When Stony pulled out of the cemetery onto Ridge Road, he slid the Subaru
Forester into fourth instead of second gear; it bucked a few times, then
stalled in the middle of the road. His mother who was sitting next to him
gasped as a shiny black pickup truck, its chassis riding high above two
oversized tires, squealed to a stop in front of them. The truck was so
close that Stony could clearly see the man behind the wheel. His large
head was shaved and he had a silver ring the size of an Oreo dangling from
his left ear. He was swearing at Stony, his meaty arms quivering with each
obscenity. Stony's mother lowered her window and shouted, "Give it a rest,
the kid just got his permit."
"Fuck you, bitch," he yelled.
"Let it go, Mom," Stony said. "The guy's an asshole." But by the time he
had finished his sentence, she was out of the car. She had been a track
star in college and still ran and lifted, but Stony knew she was no match
for the guy in the truck. He eyed his bag of golf clubs resting in the
back seat, wondering if he could get his hands on one of the metal woods.
When he turned around, his mother was leering into the window of the
pickup, standing with both hands on her hips. "Fuck you back," she said.
The guy looked startled for a minute, then laughed out loud. He wagged his
tongue at her in a crude sexual way, backing up the truck and driving away.
"Did you see that?" she asked Stony when she returned to the car. "Did you
see that? If I ever see you do that to a girl, Stony, you'll be sorry." Before
Stony could respond, a car started honking behind them. "Just pull over to
the curb," she said. "Everyone's in a big hurry today."
Stony was beginning to see this mishap as a bad omen. Maybe they should go
home. This certainly wasn't a good start to an already anxious day.
First, a visit to the cemetery to lay down flowers on his grandfather's
grave, then the guy in the truck, and now he had to face his biggest
test—playing golf with his father, whom he hadn't see in a month.
"Sorry, Mom," Stony said, navigating the car next to the curb, "but no one
drives a standard anymore."
"That's because they're stupid and lazy like your father."
"I didn't even mention him," Stony responded defensively.
"But I read the subtext, didn't I, dear? Yes, your father has an automatic
in that old rat trap. That's the good news. The bad news is he never sees
"Geez, Mom," is all Stony could say, knowing his father's car certainly
wasn't a rat trap, but instead a mint-condition blue 1984 Grand Marquis
with leather seats and a thousand dollar stereo system, equipped with a
special amplifier switch under the steering wheel.
Stony's mother finally composed herself, brushing some strands of brown
hair from her forehead. Yesterday she had gotten her hair cut short and
she was still getting used to the bangs. "Sorry," she said, resting her
hand on his. "That guy got to me. Another big-mouthed South Buffalo jerk.
You know I want you to have fun with your father."
"Yeah, I know," Stony said, pulling away from the curb and driving toward
the Basilica. When he reached it, he turned right on South Park, then left
into the entrance of the glass-domed Botanical Gardens, finally veering
right and gliding into the golf club's parking lot. His father was
standing at the first tee, leaning against a red ballwasher and talking to
some men. As everyone always mentioned, he was a good-looking
man—blonde, slender, and still physically fit because, like his mother,
he ran and worked out with weights. The pronounced muscles in his chest
and arms made his white T-shirt cling tightly to him. There was something
written on the T-shirt, but Stony couldn't make out the words as his father
ran toward the car, excited.
"Oh, Christ," Stony's mother said.
"Let's not have any trouble," Stony pleaded.
"Just grab your clubs and switch seats," she said, "before he revs up his engine."
But it was too late. Stony's father was already at his mother's door, helping her to get out. "Nice wheels, June. You've finally embraced yuppiedom."
She couldn't help but laugh. "The same old Arthur, a smile and a smart-ass comment for everyone. Nice T-shirt, too." Stony could now read the green print on his father's chest: "South Buffalo Boys Do It Better." "They got the 'boys' right," his mother said, "but the rest is pure imagination."
"Geez, Mom," Stony said, getting out of the car, hoping to grab his golf bag and escape into the clubhouse.
