I haven’t thought about Ray in years. He’s the type of dangerous that made parents cringe, girls swoon and boys idolize. I met him in the summer of 81. I know that because it was the first year I was allowed to caddy for a private golf club at which my family had a membership. The age of the bag carriers in the caddyshack ranged from 13 to somewhere in the 60’s and I was all of eleven. My parents saw it as a real growth opportunity as well as a good way to make money and as always, they were right. Unfortunately, on my first day of work I didn’t know that.
So here’s the deal. Somewhere between [5:30] and 6AM, caddies would start to line up outside the caddyshack (a small room behind where the golf clubs were stored) and wait for the caddy master (the boss) to arrive in hopes of getting the best loop (job) at the earliest possible time. These loops went to the Caddymaster’s favorites of course unless you were requested by a member. The next group of lucky winners were the guys who were consistently there the earliest and were willing to do a second loop in the same day if they were asked. The third group were less consistent employees, but still pretty good at their job. It went on like that until he reached the newbies (me) and therefore I was pretty confident I was going to be sitting around for a long while.
As I waited to walk into the caddyshack for the first time, I surveyed the local talent. There was a lot of facial hair, dirty jeans and expectant faces, many of which that were looking back at me with a mild amount of disdain. My brother had told me that they would probably be pissed off that another member’s son was joining the ranks and for the most part he was right. Now even at 11 years old I knew that it was crucial to make friends with someone cool. I also knew that sucking up to the Caddymaster would just confirm what most of them already thought and so I began to form a strategy. Yep, it was a brilliant strategy that I’m still proud of today…stick close to my older brother and say as little as possible.
After an indeterminate amount of time, a man showed up in an Izod shirt, golf shorts and glasses to open up the caddyshack and based on the way everyone seemed to perk up, I knew this must be Bob the Caddymaster. I was pretty sure I had seen him around, but in a very different context. Previously, I had been at my dad’s hip feeling very safe, but now my employment and income would have to rely on this man’s opinion of me and perhaps his mood. Fortunately at that moment I had more important things to worry about.
The caddyshack itself was a pretty cool place for a kid to hang out. It had benches, a radio, a really old looking vending machine and a video game. Now although I can’t remember the name of that game, it played an incredibly important part of my first summer at the caddyshack. You see, that wonderful nameless video game was responsible for my connection; dare I say friendship, with Ray… but we’ll get to that in a bit. I quickly took a seat on the bench opposite my brother so as not to bug him, but still be close enough in case something went wrong. Then I just sat and listened.
I was truly amazed at the things I heard and learned just by sitting there keeping my mouth shut. I found out that it was good to hang out with girls who were “easy” and would give something called a blow job, whatever that was. I learned which members were big tippers and which ones were cheap. Thankfully it turned out my dad was considered to be a nice guy who tipped pretty well. Most importantly, I learned about a ritual the older guys referred to as “a sacrifice to the Wall Gods”. It seemed that at some point early on in a caddy’s career at a time when Bob wasn’t watching, he would go through this rite of passage that could only be described as terrifying. To my best recollection, up until that point I wasn’t afraid of heights, but thanks to the Wall Gods I was about to be, because to be sacrificed was to be dangled by your ankles over the wall at the top of the back stairs.
As you can imagine I was more than a little concerned. This was a fate that I didn’t think my brother could save me from. More than likely, it would happen while he was out on a loop which is when I would be at my weakest. Of course, in those moments as it was happening it would be really important not to look scared…or for that matter cry, as I had learned was not uncommon. No I would either have to find a way out of this or be a man about it and face the wall with the courage of at least a 16 year old.
Then it happened. In walked a scruffy looking, long-haired, rocker kid in a black leather jacket whom everyone seemed to know. This guy just oozed cool as he walked in the room. Each step he took was followed by a chorus of “hey Ray.” “What’s going on man?” “how you doin?” He muttered something about being hungover that made a few guys nod and laugh while he searched his pocket for change and stopped to stare at the vending machine. I’m not ashamed to say that I was just a little bit in awe of him. I mean, the whole feeling in the room changed like when a rockstar hit the stage. Not that I’d been anywhere near a concert up to that point, but I had a good imagination. Anyway, I was convinced that this was a guy I needed to know.
The next few hours I sat on my bench (yes by that point it was my bench) and watched for an opening, as one looper after another was called out for a day of sunshine and profit. My brother; being exceptional at everything he did, had been called out over an hour ago and I was starting to wonder how long I needed to sit there before I could go home. Ray had been talking casually the whole time with a number of guys and it was clear that my first impression was right, he commanded respect. Suddenly he jumped up announcing “it’s time” and strutted over to the video game in the corner. To my surprise nobody followed him. Was this my opportunity?
Give it a few minutes, don’t be too eager I told myself. (This was a strategy I would unfortunately need when dating became an option…I still hate it) I let a couple of minutes crawl by before I made my move. The approach was as casual as it could be under the circumstances.
