The Wasp and I

It is hard to realize that over 70 generations of yellow jacket wasps have bred and deteriorated since they gathered to sting a young boy playing in the woods outside Seattle. Do they carry a genetic memory of the taste of me? I’d almost forgotten that strained relationship until my fairway shot on the 11th hole last week.

At age seven, I of course ran to my mother; she hugged me and put on calamine lotion. There were about 10 red sting-welts on my legs and back. No courage at that age. I broke and ran, and I am sure outran some of them. Nor is there much courage now. That sort of quick-burst running is out of the question these days. And alas, I have no mother to run to.

When I was about 11 however, I became a wasp warrior. I had used some Christmas money to buy a wide-bladed hunting knife and a stone to sharpen it. In my back yard that morning, I was squinting,  holding the knife up to the sun to see if my sharpening was good enough. If it was, that no sunlight would shine on the thin metal edge.

But there was another test. In that moment, my peripheral hearing caught the buzz of wings just before my peripheral vision caught the yellow blur headed, stinger first, toward my right buttock. I whirled and slashed all at once. As if returning as some medieval samurai, I saw my flashing blade in slow motion, cutting the wasp clean in half. I had defended my body…and my honor.

Now the honor of yellow jacket wasps is ordinarily not to be trifled with…except by 11 year old boys with sharp hunting knives. That day I was near invincible…Again and again they wandered into my yard, seemingly to smell the flowers but actually to attack me. The word gets around, you know. They came alone or in pairs, but not in hordes, thank goodness. Sometimes I would take on a single yellow jacketed knight head on, following with my knife point as he twisted his way along a straight dive toward me, wristing my quick thrusts in a way I’m sure this creature never seen before, until now, when it was too late.

Sometimes I would swat the leader of a flying pair with the wide blade, and then circle to excise the wing of the wing-man midair. I received only two stings (neither of them mortal) and didn’t even mention them to my mother. Not until now have I ever told anyone what a hero I was that day. (That’s what blogs are for!)

So we had a sort of history, this ancestry of wasps and I, when one member of the current generation boldly landed on my ball. I was pushing by roller toward the next shot, and saw the wasp about ten feet away. It was crawling around on my ball, smelling out all the dimples which must have attracted him with my body oils. Perhaps there is a memory of enemies that lasts in smell through generations. I’d like to think so, because I was pulling out my three wood as cautiously as a hunting knife. And yet…What had this wasp done to me lately? Better to shew him away. Better to let him live.

However, the wasp would have none of it. He was now possessing my ball. As if he were the avenging angel from wasp-centuries back, the yellow jacket looked up at me in defiance…and waggled his behind. That may be wasp talk for “up yours.”

Some golfer voices on remote sides of me asked me if I was going to hit or what, and I gestured for their silence. They retreated to golf good manners as the wasp and I stared at each other. I did a practice swing a foot from the ball, and the bold wasp stayed put. Nothing I could do would move him…except…OK, that’s it then.

For the animal-cruelty people, I will say I watched until the insect had crawled around to the top of the ball. This way I could hit the ball with him on top of it. And what a ride he must have had! Wham! Zero to 150 miles per hour in one one hundredth of a second.

Up near the green I approached my white ball.  I was truly hoping he’d not wriggled down between the club and the ball in the last millisecond of his life. But there was no splotch of yellow. In the best of worlds he had flown off, light-headed, to tell his family not to mess with me again, not for a few more generations at least.


Copyright 2020 — David Hon

 

Crucible With A 6-Iron

When I awoke New Year’s morning in 2020, I knew I must begin the New Year with something terrifying. 

Since I turned 75, I have backed off some beginnings, things barely begun because failure seems imminent. But this New Year’s I needed a breakthrough, as a sort of mascot standing against things prematurely abandoned. You may remember an earlier post, when I mused about running between holes on the course, but then I quit, remembering that, after all, I was 75 years old.

New Year’s morning it was cold and rainy here in Seattle, and I was 77 years old. It was now or never. Grit your teeth and do your thing for the New Year. I pulled on some golf shoes and rain pants and, armed with only a 6-iron, I resolved to run between every shot on every hole on the long and hilly 9-hole Par 3 near my home.

I had heroic visions of the Winter Olympic Biathlon, where contestants race on cross-country skis between shooting stations, and where – short of breath – they shoot for scores on targets in the snow. Within short seconds they sling their rifles across their back and take off again on the course, pushing and gliding over 12 miles of hills and forest and snow. I have heard in one story that Swedish or Norwegian Army Ski troops developed this training when Nazi (or was it Soviet?) invasions were threatening. Nothing like a flawed metaphoric daydream to get your blood going.

