On the driving range the second day, Bernadette introduced me, at my request, to Natalie Gulbis. Remember that tournament in Mexico when she (Bern) got sick, throwing up every hole starting at number 7 through 14 until she collapsed and had to be carted off the course, put on an IV, and forced to take a cab instead of a courtesy car? (The cab ride was so rough that when it dropped her at the hotel, she threw up again. And, I found out later, the Mexican lady who inserted the IV and spoke little English might have been a doctor and might not have been, but whatever she was she wasn't any good at IV's and Bern freaked out as she found herself lying in a pool of her own blood.) Well, Natalie and her father were the only ones to look in on her. They came up to her room, then went out to get her a few things like gatorade, aspirin, bottled water, etc. Bern's caddy, Patrick, stayed by her side, but after a day of tending to her he got sick too and the two of them took turns vomiting.
I ran into Mr. Gulbis later by the scoring trailer. With the beard and long hair he looks rather eccentric, like someone who can't let the 60's go, but he was personable and told me "it's a parent thing." So I guess he'd been thinking what he'd like someone to do if his daughter had been stricken and he couldn't come to her aid, an eccentricity of which the angels approve.
Natalie seems a fine young woman. she's got a bit of a strut to her style, a hitch in her git-along, but she's never arrogant to her fans, always ready with a smile and a wave even for the boys who call out for reasons other than her golfing ability. She can't help it if she's cute.
We had some family there: Bern's sister Elizabeth (my dancing queen); my mother-in-law; her son and uncle to my kids, Patrick (yes, two Pats - Pat and Caddy Pat); and Mary Helyn, of course (no adjectives - she's just the queen period). Also along was Mrs. O, a member of the club of which Bernadette is an honorary facsimile thereof. She's a former flight attendant who married a pilot, a totally delightful person, and a big fan of Bern's. This is the second time she's flown across country to watch her play. At the U.S. Open qualifier I mentioned her delightfulness (in her presence) to her husband, who responded jovially, beer in hand, "Yes, she's well-trained." But you could hear the pride in his voice so you know how that works: it's the other way around. One night during dinner at Landry's, she told a story from her flight attendant days of a co-worker intent on being noticed by a handsome gentleman passenger, but when she leaned over to serve him his drink, she sneezed and farted at the same time. The relationship never took off.
Elizabeth had to leave Friday afternoon to fly back to Bloomington for work on Saturday (she's got a $6.50 an hour summer job working banquets for the IU Union - I told her she could have gotten someone to work for her but she's too conscientious in her duties, afraid of displeasing or seeming not to care), a sad day, for I love having that kid around (she likes to talk about books and writing and current affairs and IDEAS and so forth), and Bern loved having her as a roommate, and it became sadder still when Bern missed the cut.
But we recovered and had a good time. We ate a lot of good food and drank a lot of beer (me, Elizabeth, Uncle Pat, Caddy Pat, and Uncle Pat's friend Kevin, who flew up from Phoenix, but not Bern till after the cut - very disciplined during tournament week). Joan, my wife's Mom, usually sipped at a glass of wine because her face tended to go numb after one drink. Me, my face never goes numb until I pass out. Mrs. O was not as profligate as the rest of us, but she held her own and told some other stories from flight attendant days that I wish I could remember. I think it was Friday night that we ate at Landry's and Mrs. O, Uncle Pat and Ebe had a thing called a Blue Moon, which involved a local brew with a slice of orange in it. Fruit in your beer. An abomination.
Sunday evening after church we met at the Denver-Tech Hotel where the in-laws were staying. We found them in the atrium cum pool hall cum bar and lounge. It's an open area with rooms looking down into it and a glass ceiling above it all. We played pool - me and Bern against the two Pats, and every time Caddy Pat sunk the winning shot he'd prance around the table jabbing a victory finger skyward, and Bern said, "What is it with guys?"
"Male ego," I said, remembering a line once uttered by a friend with a big ego. "Most destructive force in the universe." She nodded, recognizing truth.