"Can't you see you're embarrassing the kid," his father said.
She laughed and pushed by Stony's father, circling the car and jumping into the driver's seat. She started the engine and began to pull away. "Goodbye, sweetie," she said.
"Goodbye, sweetie," Stony's father replied, walking behind the moving car. "And I like your hair. You look like a sexy little gymnast."
Stony stood there with the weight of his bag on his shoulder. "I think she was talking to me," he said.
"Just having some fun, Stony. What's her problem?"
"We went to grandpa's grave, then almost had an accident."
"Why did you go to his grave?
"It was his birthday."
His father grimaced. "Stony," he said, "with all due respect for the dead,
your grandfather was the man who destroyed my marriage. One day your
mother realized she didn't marry her father, and it was all downhill from
there." Stony had heard this complaint before, so he didn't respond. "I
could tell you stories, Stony," but fortunately he decided not to.
Instead, he grabbed him playfully by the arm and said, "God, you look
That was his father in a nutshell. Stony hadn't seen him in a month, which
hurt him to the core, but then with a phrase or two, or a squeeze of an
arm, Stony was five years old again, following him around the house like a
"Let me take the bag," he said, grabbing it and walking toward the
clubhouse. "We don't tee off for forty-five minutes. Let's get a Coke,
and I'll show you off." And that's what he did, stopping by tables and
bragging about Stony's prowess on the baseball field, even though he had
never been to a game, or praising his "A" average, even though he had never
met one of Stony's teachers. But Stony still loved to hear his father go
on. He loved to watch his body language, see that infectious smile. It
was clear the men respected him.
Lately Stony hadn't played South Park, but instead frequented the private
clubs where his school friends belonged. He almost laughed when over the
entrance to the clubhouse he saw the new sign: "South Park Country Club."
It was a short nine-hole course, with dirt instead of grass tees.
Sometimes the tees were so hard you had to drive a nail into them to soften
the dirt. And the holes were far from picturesque, landscaped around a
stagnant pond where dead fish often floated. To make things worse, the
entire course was encircled by an asphalt road, on which teenagers raced
each other in souped up late-model sports cars. South Park wasn't the kind
of course where you would retrieve a ball after knocking it into the pond,
and if you hooked or sliced a shot over the road (which wasn't hard to do
because of the narrowness of the fairways), you had better forget it,
unless you wanted to get run over. But in spite of its shortcomings, Stony
had a soft spot for the course. This is where he had learned to play golf,
and he liked to be around the working-class men in the clubhouse.
Sometimes he was annoyed by their ideas, but he appreciated their
sincerity. If they didn't like you, they said so, unlike at the private
clubs where everyone was overly nice to each other. Stony also had good
memories of the clubhouse, with its heavy wooden tables and chairs, the
latter whose backs were wrapped in cracked, dark red leather. He
remembered how in the summer he and his friends would get dropped off at 7
a.m. and picked up at 3 p.m. They'd play thirty-six holes a day and sip
Cokes while eating their homemade peanut butter or bologna sandwiches. And
Myron still worked the bar and grill, which is where he and his father
drifted to after making the rounds of three tables. Myron was an
overweight, ex-railroad man, with a cherubic face and one arm, having lost
the other one under a wheel of a railroad car. He always wore a soiled
white T-shirt, the sleeve of his absent arm rolled up and safety-pinned.
"Arthur and son," Myron laughed, when he saw them coming. He poured them
some drinks, then scanned a sheet listing the tee times. He shouted out to
the whole club. "Listen up. Art's teeing off after the Serbs." Everyone
laughed, including Stony's father. Stony had no idea what anyone was
talking about, but he sensed that the "Serbs" were somehow going to be a
part of his near future.
"Did your dad tell you about the Serbs, Stony?" Myron asked. He became
suddenly serious, his face reddening with rage. "What's this club about?"
Stony didn't know how to reply.
"Excuse him, Myron," his father laughed, "he goes to private school."