So while the New Year’s Eve drunks snored snug in their beds, I now faced the wet, empty course. I had heard that at one time the golfing legend Lee Trevino had been a pobre in Texas and could only afford a 6-iron. He needed to support his family with whatever he could earn with that 6-iron. I don’t remember if it these were local tournaments or just side bets, but he says he learned the most about golf having to do everything with that one club.

The first tee box was on top of a slope, about 100 yards from the hole, an easy swing with a 6-iron. No one waiting (and no one watching), I swung away. The ball went sailing very high and very straight, arcing up and bending down toward the green. And then I remembered to run…I lept into space from the elevated tee box. With my eyes up to the sky watching that glorious ball, I landed running and almost turned my ankle. I was many yards down slope of wet grass, before the ball hit and stopped on the green, 4 feet from the hole.

Somewhere in those moments I realized I had no putter. As I jogged up to the ball, I reckoned I could tilt the 6-iron and putt with it. Just missed a birdie from 4 feet, but had an easy tap-in for a Par. I conserved my energy by mostly walking between the greens and the next tee box.  On this winter day, the whole course would be about a mile-long slosh over mushy grass that blanketed cold mud underneath.  Every running step sank in a few inches and made a frigid splash. It took straight shots that didn’t get lost. Not only my eyes, but my legs were following the ball in flight. I felt like a kid running after my balls…no…maybe like a dog after a slobbery tennis ball.

By God, I was going to make it through this course in under 30 minutes! I was panting hard and trudging up to the last tee box when I discovered there was someone else on the course, a family of four standing at the last tee box. I would have to stop for them to play that hole. It was a good excuse to stop, and I welcomed it. But the family had looked back before they teed off, and had seen me laboring up the hill to the previous hole. As I staggered up to wait at the tee box, the father said, “Want to play on through?”

I did. Of course I did. They watched as this crazy old man finished his first successful resolution on this cold and drizzly New Year’s morning, and further resolved to start things that were even more terrifying…as soon as he could catch a breath.


Copyright 2020 — David Hon

 

Goodwill Haunting

Sometimes, when you are 75, you find you have more time than money. More likely, even if you have money, you’re not inclined to spend it unless you find some value attached. It is a lifelong habit to pinch dollars so we can retire….and golf can be a pleasure even if you don’t spend $50 or more going out each time. If your game is doing well on lesser courses, though, it may be fun to splurge for 5 hours on a really nicely manicured beauty. For a golfer, occasionally playing that course can be like springing for a Broadway show.

And then, some of us have our “bargain” quirks. We’ll pinch like the worst miser and then see something we must have, and by damn, i’m going to buy that!  I personally find a wealth of history and style and innovation in the golf section of the local Goodwill Store. For instance, the other day I spotted a golf bag… not just any golf bag. I looked it over and found a flawless antique (of the 1930s I think). Back in the days when they wore sweaters with ties and knickers with plaid socks, this consummate bag was totally made of rich burgundy leather, made in the USA by the Miller company. Guess how much at the Goodwill? $9.95. It must have cost hundreds. I felt almost ashamed to carry it away. (But I did…)

You see, golf is a passing phase in many young people’s lives. They buy the stuff at top dollar and in 10 years it is occupying too much space in the basement or the garage. Often you can find 4-5 clubs from the same set…and occasionally you find some little invention that is so useful that you always draw a comment when you take it out on the short 9, with 4 or 5 of the clubs you use the most. This one weighs just a couple of pounds, and sticks in the ground while you make the shot.

You would be amazed at the sheer envy of golfers who usually go out for an hour or two, dragging around a bag with too many clubs they will never use…So many people have asked where I got this device, that I begin thinking of how easy it would be to start a small company to make them. But then… I’m retired, and like it that way.

And occasionally, you will find some little something that will improve your golf by 30% if you’ll just use it for a couple of months. Practice with this little putting kit, over and over. Bring it out every day to practice the distance and the feel of putting. It doesn’t look like much, but this may be one of your most important daily roads to golf, and not only while you listen to the news, either.

Its pieces can fit in any nook if you travel, and you can set it up to practice putting in hotel rooms, airport waiting areas, and even doctor’s offices when they make you wait interminably. See if you can find a long strip of carpet where you live. If you have all wood floors, you can find a twelve-foot by two-foot strip of remnant carpet. The time you can spend practicing putting is golden. If you can absorb  the “feel” of putting golf balls that consistently arrive within a foot of the cup, time after time, you can begin to score well on the greens, where golf games are often won or lost.


Copyright 2019 — David Hon