And, oh yes, we ordered a lot of beer from the bar. The barkeep was a slim, white-haired fellow in a white shirt, a vest, and a bowtie. We drank bass ale, and some of the local brews (Denver has a lot of microbreweries and some of the restaurants brew their own - pretty good stuff, but not Bass or Becks) and even Bern joined in but had only two the whole night. Uncle Pat liked Black and Tans, a mixture of Bass and Guiness, or sometimes Sam Adams and Guiness, but I wouldn't drink the latter concoction because I was still pissed about the fornication in St. Patrick's Cathedral stunt the former had sponsored a couple years ago.
We had to break off the pool and head for Beau-Jo's pizza and more beer. I tried their home brew but went back to Bass. The pizza was great though. Kevin steered us to this place because he used to live in Denver. Bern had her second beer. The two Pats and Kevin and I weren't keeping count. Just make sure you eat at least one slice of pizza for each beer you drink.
Speaking of church, the Mass we had attended a mere hour earlier was a truly and uniquely modern spectacle. When we entered the band was already playing. Yeah, not the organ or the piano or even the guitar or the six-piece chamber orchestra, but the band. Drums , bongos, electric gee-tars, electric keyboard, horns, cymbals and, of course, a rattling tambourine. A phalanx of huge speakers in the ceiling made sure the noise thundered throughout. Some guy was seated at a console about halfway up the aisle, busily attending to a bunch of switches and green lights. I think it was power central for the sound system. A banner on a pillar up near to what we used to call the altar said, "Teen life." As opposed to what? I wondered.
I knelt and tried to pray for all the babies who'd been slaughtered in the womb and all the others still in danger of the surgeon's dancing vegematic blade, and all the sick and dead people I knew and had ever known, and for Elizabeth's job prospects in the ballet world, and for a reduction of the odds against my lottery ticket, but I couldn't hear myself think so I gave up and sat back, which was what everyone else was doing anyway.
Bern and I looked at each other and shook our heads.
"This is like ____'s church," she said, mentioning a Prot friend she'd once accompanied to his rather obscure, nondemoninational, wherever two or three are gathered let's all clap our hands and sing together now type place.
I looked at Mary Helyn. "What the hell is this?"
"Shhh!" she whispered.
Suddenly the music stopped and some late high school or early college age girl grabbed a mike and started warming up the crowd for the main event. Do we have any visitors? Well, hey there, welcome to Denver. Would you all stand up? Where you from? Let's make them feel welcome, folks. Applause. And on and on. She had a real routine, as if she'd been trained for it, and never missed a beat. I thought Tony Robbins and his grotesque, tooth-filled parody of a smile might come skipping out at any minute to chop a board in half with his bare hands.
Bern and I kept exchanging glances and her mother kept giving us dirty looks. She doesn't like what she calls "negativity" before, during or after church time. She finally leaned over and whispered, "This is what happens when you don't get up in the morning and have to come to the teen mass."
Hell, we'd gotten up at the crack of dawn every day. Couldn't we sleep in just once?
"I thought the Mass was for everybody," I grumbled. "If I want to go to a rock concert I'll buy a ticket." Besides, there were many more adults present than teens because Am Church Catholics don't have that many kids anymore. And the teens that were present weren't exactly jumping in the aisles. They had that exact same zombified stare they always have: Wake me when it's over. Do they really expect to instill a zeal for God with bad rock n' roll when there's better stuff on the radio? And I mean it was bad. I never thought I'd long to hear "Gather Us In." During the Holy, Holy and the Agnus Dei, the drums pounded. I don't know what hymnal they were working out of, but I do believe this was the first Mass in which I recognized not one single piece of so-called music. And all this happening in the diocese of super-orthodox Archbishop Chaput, who must not have fallen comfortably into the role of liturgical cop.
The priest's sermon was okay, telling the story of how he came to be a priest by finally being able to say, which he had not for most of his life, with all his heart, "Thy will, not mine, be done." But, as usual with modern preaching, he didn't bring it home by finding parallels in the lives of us layfolk. None of that stuff you might find in a Newman sermon, like "many are called, few are chosen," or that "the number of Catholics that are to be saved will on the whole be small." No pointed instances that might convict us of loving money before God, of being "selfish, and obstinate, and worldly, and self-indulgent; you neglect your children; you are fond of idle amusements; you scarcely ever think of God from day to day, for I cannot call your hurried prayers morning and night any thinking of Him at all. You are friends with the world, and live a good deal among those who have no sense of religion", in short, of being among those who, were we "to die this night, would be lost forever." Ah, let's hoist one to the good old days.
