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Cornucopia - Patrick Cook

A lighter look at the magic of the season, and the lessons learned from an old golf bag.

by Patrick Cook

Jack Sonderman couldn’t figure it out. He golfed every Saturday during the summer with a foursome that included his partner, Rick Dewar, and their two biggest accounts—the plastics buyers for a large office furniture company. Most Saturdays, Jack shot in the low nineties. He made the usual duffer’s mistakes, sliced long ones into the rough, missed two-foot putts, hit into the water hazards.
Twice a week, he took his son to a driving range, where he hit with all of his clubs. He couldn’t go wrong. His drives flew flat and straight, his putts sank from thirty feet away. His nine-irons bit, his sand wedge was lethal. But on the course—nothing worked.
Rick was at Jack’s house on the day after Halloween. Jack was the short, red-faced one in the green fleece-lined jacket. Rick, tall and beefy, wore a blue sweatshirt over a white polo shirt. They weren’t playing with their clients that day.  They were just going to play a friendly round between themselves.
Jack and Rick put their clubs into the trunk of Jack’s Buick Riviera and pulled out of the driveway. Jack said, “You should have seen my kid last night. It was Halloween, and he had to take his sister around the neighborhood. Marie has a costume, the Little Mermaid, but Tommy’s got nothing. So he gets out my old cloth golf bag, you know the one…”
“Little scuffed up canvas bag. You take it to the driving range.”
“That’s it. He puts on a cap, throws a towel around his neck and puts the bag over his shoulder. They made out like bandits.”
“Cute,” Rick said. “Kid’s a salesman already.”
“What do you mean? He didn’t sell anything. He just went around dressed as a caddy.”
“He put on a show, right? Something they hadn’t seen before. That’s all I’m saying.”
“Well, I’ll tell you what,” Jack said, “He brought home a lot of candy. The neighbors just about filled the bag up.”
“See what I mean? Kid’s a natural.”
The two men rode in silence to the golf course. When they got there, the parking lot was strangely empty. Even this early, the lot was usually filled with cars on a Saturday. Rick and Jack left their clubs in the car and walked to the pro shop.
The clerk was behind a glass-fronted showcase full of golf balls, tees and shoes. A dozen leather bags hung on the wall, and racks of clubs took up floor space under the bags. Jack spoke up. “Hey, we’d like to get a round in. Do you have any open tee times?”
The clerk looked confused. “We closed for the season yesterday,” he said. “The carts were tearing up the fairways. Too muddy. It really…”
“What? Why didn’t someone let us know?” Rick said. “You could have sent around a flyer, or something. You didn’t close ‘til November fifteenth last year.”
“We just had a lot more rain this year. If we tear up the course too bad now, it won’t be ready to play next spring. Sorry.”
“No sense arguing. If you’re closed, you’re closed,” Jack said.  The two men turned and walked back to the parking lot. In the car, Rick had a suggestion. “You know what? There’s probably a course open south of here. They haven’t had as much rain as we had. Let’s drive a little and see if there’s someplace we can play.”
“Sounds good to me,” Jack said. “We should find a course somewhere.”
The two men drove south, consulting a tourist map for the southern counties at one point, and soon found a public course that let them play. It was soggy, which was a challenge, but both men shot a respectable round.
On the way home, Rick said, “That was kind of fun. New course, something different. What did we drive? Forty miles? Not too shabby.”
The next week Jack called one of the plastics buyers he dealt with. Bob Bryant was the best golfer in the foursome and regularly beat the other three. That was part of the reason Rick and Jack golfed by themselves once a week—to improve their game and one day play better than Bob.
“Hello, Bob?” Jack said. “Want to play a round?”
“I don’t know,” Bob said. “The course is closed.”
“Yeah, I heard that. If you don’t mind a bit of a drive, though, we can play. Rick and I played on this little course last week, just south of here. It was pretty fun.”
“How far south?”
‘Not even an hour.”
“You’re on. I’ll pick Evans up and we’ll follow you.”
The four men played their round and as usual, Bob Bryant won by ten strokes. Both Rick and Jack played their regular games, scoring in the mid-nineties, while their fourth member, Larry Evans, blew up on the thirteenth hole, taking twelve strokes to hole out. He ended up at 102.
In the bar later, the other men tried to cheer Evans up. “If it hadn’t been for thirteen, you’d have been right in the pack,” Jack said. “Could happen to anybody.”

