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What the Willfully Blind Fail to See, Working Just Fine, All Around Us

Can we please stop talking about Bernie Sanders’ policy suggestions as if he were by some kind of unhinged fantasist? Sanders recently introduced to the Senate a bill that would expand Medicare to include citizens under 65 years of age — and you’d have thought he proposed changing water into wine. Hey, obstinate right-wingers: What Bernie has proposed is more or less the working model for the existing healthcare systems now operating in every industrialized nation on earth — that is, every one but the United States. What’s more, as the facts relay (in spite of reflexive carping from actual fantasists, those of the Randian variety), nearly every one of those socialized systems delivers health care for less cost per citizen than the system we Americans currently deploy (the ACA) and the largely private one it replaced.

Sanders’ call for “free public college tuition for all” during the 2016 campaign also elicited no small amount of tittering from observers on both the right and left — despite the fact that, as recently as the late 1970s, the U.S. itself offered public higher education for close to nothing. Let’s first examine what Bernie actually said: free PUBLIC college tuition (no one, including Sanders, is suggesting we subsidize anyone’s matriculation at private institutions). Second, we already offer free primary and secondary education as a matter of course; in terms of prepping workers and citizens for lifelong utility (to the culture, to the economy) why should college be any different? Last, check the stats: The average annual in-state public university room, board and tuition in 1977 — $2,067. That’s not “free”, but even when inflation is accounted for, that is highly affordable (the average price of a new car in 1977 was $5,813). More to the point, that was a four-year education debt load of some $8,200, a sum any college-educated student could expect to chip away at quite substantially — over their summers! It’s certainly nothing like the crushing debt load graduates encounter today. Why the discrepancy? Because we subsidized (read: socialized the cost of) public colleges to a far greater extent not just in the 1970s but throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s. This was not some government decision, mind you; we THE PEOPLE decided it was worthwhile to make higher education attainable and affordable. Starting with the Reagan administration, fewer and fewer people saw the value in socializing the cost of higher education. Bit by bit, that socialization was dismantled and/or reduced, to the point where today the average annual room, board and tuition cost for the public, in-state college student is $20,090.

I’ll be honest: Maybe it’s my somewhat watered down but still vaguely Mediterranean complexion, but I never felt the Bern to any great extent. At 76, he was and remains too old to have been a viable two-term president. He fixates on certain issues to the exclusion of others — which is what senators do, a role that suits him. I’m not sure he plays particularly well with others, a trait we can see the value of today. He looks and sounds way too much like Larry David. And his carping at the Democratic National Committee seemed to me churlish and misplaced. [Of course the DNC favored HRC; she was a Democrat after all and Bernie wasn’t. Lest we forget, political parties in this country are private organizations. I don’t see why the DNC is obliged allow anyone who isn’t registered with the party to seek that party’s nomination. If an independent candidate like Bernie is allowed to compete for delegates, he should not be surprised when establishment Dems bend the rules to favor one of their own.]

But I’ll say this, god bless the man. For the entirety of my life — for the entire post-WWII era — the mere inkling of anything nominally socialist here in America was met with howls of derision and irrational fear-mongering (thanks, Russia). The mere existence of Bernie (and his policy proposals) have gone a long way toward demystifying the term and curing our nation of this impractical, hypocritical phobia — because we already socialize all sorts of costs and risks in this country: schools, highway construction/upkeep, libraries, congressional and veterans’ health care, Social Security, all branches of the military, police and fire departments, the court system, the Centers for Disease Control, public transportation and yes, even PBS. Socialized medicine and low-cost, subsidized public higher education are not fantasies. Variations on these specific themes are functioning to great effect in the real world, all around the world, even here in America once upon a time. Which is more than we can say for trickle-down economics and its fanciful enabler, the Laffer Curve.

Dugmar GC: The Curious Story of a Golf Course Submerged

Dugmar GC: The Curious Story of a Golf Course Submerged

Dugmar Golf Club, from above, circa 1931.

The Swift River started rising in the rural Massachusetts town of Greenwich on Aug. 14, 1939, and soon enough the fairways at Dugmar Golf Club had become unseasonably soggy. After a time the layout’s bunkers and teeing grounds were completely submerged, and had the pins not been removed years before, their flags would have been some of the last things visible before this 9-hole track and the rest of Greenwich were lost for good.

It’s been 68 years since Greenwich and three neighboring bergs were systematically condemned and flooded, all in the name of Metropolitan Boston’s chronic thirst. This massive, Depression-Era public works project created the Quabbin Reservoir, then the largest man-made, fresh-water reserve on earth.

The Lost Towns, as they’re known today, were literally erased by the Quabbin’s introduction; every tree, every man-made structure in the Swift River Valley was burned or bulldozed to make way for it. The river itself having been dammed, the water rose behind it for seven long years, until 1946, when it first lapped over the reservoir’s massive spillways.

