SI Vault
Pete Dexter
September 15, 2003
In the world of a 1950s California country club, the only black men on the golf course are toting bags, but the stakes for a young caddy with a gift for the game could not be higher
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September 15, 2003


In the world of a 1950s California country club, the only black men on the golf course are toting bags, but the stakes for a young caddy with a gift for the game could not be higher

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Train, whose name was Lionel Walk Jr., kept to himself and always had. The other caddies laughed at their totes back in the shed, imitated what they said and how they limped, but then they picked up the bag and it was "Yessir" and "No sir" and "Thank you, sir," all the way around. The boy did not have the looseness for that, but expected that someday he would. From what he seen, the world conducted its business by who was there when you was talking.

Even the members themself watched what they said, he noticed, at least around each other. Or until they started to playing bad. Around the working people, of course, they didn't care. For instance, they been calling the greens superintendent History all year, sometimes right to his face. As in he's history. Not that it bothered the superintendent any. He started calling himself that lately, in fact, seemed pleased with the idea he had them wanting to fire him.

Sometimes in the morning when there was extra work out on the course, History called down to the caddy shed for Train and paid him three dollars for the day to run the mowers or fill divots or punch the greens or whatever it was had to be done. He used Train because he was strong—stronger than the rest of the grounds crew could believe, looking at him—and a fast learner, and never complained that he had too much to do. When Train was finished, History was usually back in the storage barn, sitting around on his ass drinking a martini and reading The Great Gatsby. He couldn't get enough of the story. Sometimes he read parts of it out loud. He kept gin, vermouth, and a bottle of olives on the same shelf with the motor oil, and one afternoon he showed Train how to make a dry martini, and told him that anything further he needed to know about the country club set he would find in the pages of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The fat man was drinking gin since the second hole. Train recognized the aroma from his afternoon in the barn with History and F. Scott.

The fat man took it straight from the thermos and closed his eyes and shook like a dog that run through the sprinkler and said, "Ah, breakfast." He said that same joke every hole, again and again, the way golfers did. The drinking hadn't untied him yet, though, where he could just step over the ball and hit it without all that quivering around and waiting.

Earlier, he'd offered the thermos once to Mr. Packard, who was lost in his thoughts at the time and jumped back like somebody showed him a snake, and then said no, no thank you, it was still a little early in the day for him.

The fat man had another shooter and returned the thermos to Train, did this in the same fashion he handed back his clubs, or held out his hand for a ball, without admitting the boy was there, but it didn't matter to Train if he looked at him or not, any more than it mattered if he fell in the pond and drown. He knew Sweet, the caddy boss, wouldn't have give him the tote in the first place if he was a tipper. The kind of totes Train got lately were the kind that won two dollars and handed their caddy a quarter, and went home thinking everybody had a wonderful time. And none of them ever talked to Train like he could do nothing but carry a golf bag, except to be a fireman or a policeman, the sort of thing they thought of themself back when they were children.

So Train guessed he got on Sweet's bad side; he didn't know how. There was always somebody on it, though, and whoever that was stayed there usually till somebody else took their place. He guessed maybe it was just his turn.

The other caddy—the one carrying Mr. Packard's sticks—was called Florida. From what the old-timers said, Florida come to Los Angeles before there was sunshine, and all the time since he'd been walking this same course in Brentwood, and all that time it was "Lawdy, Lawdy" whenever a ball went into the water or the trees, like it was the first time he'd seen white people treated so cruelly, always laying a "sir" in there somewhere, as if the act of carrying the man's golf clubs wasn't enough to prove he had the right intentions. His favorite word, though, was eviscerate. The tote hit a good shot, he said something like, "Well, Florida, I believe I got both cheeks into that one," and Florida would wipe at his eye and shake his head and say, "Indeed, sir. You done eviscerate that one." And if they was winning, that would make them smile; some of them even walked around the course saying "You done eviscerate that one" to each other.

Train stopped now near the trees where the fat man's ball disappeared after it hit the cart path. Brookline had more trees than any country club in Los Angeles County—somebody actually counted the damn trees—and the members were oddly proud of that, like they grown them themself.

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