"Whose club is this?" Myron asked.
Stony shrugged his shoulders. "Everyone's?"
"Look around you," Myron corrected him. "You've got Micks, Polaks, Krauts,
Dagos." As he mentioned each ethnic group, men laughed and raised their
hands, taking responsibility for their bloodlines. Franklin Johnson and
his brother Fred stood up, and Franklin said in mock seriousness, "You
forgot the Negroes, Myron." But Myron wasn't laughing. "Yeah, yeah," he
said, "Blacks, too." Then he turned to Stony again. "Do you know what the
Serbs are doing over there? Your dad says you're a smart boy."
Stony knew something was happening in Bosnia, but he was too busy with
school and sports to read the papers. Suddenly, his father placed a hand
on Stony's arm. He looked him in the eye. "They're killing people, Stony,
and now they're coming over here. These are people we've never seen
before, with a lot of money and time on their hands. They're ruining it for
the good Serbs who've been here for years."
"Arrogant sons of bitches," Myron added, slapping a towel on the bar.
This kind of talk sounded bad to Stony. He had overheard it in the
clubhouse since he was a kid. His father's friends would catch a scrap of
current events or a political commentary on CNN, or they'd read an article
in the Sunday paper and become instant authorities on everything from the
Kennedys to mad cow disease. His father especially enjoyed these moral and
intellectual rampages. His mother called it "mission talk." "Your father's
off on another 'mission,'" she would say. Stony had even accompanied him
on a few. There was the time the heel from one of his new shoes came off,
and when the shoe store wouldn't take them back, his father dragged him
down to the mall where he held the store manager against a display window
until the security guards arrived. Sometimes his missions seemed driven by
a code of honor or a sense of honesty; other times his motive wasn't so
clear, as was the case today.
"Sons of bitches, all of them," Myron repeated, and the heads at all the
tables nodded in agreement. As they did, as if in synch with some bizarre
script, six strangers tumbled through the clubhouse's screen door.
So these were the "Serbs," Stony thought, tracking everyone's reaction to
their entrance. Stubbled-faced and dressed in what appeared to be
second-hand polo shirts, faded jeans, and beat-up tennis shoes, they
certainly didn't look that ominous or rich, except for one man who appeared
to be their leader. Unnaturally thin, he had heavily-greased wavy black
hair, chiseled features, and a tanned complexion. He wore a red
flower-print shirt tucked into the beltless waistband of his shiny grey
pants, whose unhemmed bottoms fell a few inches short of a new pair of
white alligator golf shoes. To Stony, he looked more like a pimp than a
murderer; or perhaps he was just a bad dresser. He walked over to the bar,
while his friends cowered slump-shouldered near the door. "Two treesomes,
Mr. Myron," he said, laying down some cash on the bar. Myron took the
money, shaking his head as he turned to the cash register, mumbling to
himself. He deposited the green fees and came back with a handful of
scorecards. "Remember, Slobeedobee," he said, "Everybody uses their own
clubs." Then he tapped the side of the man's head. "Comprendé?"
When Myron touched the man, an expression flashed over his face that made
Stony catch his breath. It was an expression that said, "I could kill you
right now, then burn down your house." But the glare lasted only a second
before his amiable smile returned. "Okey-dokey," he said, joining his
friends, who were still standing expressionless by the door. They walked
quietly out, occasionally glancing behind them.
"Did you see the look that son of a bitch gave me," Myron said. "I noticed
he didn't give you the badass look, Art." Myron turned to Stony. "Last
week that prick scraped your father's car with his pull cart and tried to
walk away, thinking no one saw him." Myron started to laugh. "Next thing
I know I see your old man chasing after this piece-of-shit yellow Yugo,
catching up to old Slobeedobee and pulling him out of the car."
