Category Archives

44 Articles

It’s Been 20 years since I Eulogized my Cat

Me and F. Scott, 1988-2004

Twelve years ago when I moved to Maine from Greater Boston I traded an apartment in the relativly leafy suburb of Natick for one in the heart of downtown Portland, an act which obliged me and my two cats, Scott and Zelda, to become urbanites. This, as I explained to Scott at the time, was admittedly counterintuitive; not many Massholes go north to seclude themselves from the great outdoors. But I did assure him, as he was the more adventurous of the two litter mates, that someday he’d be an outdoor cat once more.

Five years later, having taken on a wife, child, dog and sole proprietorship, I delivered on that promise. We moved to rural New Gloucester and Scott, once an indoor cat against his will, was free again to roam the countryside as he pleased. Zelda did too, of course, but she’s always been more of a homebody. The former Ms. Sayre never experienced the thrill of the wild that her furry companion did. For months after our arrival in The NG, Scott would prance through the sliding door into the house and pause to look up at me, his whiskered face beaming with squinty-eyed satisfaction. “This is AWEsome,” he clearly communicated to me. “You’re a man of your word.”

Scott died Friday morning, so this particular memory and scores of others are rushing over me just now. He’d been sick: a horrible earache and weight loss associated with what the vet presumed to be kidney failure, a common and ultimately fatal issue for 15-year-old cats like Scott. I hadn’t seen him all of Thursday — a problem because he needed his anti-biotic pill. A couple weeks earlier, during an initial round of similar treatments, he had disappeared for 48 hours and I thought, with great sadness, that he might have taken off for good rather than endure the indignity of another forced pill-popping. But I did find him; he was under the bed in our guest room, resting amid the sagging, tattered under-linings of the box-spring.

That’s where Silas found him Friday morning. I reached in to give him a soothing pat before the tricky matter of extrication, but his fir was oddly cool to the touch. 

•••

I am a cat person. Dogs I’ve learned to appreciate but I shall always prefer a cat’s snuggability, cleanliness, independence and innate poise. They would appear possess a self-respect that lends more meaning to their affection. Dogs are great, but they seem pre-programmed to slobber love on humans regardless of who you are or how you treat them, because it’s implicit that they’ll starve without you. They are truly dependent, whereas cats, if they feel mistreated, will withdraw their affection and treat you with the appropriate wariness, or they’ll simply run off and take their chances with some other human, dinning on voles they kill and consume in the meantime.

By the same token, when a well-treated cat lets down its defenses and makes itself vulnerable to your love, it really means something. I’m not one to anthropomorphize unduly, but human-feline relationships feel, to me, more interpersonally genuine. 

Read More

The NBA Didn’t Require Ernie D… Dave Gavitt and The Big East? Oh yes.

It’s never too late to mark and quantify the impact of Ernie DiGregorio. Not in New England. Not when the subject is college basketball. Yet here’s the immediate news peg, the reason to contemplate Ernie D and his attendant rabbit hole early in 2024: It was 50 years ago this week that DiGregorio set the NBA rookie record for assists in a game: 25, for the old Buffalo Braves, during a 120-119 win over the hapless Trailblazers, in Portland, on New Year’s Day 1974.

This particular moment in NBA history, in and of itself, packs enough meaningful hoops serendipity to justify an entire 30 for 30 documentary:
• Ernie D led the Association in assists that 1973-74 season, his first. He led the league in free throw percentage, too.
• The Trailblazers were indeed terrible enough to earn the no. 1 pick in the June 1974 draft. They took a guy named Bill Walton.
• The Braves coach that record-setting January night? Dr. Jack Ramsey, who left for Portland the summer of 1976, whereupon he and Walton immediately led the Blazers to their only NBA championship.
• After acquiring Nate Archibald in September 1977, Buffalo let DiGregorio go — to the Lakers, who waived him halfway through the season. Boston signed him but didn’t offer a new deal. Just like that, Ernie D’s NBA run was over.
• That same summer, Buffalo owner John Y. Brown Jr. swapped franchises with Celtics owner Irv Levin, who promptly moved the Braves to San Diego.
• A year later, the newly christened Clippers signed Walton, meaning Ernie D missed playing with The Big Redhead by only a couple Degrees of NBA Separation.