By then Dugmar GC had been largely forgotten. Except that you can’t erase memories.

Other layouts have been lost to history, of course. Some have simply been abandoned; others were sold off to make way for post-war suburbia. But so far as we know, Dugmar GC — opened for play in 1928 — was the only golf course to meet its end in a purposeful deluge, sacrificed (along with four 200-year-old communities) to supply tens of millions of faucets in larger communities some 60 miles away.

Hundreds of golf clubs were built, as Dugmar had been, during the heroic age of Jones and Ruth as the moneyed classes sought to bring the same sort of bravado to their own lives (not to mention a place to imbibe in a country gone dry). More than a few of these establishments went under during The Depression, but none quite like (nor quite so literally as) Dugmar Golf Club, for unlike their unwitting, high-living contemporaries, Dugmar’s developers KNEW the club’s fate before the course was ever built — before the bentgrass was imported from southern Germany, before the elegant stone patio was laid beside the farmhouse-turned-clubhouse, before the first crate of Canadian Club was hidden from view.

It was a set up. A land deal with golf at its core. A trifle built to amuse its backers, for a time, then enrich them at the public’s expense. “Those guys knew what they were doing; they made out,” realls a chuckling, 85-year-old Stanley Mega, who caddied at Dugmar GC and still lives close by Quabbin’s shores, in Bondsville. “They knew the reservoir was going in and they made a killing.”

In essence, Dugmar GC was conceived and ultimately proved to be the world’s first and only disposable golf course.

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Flashback: Removing the Splinter

This August 2002 essay appeared in the Portland Press-Herald, to which I contributed op-ed columns from 2000-2003. It should have made me famous, frankly: The next season, my theory having been realized, Boston took the Yankees to 7 games before falling in the American League Championship Series; in 2004, they came back from a 3-0 deficit to slay those same Yankees and defeat their other cosmic nemesis, the St. Louis Cardinals, to win the 2004 World Series… While it’s plenty clear the Sox were not destined to win a World Series while The Kid still walked the earth, it’s not clear that Sox fortunes depended entirely on him being properly laid to rest, as is posited here. Indeed, it’s not clear that Ted Williams has ever been afforded the opportunity to rest in peace. That said, his son, John Henry, whose fault that limbo is, certainly got his. He died in March 2004, from leukemia.

By Hal Phillips

I never saw Ted Williams play; late thirtysomethings (like me) never had the chance. All we got were gilt-edged glimpses: the triumphant but out-of-context film clip, the seemingly staged black-and-white photo, the hyper-reverent musings of our elders.

Yet the shadow Teddy cast over New England was so large that it hardly mattered. Heroic figures like The Kid transcend generation gaps.

Indeed, for as long as I can remember, I’ve coveted a Red Sox away jersey — not the ‘70s-era pajama tops of my youth, but the genuine flannel article from well before my time. From Ted’s time. When my darling wife delivered on this wish last Christmas, the number choice was a no-brainer: 9.

He touched all of us, regardless of age.

Yet perhaps my lack of first-hand exposure allows me to examine his recent passing with a more clear, spiritually acute eye. As his children fight over the fate of his remains, and the corporal Kid remains in limbo, I think it’s important that we ask ourselves this question: Are the Sox better off now that Ted Williams is gone?

You may find my premise obsequious in its optimism, or perversely macabre, perhaps a tad heretical. But hear me out.

The numbers don’t lie. The seminal digits which should be flashing across the beleaguered eyes of Red Sox Nation this summer are “1918-2002”. Those are the years The Kid bestrode the Earth, of course. However, these same dates also measure with excruciating accuracy the span of Boston’s World Series drought… Coincidence? If so, it’s a real doozie — even by the wacky standards of numerology.

Is it possible that Harry Frazee’s selling of The Babe has been a mere front, a convenient explanation of Boston’s sad championship void thereafter? Shouldn’t we at least consider possible corollaries — namely, that until Ted Williams and his outsized, symbolically fraught persona joined the hereafter, his beloved Sox were cosmically doomed to underachieve?

In this, The Age of Irony, it’s worth exploring. If on some agnostic level we accept as valid The Curse of the Bambino — wherein The Sox cosmically endure pain on account of Babe Ruth’s salary dump — we should also ponder the possibility that those same Sox will prosper now that the Splinter has been removed from our collective foot (or soon will be, if his offspring will get with the program).

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Professor Nat Greene: Come on Down!

The inimitable Bob Barker, flanked by “Price is Right” eye candy Janice Pennington (left) and Anitra Ford.

As yours probably does, my alma mater hits me all too frequently with some manner of e-newsletter cum fund-raising communiqué. One can hardly escape the memories stirred/jarred by all this WesContact, which is surely the way they want it. In any case, a recent MailChimp morsel revealed, among other things, that three Wesleyan faculty had received The Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching. While this particular tidbit proved interesting enough to peruse, I’m only now addressing the nostalgia it prompted — immersed as I am, third party, in the college experience of both my kids.

