April 30, 2013

I was looking at poetry the other day and came upon this – seems April 30th has a bit of a history in the “old times”:

“In Celtic tradition, the night of April 30 was thought of as the darkest of the year, when witches flew to frighten, spawning evil throughout the land. In response, people pounded on kettles, slammed doors, cracked whips, rang church bells and made all the noise they could to scare off the corruption they imagined to be moving on the moist air. They lit bonfires and torches and witch- proofed their houses with spring boughs. Such vigils were kept throughout the night until the rising of the May-dawn.”

I remember while in elementary school celebrating May Day with a Maypole with ribbons all over it – tells you how old I am! I had completely forgotten about it until seeing this.

In the British Isles young men and maidens would go a-Maying on the eve of May Day, spending all night in the forests to return at day-break, “bringing in the May,” adorning villages with spring boughs and blossoms. They might carry with them the stem of a tree, place it in the village, and decorate it with flowers, vines and ribbons. In later generations, people would dance around this phallic of the earth as participants in the fertility of crops, flocks, herds and humans. The celebration was for regeneration of life that comes with increased sunlight that is so noticeable when we reach the junction between vernal equinox and summer solstice.

Maypoles remain common in Scandinavian countries, and the trimmings are often left through summer and winter as a gesture to symbolically insure the coming of spring the following year. The meanings of the day have continued to change. In 1887, socialistic countries established May 1 as a day for working people to show unity in public demonstrations. In communist Russia, the day became one of political speeches and military parades. It is difficult to imagine drifting much farther from the origins of the occasion of reaching the point in our annual travels around our star when we feel the urge to celebrate the increase of starlight that falls upon our portion of ground to amplify the symphony of life around us. Maypoles seem so much more appropriate than do missiles aimed at the sky.

I know if I had a choice I’d prefer maypoles over missiles and other destructive forces. But we all know there are folks on this earth that think otherwise – heck some of them were even getting welfare benefits, but let’s not get started on that!

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 02:14 | Comments (0)
April 29, 2013

Today is my late brother Mark’s birthday; as the youngest of the three brothers he would have been (I hope I’m right when I say this) 55. My prayers are that God will have mercy on his soul and that he is in His eternal love, light, and care. Mark struggled with a lot of demons in his life that ultimately overwhelmed him, but at his very core he was a good soul, and far more talented in every way than the rest of his surviving brothers.

I think of the years we spent together back in the Seventies; the one thing that bonded us so closely was musical tastes we shared. In addition to groups like the Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Eagles and others, we listened to a lot of Gordon Lightfoot on drives we took up to the Liberty Tree Mall in Danvers and the Swampscott / Nahant sea wall. Those were precious times.

I hadn’t thought of Gord’s (to Mark and me he was always Gord, as if we knew him personally) music in years, but the other day I heard Carefree Highway from his 1972 Sundown LP while food shopping, and all of a sudden I thought of Mark and our love for Gord’s music and his distinctive multi-tracked harmonies. Same holds true for my good friend and fellow “founding father” of Goodboys Nation, the late Mike “Doc” Frechette – he loved Gord’s music as well. Always a mix of the whimsical, serious, and melancholy, Lightfoot’s music was perfect for New England falls and winters, as those were the seasons we all found ourselves listening to his music the most – there was always something about those seasons and Gord’s music that just went together. It’s sad that I now equate Lightfoot’s music with those no longer living, but there’s little I can do about it – after all, life is for the living. But the memories live forever and are cherished.

In memory of Mark and Mike and the times we shared so long ago together in various times and places (God, do I feel old and washed up), here are a baker’s dozen of songs I’m sure Mark and Mike – were they here with me in another realm different from the candle I burn in their memory – would count amongst our collective favorites:

13. Daylight Katy, from Endless Wire. A pretty song, brings back vivid memories of living in my first apartment in downtown Woburn, Mass. By this time Gord’s incredible run of popularity was starting to wane, but he could still craft songs that made you shake your head in amazement.

12. On The High Seas, from Dream Street Rose. A sad but pretty song, something that Gord was always great at.

11. Sundown, from Sundown. Heard this while food shopping the other day. It’s very “poppy” for Gord, but it certainly did the trick by catapulting him to the top of the charts.

10. Ghosts Of Cape Horn, from Dream Street Rose. A haunting tune of the sea, a theme Gord would go back to time and again. Real New England sounding music to me.

9. Somewhere U.S.A., from Sundown. My favorite tune from Sundown. With the marimba in the background one could almost imagine Jimmy Buffett singing this tune.

8. The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, from Summertime Dream. Not much to say about this: a haunting song about tragedy on the high seas Great Lakes.

7. Spanish Moss, from Summertime Dream. Gord’s best song, I think, about long lost love. It’s both pretty and melancholy – a combination Gord always pulled off very well.