Stony's father laughed loudly. "What could I do?" he asked. And everyone
Stony and his father spent the next fifteen minutes finishing their drinks
and listening to Myron's theories on everything from aliens to midgets, the
latter group for whom he had great sympathy. "Poor little bastards," he
said. By the time they got to the first tee, the first threesome of Serbs
was on the green while the second was waiting in the fairway to hit their
approach shots. "Let the morons finish up before we tee off," his father
said. "That way we won't have to slow down." Stony agreed and they sat
down on a metal yellow bench.
"You want to play for cash, Stony?" his father asked. "Is that what the
big shots at the club do?"
Stony had been hoping the conversation wouldn't turn this way—comments
about the "club," about the rich girls Stony was no doubt banging (though
he was still a virgin), and about a wager. On the golf course, his father
not only was hopelessly inferior to him but also a notoriously bad loser.
Stony had witnessed a number of his terrible golf outings; the worse his
father played the angrier and less focused he became. He once threw a
whole set of golf clubs into the pond at the fourth hole, then tossed his
golf shoes in after them.
"Let's just play for fun," Stony said.
"There's no such thing, especially since I've gotten better."
"I just don't want to bet."
"That's what happens when a boy is raised by his mother," his father said,
Stony felt his back go up. "Was there any other choice?"
"You can live with me any time you want, Stony," he said, which they both
knew was a lie. "You're just dodging the bet, " he added. "How about a
dollar a hole. Just for fun."
"I said I don't want to."
His father walked over to his bag, withdrawing his driver like a sword and
while holding onto its club face, he jabbed the grip into Stony's side. "En garde," he teased, challenging Stony. Then he began to cluck and
flap his arms, pretending to be a chicken.
Growing up, Stony had seen this mean side of his father, how he could turn
his substantial wit to evil purposes; and, as his father continued to
cluck, Stony pushed the grip of the driver away from him and smiled. "Let's make it two dollars a hole," he said. "Just for the fun of it."
"That's my boy," his father crooned.
After Stony made the bet, he felt like crying. What was he thinking? He
knew he'd win; he also knew his father was an even worse golfer under
pressure. If there was more than one guy watching him tee off, he'd be
sure to dub his drive."
"You go first," his father said.
The first hole was a short par four with a narrow fairway, guarded on the
left by the road and on the right by a number of huge maples. Stony teed
up and looked down the fairway, noticing the last threesome of Serbs
walking off the green.
"Don't drive into those trees now, Stony," his father laughed.
Stony addressed his ball, swung and hit a high draw that carried the trees
and landed in the middle of the fairway about sixty yards from the green.
"Big deal," his father said. "You have a lousy short game, anyway."
Stony didn't say a word, didn't even smile. He just stood next to the tee
as his father readied himself. The only chance his father had to beat him
was to play his own game, which was to hit two fairly short straight shots,
chip to the green and try to one-putt for a par. But Stony's drive had
obviously intimidated his father. Instead of just punching out a short
drive, he took a vicious swing, almost falling down, and they both watched
as his ball sliced madly toward the trees. Stony almost laughed. "There's
a lot of room there, dad," he said. "You'll probably have a shot to the
His father calmly returned his driver to the bag. "Listen," he said, "I
don't need your cheerleading. We ain't at the club, okay?"
"Yeah, sure," Stony said, thinking, And now it begins.
He walked down the fairway with his father, trying to make some small talk,
but his father was fixed on the trees. When they got there, they found his
ball. It was a good lie, but to reach the green, he would have to thread
the shot through a five-foot opening between two thick tree trunks.
"I'd probably drop from there," Stony said. "I won't count the stroke and
you can give me one later."
"Spare me," his father said, taking out a five iron from his bag. Stony
sought protection behind a tree. His father addressed the ball and let it
rip. The ball hit one tree on the left, careening into the trunk of
another one on the right, and much to Stony's astonishment, it shot out
onto the fairway. From there his father hit an eight iron a few feet to
the left of the green. Then they both walked over to Stony's ball. For
his second shot, Stony hit a soft wedge about five feet from the pin. "You
still have to make the putt," his father said, which he did after his
father had chipped onto the green and one-putted for a five. "The
important thing," his father said, "is that I didn't quit. I made you play
your best. It's not just about money, you know."