The first thing to say is that my cohort and I attended Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., alongside an actual Binswanger — Benjamin Pennypacker Binswanger to be exact. Never knew him but my housemates and I made note of his titanically pretentious name the first week of school freshman year and never forgot it — never tired of mocking it, either. Always wondered if he was related to Princeton’s Jay Binswanger, winner of the first Heisman Trophy…

Wesleyan Professor Nat Greene

More to the point, Nat Greene was one of these recent Binswanger honorees. I took a couple classes with him at Wes, but the first was a survey of European history 1815-1945, and I remember it best because it was the only one I ever took with my housemate Dennis Carboni, an art history major whose course load never again overlapped with mine (classical history/modern American lit).

Greene didn’t necessarily tilt the material toward “social” history, an approach then sweeping uber-liberal bastions like Wesleyan. His hewed more to the traditional “Great Men, Great Events” approach. I remember the syllabus included a book of his own scholarship, “From Versailles to Vichy: The Third French Republic, 1919–1940”, which a) struck me at the time as being pretty awesome, that this guy was teaching from his own work; and b) still resides in a bookcase somewhere here in my house, for reasons completely bewildering to my wife. An entertaining lecturer and no-nonsense grader of essays (all testing was conducted via manic, long-hand scribbling in those little blue booklets), Greene was a fine professor — the sort I hope Silas and Clara will experience at some point in their academic careers.

But here’s what I remember most from my class with Nat Greene: It ran from 10 to 10:50 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings in the old PAC building (a few steps from the manhole where we plunged down into Wesleyan’s famous tunnel system, the subject of another remembrance perhaps). If Dennis and I didn’t dawdle after class, we could race home to my off-campus apartment and catch The Price Is Right at 11 a.m.

Yes, The Price Is Right. It became a sort of ironic obsession for me but something more than that for Dennis, as many things did. It gave me great pleasure to watch him obsessively game this once-seminal game show.

I’m not sure that college kids go in for this sort of thing today, awash as they are in video content and on-demand entertainment delivery choices. However, during the early 1980s, TV was a sort of novel diversion for college kids. We had grown up with it, of course, but had virtually no access to it at school. And so, great delight was taken in the ironic devotion to retrograde programming like soap operas in dorm lounges and late-night reruns of shows like the Rockford Files and Star Trek — things we would never bother watching when home with our families. My sophomore year, my housemate and I came by a tiny black-and-white TV that I’m pretty sure we carried with us the next three years, to three different houses, deploying along the way a staggering array of make-shift aerials including one that involved a pumpkin wrapped in tin foil.

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The Straight Generational Dope: Strauss, Howe, Draper, Pirsig & my Dad

Harold Gardner Phillips Jr. and Lucy Dickinson Phillips at a Manhattan terrace soirée, circa 1969.

I try to write about my dad each August because it was at the end of that month, six  years ago, that he left this mortal coil, all too soon. For most of his 74 years, my dad recognized himself as a Tweener, someone who didn’t belong to a specific or at least any commonly recognizable generation. For example, consider the Baby Boomers, who comprise the cohort that took shape once World War II had concluded, when my dad was already 9 years old. The parents of Boomers were, of course, the folks who fought The Big One as young men. So my dad arrived on this mortal coil in between these two sharp-elbowed generations. So did my mother. So did all the parents I knew growing up. Their kids (my cohort) were similarly “tweened” by our Boomer elders — the largest, most consumptive, coddled and self-indulgent generation America has yet produced — and their children, known as Xers. In many ways, these populous and impetuous Boomers overtook my dad’s generation, while his son (i.e., me) has lived all his days in their voracious shadow.

William Strauss and Neil Howe, authors of “Generations: A History of America’s Future, 1584-2069”, would quibble with “Tweener”. They classify my dad as a member of a distinct cohort, the Silent Generation, or those born 1923 to 1942. These Americans, unlike members of the preceding G.I. Generation (1901-1924), were born too late to participate in WWII. Yet most Silent citizens came into sentience during the war, were hugely affected by it, as children, and developed a lasting respect for the way their  G.I. elders rose to that occasion (and subsequently shaped the post-war world). All this influenced the way my dad, mom and other Silents saw the world, their country, their child-rearing and educational habits, their roles in the public square. Silents were again buffeted by forces outside their own generation when Boomers, the sons and daughters of G.I. folk, overturned then rerouted the culture in the 1960s, by which time my parents were married with three kids.