6. Dream Street Rose, from Dream Street Rose. I love the way this tune rocks a bit. You could almost feel Gord and his band trying a little too hard to make a commercial hit. I like it, though.

5. Cold On The Shoulder, from Cold On The Shoulder. This 8-track got a lot of play in my 1969 Pontiac Tempest. The album, quite sparse and moody in its instrumentation and production, is, I think, one of Gord’s best.

4. Summertime Dream, from Summertime Dream. I’m guessing that on the heels of “Edmund Fitzgerald” this was Gord’s most popular and best-selling album. Reminds me of when we lived in the house in Tewksbury and had this surprise snowstorm in May of 1977 that knocked our power out for a couple of days. Funny how music brings back such long-forgotten memories, isn’t it?

3. Beautiful, from Gord’s Gold. A special tune, as Tracey and I had this song played at our wedding.

2. Seven Island Suite, from Sundown. This song is so quintessential Gord, you just never tire of listening to it.

1. The Circle Is Small, from Endless Wire. It’s 1981 and Im living in this little garage apartment in Nuttings Lake. I broke up with my girlfriend at the time to this tune. I knew she was cheating on me, so I put the song on the record player, downed a Johnny Walker Red (or two) and recited the words from the chorus to her directly as Gord sang them:

I can see it in your eyes and feel it in the way you kiss my lips
I can hear it in your voice whenever we are talking like this
I can see what you believe in when his name is mentioned and I die
I can watch the way you walk, the way you talk, the way you close your eyes

A great tune that stands amongst the best that folksingers do best, singing lyrics that we mortals could never find it in our hearts or imaginations to say ourselves.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:53 | Comments (2)
April 28, 2013

It’s Saturday morning and I’ve got a bunch of errands in front of me – Lowe’s to get the paperwork signed for the replacement of all our crappy windows with energy-efficient replacements, the pool place to get my first water test after the refill, then finish Krylon-ing all our outside metal art and pottery to protect them from blanching to white in the upcoming heat months. Today is a real ten-beller, mid-to-high ’80s, and the breeze feels great through the open windows. I’ve got a surf CD playing, and the Torquays and the Aqua Velvets are blasting out one pulsating, reverb-drenched tune after another. It’s a good day.

I’m thinking about my range work at Superstition Springs from Friday and feel pleased that I’m near where I need to be with Goodboys weekend less than three months away and the real heat just a few weeks away – that will surely limit my ability to spend 2-3 hours banging balls and chipping and putting at SS on Friday afternoons. Once the temps are over 100 on a regular basis it will be all about efficiency and what you can get accomplished in an hour’s time before you begin to sizzle like a steak on the grill and are forced to retreat to the closest cold, dark place. I look at the passenger side floor and see the bucket of twenty balls I scrounged off the empty putting green before leaving, figuring these will be a good start for next Friday’s session. I look again just as the Aqua Velvet’s “Slow Dance With a Fast Girl” starts playing, and at that moment in time I know exactly where I’m heading: back to SS for a quick mini-bucket.

I’m glad I had tossed my 7, 8, and 9-irons in the trunk yesterday, figuring those were the clubs I was planning on focusing my attention on next Friday – while I’ve been concentrating so much on my woods and my tee game (rightly so), I’m well aware that in order to score better I need to ratchet up my short iron game to get me on the green in regulation when opportunity presents itself, and close to the green for more precise chipping when it doesn’t.

When I get to Superstition Springs, a surprise awaits me: there a big event taking place, the Mesa Sister Cities Student Exchange Classic, where golfers from Mesa’s sister cities around the world are gathering for a day of golf and festivities. The driveway into the course and first tee area are festooned with flags from countries all over the world: Brazil, China, Italy, Mexico are just a few, and it’s packed. Back in the old days, I would have shrugged my shoulders and turned the car around, but today I’m intrigued and find a parking space in the adjacent strip mall. I also grab my tree irons and my bucket of balls and head over.

I’m glad I did because the atmosphere is truly festive – it’s a real treat for the golf senses: lots of folks on the range and putting green, the sound of balls being hit, laughter, the starter trying to create some sense of order out of the happy chaos surrounding him. I feel like I’m a participant at a U.S. Open, and I’m totaly jazzed to see one spot in the middle of the range open up. With all the flags around it’s not hard to imagine you’re hitting balls next to a Sergio or Adam or Ernie or Graeme – at least the amateur versions of same. And the guys on both sides of me can really hit the ball – especially the two what appear to be high school kids who are there with their girlfriends. They’re young, handsome, and athletic, with swings that would normally make me want to cower and shrink away for fear of embarrassing myself.