To reach the second hole they had to cross the road. In a sense, it was
one of the easiest holes on the course, a
three-hundred-and-twenty-five-yard par four with a lot of fairway to work
with. But teeing off could be problematic. First, the driving tee was
only about ten feet from the road. You could be in the middle of your
downswing when a carload of punks might pass by and yell out, "Fore," "Fuck
you, asshole," or "Faggot." One time someone even threw a beer bottle at
Stony. Secondly, about twenty yards from the tee was a four-foot wide
trench with a big rock in the center of it. Any golfer could tap the ball
over it, but to some, like his father, the trench acted like a magnet.
Over the years, he had seen his father bang many balls into it, and rather
than look for them, he'd just whack one after the other into its thin
opening. So after Stony hit a long straight drive down the fairway, he
could feel his shoulders tighten and breath quicken as his father prepared
to tee off.
"Why don't you use an iron?" he suggested, thinking his father would hit
the ball higher. "It's such a short hole, you don't really need the
"The point," his father said, "if you remembered anything I ever taught
you, is to learn to use all your clubs." Then he took a vicious backswing
and came down hard on the ball. It shot up swiftly, then dove toward the
ditch. For a moment, all looked lost, until the ball crashed hard into the
rock and shot about a hundred and fifty yards down the middle of the
fairway. Stony exhaled and his father let out a loud "Yes." That shot
lifted his father's spirits, and they both finished the hole with pars. As
they were walking to the third hole, they passed all six Serbs who were
tracking their balls on the fairway. Stony's father was visibly angry.
"What are you doing?" he said to one small man who was in the process of
picking up his ball from under a tree and throwing it into the fairway.
The man just looked at him and shrugged his shoulders. As he did, Stony's
father ran over to the one they called Slobeedobee. "What the hell are you
guys doing?" he asked. "You can't play with six guys."
"It's not six guys, Mr. Art," he said. "It's two treesomes." Then he
walked quickly away, grinning, his new shoes sparkling under the bright sun.
"Well, we're driving into you, you bastard," his father yelled, hurrying to
the next tee. At that moment, it was clear that their match had become
part of a much larger and more meaningful adventure.
When they arrived at the tee, Stony noticed that the Serbs, perhaps fearing
his father, had picked up their balls and thrown them close to the green.
"Relax, dad," he said, "they're way ahead. Even I couldn't reach them."
His father glared at Stony. "Even you couldn't reach them? What the
fuck is that supposed to mean?" He ripped his driver out of his bag and
grabbed a wooden tee from his pocket. The ground was packed solid, so when
he pushed the wooden tee into the dirt, it broke. This happened three or
more times before one finally stayed in. "Son of a bitch," he said, as if
he might not have a chance to drive into the Serbs. The fairway of the
third hole, flanked on both sides by a hundred yards of big oaks, was
treacherous, but his father, with the Serbian targets clearly in his
sights, hit one of the straightest and farthest drives of his career. The
ball nearly reached the men, one of whom turned around and waved back,
making his father even angrier. And this was how the third hole was
played—in a rush, but with a cool single-mindedness that raised the level
of play, for in their attempt to catch up to the Serbs, he and his father
both parred the hole. His father's only disappointment came when they
reached the fourth tee and discovered the Serbs had already teed off.
Of all the holes at South Park, the fourth was the most intimidating.