They didn’t invent it but Strauss and Howe were the first to map this generational theory onto American history. It’s complicated but fascinating stuff (see a more thorough summary of its tenets here). S&H postulate that there are four distinct types of generations — Civic (G.I.s, for example), Adaptive (Silent), Idealist (Boom), Reactive (Thirteenth, my own generation) — that cycle in the same order throughout U.S. History, going back to the Puritans (who, if you think about it, are the offspring of some ongoing English generational cycle). Before reading this book, I’d never encountered history told quite this way. It feels a bit pop-psychological at times but the patterns do fit together with remarkable logic, precision and predictability.

My dad in the mid-1970s.

Though “Generations” was published in the early 1990s, my dad never read it. Didn’t know about it all, though it’s exactly the sort of thing he liked to read the last 20-30 years of his life (then pass to me when he was done). In the six years he’s been gone now, I’ve had the urge to discuss with him hundreds, maybe thousands of things. This seems to me the most striking and unchanging aspect of his death — the fact that I still instinctively think of matters to discuss with him but cannot.

Strauss and Howe struck a chord with me because if there are four distinct generations of Americans alive at any one time (they refer to these groupings as “constellations”), then my longtime complaints about being sandwiched between Boomers and their children in Generation X are not outlying but grounded in a kind of understandable framework. What’s more, this sandwiching has been going on forever. My mom and dad dealt with a variation on this theme: They led their Adaptive/Silent lives between one highly successful Civic generation (which won us the biggest war ever and presided over the largest economic expansion in the history of mankind) and their Idealist kids, the Boomers.

This dynamic has not changed the way I think of Boomers, ultimately a feckless lot of shallow, navel-gazing spiritualists. But it did change the way I think of modern U.S. history, my dad and the 1970s.

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Frank Rodway, MTM & TBR: RIP

When I moved to Portland, Maine, in 1992, abandoning Greater Boston for what I then considered the ends of the Earth, I lived at the expense of my new employer for those first 2-3 weeks in the city’s lovely West End. It reminded me of the Back Bay and my temporary residence, the modern art-strewn Pomegranate Inn, was so cool — and my apartment over the garage so spacious and funky — I’d have just as soon stayed there forever.

I met Frank Rodway because eventually I had to find my own place. At that time, Frank was owner and proprietor of Thomas Brackett Reed House, a 19th century brownstone once inhabited by and now named for the Maine Congressman and Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives at the turn of the 20th century, when America was slowly transitioning from insular, adolescent republic to imperialist bestrider of worlds. Frank was then a small, trim, 60-something fellow with a fit, vaguely military bearing. Before he even walked me upstairs to the third-floor apartment then available for rent, I mentioned my two cats, Scott and Zelda. “Oh, well, we don’t take pets here,” he said. Frank showed me the place anyway, which gave me the chance to pursue an historical charm offensive. The space was great — 13-foot pressed-tin ceilings; windows stretching from the floor to somewhere above my head; $525/month, heated! What’s more, I had just finished The Proud Tower, Barbara Tuchman’s magisterial history of Thomas Brackett Reed’s very heyday. We mixed it up, Frank and I, trading Mark Hanna anecdotes, book citations and recommendations. Half an hour later as he and I were walking back downstairs, I said it was too bad about the cats. “Oh, don’t worry about them,” he said.

Frank Rodway passed away this past January at the ripe old age of 91, the result of a fall on icy pavement as opposed to simple old age. I was among five former residents of Thomas Brackett Reed House who showed up to his memorial service in South Portland. TBR House was a different sort of rental property: An historic landmark, for starters, watched over by a guy, Mr. Rodway, who knew that history but also how to engender esprit de corps. This quite elegant building had a guest apartment on the first floor that tenants could rent for $25 a night. I routinely stashed my parents and visiting Greater Bostonians there. Every Christmas, that guest room and the entire first floor played host to Frank’s holiday party, a shindig that routinely proved the event of the season, as current and former residents alike renewed old acquaintances and partook of Frank’s legendarily strong and plentiful punch. I should never have known Steve Weatherhead and his lovely wife Annetta; they departed TBR just before I arrived. But I met them at these Christmas parties, along with longtime golfing buddy Michael Moore. At Frank’s funeral service, Steve recalled these parties among other things, but not before answering the question that opened his remarks: “I mean, who goes to their former landlord’s funeral?” Well, if it’s Frank Rodway, you go. He was one of a kind, as this obit (clearly written by the man himself) attests.

Another former TBR denizen in attendance this past January was one Mary Fowler, my upstairs neighbor and probably the first real friend I made in Maine. She remains one, but I thought of her again, in the immediate aftermath Frank’s memorial, when Mary Tyler Moore passed away.

Mary Fowler and I had a running joke, each of us claiming to be the Mary to the other’s Rhoda. “Hal,” she would start in, with not inconsiderable finality, “Rhoda was the loud Jew and Mary was the tactful WASP. And my name is Mary. Clearly, I am Mary and you are Rhoda in this relationship.”