But this is the new The Great White Shank, so I drop a ball on the only two blades of grass left in my hitting area and, after a couple of easy practice swings, proceed to top an 8-iron that runs about twenty yards without leaving the ground. Back in earlier days, I’d totally freak and proceed to embarrass myself further by repeating the same over and over in a wash of anxiety and full-court stress. But, like I say, this is the new TGWS, and I just laugh it off. I drop another ball, and stripe a beautiful 8 that floats over the 100-yard marker and settles softly somewhere around 110. And I do the same with the rest of the bucket, work in a few 7- and 9-irons along the way. I top a few along the way (those are my new “good misses”) but I also hit some beauties that Alex Black would be proud of. My last hit is a 7-iron that is positively lashed – a beautiful swing, a beautiful trajectory, dropped exactly where I was aiming. Like Roy McAvoy says, always nice to quit on a good shot.

I don’t have my pitching wedge with me, but I figure there’s never a good time not to work in a few minutes of chipping so I find a little spot on the putting green where the pin is but a yard from the rough with no real fringe. I find a few stray range balls and practice some really tough chips – no green to work with, no wedge in my hand – but still am able to put a bunch close while a guy near me is attempting to do the same thing with little degree of success.

“Nice touch”, he says to me when his group is called, “you should be out here with us”.

“Thanks”, I respond, “but I’m just a range rat”.

As I head back to my car and past all the colorful flags I’m thinking just how far down the golf road I’ve traveled in the past year. Last year at this time, I was just starting to limber up for Goodboys, and if you had told me then what I’d be doing and how in a year’s time I would have said, OK, who are you and what have you done with The Great White Shank? You see, back then I was a Dusty Springfield kind of golfer, wishin’ and hopin’ that on any given day at the range or on a golf course I’d find a swing that would get me through the session or round. This year, I’m a man with a swing and a purpose, doing the necessary work I hope will pay off with some really nice and enjoyable rounds at Goodboys. Golf has become an enjoyable pursuit for me because my goals are not too ambitious to create stress and make it not fun, and, more importantly, I’m seeing improvement in my play and my confidence every time I put one of those Callaway RAZR-X HLs in my hand on the course or at the range.

That’s what being a range rat will do for you.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 11:41 | Comments (0)
April 27, 2013

Friday afternoon at the Superstition Springs driving range. The weather is perfect – 85 degrees, tho’ the sun on the skin makes it feel hotter than that. But that’s OK, I’ve lubed up, am wearing white sneakers, white ankle socks, white shorts, a white Hynson Surfboards t-shirt, and a white floppy hat to protect my ears.

I’m dressed for work.

Not the kind of work you get paid for – I left that twenty-five minutes ago after a long, hard week – this is work I believe (not hope, believe) will take me to the next step of my golf reclamation project: that of a bogey golfer, although bogey and a half will do just fine.

The driving range is virtually empty – there’s only three or four guys hitting, lots of empty stalls. The putting green is empty. I mean, empty. Heck, if it weren’t for the fact the Pinnacles I’ll be hitting are all marked up I might have thought I was hitting balls at my own private club range.

I make my way over to my typical spot at the far left end of the range and take a couple of practice swings. One thing I’ve always found interesting about the driving rane (at least for me) is that you pretty much know how you’re going to hit ‘em by your first couple of practice swings. And today I just knew I had the mojo going, for my first four pitching wedges are pure perfection, pro-like shots two-hopping the 100-yard stick in front of me.

But I’m not here for pitching wedges (although I admit it’s great to see that I haven’t come to the range by myself – tempo has come along with me), I’m actually here with a purpose in mind. It’s not just to make good swings or perfect the swing changes Alex Black identified for me six weeks ago. No, I’m here to work on visualization, hitting targets I’m picking out for myself. And doing it with my driver, 3-wood, and 5-wood. As strange as it might sound to my Goodboys friends and cohorts (they’ll never believe it’s me who’s saying this!), The Great White Shank has moved far beyond what he once was. No longer some pathetic creature looking for something, anything that he can take to the course to help him survive at the game of golf, I’m an aspiring golfer no longer satisfied with just making good contact and moving the ball forward, I’m now all about hitting good golf shots and my targets.

At least that’s my goal.

Which is not to say I’ve discovered some magic pill that will make all the demons go away – after all, as Dr. Jim Suttie says, golf is hard – incredibly hard, in fact, when you’re screwing around looking for a swing or hoping some golf god will come down and bless you with a natural swing that makes courses beg for mercy and scorecards cry with astonishment at the numbers being recorded on them. That’s not me. I’m just a hacker who finally found an instructor that unlocked a couple of key swing thoughts and changes that someone with my ability (or lack thereof) could implement fairly quickly and easily. I now know that what I want to achieve in terms of my golf game (bogey and a half golf) is only achievable with work and focus, and lots of it.

I like the far left side of the Superstition Springs range because it has a natural narrow fairway created by mounds and trees separating the range from the #2 hole on the left, and yard markers lined up on the right. The grass out there is pretty brown, and there’s a six yard-by-six yard dark area 190 yards out, smack dab in the center. That’s my target for today. I will either bounce balls over it, paint it, or carry it – nothing else will be considered satisfactory. And I find myself doing all three, and regularly.