Consensus NCAA Player of the Year in 1973, at Providence College. NBA Rookie of the Year in 1974. Out of the league by the summer of 1978.

Today, that sounds like an epic tale of crash and burn. Yet the mid-1970s did represent the most turbulent period in NBA history. The league had battled the ABA for talent and eyeballs the previous 10 years, before absorbing its competitor prior to the 1976-77 season. Free agency was instituted at roughly the same time. Many on-court careers were cut short or otherwise doomed by the ensuing roster consolidations, by franchise-swapping owners, by drugs, by a decidedly incoherent league promotional strategy. In the pre-cable age, television networks weren’t at all convinced the NBA would ever prove marketable as a major sporting enterprise. One reason why: The newly merged league was far more Black (the pre-merger NBA was so lily white, there was meaningful playing time for not one but two Van Arsdales!). Would middle America ever watch something so “urban”? Ultimately, yes; it would. But as late as June 1980, two full years after Magic and Larry showed up, CBS was still showing NBA Finals games at 11:30 p.m. EST, on tape delay.

It’s no coincidence that college basketball first planted its own flag during the Seventies, this period of marked NBA chaos/weakness. In this sliver of broadcasting daylight, especially, college hoops created a viable toehold in the culture. And it was the college game where Ernie D would prove a far more influential figure.

Read More

Cultural Adventures in Historiography

Let’s get to know Charles Beard, whose intellectual connection to 1619 principal Nikole Hannah-Jones may tar him with some people, but whose story still has much to teach us. Born in 1874, Beard was perhaps the most influential American historian of the first half of the 20th century. We’re obliged to segment his heyday in this fashion because a historian’s work is famously ephemeral. Beard’s most notable work, An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, prompted much academic pearl-clutching upon its release in 1913, before forming the spine of an historical consensus that lasted more than 40 years. By the 1960s, his views on colonial America were quickly falling from grace.

This waning/waxing of historical reputations, among historical figures and the academics who study them, is de rigueur. Views are routinely raised up, then built upon or debunked as new scholarship amplifies or moots competing points of view. I’d have thought the ongoing 1619 controversies would, by now, have summoned more mention of Beard, whose work similarly challenged an existing consensus re. America’s revolutionary period. It remains to be seen whether The 1619 Project — a multimedia series from The New York Times Magazine that re-examines the legacy of slavery in the United States — will experience a similar evolution. The NYT published its 1619 package in book form back in November.

This much already seems clear: No work of U.S. history has ever been so swiftly, widely and cynically politicized. Right-wingers especially have perceived electoral advantage in portraying this work of pop scholarship as a “radical left-wing” cousin to another all-purpose bogeyman, Critical Race Theory. Even the Trotskyites who manage the World Socialist Web Site have joined the fray, on the side of Trumpists, Republican state legislators, and Fox News. This potent propagandistic cocktail (whipped up by such strange bedfellows) has resulted in spitting-mad parents showing up at school committee meetings eager to wage cultural warfare. Just in time for the mid-term elections. We should emphasize that otherwise reputable historians have also objected to aspects of The 1619 Project, while carefully praising the ambitious sweep of it. That such distinguished mainstream scholars as Sean Wilentz and Gordon Wood have seen fit to kick up such a public fuss illustrates still more politicization — from the normally left-leaning ivory tower.

But what exactly is everyone so angry about? The story of Beard’s rise and fall should help us understand what’s really going on here.

Between 1865 and the First World War, historical consensus bathed America’s founding — and the so-called framers themselves — in extraordinarily gauzy light. Beard’s scholarship changed all that, for a time. An Economic Interpretation introduced the jolting idea that our patrician colonial forebears, in particular, acted not merely out of high-minded Enlightenment principals, but in their economic self-interest as well.