“But May-uh,” I’d say in my best Brooklyn accent, “while all that is true, you live upstairs in the apartment crowded by charming eaves, while I reside in the open and airy apartment downstairs. Cultural heritage has nothing to do with it. It’s all about upstairs and downstairs. All the action takes place here, in my apartment. There are no eaves here. These are 13-foot, pressed tin ceilings. It’s all about the eaves!”

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Bowie’s Impact, Departure Still Sinking In

Bowie’s Impact, Departure Still Sinking In

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As was the case with many artists of the 1970s, David Bowie was introduced to me via my older sister. Janet brought home Hunky Dory at some point late in the Nixon Administration and when she wasn’t playing it to death, I played it to death. In truth I hardly ever bothered with Side 2 because that’s how my primitive musical mind operated at the time. Side 1 had everything I thought I needed: the radio song, “Changes”; a screamer that Janet and I used to goof on together during car trips (“Oh, You Pretty Things”); and my favorite track, the always haunting and beautiful “Life on Mars”. Once I got to college and lived in close quarters with a more fully developed Bowie enthusiast/savant, Dennis Carboni, I would learn that Side 2 wasn’t just superb (“Song for Bob Dylan”, “Andy Warhol”) but indicative of Bowie’s new genre-busting album and persona to come.

[I wouldn’t dream of posting anything regarding Bowie without Dennis’ input. His annotative comments appear below, bolded and bracketed.]

It’s been more than a year since Dennis and I spoke of this and many other things the Tuesday following Bowie’s death, in January 2016. He confirmed what I remember us discussing all those years ago, in the wee hours, confined only by the sterile cinderblock walls of dorm life — namely, that Bowie wasn’t just consistently 2-3 years ahead of every other rock ‘n’ roll artist in terms of musical direction and fashion sense; he normally hinted at his next departure on the back end (Side 2) of his previous album.

[I like how you wrote, “Dennis and I spoke of this and many other things,” which recalls the lyric, We passed upon the stair, we spoke of was and when — from “The Man Who Sold The World.”]

On the generally ethereal Hunky Dory, that clue was the propulsive and utterly sublime “Queen Bitch”, which heralded the coming of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, one of the great, pure rock (and proto-punk) albums of the decade. To say that Ziggy himself was one of the great “roles” played by any rocker of the period is not necessary, for no one else even attempted this sort of serial shape-shifting back then. Bowie turned this trick 4-5 times throughout the decade (hippie folkster to Ziggy to glam rocker to blue-eyed soul man to Thin White Duke) and competed in this regard only with himself.

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Bowie’s career didn’t begin with Space Oddity in 1969. He’d been around since 1965, when this shot was taken. Pretty mainstream, for the time, and a reminder that these icons we associate with a particular decade didn’t arrive fully formed from the brow of Zeus.

[I’ve been reading the blog, “Pushing Ahead of the Dame.” You may know it, but check it out if you don’t. It’s fascinating. Yes, “Queen Bitch” is perfect because it starts with the acoustic guitar C-G-F progression à la Hunky Dory, then switches right to an electric C-G-F à la Ziggy.]

My sister didn’t own the Ziggy album; indeed, while I knew several cuts well (from FM radio play) I wouldn’t fully absorb it until the early 1980s. She did, however, possess one more Bowie LP: David Live, Bowie’s first official concert release where, once again, he shows us a transition in the making: from the hard-edged glam of Diamond Dogs to the Philly soul sound of Young Americans. I am not ashamed to admit that I love this particular Bowie period, this dalliance in what he later, somewhat ambivalently referred to as “plastic soul”. It does shame me to admit, however, that until I was 12-13 years old, I thought this dude’s name was David Live.

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Brits Abroad on Holiday: A Partying Force Most Willful

Brits Abroad on Holiday: A Partying Force Most Willful

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Having weighed in, soberly and professionally, on the “air rage” phenomenon — at the somewhat newly minted Mandarin Media blog — I couldn’t leave the subject without relating the more salacious story of my first trip to the French Alps. It wasn’t exactly an instance of “air rage”, but it well illustrates the peculiar holidaymaking mindset, among some Brits, that can and has led to many an airborne incident. In short (I love quoting myself), “There is something to the idea, born of armchair psychology, that Brits cut loose on holiday in reaction to leaving what remains a very buttoned-up, class-restrictive culture.”

It was March 1985. My girlfriend and I were studying abroad, in London, and we’d booked a chartered ski package to La Plagne, in France, for mid-semester break. Our flight from Gatwick to Geneva, almost entirely peopled by English holidaymakers, quickly degenerated into a sort of raucous booze cruise at 30,000 feet. Everyone, it seemed, had broken open the bottles just procured at duty free.

Normally, such characters scatter to the four winds upon landing, but this was a charter. We had all purchased the same ski package. Accordingly, the same rowdy group piled onto a single coach and set out for La Plagne — in a blizzard.