I play games with myself. I pretend one of my Goodboys friends says to me, “OK, let’s see this swing you’ve been writing so much about” as I tee up my 3-wood. Or, I visualize myself on the tee at hole #3 at Trull Brook – a tough, uphill par 4. Or, my favorite head game, three shots in a row dead center or I start over again. I do that with my 5-wood, my 3-wood, and my driver. It takes a while to make that third shot as good as the first two, but I’m able to move on with each club.

A slight breeze stirs and I take a Zen break, a few minutes to absorb what for me has become a ritual feast for the senses. I drink in the blue sky, the green grass, the red graphite shafts of my Callaways, the white practice balls, the orange balls I’m about to head over to the putting green to chip and putt with. A mix of suntan lotion and meat cooking at the snack shack grill creates a lovely summer fragrance. I hear the thwack of golf balls being hit by that Asian guy down the line who’s here every Friday – he’s got a big, athletic swing I wouldn’t dare try to copy. The ice water I sip is refreshingly cool to the tongue and body. I feel so much at peace and at home at this lovely place. A brown bunny rabbit scampers out from a set of bushes and I watch him munch grass until it’s time to get back to the business at hand. I imagine a scene similar to the last scene in Jaws, where Chief Brody and Hooper are swimming in after Brody has blown up the shark, except this time it’s me and fellow Goodboy Steve “Killer” Kowalski, and we’re talking hitting golf balls, not the ocean:

The Great White Shank: “What day is this?”
Killer: “It’s Friday, I think.”
The Great White Shank: “I’ve got another bucket of balls in front of me.”
Killer: “Keep hitting.”
The Great White Shank: “I used to hate the driving range.”
Killer: “I can’t imagine why.”

I bang balls for a good 45 minutes and spend the next hour by the putting green doing some putting and chipping. While my short game is showing improvement every time out, I know I need to tighten it up a little if I’m going to improve my scoring out on the course. I’ve got the whole putting green to myself except for another guy on the far end, so I practice all kinds of chips from impossible angles with various ball positions to see how the trajectory changes using the same swing. Four chips followed by four putts every time, the goal being no more than one putt from where I chip the ball to. If I two putt it’s back to the same position and do it all over again. That doesn’t happen often. I’m especially satisfied when, attempting chips from thirty yards away, I one putt all four balls, the furthest from sixteen feet away.

(Of course, this is Arizona and not New England, where the grass and the greens are totally different in terms of texture and speed. But I’ll worry about that later.)

I finish up back at the range with a few pitching wedges and 3-woods of varying degrees of accuracy and walk away 2+ hours later feeling physically tired but emotionally satisfied. I think back to last year and how I would never be able to pull this kind of thing off. Oh sure, I could hit balls pretty good one week, but then I’d go back the next and be totally lost again. No more. The difference in my swing and my approach to the game from even two months ago is like the difference between day and night. While my scoring in rounds I’ve played since my lesson isn’t where I’d like it to be yet, I’m confident it will come, and very soon. Still, I’m not going to push it – I don’t want to ruin what these Friday afternoon practice sessions have become for me: an escape from work, daily life, and all the crap going on in the world. Amazing to think there was a time, and not so long ago, where I couldn’t even begin to imagine the driving range as escapism – after all, why would I want to risk making myself more miserable with a crappy range session? Golf is now a completely different game to me now. Oh, it’s still hard work, but for me it’s now fun work and satisfying work, something my fellow Goodboys could never, ever imagine me saying.

Goodboys Invitational weekend is less than three months away, and I’m right where I want to be.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 02:38 | Comments (0)
April 26, 2013

I’d been dreading the prospect of replacing my pool filter for the past few years but knew I wasn’t going to avoid it much longer. For one thing, we had the loudest filter motor in the neighborhood – I mean, you could hear it running behind the wall when you were standing out in the driveway; it sounded like river with class 4 rapids! Just about everyone around us has a pool, and you never hear when their filters were running. When you live in a subdivision worth of The Monkees’ Pleasant Valley Sunday, the one thing you don’t want to be noticed for is that kind of thing. Secondly, the filter cartridges had long outlived their usefulness – after sixteen years of chlorinated water they’d become brittle and clogged, and the straps holding them together were all breaking.

So, when the local pool place had a sale on filters and I discovered that the replacement cost for my cartridges wasn’t much less than the cost of a new sand filter I decided to bite the bullet. Now, the one thing you need to know about swimming pools is that owning them is like owning a boat, in that everything associated with them – and I do mean everything is expensive. I’m guessing it’s because equipment associated with pools (like boats) isn’t interchangeable with anything else. The pool and pool supply manufacturers know this, as well as the fact that you’re only going to replace equipment a handful of times (or less) over a lifetime of use, so they gotta get you while the getting is good.