Between the tee and the green was a hundred and fifty yards of water, and
if you carried it, you still had to deal with an an eight-foot sand trap in
front of the green and the asphalt road behind it. Over the years, Stony
had seen the pond swallow many a ball, while others that were driven over
the green bounced high off the road out of play. Many a golfer had thrown
a club into the pond; many, incensed by his inability to carry the water,
had driven ball after ball into its expanse until they had to be wrestled
to ground or led away trembling. Stony had never seen his father make it
over the pond on the first try. But he knew today would be different, for
when they reached the tee, the six Serbs were chipping onto the green from
various places. Stony's father went to his bag and emptied out all his
balls. Disappointed that he only had five, he asked Stony for more, and
Stony unzipped the top pocket of his bag. His father reached into the
slot, gathering about ten shiny new balls, which he gently emptied onto the
tee. "Bastards," he said, teeing up one after another, driving them into
the air with his eight iron. His first shot arced high over the pond and
landed in the middle of the green. When it hit, Stony could see all six
Serbs flinch. His father's next shot faded in from the left, making one of
the men cover up into a ball near the sand trap. "Yes," he yelled. Even
when he mishit a shot, a low liner, it skipped the last twenty yards of the
pond and nearly decapitated another Serb. Ball after ball rained down on
them. With each shot, they scattered in different directions, until
Slobeedobee decided to grab a ball and throw it into the pond, shaking his
fist and yelling something unintelligible. The other men followed his
lead, and so it went for a good five minutes: Stony's father hitting the
balls, the men tossing them into the water. When all the balls were gone,
his father smiled at Stony and said, "Did you see what those guys did,
Stony? They threw our balls into the water. I think we should do
something about that." With a sick feeling in his stomach, Stony nodded,
following his father through a wooded path that circled the pond. "Now
don't pussy out on me, Stony," his father said.
Chasing after him, Stony asked, "What are we going to do, beat up six guys?"
"Only if we have to," his father replied, picking up his pace. "I think if
I take out Slobidowitz, the rest will scatter."
Take out? Stony thought.
"You're not thinking of pussying-out, are you?" his father repeated.
Pussying-out, Stony thought, shaking his head while trying to keep pace
with his father. By the time they got to the green, all six Serbs had
claimed it, standing around the pin brandishing their putters. Stony's
father reached for his driver, telling Stony to do the same. "This is
ridiculous," Stony said.
"Just don't quit on me," his father yelled.
Before Stony could grab his driver, his father had jumped onto the green,
scattering the Serbs. When they surrounded him, he waved the driver in
circles, keeping them at bay. "Go get help," his father yelled, continuing
to wave his club. "Go get Myron."
Stony could see the clubhouse a half a mile down the road. He ran toward
it, trying to think as he ran. What could Myron do, he thought, or any of
those old guys in the clubhouse? But then he saw the Grand Marquis in the
parking lot, remembering that his father kept an extra key under the mat.
When he reached the car, he found the key and started the engine. A song
blasted out from a tape his father had left in the deck. It was Hendrix's
primal yawp. "Well I stand up next to a mountain," he sung, "And chop it
down with the edge of my hand." Listening to the familiar lyrics and
chords, he shifted the car into reverse, then into drive, peeling out of
the parking lot toward the fourth green. He gunned the engine once, twice,
and as he approached the green, he saw his father, still swinging his
driver in wide circles, looking glad the cavalry had finally arrived.
Stony knew what the program called for: he was to drive the car onto the
green and scare the shit out of the Serbs. It would be another mission,
another story to add to the legend. But as he watched his father holding
off the angry sixome, a terrible thought flash through his mind. He knew
that no matter how hard he might try, he wouldn't be able to turn the
wheel. In an attempt to suppress the thought, he reached under the
steering column and clicked on the amplifier switch, feeling the whole car
tremble with the whining of Hendrix's guitar. He gunned the engine and
sped past the green, seeing his father momentarily drop his guard, watching
as the angry Serbs pounced upon him like a pack of hyenas.
Peter Johnson has published two books of prose poems: Pretty Happy
(White Pine Press, 1997) and Love Poems for the Millennium (Quale
Press, 1998). His book of stories, I'm a Man, won Raincrow Press's 1997
Fiction Chapbook contest, and he has a new book of prose poems, Miracles
& Mortifications forthcoming from White Pine in the fall of 2001. He
received a creative writing fellowship in 1999 from the NEA.