My moment of triumph came the next morning when I was paid by Benson as he was jeered by a small crowd of pro shop oldtimers. Max was ecstatic as he collected his $20. He wasn't used to putting money in his wallet at the golf course. He then went out and shot a 77, by far the best I ever saw him shoot, and won a pile from his buddies. The big man's mood always seemed good to me, but that day he was really flying. He gave me a $5 tip on top of my normal two bucks, so I walked into the pro shop with $9 in my pocket. From then on, my word was treated as gospel on matters pertaining to baseball.
That day Max put my bike in the backseat of his white 1953 Cadillac convertible, took me to Vic's for a grilled ham and cheese and a chocolate shake and then drove me home. He laughed and giggled all the way. My feeling at being chauffeured around town in such a manner was indescribable. I can remember the incredulous looks on the faces of my neighborhood friends as we pulled up to my house and my bike was handed to me by the champ.
Spring and summer was, of course, prime time for me to play with or caddie for Max. It was also, in my father's view, prime time for me to do yard work. My priorities simply weren't aligned with Dad's, and that caused him some displeasure. I think he was also a little jealous of my hero-worship of Max. My Dad was all a kid could ask for in a father. He played all sports during all seasons with my brother and me and a ragtag contingent of neighborhood children. I still run into guys from the old neighborhood who fondly recall those games with Dad on the corner of 10th Avenue and 17th Street. There was a time, however, when my lack of vigor in doing my chores, combined with my stories about Max, got the best of Dad.
One summer night we were sitting around our patio, and Dad was wearing his summer uniform, which consisted of a pair of boxer undershorts. This wasn't shocking to the neighbors, as the patio was completely enclosed. I was regaling Mom, Dad and my brother with tales of my latest adventures with Max when my dad interrupted, saying, "Aw, hell, he's just a fat old has-been."
"What?" I said in disbelief. I was confused because Dad had always been a big fan of Max's, dating back to the 1930s.
"I don't see why you spend so much time with Max and that sissy golf!"
"What?...sissy?" I stammered.
"Yeah, it's an old man's game and that's why he plays it, because he's old."
"He was a great fighter when he was young," I said, trying to stem the tide of scorn.
"He could've been great if he'd beaten Joe Louis. He didn't even try to beat Louis. He quit."