To cite just one example: Beard’s scholarship reminded us that many founders were active land speculators, including George Washington. We all know the British tripled taxes following the French and Indian War, in order to pay for said war: the taxation without representation we’ve all read about. To avoid another costly military conflict, Parliament also barred land speculation in the west or “back” country, across a “Proclamation Line” designed to separate colonials from indigenous peoples. The founding class, all of them wealthy white men, objected to the massive tax increase, the famous Stamp Act of 1765. But they also took great exception to this hamstringing of their land-speculation activities. 

Beard’s work, like The 1619 Project, landed like a bombshell. The founders had never before been presented to the American public as hewing to such work-a-day, bourgeois imperatives. Eventually the demonstrable truth and rigor of Beard’s perspective, vetted over the course of decades, gained significant purchase. It became central to the U.S. historical canon. Indeed, its more clear-eyed, humanistic take on the founders and their motivations also allowed future American academics, politicians and citizens to see Washington, Jefferson and Hamilton et al. more as men of flesh, blood and standard human foibles, and less as flawless, heroic icons chiseled from marble.

This shift in American historiography, this trend in writing about the revolutionary period less sentimentally, has been slow-moving. Or rather, such a process doesn’t always bend in one direction, without interruption, toward objectivity or justice. Beard’s work fell from significant favor starting in the 1950s, when a gathering Cold War induced a great many Americans — academics, politicians, bureaucrats and citizens — to band together ideologically before a looming Red menace. In the face of what was perceived to be an existential threat, many felt our historical consensus required more spotless founders to rally around. Beard’s scholarship didn’t fit so well under that sort of jingoist cultural rubric, as that of Hannah-Jones does not today.

Read More

Trump’s subconscious is desperately trying to tell us something

I’m starting to wonder whether Donald Trump, in the early years of this century, might have killed some young woman. Not sexually assaulted her; that’s something he’s apparently been doing, repeatedly, since the early 1980s. I mean killed a woman outright.

I worry about this, as an American, because he’s the president. And because he keeps accusing MSNBC host Joe Scarborough of this exact crime, from this specific period in time. Naturally, as has become custom, Trump makes this allegation publicly without a shred of evidence. But this particular accusation worries me in another way because, as we’re learning, it’s part of a pattern — the outrageous lie that falsely accuses or smears someone else, but actually projects the president’s own anxiety about his having already committed the same crime, or embodying the identical character flaw.

This habit of the president’s, what I have dubbed projection lying, is not to be confused with his reflexive, everyday, run-of-the-mill lying — what he himself calls, in his book Art of the Deal, “truthful hyperbole” (to be fair, it’s the sort of thing one does when selling condos). As the nation has come to understand, this form of fabrication he unleashes almost continually.

Ethically, even psychiatrists aren’t supposed to diagnose the most obvious sociopaths from a distance. But I’m not a psychiatrist (!). And let’s face it: As American citizens in the here and now, we are more or less obliged to scrutinize the president’s lies, to sort them into various categories, subgroups and classifications, then collectively wonder what sort of psychiatric phenomenon leads to all this lying, all these different types of lies. He is our head of state, after all. Other than lies, we don’t get many other types of communication from the man.

In the main, Trump lies largely for the same reasons anyone else does — to deflect blame, to immunize himself from harm (when possible), to shirk responsibility, etc. We’re talking the mother lode of deflection and shirking here.

However, even while taking into account the president’s magisterial portfolio of lies and dissembling styles, I remain fascinated and troubled in particular by the president’s projection lying — the assertion of something clearly false that nevertheless and quite astutely reveals something manifestly true about Trump himself. Here’s a banal example: When he prefaces a statement with, Believe me when I tell you, he’s really saying, “I’m preparing to lie to you. In fact, I’m doing it right now.”

We are sadly conditioned to this phenomenon by now, like a proverbial frog being slowly boiled to death. As noted, the man sold condos when he wasn’t doing the impossible: bankrupting casinos (prior to starring in a “reality” series that celebrated his business acumen!). At this advanced stage, it’s as if we expect him to lie to us… And yet Trump has taken this projection lying to a new, dangerous and strangely fascinating place in 2020, because so many of his lies do reveal what the man’s id, his inner voice, what passes for his soul, is trying desperately to tell us. That’s why the Scarborough lie/smear is so arresting, almost macabre.

