Billy and the magic putter
Last Friday I did what I do too much in my dotage, namely bidding a final farewell to a friend. This time it was Billy O’Dell.
Though significantly older than me (he graduated when I was in sixth grade), I always knew who he was. Then again, so did everyone in town, since he was a stellar all-around athlete — arguably the best in the league, if not all northern New York.
But I never got to hang out with him till decades later, thanks to his connection to The Unholy Trinity.
And who, pray tell, were TUT?
Bob Griffin and Pat Bentley made up two-thirds of it and I was the last 33 1/3%.
While TUT began without any foresight or design, it ended up as ritualized as Buckingham Palace’s changing of the guards.
It started one summer when Bob and Pat started working out in the gym every day. In order to fortify themselves for that Herculean task, they first breakfasted at the Blue Moon. Before they started digging in the trough, Bob gave me a call and I went down and joined them. Given how long it took for them to fill their gaping maws, swap lies, and digest, breakfast always lasted two hours, give or take. Then, full of fuel and good intentions, they went to the gym and I went on my merry way.
An hour or so after that, their iron-pumping over and in need of replenishing carbs and H2O, they bellied up in Snuffy’s. Bob would again call me, and I’d again meet them.
While they were in the Blue Moon for two hours, the gym for one (maybe even working out some of that time), their Snuffy’s session was never less than four hours. And it was in Snuffy’s that the Un of The Unholy Trinity came to fruition.
Essentially, our convo covered three subjects. One was Old Home Week — tales of our Gilded Youth. The second was jokes — mostly of the dirty ilk. And the third was trading insults.
Insult one-upmanship is an almost all-male, nearly-extinct game. It’s played only by good pals, since terrible things are said but no one takes offense. I’m not sure when or where I first got exposed to it, but I perfected my technique in This Man’s Navy, for sure.
Anyhow, an hour or so into our confab, Griff would inevitably call Billy, who just as inevitably would join us. But while he joined us for the company, he did not join in on the jokes or insults. By any measure, Billy was a prince. He may’ve been a tiger on the playing fields, but not in companionship. He was low-key, reserved, and perfectly content to just be among friends, and — unlike us — never went near the spotlight, let alone hogged it.
Ultimately, Billy was one of the most decent and modest men I’ve known, and as such was incapable of deceit or dishonesty. Which is why his sole venture into skullduggery was as successful as the Spanish Armada.
The Jinx on the Links
As I’d said, Billy was a splendid athlete, in football, track and baseball. In golf, however, he was a flop. Unfortunately, he golfed with Griff, both of whom were excellent golfers.
According to Griff, Billy never learned proper technique and instead tried to bull his way over the course … with consistently lousy results. While Billy was completely non-competitive in conversation, he was fiercely competitive in sports. So the more he played, the worse he did, and the angrier he became.
Though it’s a poor workman who blames his tools, that’s exactly what Billy did. He decided his sorry golf game wasn’t his fault, but his clubs’. And so, following through with that train of thought, in order to improve his game, he started buying more clubs — a pastime as expensive as it was futile.
And he would’ve kept buying clubs if one small obstacle hadn’t stood in his way — his wife, Mimi.
When I label Mimi small, I mean it in the narrowest sense of the word: She’s a mere slip of a lass. But in the O’Dell family she was also The Voice of Reason as well as The Voice of Authority, and when she put down one tiny foot and declared, “No more golf clubs,” she might as well have been shod in 14 EEE combat boots.
Billy obeyed Mimi’s order … at least for a while. Then he had an epiphany. His main golf weakness was his putting. All he needed was a world-class putter and he’d be channeling Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazan, Arnold Palmer, et. al. in no time flat.
After doing a bunch of homework, he found the perfect putter. It was perfectly balanced, made of the finest Sheffield steel, handmade by elves living in caverns under St. Andrews, or some such. And, of course, it cost a king’s ransom. No matter. He had to have it, and he would have it — Mimi’s orders be damned!
All he had to do was to avail himself of a little subterfuge, which he did: He ordered the putter in his name, but had it sent to Griff’s house. It was an excellent plan. Then again, so was the Spanish Armada, and his plan was destined to be as sunk as the Armada’s.
Griff and Billy weren’t just friends — they’d been lifelong besties since early childhood. And their wives were besties as well. So it was on a sultry summer day that Mimi was visiting Diane when a UPS truck pulled up in front of the house.
“That’s odd,” said Diane. “I haven’t ordered anything.”
Curious, both of them focused on the UPS guy, who got out of his truck with a box — a thin box, maybe five feet long and a foot or so wide.
“What could that be?” said Mimi.
“No idea,” said Diane, going to the door.
When she opened it, the driver sang out in a voice both cheery and loud, and certainly loud enough for Mimi to hear, “Package for William O’Dell, care of Robert Griffin.”
I never found out what happened after that, nor did I pursue it. Some questions are best left unasked, some answers are best left unknown.
During the burial ceremony, my mind wandered, as it usually does. Every time it did, I know I had a huge smile plastered on my mug.
Although lots of folks think someone grinning ear to ear at a burial is inappropriate, I don’t; whenever I recall my friends that are no longer among us, I want to do it with joy, not sorrow, just as I did when we were together in The Here and Now.