Janet Sonderman was a petite brunette with a pretty, oval face. When Jack got home, she had news for him. “Come here,” she said. “I want you to see something.” She put a pile of school papers on the dining room table. “These are Tommy’s papers from this week. Look at these first.”
Jack looked at the papers. “There’s nothing wrong with these,” he said. “B, B plus. That’s what he’s been doing right along. What’s the problem?”
“Now look at this,” Janet said.
Jack looked through the next three papers. One was a spelling test, on which Tommy had received a hundred percent score, correctly spelling even “achieve” and “misspelling.”
“Geez. Pretty good,” Rick said. “Look at the handwriting, too. It’s like calligraphy.”
“Look at this one.” The next paper was an essay on the geography of Michigan. The teacher had written “Outstanding” on the front page, which was also beautifully handwritten. The last paper was a standardized test, one of the yearly tests Michigan gave to its elementary students. Tommy had scored at the top on all sections.
“Now here’s the next day,” Janet said. Tommy had returned to his usual mediocrity, scoring no higher than B on any of the papers. “His teacher called me. She assured me that all this was Tommy’s work. What do you think?”
“I don’t know what to think. Let’s see if we can get anything out of Tommy.”
When Tommy came into the room, he looked apprehensive. “Did Ms. Prentice call you? Because I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“No, no, honey. You did something right,” Janet said. “You had an amazing day on Tuesday. We were just wondering what happened.”
Tommy twisted in his chair. He tugged at his shirt. Finally he said, “I don’t know. It just seemed like I could do anything. My schoolwork went great. Out on the playground, we were playing kickball? You know, where it’s like baseball only you kick it?”
“Yeah, kickball. I know,” Jack said.
“Well, I could kick it way over everybody’s head. I rocked. And then next day, they picked me first, but I couldn’t do anything. It was weird.” 
“Well, sport, the kickball thing is cool, but I’m more impressed by the tests. Can you think of anything you did different that day?”
“Huh. I brought the golf bag to school. You know, the one I used for Halloween. I got so much candy that everybody wanted to see it.”
“No kidding. I don’t see how the bag… Can’t you think of anything else?”
Rick looked at Janet. They both shrugged. “Look, Tommy. You’ve proved you can do better in school. That’s great. But I’ll bet it’s because you tried harder that day, and not that old bag. I’ll tell you what. I’m going to buy a lottery ticket right now. We’ll give it a test.”
Later, when the numbers were being announced, Rick called Tommy into the den. “Come on, Tommy. Bring that bag in here. Hug it real tight, and wish for my number.”
Tommy came into the den. He sat on the floor, cradling the bag. “3709, buddy. Go for it.”
Rick cashed his ticket in the next day for $5,650.00. He bought Tommy a Wii system with a dozen games, and himself a new set of clubs. Janet got a diamond pin and little Marie got an American Girl doll with two complete wardrobes.
“Don’t do this again,” Janet told Jack. “There could be all kinds of problems.”
“Like what?”
Janet put her hands on her hips.  “Maybe it upsets some kind of cosmic harmony. That’s what always happens in the horror movies.”
“There’s no cosmic harmony. All there is is hard work and a little luck. We’re moving to the luck side, is all.”
“We’ve been on the luck side a long time. We’ve been making out like bandits.”
“And now we’re even luckier.”
Tommy rode along with Rick the next time the foursome got together. They had to travel even farther to find a course open for play. Finally they found one close to the Indiana state line.
At the end of eighteen holes, Jack and Larry had shot their usual low nineties, and Bob had shot an 83. Rick carded an 81.
“Pretty impressive, Buddy,” said Bob. “You must have been practicing.”
“Oh, yeah. Hours on the driving range.”
“Well, you won’t get another chance until next month. If we can even play then.”
“Why’s that? I bet we can find a course. Even if we have to go to Indiana,” Rick said.
“A week of meetings. Maybe more. This is huge, apparently. Everyone has to be there. The furniture business is changing. Anyway, I have to make presentations, and tell the big shots how I’m going to change my department, and I don’t know what all.”
“I thought you were a big shot.”
“Yeah. If I want to stay that way, I’m going to need a little luck.”
On the way home, Rick babbled to Tommy about the great game the magic golf bag had brought him. “It’s just like you said, Tommy. I couldn’t do anything wrong. The wind was a little problem but other than that…”
Tommy was silent, twisting around in his seat belt. Finally, Jack said. “What, sport? Don’t you like golfing?”
“Dad, the golfing is great. But that’s not important. Didn’t you hear Mr. Bryant? He said the furniture business is changing. You ought to watch out.”
“Oh, Son, don’t worry about that. The company Mr. Bryant works for is the biggest furniture company in the world. Things change all the time. They don’t change that much. The furniture business will be fine.”
“I don’t know, Dad. I think I should bring this bag to your office, and not to the golf course. Who knows? It could help.”
Rick discussed this conversation with Janet after the children had gone to bed. “You know what? Every time I have Tommy and that bag with me, something good happens. It makes me better at golf, it makes him better at school, it even makes him more mature. You should have heard him in the car.”
  “What did he say?” Janet asked.
“He heard Bob Bryant say the furniture industry was changing, and he decided that meant I had to change. He seems to think his golf-bag lucky charm would be better in the office than on the golf course.”
Janet thought about that. “Tommy has a good point. The bag doesn’t just make him lucky, does it? It makes him smart, too. Bring him to the office. It couldn’t hurt.”
“What if it upsets the universe? The uh, cosmic harmony?”
“I don’t think there’s any cosmic harmony in plastic drawer pulls.”
On Monday, Jack called Tommy’s school and told them Tommy was sick. He needed to see a doctor. He told Rick something weird was going on, and he wanted to watch his son closely.
Tommy sat in a swivel chair, clutching the golf bag and humming tunelessly. Both Rick and Jack worked the phones, calling anyone who used plastics. They felt foolish, but their tactics worked. Their firm had twenty new clients by the end of the week.
On November 30th, the charm was gone from the old golf bag. There were no more easy grades or easy birdies. But Tommy knew how to improve his own grades by then and moved from a B student to a consistent A. Rick and Jack tended their new clients with care, even the ones in distant corners of the world.
Two years later, the factories where Jack and Rick had sold most of their products had shrunk by two thirds, and they barely made five thousand dollars a year on those accounts. However, their new accounts were doing very well. One January, they golfed in Argentina, where it was summer, and sold plastic in Buenos Aires.  They made out like bandits.

About The Author:
Patrick Cook has been a member of UICA's writing group from the beginning. He is
a retired postal worker, married to Valorie, and has one daughter,
Flannery. He writes all kinds of things, and gets published just often
enough to keep his hopes up.

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