The president clearly reckons that if a nemesis like Scarborough were first framed up for murder, Trump could better argue that he was being framed up — or that maybe killing someone isn’t so terrible after all (so long as it was done, perhaps on 5th Avenue, by someone famous enough).

See here a brief catalogue of the variations on this dissembling projection theme. In most every case, it’s pretty obvious what Trump and his subconscious mind are trying to tell us — things we kind of knew to be true already:

  • A lot of people are saying = I’m making this up.
  • She can’t be trusted = You’d be a fool to trust me.
  • How has he not been indicted by now? = I’m quite sure I’ve committed several high crimes or misdemeanors — just in the last 3 days.
  • The president cannot be indicted = I’ve committed several indictable acts in the last 48 hours (but I’m going to keep repeating this because Bob Barr says it’s so).
  • She can’t be trusted with state secrets = I cannot be trusted with state secrets.
  • He’s a security risk = I am a security risk (and so are my children)
  • Nobody knows [insert subject matter here] better than me = I know next to nothing about [insert identical subject matter here]
  • Who knew health care was so complicated? = I just thought about health care policy for the first time this morning.
  • I’ve been treated very badly = I’ve committed a crime and/or shattered a longstanding norm and now I’m dealing with the inevitable consequences.
  • Witch hunt = Constitutionally mandated Congressional oversight
  • Perfect call = Shakedown
  • She’s not my type = Yeah, I raped her.
  • He’s lying = I’m lying.
  • I guarantee you that conversation never took place = That conversation is digitally recorded.
  • I don’t know the guy = We have, in fact, vacationed together.

I could go on. For days! (the Washington Post recently tallied the president’s lies and purposely misleading statements, since January 2017, at more than 20,000). But you get the point.

Read More

Kiltie-Aversion & Conformity — from the Man Whom Clothes Never Made

My 40something dad, his kilties well and truly shorn, in the early 1980s

[Ed. I try to write about my father each August, the month wherein he left this mortal coil, all too soon, back in 2011. For additional essays in this memorial series, visit www.halphillips.net and search “dad” or  “Harold Gardner Phillips”.]

My father abided by few fashion trends and set even fewer, though here I’ll claim on his behalf one initiative to which he proved an early and canny adopter: He hated kilties. His aversion to those oddly fringed, seemingly vestigial, lace-obscuring flaps that for decades adorned all manner of golf shoes would prove well ahead of his time.

I was reminded of this rare fashion-forward response when my 20-something nephew visited at Christmas. Nathan graduated from college a few years back with a degree in fire-suppression engineering; the job he obtained in this field quickly bored him (what’s more, living in suburban D.C. was rapidly depleting his life force). So today he’s out West fighting forest fires with a crew of badass, axe-wielding Latinos. In any case, he arrived in Maine for the holidays wearing a pair of high-laced, black-leather firefighting boots that, to my surprise, featured small kilties down by their steel-tipped toes. If Dr. Martens made golf shoes, this is what they’d look like.

My nephew’s firefighting boots, complete with kilties

What’s with the kilties? I inquired.

“Is that what they’re called?” Nathan replied, before explaining that when one is tramping about the forest floor, these fringed swatches of leather prevent sticks, leaves, pine needles, mud and other bits of underbrush from lodging between one’s tongue and bootlaces.

In the mid-1970s, when I was first introduced to kilties (and to golf, for that matter), this description of their historical utility was never advanced, not to me anyway. I knew my dad didn’t care for them. Beyond that, they were more or less understood to be yet another whimsical affectation specific to golfing attire, along with Sansabelt slacks (from the French apparently: sans belt, get it?), bucket hats and peds.

As it happened, my dad and his cohort of 40-somethings spent much of the ‘70s dispatching with all manner of societal expectations. This helps explain why he looked so dimly upon kilties — and why, from my earliest recollection, he would immediately remove them from new golf shoes.

The evolution of golf shoe fashion is not a popular avenue of exploration, though it must said: Any research into the subject inevitably leads one down a rabbit hole of pleasingly arcane information. For example, it’s possible (quite logical to assume even) that kilties predate golf spikes in that evolution. Spikes emerged only in the mid-19th century when Scots started hammering nails through their boot soles in order to gain better purchase on dewy fescues.