By this time, my girlfriend and I had traveled a great deal together. This much was clear: If she wasn’t seated directly behind the bus driver, she was dangerously prone to car sickness. So, from the very front of the coach, we could hear the party raging behind us, as we crept our way along ever more windy, mountainous roads. This was a non-smoking bus; the Brits defiantly smoked like chimneys and brandished their duty-free liquor bottles like groomsmen at a stag party. Then came the songs.

The unfortunate leader of this charter was a mild-mannered American 22-year-old named Chad. His attempts to tamp things down were met with open ridicule. He was a tad chubby, our Chad. Ultimately, he was regaled with a spirited rendition of “Who ate all the pies?”

From our perch behind the driver, we witnessed the trip’s dramatic turning point: An oncoming Citroen spun out in the snowy conditions and crossed into our lane. The bus driver tried evasive action but these were shoulder-less roads — and it was snowing like a bastard. The car bounced off the driver’s side of the bus, right below us, and we skidded to a stop — literally perched, precariously, at the edge of a steep, snowy hillside.

We sat there for half an hour, crowded onto the left side of the bus (to avoid tipping the bus and our still soused party into oblivion) until a replacement vehicle arrived. When it did, we all exited out the driver-side window.

This replacement bus was not big enough to accommodate all of our luggage, so the entire party was deposited at a nearby train station, which served some small French mountain town whose name I cannot recall. The station had a bar, however, and our new British friends set about drinking again, as if nothing had happened. To be fair, so did we. Having cheated death, we tucked into a couple bottles of wine with two more American friends who were traveling with us.

Two hours later, we piled onto the second replacement bus, where our moveable booze-fest was now completely out of hand. Chad just hunkered down beside us; this party could not be stopped — or could it…

The up-and-down, side-to-side nature of our alpine journey would result in two initial incidents of vomiting. Each time the bus ascended and descended, the resulting spew sloshed back and forth along the bus floor. The stench had just the wrong sort of effect on others who teetered at the edge of nausea.

Upon arrival in La Plagne, I don’t believe I’ve ever been quite so thankful to disembark from anything. Rule Brittania!

Recalling, Replicating Scenes from the Parking Lot at Ponkapoag
My dad on the 8th green at Nehoiden, right across the street from the house where grew up. It's late November; the greens have been staked for fencing at the first snow. We sprinkled his ashes here, and there's a memorial bench for him just right of this frame, on the 9th tee. There is no headstone in any cemetery for him. This is his spot, for all eternity.

Recalling, Replicating Scenes from the Parking Lot at Ponkapoag

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My dad with his dad, the original Harold Gardner Phillips.

I try to write each August about my dad, Harold Gardner Phillips, Jr., as he passed away (all too soon) at the end of this month back in 2011. This exercise is equal parts homage and memory aid as I suppose one fears these recollections, now perfectly strong, will somehow fade with time. This year the jog happened naturally, as today I stand poised at the fulcrum of a generational see-saw: My son Silas goes off to college tomorrow, and so the memories rush back re. the day my dad saw me off, out of the nest and into the world.

As is the case with so many stories I’ve shared about my dad, golf plays an intersectional role. This one’s even more fitting because it centers on Ponkapoag Golf Course in Canton, Mass., a municipal track we played dozens of times growing up. One used to be able to see it from Route 128, the frenetic inner ring road that circles Greater Boston, though methinks ever-maturing trees now obscure that view. Today there are only 27 holes at “Ponky”, but there used to be 36. The course one used to see from the highway was nothing special. The other 18, however, was a Donald Ross design from the 1930s that, despite the rigors of time, high traffic and miniscule maintenance budgeting remained damned sublime.

My dad and I played Ponky together on a several occasions, but this was mainly a place where he, my mom and various other parental figures dropped my friends and me for an entire day of golfing adventure. It also served as venue to a pair of tournaments: The CYO (that’s “Catholic Youth Organization” for those who may not have grown up in Boston, where the Church held such wide-ranging cultural sway) and the New England Junior Championship.

That day I left for college, a cloudy late August morning in 1982, I was scheduled to play a quarterfinal match at the New England Juniors, as I had qualified earlier that week for what stood to be a potentially anti-climactic match-play portion. I had packed our Dodge Omni that morning with all my stuff. Win or lose, I would decamp for Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., some 100 miles southwest, directly from the golf course.

As it happened, I won the match, bettering a kid from Rhode Island named Fred, 3 & 1. I signed my card, informed a quite delighted Fred that I would be withdrawing, told the officials, and walked off to the parking lot.

There to my surprise I found my dad, who had just rolled up.

My competitive golfing career would never prove particularly extensive. Indeed, this tournament and the New England Juniors the year before were the only two events I had ever played, to that point. Golf was a fall sport at my high school, as was soccer, which took clear precedence. In other words, while my dad had played hundreds of rounds of golf with me over the years, and we maintained a spirited, running match for decades, he had never seen me play a proper tournament match against anyone else.