I figured replacing the filter only (I wasn’t ready to replace the loud motor yet because that would send my replacement cost from the 1K range to more than $2,500) would be the easiest way to go – take the old filter out, put the new one in – but, as with everything associated with this house, nothing is or has ever been that easy. Oh, taking the filter out wasn’t a problem – the installer had that sitting alone and discarded in twenty minutes’ time. It was the knock on the back door that aroused my suspicion that something was up – after all, he shouldn’t have been done that quick.

“Got some bad news for you”, says he. “The concrete slab your filter sits on is cracked – in fact, its in pieces. Needs to be replaced so the filter will sit flush on a hard surface. What do you wanna do?”

I knew “throw up” was not the kind of answer he was looking for, but I couldn’t help but feel like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, sitting on the department Santa’s lap and not being able to remember the BB gun he wanted for Christmas. Out to the back yard I go. Sure enough, where the filter used to be is the 3 X 4 X 1″ slab of concrete in pieces. It had served its purpose, I guess, for sixteen years, but 1″ think concrete is pretty shoddy work if you ask me. The original installers obviously cut a few corners to save cost.

Here in Arizona, I’ve learned there are five kinds of people you can’t do without: a good auto repair guy, a reliable electrician, a responsive plumber, an expert A/C guy, and a good mortar man. With all the stucco and concrete around here, #5 is nearly as indispensable as #s 1-4. And it occurred to me I had a great concrete/mortar guy just across the street from me – my neighbor and good friend John. After all, it was John who did a great job building the half-wall on my patio; surely, he’d be willing to help in my hour of need. So, at ten AM on a Saturday morning, after a quick dash across the street and a humble knock on his door, John’s here in my yard sizing up my situation.

“You need at least three inches of concrete to do it right.”, says he.

“I’m all about that.”, I reply. “When can you do it?”

“If you do the prep work, I’ll be here same time tomorrow.”

You can’t beat having neighbors like that, I’ll tell you.

That problem resolved, we’re back to the filter replacement effort at hand. Alan the pool guy is looking forlornly at the filter motor, now sitting all by its lonesome on the grass where no self-respecting filter motor should ever find itself.

“How old’s your motor?”, he asks. I hate that question, because I know exactly where this conversation is headed.

“We replaced it two years ago”, says I. “I know it sounds like a jet engine…”

Alan tells me it’s worse than that. I learn that next to your A/C, attic insulation, and the lack of energy-efficient windows, an inefficient pool fiter is one of your bigger wasters of energy, and out here in the Valley of the Sun, that’s become a big no-no.

“I know I can’t force you to…”, he starts, but I don’t let him finish the obvious rest of his sentence. I’m looking at my filter in pieces and my concrete slab in pieces and realize I’m the one whose turn it is to be cutting corners in order to save cost. As much as I hate to invest more money in this suburban renewal project, the guy is just making plain sense – I mean, the new variable-speed, high-efficiency filter pumps are the obvious way to go. I mean, I’m replacing my pool water, I’m replacing my filter, might as well go the whole nine yards and do it right while the opportunity is there.

“You won’t have a better chance than this, and you won’t regret it”, he says. (Actually, he’s the first of three people that day to tell me the same thing.) The whole operation (pool drain, new water, new chemicals, new filter, new filter pump) will cost a hair over $2,5009, I can pay him in cash, and know in my heart of hearts it’s the right thing to do. So come Monday, our pool filter enters the 21st century in terms of technology.

But first, there’s Sunday. And a lot of work to do.

Pouring concrete is as much science as it is art. After all, you can’t just make a hole, mix the concrete and pour. Everything has to be precise so that the new solution is flush with the existing infrastructure. You have to dig the area, flatten it out so it’s all plumb, and make sure the surface of the new concrete was 7 1/4″ from the existing pipework. And John was a master craftsman at it – me, I was good at the manual work of digging and clearing, he was the one making sure the forms fit, the surfaces would be even, and the concrete was mixed, poured, and smoothed properly. I have a great deal of respect for workers who do manual work with such precision and care. When all was said and done it was a beautiful job, and worth every bit of the $50 John charged me for materials. You can see his work where the new filter is going to sit:

The rest of the operation went like clockwork. Alan and Andy were there bright and early on Monday, and everything was up and running in a matter of hours. The equipment is space age, the maintenance time and effort a fraction of what the old equipment required, and it will be vastly cheaper to run ($50 less a month they say). When the opportunity presents itself, it’s no time to be penny wise and pound foolish. And here’s what the new beauty looks like:

Chalk up yet another replacement project for the house. We figure the only major renovation projects left are the roof (hopefully will last another ten years), the hot water heater (definitely on the endangered species list), the windows (they’re next), and resurfacing both the pool deck (probably next year) and the pool itself (gotta think on those). But having the filter out of the way is very satisfying. And boy, does it run quiet!