Mid-19th century links were hardly the manicured landscapes we know today. At best they were meadows, managed lightly (and largely) by herds of sheep. The centuries prior featured even more rugged/primitive golfing environments. In short, during these early, less formalized days, anything that kept the prominent undergrowth from mucking up your shoes and bootlaces made a world of sense for both golfers and their caddies. So kilties did in fact, at one time (for quite a long time actually), serve a purpose.

Where does the name come from? That’s less clear.

Read More

‘You have no idea all the shit that I’ve built’

Roger Goettsch and his pride and joy, a ’49 Chevy pickup he restored.

[Ed. I once heard at an Associated Press seminar that anyone, in the right hands, could well be the subject of a prize-winning profile. This one may or may not qualify, but it’s pretty darned good and has been widely shared in golf circles of late, mostly because this guy’s story truly is compelling. A published version appeared in a 2019 issue of Golf Course Management magazine. See a slightly longer and more casually profane original draft below. Note: The subject here has since moved on to Coto de Caza Golf & Racquet in Trabuco Canyon, California.]

By HAL PHILLIPS
I received the following email from Roger Goettsch, CGCS, in the spring of 2018: I recently designed and built two different wetting forks for applying wetting agents to the soil in our LDS (localized dry-spot areas). We have had issues getting wetting agents into the soil due to the thatch layer and this seems to have helped… He attached pictures of the wetting forks in action, along with shots of the “Plug Pushers” he also designed and built, to remove cores following aeration.

Goettsch is the head superintendent at Shanqin Bay Golf Club in the small town of Longgun, on the island of Hainan, in the People’s Republic of China. Like many American-trained supers working overseas, Goettsch can’t get his hands on every last piece of equipment his little heart desires. So he just builds what he can, himself, putting to work his AutoCAD skills, his welding and fabrication expertise, and a mechanical imagination born deep in the American heartland. Goettsch has worked all over North America, and now Asia, leaving behind him a trail of custom-designed and custom-built equipment — like breadcrumbs in the woods.

“You have no idea all the shit that I’ve built,” he says, upon compiling for GCM a list of Top 10 Greatest Hits. “Literally, what you’re seeing there are just the big items from the last decade or so. There’s at least another 20 big-ticket items I’ve leaving out and several hundred more I’ve just sort of forgotten.”

Like those sprig planters you built for all those contractors? Or the fairway aerifier you whipped up that one night?

“Well, not one night. We were growing in a Palmer course in Ft. Worth, Texas, working with Arnold’s project architect, Bob Walker. He’ll confirm this story. The soil was horrible there, dark heavy clay. We just had to aerify it. So I decided to build an aerifying machine with my head mechanic, Bill Hess. We had to get this done because I promised Bob Walker I’d have it ready for his next site visit. So me and Bill had been working on it several days, but we worked till 4 a.m. that last night and Bill — I had trained him how to weld — all of a sudden hollers over at me: Roger we gotta quit… I fell asleep welding.”

When pressed for why exactly he’s compelled to build so many things — while simultaneously working full time, taking care of first-class courses from the Gulf to the South China Sea — Goettsch chalks it up to self-reliance, a quality his dad embodied and passed along to young Roger in the farmlands of western Iowa.

“That’s the through line for all this stuff, based on my upbringing — being self-sufficient. You know what they say: The DNA precedes you.”

•••

Read More

A Man (in) Full: Headcheese, Jelly Sticks & my Dad’s Food Fetish

So, I try to write each August about my dad, the original Hal Phillips, who passed away seven years ago this month, all too soon. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t think of him in some way, shape or form. Many times, that moment comes when I open the refrigerator door and see my collection of hot sauces.

My dad was an enthusiastic eater and devotee of exotic, spicy and otherwise full-flavored food. Growing up, we used to kid him that he had essentially deadened his taste buds — such was the relish with which he applied not just hot sauce but salt, butter, condiments and dressings of any kind. He took this ribbing as he took most efforts to curb his foundational behaviors — with good-natured indifference — then went ahead and treated his pig knuckle with another dollop of blazing-hot mustard.