“You’re pretty good.” I said after a minute of watching him play. Fortunately, he really was.
“Reigning Champ.” he replied without looking up. “you play?”
A question? That was unexpected. “Nah, I’m not really good at video games.” I was actually really good at Ms. Pacman, but that wasn’t something to brag about.
Ray laughed a little, “it doesn’t take that much to be good at a game, just time.” Something about the way he said that seemed sad.
“Well, I’ll watch you play a while, not much else to do anyway.”
So I settled in and watched. A little while passed and I began to wonder how old Ray was. He was definitely in high school…maybe 16 or 17? It didn’t really matter though. I liked him and for the first time since I had walked in I was starting to feel comfortable. Of course, we didn’t say much. He would curse when he died and I would say something lame like, “that sucks” and then he’d just pop another quarter in and keep playing. Somewhere, between 10 and 11 AM Bob stuck his head in and called Ray into action. “Here kid, finish my game.” he said before he ran out the door and that was that.
The next day really wasn’t much different except at some point Ray ran out of quarters and I had some to give him. I guess that was the right thing to do because he started talking a lot more. The funny thing was that the more I learned about him and the more I watched the goings on around the shack, the more I realized that he was not loved by everyone. Some of the guys actually thought he was kind of a loser scumbag including my brother, but I didn’t care. I was happy to have a new friend…or a person that was OK with me hanging around.
Day 3 started out the same way the other 2 had, but about an hour in Bob called me upfront and said, “I’m going to give you a bag today. Do you think you can handle it?” Over the years I got very used to Bob’s habit of looking down over the glasses at the end of his nose when he was asking an important question.
“Yes sir.” I answered lacking the 100% confidence I thought I should have.
“Good, then stick around. It’ll be an early afternoon loop.”
I walked back into the shack feeling pretty good about things and noticed a few of the older guys smiling.
“Did he tell you who you’re gonna get?” my brother asked as I sat down in the only spot left open.
“No. Should I ask?” I was hoping the answer would be no.
“Nah. You’ll find out soon anyway.”
The next hour consisted of small talk and feeding Ray quarters until my brother was gone. I remember feeling a little nervous about my first day out on the course and yet happy that it seemed like I was starting to fit in, which is probably why I didn’t see it coming. One minute I was staring at the video game as Ray racked up another impressive score and the next I was lifted off my feet and heading straight for the back door. Before my brain could process what was happening I heard the chant “wall God, wall God” start to rise from the group of guys that now held my future in their hands. As I hit the edge of the wall I was spun around, most likely so they could see the mounting terror in my eyes. I found out later that Bob had to run to the clubhouse to find a member so the mob had plenty of time to play. I heard someone say “everyone’s got to go through it rookie” and then the world turned upside down.
Next came the cacophony of laughter mixed with phrases like “don’t drop him” and “the wall Gods get another victim” and of course screaming, which I could only assume was coming from me. It was completely disorientating, except for the small flower bed framed by large stones that I would’ve landed on had they let go…that I remember very clearly. I don’t know how long I dangled there upside down, but at some point someone decided I’d had enough. My head was pounding at this point from that blood rushing to my brain and I felt a strong hand grab my shirt and pull me up. The next words I remember were loud and strong and defined that moment for me in a way I still think about. “I said that’s it, he’s had enough!”
Ray had me with both hands while I got my footing back. I tried to focus on what he was saying to me, but all I heard was someone else’s voice, “whatever man, mine was longer than that.” A minute later I was back on a bench inside the caddyshack amongst cheers and laughter. As I sat there all I could think about was this skinny guy in the leather jacket, whom I’d been warned by my brother was no good and heard being called a loser under someone’s breath. I couldn’t figure why Ray took it upon himself to look out for me like that, or how he had no problem standing his ground in front of a group of guys out for blood…or at least fear. Maybe he just enjoyed going against the crowd, or maybe he saw me as some sort of little brother that he always wanted. Maybe he just didn’t want to lose his bottomless supply of quarters. Really it didn’t matter because to an 11 year old frightened kid, what he did was heroic.
The summer passed by as many of them would with crazy antics like golf cart races, stoop ball in the members parking lot and of course caddy day (one day a year when caddies were given free reign to terrorize the pool area). I became just another looper and Ray’s sidekick for a while, but that would eventually fade as most things do. I was angry for a while at the way people; including my brother, judged Ray on the way he looked and spoke, but it made me feel good that I knew better. Of course, as the years went by and I got older, I understood why people made snap decisions about someone who was different. Life has a way of forcing us all to put up defenses that we didn’t have as kids. The world is bigger and more frightening than ever and it’s too easy to believe slogans like “if you’re not with us you’re against us” or to assume that someone has nothing to offer because they’re not financially successful etc.
As for me, I’m definitely more jaded and suspicious, but when I catch myself judging someone before I know them I take a good look, think of Ray and wonder “what heroic things have you done?” It helps.
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