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 02:13 | Comments (0)
April 25, 2013

Thoughts while wondering when this country is finally going to wake up…

Bad enough there are people here not having any issue with blowing up eight year-olds and innocent civilians to make a political statement, but to know the family has been on welfare and getting all kinds of freebies ought to make people sick. Not to mention the fact he liked to slap his girlfriend around. Just don’t expect such outrage come from the liberal left.

Pretty frustrating to be a conservative these days. The Republican National Commitee has been hounding me for $ over the past few months to “stop President Obama’s radical agenda”. So I mistakenly took one of their calls the other day to tell them I’m not giving them another dime until senator Marco Rubio and his pathetic “Gang of Ocho” immigration reform bill is rejected by Congress. Now I find myself arguing with the guy when I ask him why we can’t just build a fence and do a better job of enforcing the existing laws on the books first. He says if we don’t pass immigration reform Hispanics will hate the GOP. I tell him if being liked is the primary motivation for crafting and passing federal legislation these days he’s got a far bigger problem than me not will to pledge a few sheckels.

But I guess that kind of thing is the Washington mentality these days. God help us. What clowns we’ve elected to office.

Methinks it’s time to cut the cord with Alfredo Aceves, just like they did with Josh Beckett last year. If there’s one thing the Red Sox don’t need right now is another head case on the mound.

I’ve seen some great golf tricks in the past, but this takes the cake. That guy is one talented son of a gun.

This to me justifies Michael Savage’s claim that liberalism is a mental disorder. As the uncle of an autistic nephew I say, damn them. I despise activists of all kinds, they’re nothing but a bunch of pathetic get-a-lifers with a grotesque sense of their own importance in the world. Again, I say damn them.

This tells you all you need to know about the Obama administration. Again, I’m just waiting for this country to wake up, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 02:18 | Comments (0)
April 24, 2013

It’s not uncommon, especially this time of year, to see mourning doves vegging out on the wall outside my office window just behind our lime tree. After all, it’s a great place to sun, preen, protect your turf, and just basically hang out with your fellow doves and do the social and anti-social things mourning doves do. Last Wednesday, however, I was checking out this particular dove and observed behavior that can only mean one thing: it’s nest building time!

And so for the last week I’ve watched this pair of doves go about their business, and it’s a fascinating thing to watch. First of all, it’s pretty clear nest-building is primarily a morning and early afternoon activity – like their fellow occupants in this neck of the woods, they know that come two o’clock or so the sun’s too hot for anything involving manual labor – something dove nest-building definitely is! Second of all, there’s no question who has the hardest job – the female builds the nest while the male (good for him!) basically just impregnates the female and hangs out on our gate or the next-door neighbor’s roof and watches her do all the work.

And work she does! Basically, nest building involves five steps repeated over and over, five or so hours per day, until she feels the job is done. First, one you’ve found a suitable location for nesting you scavenge the ground for various twigs and other forms of nest-building material near the nest location. Then:

2. Return to same place on wall with building material in mouth. What a big stick she’s found!

3. Figet around for a minute or two waiting for the right time or wind direction or whatever, then curl your way into the same opening in the lime tree. It took three tries, but I finally caught momma dove on final approach:

4. Arrange nesting material as desired.

5. Return to scavenging area and repeat as many times as needed.

The first couple of days, the dove would head back to our wall before heading back to the ground under the lime tree, where there were all kinds of twigs left over from the winter and recent windy days. The last few days, however, I’ve noticed she’s found a cache of material across the street in a neighbor’s yard where they recently trimmed their mesquite tree. I don’t think she’s quite finished yet (although from all appearances the work seems pretty complete to me), since no one’s planted themselves there for the long haul of two weeks of incubation (male during the day, female at night) once the egg (or eggs) are laid. Here’s a picture of the work accomplished thus far:

Here’s hoping momma dove is a good mom and gets to do what nature is calling her to do. It’s an incredibly fascinating and beautiful thing to watch. Just another example of the wonders of God’s creation in all its splendor.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 02:21 | Comments (2)
April 23, 2013

Was taking a walk around the neighborhood tonight and taking in the lovely fragrant air and the sounds of crickets chirping happily. It got me thinking about this classic song from a very unsung and (at that time) unappreciated period in the history of the Beach Boys – the post-SMiLE era between 1968 and the Holland album of 1973. During that time, the Beach Boys were at their height of creativity as a group (and the bottom of their popularity), replacing the increasing withdrawal of Brian Wilson as a creative force with albums filled with beautiful music and a peaceful vibe during one of the most tumultuous times in American history. Nowadays this period is looked at as one filled with understated greatness, and here are ten songs that best reflect the sound of my favorite period in Beach Boys history:

10. Forever, from Sunflower. The quintessential Dennis Wilson tune on an album featuring several of his tunes while he was at the height of his creativity. With Carl and Brian (his falsetto is gorgeous) on background vocals, this is as good as it gets as love songs go.