My paternal, Jersey-based grandmother was not an enthusiastic or particularly skilled cook. Whenever we went to visit, she would serve us the same thing, in great quantities: steak, corn and a black forest cake from Sara Lee. I gather that American cuisine in the 1940s and ’50s — in private homes, in restaurants — was pretty bland. My dad’s reaction to this cultural upbringing was to find himself a wife who, among other things, appreciated and was equipped to prepare a wide variety of food.

For her part, my mom, Lucy Dickinson Phillips, was raised on the West Coast, which, because it was still America in the ’40s and ’50s, was similarly staid on the food front. But Californians did have good Mexican, not to mention proper Chinese. What’s more, her mother occasionally cooked things like (gasp!) curry. In this and so many other ways, my mom proved the woman of my dad’s dreams.

Perhaps on account of their relatively white-bread American upbringings, older couples today are often satirized for this single-mindedness. How was your trip to New York? “Oh, we found the most wonderful northern Italian restaurant near Washington Square.” My parents routinely answered travel questions in this fashion; mom still does. As a good cook, she grew annoyed when my dad would salt or spice food before tasting it. But their 50 years together were a more or less an uninterrupted, gleeful quest for good eats. As such, it has fallen to their children to react in kind — to try and restore some level of sanity and moderation to the food-intake process.

This remains a work in progress.

Read More

Larry Sanders: I Never Knew Ye

Larry Sanders: I Never Knew Ye

[Ed. This piece was originally written/posted in 2011. It’s reprinted here to mark Gary Shandling’s recent passing.]

I’ve never subscribed to HBO. There may have been a month here and there when it was provided to us here in New Gloucester, by mistake, or as part of some promotion, but when the cable monolith inevitably attempted to charge us, we balked. The movie-watching we missed as a result of this cultural diminishment we didn’t see as relevant.

However, many is the time I wish I had seen all those episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Larry Sanders Show.

Last year, from some Bangkok street vendor, I procured up first four seasons of Curb, for a ridiculously small sum. It was good. I had seen the odd show here and there. But ultimately I had trouble watching them en masse. After 5-6 episodes, not even a full season, I found myself worn out but the sameness of each plot: No, Larry. No, don’t do that. Oh geez…

By contrast, IFC started rebroadcasting The Larry Sanders Show in January and with a deft flick of my DVR settings, I have proceeded to record each and every episode, in order, from the very beginning of the show’s run in 1992. It’s hard to keep up. My family rolls its eyes when they glimpse the list of recorded shows and spy this sea of Larry.

I’ll temper my ultimate, unfettered enthusiasm by saying the first two seasons of Larry Sanders were only slightly better than average — and something of a letdown when contrasted with the glowing tributes this series routinely garners from television cognoscenti. These episodes didn’t suffer from a sameness, a la Curb, but I did find myself wondering why it is I am supposed to care about any of the main characters who are unfailingly funny, but rather shitty.

Well, I can report that by Season 4, the show officially hit its stride. It’s not just easy for me to sit down and watch 2-3 episodes in a sitting; I make time for it. Indeed, I recently watched the fictitious talk show’s 8th anniversary special, and it struck me that a number of things have come together, revealing the show’s genius and explaining all the accolades I’d read and listened to over the years.

Read More

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

[Ed. This story appeared in March/April 2003 issue Golf Journal magazine.]

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  on whose ass the loss of Dugmar GC was but a pimple, 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 — but not erased, for memories are made of stronger stuff.

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, hard by Curtis Hill — 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 east.

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 drink hooch in a country gone dry). More than a few of these establishments “went under” during the ensuing 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, in short, a set up: a crafty land deal with golf at its core; a trifle built to amuse its backers, for a time, before enriching them at the public’s expense. “Those guys knew what they were doing; they made out,” recalls a chuckling, 85-year-old Stanley Mega, who caddied at Dugmar GC and still lives close by Quabbin’s shores, in Bondsville. “Those guys 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.

•••

Read More