So what kind of Christian are you, one might ask, who goes to church and then gets drunk while playing pool? Well, first, there is a certain kind of church service that will drive you to drink. Second, I would protest that I wasn't drunk yet, for one man's drunkeness is another's happy face. No, that condition found its onset only toward the end of our stay at Beau-Jo's, and even then the diagnosis could only be approximate. Third, I'm the kind of Christian who can hold his booze, that's what kind. This ability has caused others to remark in amazement, "How can you drive so straight after all those beers?"
"Wow! Two sixpacks and he doesn't slur his words."
"And he doesn't stumble when he walks, either."
As TSO once wrote (approximately), "I'm part German and part Irish, which tends to make me punctual in my drinking." You must make the most of your inheritance, of the talents you've been given. If you don't, there's a penalty. The Bible says. So my liver is a capacious and efficiently ordered mechanism; I feel obligated to see that it lives up to its potential.
The other kind of Christian I am is one who would never force his tastes and habits on another. For example, if in my presence you wanted to play the part of the pseudo-virtuous teetotaller (pregnant women excepted), be my guest. Suffer for the greater glory. If you don't like alcohol, that's fine with me; I'm sorry for your loss and I'll still love you while drinking enough for the both of us. For further example, if I were in charge of the Mass, which I'm obviously not, I'd never shove my stinking lousy taste in music down your earpipes. If you wanted a moment to pray in silence before Mass, I'd find a way to squeeze it in. If you thought the jungle thunder of drums and the endless chatter and wail of human voices did not provide the appropriately reverent ambience for keeping our focus on the sacrifice at the free-standing table, I'd find a way to tone it down.
We left Beau-Jo's and got back to the hotel around ten. We headed straight for the atrium cum pool hall bar and lounge. They didn't close till 11, but the barkeep in the bowtie had already locked the balls in a cabinet. We ordered a round of beers and asked for the balls anyway. So he got them out and we began again. Around 10:45 he calls out that it's fifteen minutes till closing. Yeah, sure, no problem. We ordered another round to keep him loose and gave him a nice tip, but when 11:10 rolled around and we showed no signs of quitting, he came over to the table and started collecting the balls. Bernadette asked if we couldn't turn them in at the desk.
"It's over," he said. "You're keeping people awake."
We looked around at the room windows. They were all dark.
"There's nobody here but us," said Uncle Pat. It was true. We had never seen a light in any window. It was a ghost hotel.
"It's over," repeated the bowtie.
"He just wants out of here. His shift's over," I said.
"That's why I offered..." Bern began.
"He's an ass," I said loudly, "I want my tip back."
Mary Helyn called my name with that note of warning in it that women are so good at. The bowtie walked off with the balls and then disappeared down the hallway leading to the lobby.
But it was undeniable that if he hadn't taken them we'd have been there till 2 A.M. hootin' and hollerin' and playing bad pool. We wouldn't have had to worry about the bar closing because Uncle Pat had a stock of Beck's in an ice chest back in the room. I took one for the road, for old time's sake, for memories lost and friends forgotten, for family partings and all the farewells we'll ever say, and for my Elizabeth, the dancing queen, the one she would have drunk had she still been there, and, more likely, just for the hell of it.
The next day it was goodbye to Denver and the snow-capped mountains way off, the mountains we kept talking about driving to but never found time for, and back to Florida. It was raining when we got here and didn't stop for a week.
A couple weeks later Elizabeth called and said she had read my novel. She'd asked for it at Christmas (the first person in my family to have ever done so), so I gave it to her in a cardboard box, thinking that with her schedule she'd never get around to it. But she did. She laughed, she cried, she said, and couldn't put it down. Resented having to go to work because it interrupted her reading. I'm going to make her executor of what I like to call my literary estate. I don't care what others call it. God, I miss that kid.