally, the third is the need for men to vocally disown this and for women to narrow their eyes and purse their lips. I for one completely do not condone any of this. The cell phone stuff was given for informational purposes only.

As I have written previously on this blog, the half life of human desire is about 6 months. That romantic love, that dopamine rush of courtship which is pretty much the same reaction people get on crack, dissipates and we bond, replacing dopamine with oxytocin. Children help this bond. Ultimately, the strength of the bond is related to the strength of character of the parties involved. We should not be rubbernecking this terrible crash site, but rather focus on our own game. Keep your head still and your feet on the ground.

It goes without saying, I love my wife very, very much. Bad Tiger, Baaaad Tiger.

The iPhone is the Master

img_0002Exclusive to iPhone, the Master’s app available only for iPhone is amazing. It features a live leaderboard and video feed from Amen Corner, 15 & 16, and video from the broadcast. The video over 3G, is superb, and it really highlights the iPhone’s versatility. img_0003This tournament is always beautiful to watch, and to be able to carry the whole tournament in your pocket is amazing. img_00021The picture to the left is live video!

The program is responsive, fast, and stable. I don’t know how Apple got the nod, but I suspect that quality has a lot to do with it.

I recently purchased the MLB app as well -I listened to the WCBS broadcast of the Yankees/Orioles game last night on the drive home. The 3G network shows its strengths and weaknesses. It streams fast, but its coverage is unreliable.

I get the feeling that tower to tower handoff is poor with my current iPhone. Just as phone calls drop while on the move, 3G coverage is dicy in a moving car.

On Wifi, the app is unbelievable. This is going to be a very unique Masters.

The Masters, of golf

img_1526The picture above shows a buff President Washington with a six pack posing as Zeus, king of the gods. This kind of florid, frankly, but likely unknowingly, homoerotic display, was typical of the 19th century men who commissioned this work. These men were confident in their mastery over the land and its peoples; they were sure of their place in the world. This kind of confidence brought about the American Century (the 20th) and colors us to this day. It was men with this uncluttered view of their place in the world that brought us Augusta National and the Masters. The neocons that ran purple rampant this past decade hark to this tradition, but I digress. It is dangerous to apply the morals and ethics of the moment to the decisions and actions of the past, just as it is to do use the morals and ethics of the 19th century to view the situations of the present. The beauty of Augusta National is something to behold, at least on television in High-Definition. But like an old line Southern family, there are a lot of bones in those closets. The Masters is a perfect bellwether of America’s difficult relationship with race, gender, and elitism. The Masters transcends golf, but because of golf, it is saved.

As a tournament of golf, the Masters, conceived and founded by Bobby Jones, is unique among the modern major golf tournaments in that it is held in the same place every year. This conservatism is the outward manifestation of a deep conservatism in the membership, and from its founding, the world view was  antiquarian and antebellum.

On one hand, it means that the very spot where Sarazen hit his shot heard around the world is an actual spot that you can see during the tournament. Past champions, members, and gallery attendees provide a living link all the way back to Jones, and the founding of golf in America and Britain. It also is a tournament that until several decades ago, insisted that only Augusta National caddies looped for the players -they were all African American wearing distinctively white overalls. This visual from my childhood of white guys strolling with black guys in crazy white mechanics uniforms carrying their bags in a tournament in Georgia called “The Masters” gave me clear notice as a teen in Jacksonville, Florida in the 80’s where progress really was.

This kind of haughtiness lampooned in Caddyshack but not half as funny when the membership’s frostiness to the brown skinned Lee Trevino caused him to let anger keep him from performing to his prowess at the Masters -he even boycotted it for two years and called it a “stupid course.” This is the thing -in America, up to the 1980’s, the popular media normalized blacks with such shows as the Jeffersons, the Cosby Show, and Urkel, but the Masters bucked the trend and showed where we really were at that time. When I was in high school, the San Jose Country Club, where my golf team practiced, was the site of a choral recital. An old lady (white), walked out of a concert there because several members of the chorus were African American. Restricted meant no blacks, Jews, or Asians. A club had fallen on hard times indeed if it let me in -and indeed, this was the kind of club we joined -Baymeadows in 1983, to get easy access to golf.  It also played into that club’s view of diversity having some “Chinee” in the locker room. The club has since closed down due to stress in the real estate market.

This changed slowly. In 1975, Lee Elder, played at the Masters, breaking the color line. In 1983, the requirement to use Augusta National caddies, uniformly African American, was rescinded -which had the unfortunate side effect of the African American caddies disappearing. The tsunami then occurred in 1997 with Tiger’s lopsided victory, but even there, the line was being defended, by Fuzzy Zoeller who stupidly had to make that remark about serving fried chicken.

“He’s doing quite well, pretty impressive. That little boy is driving well and he’s putting well. He’s doing everything it takes to win. So, you know what you guys do when he gets in here? You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year. Got it.” Zoeller then smiled, snapped his fingers, and walked away before turning and adding, “or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve.” (ref).

It cost Zoeller millions, but it was clear that it was the Freudian slip of a significant part of the nation. I don’t think there is a cross burning, lynching, evil-redneck bone in Zoeller’s body and his life of gentlemanly behavior on the course redeems him. The towel waving at the 1984 US Open was beautiful and epitomizes and elevates the game. He was joking, and he is known to be a joker, but in serving up Don Rickels at THAT MOMENT made Tiger’s victory all the more poignant.

It is telling that Augusta National in the years since Tiger’s victory, worked very hard to lengthen and strengthen the course. As if a fortress, once overrun decides “never again” by digging deeper moats and higher walls. The course which was suppose to be timeless, was lengthened in response to modern equipment. But modern equipment had been around since persimmon was dropped for graphite then steel then titanium, way before Tiger. The rough which had always been short, had allowed for a greater range of risk-reward, is now US Open style growth -the kind that gets you in trouble with not only the wife but also the neighbors if you forget to mow. This because of Tiger who has won four Masters.

The current battle is over the admission of women. This is not a problem at many clubs because of finances have dropped class, race, and religion for simple money, but it remains in the strange custom of Ladies Day -usually Tuesday after the club is mowed on Mondays. Meant to reserve the course for women as a tradeoff for restricting them from play on the weekends, it is a shameful reminder of the same antediluvian instincts that created exclusive clubs in the first place. The solution is very straightforward and fair -if you can’t play a hole in 10 minutes, you shouldn’t play on the weekends during prime time. And this is the strange thing that I have discovered in using Augusta National as our bellwether. Its accuracy is undoubtable -we now have an African-American President a decade after Tiger’s acceptance into Augusta National. Augusta’s line on women members reveals the last true fault line -one that I had frankly doubted in many heated college dorm arguments with feminist friends. The lady, my friends, is the last nigger.

So why do we watch the Masters despite its failings? It is the golf, of course.

Golf doesn’t care about your race, your viewpoint, your class, or gender. It’s the ball going from here to there, and its story a perfect mirror of your character and integrity. Life is not perfect, and nobody’s golf is, but golf holds out the promise of a more perfect round, and really a more perfect individual and nation.

My Picks:

The Iowans: Zach Johnson and Jack Newman

The Korean-American and Korean-Kiwi: Anthony Kim and Danny Lee

The Irishmen: Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington

The Cablinasion: E. Tiger Woods

The Chicago Cubs: Phil Mickelson and Greg Norman

and my final pick:

Fred Couples -I have modeled my swing intentionally on his effortless mechanics since I was a kid watching Boom Boom take the TPC in 1984 -I was there.