9. All This Is That, from Carl and the Passions, So Tough. This Alan Jardine-penned track started out as inspiration from Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken and, with the help of Mike Love and Carl Wilson, became the group’s ode to Transcendental Meditation. Most folks consider this a worthy equal to The Beatles’ Across The Universe in the way it conveys TM’s sense of peace, tranquility, and oneness with the universe.

8. Add Some Music To Your Day, from Sunflower. A great group effort with everyone taking a turn throughout in this homage to music as a positive and healing force in the world. Geez, you can’t say there’s a lot of music nowadays that qualifies in that regard.

7. Country Air, from Wild Honey. Lovely, tranquil, peaceful.

6. Do It Again, from 20/20. It’s a Beach Boys classic from the first catchy distorted drum intro. Personally, I like the 50th anniversary version almost as much, but there’s no doubt this was a great tune from the Beach Boys “middle era”.

5. I Can Hear Music, from 20/20. The first Beach Boys song recorded without any Brian Wilson participation. A great production by Carl Wilson shows just how much he learned from his big brother, and shimmering vocals throughout betters, I think, the original Ronettes tune.

4. (On My Way To Sunny) Californ-I-A, from Holland. Bright and bouncy, this was Alan Jardine putting his homesickness for California to words and music while the Beach Boys recorded in faraway Holland. That’s Brian on the opening and the two quick inserts, singing a quick rushed vocal on his way to the airport and high-tailing it back to L.A.

3. ‘Til I Die, from Surf’s Up. Considered by many to be the last great Brian Wilson song, it’s an autobiographical song penned from a night sat sitting on the beach as Brian contemplated suicide. Majestic, poignant, powerful.

2. Sail On, Sailor, from Holland. It’s fellow Goodboy Steve “Killer” Kowalski’s favorite Beach Boys tune. The opening piano and synthesizer tells you you’re in for a great ride, and it is. Carl Wilson’s answering vocals to Blondie Chaplin’s lead on the final verse does it for me.

1. Surf’s Up, from Surf’s Up. Simply breathtaking. There are three parts: 1) an understated Carl Wilson vocal added to the original 1967 backing track, 2) Brian Wilson’s original 1967 vocal supplemented by Carl and some 1972 synth bass, 3) a coda made up of the SMiLE track “Child Is The Father To The Man” with new vocals added by Brian (in his pajamas, no less!) when he heard the track playing in his upstairs bedroom (the Beach Boys were using one of his downstairs room as their studio at the time).

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 03:34 | Comments (4)
April 21, 2013

Here in the Valley of the Sun we’re on the cusp of summer. Back home, April can be the cruelest of months, with enough hints of the warm months to come, yet still with an eye always from the seaon which she came. I love this poem, hope you will too.

“The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
a cloud come over the sunlit arch,
And wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.”
- Robert Frost, Two Tramps in Mud Time, 1926

Hat tip: egreenway.com

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 23:54 | Comments (0)
April 19, 2013

With thanks to Billy Joel for an awesome song by which to subject the post.

Scorecards don’t lie. There’s no question my golf game is improving with every outing, but the numbers are just not reflecting it yet. A 52 on the front and a 54 on the back has, and always will, equal 106 in the book of ages, but, as hard to believe as that number indicates, there was a lot of good to take away from today’s round at Lone Tree Golf Club in Chandler, AZ. After all, when you’re playing from the 6,500-yard blue tees with a slope rating of 120 you know you’re not teeing it up at some local muni or executive track. Lone Tree was a stern test, featuring the toughest layout and fastest greens I’ve played all year, with a par 3 island green I had completely forgotten about (I scored a nine with two lost balls). It played fast and hard all day, rewarding fairways hits but penalizing strongly any tee ball that strayed even slightly off the mark.

It was a beautiful day to play golf – probably the last I’ll play while the temps are still in the ’80s. On the driving range before teeing off I had my best session of year – I was striking the ball so great that I was convinced I was in store for the round of my life. Heck, I could almost see that sugarplum fairy of a scorecard 44 + 46 = 90 dancing before my eyes. So what happened? Well, before I get back to Billy Joel’s lament, let’s take a look at today’s pros and cons, which I dutifully listed out over a frosty Sam Summer at the clubhouse grille:

Pros:

* My Dynacraft putter continues to heat up. Even on very tough and very fast greens, “Mr. 3-Wiggle” was smooth and sweet all day, making only 30 putts, including seven one-putt greens. Frightening to think what my score might have been if I hadn’t putted so well. But that was all because of….

* …my chipping game, which also continues to improve with every outing. Still need to learn to relax a little more and improve my aim point, but those are just tweaks that can be worked out at the Superstition Springs chipping green.