One time, in college, he showed up at Pleasant Valley Country Club near Worcester to see me play a collegiate match featuring Wesleyan, Springfield College (I think) and Assumption. I know the latter to be true, for certain, because I ended up facing a guy from Assumption that day named Frank Vana, who would go on to win multiple Massachusetts Amateur crowns. My dad worked near PVCC and he showed up on the 9th or 10th hole, at which point my game imploded. He scurried off after we finished 13, not wanting to cause/witness any more carnage.

For many years, I was never sure what exactly he meant to “do” that day — in the parking lot at Ponky. We had said our goodbyes that morning, and it wasn’t as though I was going off to war. But today, I can see he probably wanted one last moment with his boy, who would soon leave and return in some way, shape or form, a man.

I’ve been trying to remember what exactly my dad and I talked about during that moment in the parking lot. I surely went over the match with him, and the curious aspect of my winning but withdrawing. I don’t remember that we got into anything particularly deep. I remember being touched that he had shown up, but there were no tears. I’m pretty sure we shook hands.

See here a relevant excerpt from the eulogy I delivered for him in 2011:

My dad was not a particularly emotive man, not for most of the 40 odd years I had a clear picture of him. I remember one time I came home from college and was determined, in the sure and committed way of college students, to simply start hugging him and telling him that I loved him. I had seen other dads do this and had been impressed — that a father and son could be so open and physical in their affection for one another. I wanted that for my dad and me, to be honest. So I started out with hugs and, well… the man never really got comfortable with it. It just wasn’t his way. I remember telling him during this same period that I loved him, and noting that, to some extent, one is obliged to let people know that this is so, to verbalize it, to say it plain. He said that wasn’t his way, that he instead showed people he loved them. I remember thinking, at the time, that this was something of a cop-out.

But the man knew himself. As I grew older, I better recognized the ways he expressed intimacy and let you know how he felt. There are no rules or universalities for these things, I’ve learned, as I myself have grown as old and, in some ways, as wise as he. The more I observed this, over time, I can report that my dad did practice this sort of behavior consistently, with all sorts of people.

I think one of the keys to understanding and appreciating my dad is this: If he enjoyed something, his greatest joy was to share that enjoyment with you. If there was a piece of music that he found thrilling — and the man enjoyed a notably wide musical taste — he wanted you to listen to it and, ideally, derive the same thrill, too. If there was something he had seen on PBS or C-span, he wanted you to see it, too. If there was food item he had acquired or my mom had made, he wanted you to consume it. Right then. His enthusiasm for this sharing was really quite intimate, almost childlike in its enthusiasm. You might walk into my parents’ home, having not seen him for weeks, and his most deeply held desire was to have you sit down and watch an interview with the historian Gordon Wood, right then, so soon as you put your bag down.

And there was another aspect to this: He wanted you to listen or watch or taste or, to the extent possible, read this stuff WITH you. He wanted to sit right next to you while we watched the Gordon Wood interview, together — so he could pause the recording and discuss it. He wanted you to put the earphones on while he would stand right there beside you, grinning giddily, as you listened to some choral piece by Arvo Part. He would call just to see how far you were in a book he had recommended, to get updates on your progress…

I loved my dad but I, like many sons, have fashioned a great deal of my life in response to his. When Silas heads off tomorrow morning, there will be hugs. There will be tears. That said, I expect that whatever I’m feeling at that moment, is the same thing my dad felt that day, some 32 years ago, in the parking lot at Ponkapoag.

Silas is flying to Montana tomorrow morning, with his mom. I suppose that if I could meet them in Chicago for one last goodbye, I’d do it.

10 Questions for Guan Tianlang

10 Questions for Guan Tianlang

Guan Tianlang web

How many 14-year-olds do you know who warm up for a star turn with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy by defending the most coveted amateur title in Asia, in hopes of re-punching his ticket to The Masters? That is the quite extraordinary story of Guan Tianlang, who, as we speak, is teeing it up at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) in China’s Shandong province, at Nanshan International GC. The AAC runs Thursday to Sunday — winning it means a Masters invite (Augusta National GC is a tournament organizer) but also a final qualifying slot for the 2014 British Open. So soon as his AAC has concluded, Mr. Guan (surnames first for the Chinese, of course), flies south to Hainan island, where he will participate in a morning Skills Challenge with Messrs. Woods and McIlroy, at Mission Hills Resort Haikou (that afternoon, the two pros will contest The Match at Mission Hills to be held over the resort’s Blackstone Course). Guan, of course, made Masters history earlier this year — competing as a 14 year old and making the cut on golf’s biggest stage. I recently had the chance to sit down with Guan to discuss the state of his game, his travels, his history with Tiger and Rory, and his relationship to Mission Hills, where he’s been a fixture at junior tournaments since 2008 (he’s a native of nearby Guangzhou). Oh, and for the record, all this talk about being a precocious 14 year old goes away this week. Guan turns 15 on Friday, Oct. 25.

 

Q: You are quite famous, internationally, following your performance at the Masters in April 2013. Tell us what you’ve been doing since that time.

Guan Tianlang: The Masters did make me better known than before. I played several PGA Tour events after The Masters, including the Zurich Classic, HP Byron Nelson Championship, The Memorial, and FedEx St. Jude Classic — before taking the whole summer off for fitness training and catching up with school work. I played one Japan Tour event, the Vana H Cup KBC Augusta, after coming back from the States. Now I am going to school as a normal student and getting ready for the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in late October.

Q: The slow-play penalty you incurred during the second round at The Masters gained a lot of attention, as well. How do you view that episode now? Do you play faster, or do you think the penalty was perhaps unfairly applied?

GTL: As I said back then, I respect the decision and I accept it completely.  It was a tough day. The weather was bad and it took more time to make the right decision, and you know, it’s The Masters! I have a good routine and I haven’t changed much because of the penalty. But yes, I do pay more attention to my pace and I think I have been doing well on that part. Overall, it was a very valuable experience.

Q: Describe your history with Mission Hills. You have worked on your game there? Competed in tournaments here?

GTL: I have participated in more than 10 junior golf tournaments hosted by Mission Hills, since I was seven. And I won several championships there. The courses are beautiful and challenging. Actually the second time I met Tiger Woods was at Mission Hills Shenzhen. A great memory.

Q: There are many courses at Mission Hills — 12 in Shenzhen and 10 on Hainan Island. Which is your favorite course?

GTL: My favorite one must be the Mission Hills Norman Course. But I haven’t been to the Haikou Mission Hills. I hear it is amazing and can’t wait to play there!

Q: You will appear at a junior clinic and skills challenge prior to Tiger Woods’ and Rory McIlroy’s Match at Mission Hills on Oct. 28. You already have a history with both players.

GTL: Yes, I’ve met both of them before. I met Tiger at the HSBC Championship when I was 12, and we played a par-3 hole together. Met him the second time at Mission Hills Shenzhen and received a trophy from him. And, of course, I got to play with him for 9 holes at Augusta National on the Tuesday of the Masters; it was a dream come true, as everyone knows he is my idol. I haven’t played with Rory before but we had a nice chat at the Masters. He was very supportive and said he wasn’t as good as me when he was 14. He is humble and a very sweet guy. A great player as well!

Q: Have you attended similar junior clinics as a spectator? If so, what did you take away from the experience?

GTL: I have attended some junior golf clinics, when I was younger. The one hosted by Mission Hills with Tiger Wood was one. I can’t say how much in terms of golfing skills I have learned from the instructor, but I shall say the whole experience did inspire and motivate me to practice harder and become a better golfer.

Q: Was Tiger Woods always role model for you? Are you old enough to have the same thoughts about Rory McIlroy?

GTL: Tiger Wood has always been my idol. I believe he is the role model as a golfer for many, many people out there. Look at him: He won 5 PGA Tour events in one year and he is now the world No.1. He is the greatest player of his time and perhaps will become the greatest of all time soon. Rory is such a mature and great player. I can see how much more I need work on myself — to grow into a player like him. Both of them are the players I look up to. I’m very excited to get the chance to challenge them.

Q: What advice did Tiger give you during that Masters practice round — anything that helped you during the tournament, or with your golf going forward?

GL: Yes, it was a great experience and probably the most nervous 9 holes in my life. He is my idol, after all. We did chat a bit during the practice round and also off the course. Lots of advice. But the one piece, as other great golfers also offered to me, is enjoying your game and embracing your experience at The Masters. It was my first Masters journey, and I hope there will be many more coming.

Q: You turn 15 on Oct. 25, just before The Match at Mission Hills. You remain a young man, but do you feel as if golf is more popular today, in China, than it was five years ago? If so, how can you tell?

GTL: I believe so, absolutely.  First of all, you can see more and more media are paying attention to the sport. Second, more and more juniors start to pick up the game, which makes the future of golf in China very promising.  The golf community in China is expanding with its addition to the 2016 Olympic. Golf will become more and more popular here for sure. It is a great sport, why not?

Q: When will American golf fans see you again? Does your tournament schedule bring you to North America in 2014?

GTL: I hope everyone who supports me will watch me and root for me when I play other events outside the U.S., such as Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship. Augusta National is an organizer [winning this event last year earned Guan his Masters place in 2013] and it is the best amateur event in the region. I am going back to defend my title and I hope they will be watching. I haven’t planned any tournaments in North American next year. Hopefully I will win my ticket back to 2014 Masters.