* That $#@&! island green aside (why, BTW, do courses feel a need to create island greens? Those weren’t an invention of the Scots, that’s for sure), I’m playing with a lot of confidence with my irons. On several occasions – with five, six, and seven irons in my hand – the strikes were so pure it was almost breathtaking to behold.

* The 5-wood I’ve had so much trouble hitting on par 5 second shots finally showed up at the party today. And in Joe Boxers, no less. Didn’t hit it bad once.

* My mental discipline on the course continues to improve. No matter what happened on the previous hole I was very resilient today and kept coming out firing. I’m especially proud of the fact that after posting that nine on the island green hole I stepped up to the 12th tee (a long, tight par 4) and split the fairway dead-balls center with a three wood before walking away with a working-man’s bogey. My de facto sports psychologist Dr. Bob Winters would have been proud I stayed “in the moment” virtually all day long.

* From first tee to last shot I kept the same swing and form crafted at Superstition Springs the past two driving range sessions. The results may not have always been what I wanted, but I never deviated from the plan no matter what I was presented with. Alex Black would have been proud of that, I think.

Cons:

* Only had seven holes at bogey or better today. Need to do a lot better than that.

* Since my Alex Black lesson I’ve hit balls OB or close to OB left on every first and tenth tee. It’s the weirdest thing, not sure why that is. Be nice to get that out of my system the next time I play.

* Hitting eight out of fourteen fairways isn’t going to cut it come Goodboys weekend. While it’s true I was barely off target on at least three or four holes, the way Lone Tree is designed I really paid the price. If I want to play bogey-.5 golf I’m simply going to have to hit more fairways. Not to mention greens in regulation – something I ought to be doing more frequently whenever the opportunity presents itself.

* I know I need a better, more consistent pre-shot routine. Cultivating one I’m comfortable with is next on the to-do list. Which brings me to the #1 song with a bullet on my own Billboard charts…

* …my aiming point was off all day, and it really cost me. And that’s where Billy Joel comes in.

Simply put, if I’m going to continue to improve, I have to learn to trust my swing. On every shot. After so many years of poor play, abysmal course management, and crappy technique I’ve cultivated a bad habit of always aiming right of target since most of my shots would drift (or not so drift) left – remember, I wasn’t called The Great White Shank for nothing! Since my lesson with Alex Black, however, I’m hitting the ball much straighter, yet still continue to aim right. And when I aim right and hit the ball straight, guess what? It goes right, sometimes mucho right.

Take the 9th hole, a long par five, dogleg left around a pond. While my drive wasn’t great (got a member bounce off a pile of rocks after aiming too far right), I did find the fairway and then eased a 5-wood to within 138 yards of the pin. So I’m in the go-zone. Aware of the pond and a sucker pin placement on the left side of the green, I want to play smart and plan to leave an 8-iron just short of the green right to chip up and two-putt for my par. But what do I do? I don’t trust my swing and, without even checking the fact I’m aimed so right as to nearly bring the pro shop and cart shed into play, I just wail away and over-cook the eight, which slams into the fringe and one hops the cart path before settling into the gravel lot right of the cart shed. I take my drop and make an amazing recovery chip to within six feet which I then two-putt for a double-bogey seven. Just like that, I’ve thrown a minimum of two shots away. You do that often enough – which I did all day – those strokes start adding up. Hence, a 106 which could (and should) have been a 98 or better.

Now let’s compare that to 18, another par 5 with water on the right to a green protected by water on the left. I’m fortunate my drive (again, aimed too far right but hit dead straight) stops within two feet of the pond. I then crush a 4 hybrid to 165 yards from the green. Egged on by my playing partner Chester (a dead-ringer for Barack Obama, BTW, and one of the nicest guys I’ve ever played golf with) who tells me I’m hitting the ball too good to be playing golf so defensively, I plan another 4 hybrid, but this time I’m aiming slightly right with an open stance to play a baby cut I hope will ride the right-to-left breeze and cozy it’s way up to the green. I pull the shot off magnificently, leaving myself twenty feet for birdie. Applause from all around. I smash my birdie putt twelve feet past the hole, but then calmly drain a downhill slider for par. That, my friends, is what The Great White Shank is now capable of doing.

Since I started playing with my new Callaways two and a half months ago, I’ve completely overhauled my golf swing and my overall game to a point where that initial round at Superstition Springs in early February seems like a decade ago, played by a completely different human being. The new swing and the improved mentality are all in place: I’m improving every time I go out and can now honestly say there are multiple holes where I’m playing (at least for me as far as my goals are concerned) not just decent, good enough golf that gets the job done, but well played golf. Golf that’s something to be proud of. Now it’s just a matter of doing it more often.

And that’s all just a matter of trust.

Filed in: Golf Quest by The Great White Shank at 22:08 | Comments (2)

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