Thursday, July 10, 2008


We took a drive out to see the family in the 'burbs last Sunday, and had hardly hit the watermelon when my nephew came home very tired and sweaty from his golf game. Kids in their twenties look gorgeous even when they're tired and sweaty.

I'd been having a bad back week, nagging 3 Advil aggravation, so I asked him if he had any spare clubs. Hitting golf balls is a nice way for me to stretch out, work through the muscle strain, an occupational hazard when you sit in an office for hours on end. But I don't have a set of golf clubs.

Which is silly, really, because there's a driving range all of a mile away from my house, and my father and my father-in-law (OBS) each took turns teaching me how to swing a club when I was young and showed some promise. It's one of those things you either take a liking to or you don't, but since it took in my case, this hankering to hit the ball, for their sakes I feel, I should be hitting golf balls every so often.

So I asked my nephew if he had an extra six or a seven iron collecting dust in the garage. I thought I'd give it a try, take a walk over to the driving range later that day, spend five bucks and hit a bucket of balls. Stretch out.

But there are no buckets anymore. Crazy. You buy a card and stick it into a machine and the golf ball rises on cue from the Astro-turf, complete with tee. You lose the stretch you get bending down, putting the ball on the tee. That's 48 bends a bucket, I mean card, lost.

Bored yet?

Do you think it's a boring game?

Honest, I wouldn't know, having never played, never made it past the golfing range, unless you consider Par King (the one with the windmill) golf. But I do see that there can be some real psychological benefits to the sport.

Obviously, to play golf you basically stroll around on parkways, probably whistling. Not all of us, not those who can't whistle, and certainly not people like me, who never made it past the driving range to a genuine golf course, but real golfers.

Wait! Since I don't really play, maybe I can't really write about the benefits of the game! The best I can do is tell you how it feels to hit a golf ball, put that baby up there in flight, watch as it soars 150 feet, or is it yards, except for those times that you don't, when it dribbles three feet onto the Astro-turf in front of you, and you're embarrassed and have to make a decision, one that you make when no one is looking:

Is retrieving a ball you can reach cheating? Stealing?

The therapy:

I used to tell people that anger management is about two things.

(1) muttering, as opposed to yelling, and
(2) breaking stuff at the recycling center.

Muttering is obvious. The energy that would go into swearing or saying something less than kasher,* is still channeled to the lips, but the product is almost inaudible. A person can still use the same facial expressions and words, even, but no one should actually decipher what he's saying. This can still infuriate a partner, however, so it doesn't always work, in which case Think it, don't say it, is the rule, and rethink that, own some of the problem.

Recycling is one of the lesser known interventions in anger management. Ever since the city of Chicago took over the recycling business with blue bags for our cans, bottles and WSJ's (Wall Street Journals) fewer people have had the inclination to smash wine and beer bottles at recycling centers. Recycling centers still reign, however, in the suburbs, featuring imposing iron bins for paper, glass, and aluminum recyclables. There used to be a good one in Evanston.

You can either drop your recyclables into the bins or you can hurl them. No one cares if you hurl an empty bottle of wine or a mayonnaise bottle with all of your might, as long as you hit the inside of the bin safely.

So hey. It's good for the environment. We're into green.

In the sixties we used Styrofoam bats for anger, which by the way, are not recyclable. People with anger issues were assigned sword fights, Styrofoam bats and swords for duels, or they smashed pillows to get their anger out.

As you know, I recommend that people keep their toxic anger to themselves, keep it in, or express it creatively, perhaps nicely, safely or not at all. Bats, even Styrofoam bats, are out. Smash your pillow if you must, but the actual physical enactment of rage probably needs to be toned down, not jacked up.

But recycling! Who can object to recycling?

Still. Maybe learning to think before we talk is a better way to channel anger, listening to words in our heads before saying them aloud. Or better, write them down. Write the letter, don't send it, then write it again. And don't send it.

The expression of anger tends to get people hurt, which is why we've recommended assertiveness all over this blog. You don't need to disrespect people. There's enough bad karma in the world. The family is there to support us, not to bring us down. If you feel like flexing verbal muscle, buy a dictionary. Get better words.

Theoretically, that other way to channel anger isn't so bad. Battling it out in Styrofoam, hurling wine bottles into a recycling bin, even, might I suggest, hitting a few golf balls, can be a fun way to displace, rather, discharge negative emotion. And it's good for the back, hitting golf balls. Or it's bad for the back, depending upon your back. I guess if you're lousy at golf, however, and get frustrated easily, then hitting golf balls defeats the purpose.

We see little children discharge their feelings during play, and what are we, if not big children? Little kids will smash crayons onto their coloring books when they're frustrated, usually for attention. They'll break the whole box. They don't care.

I tell parents that it's good to get kids to talk about their feelings, but it's just as important to teach them to channel arousal, to teach them to run, and skip. Jump. I think it tires them out, too, like hitting a bucket of balls, I mean a card, tires me out.

It's good to mentor kids, to teach them to distract from their negative feelings with gross and fine motor skills, especially if the skills require a little concentration. Bozo's Grand Prize Game is a good one on a rainy day, and it's cheap. The kid tosses ping pong balls into buckets. We used to pitch pennies, try to hit the sidewalk cracks when we were kids. There were fewer shows on television. As soon as kids are engrossed in these types of activities, they forget about smashing crayons.

Their parents can talk to them about their feelings at bedtime. The first order of business for children at any age is to learn to play well, to be a good sport. For most of us it takes practice to get good at anything, and patience.

But if you don't care about winning, really, if all you're after is hitting that sweet spot ten times out of forty-eight (is that so much to ask?) and you like practicing, then you're still in trouble.

You're going to have to drive out to the suburbs to borrow more clubs.


*kosher or kasher can mean clean in certain contexts, or appropriate.


Isle Dance said...

I like the idea of paying closer attention to our thoughts and as to avoid lashing out. And redirecting that energy to something physically healthy? Way to go!

Anonymous said...

Maybe this is why my Gran kept up the golf till age 88?
For sure it wasn't until she had to stop that she started to swear so I think you're onto something here ;)

Deb said...

Hitting the sweet spot is all that I'm after. Whether it's a good game or not doesn't really matter for me, at least.

The Christian Ranter said...

Ha, the part about, is it cheating if the ball dribbles 3 feet and then you retrieve it cracked me up.

I took my kids out last summer and we hit some balls (the old bucket way) and were alone except for one older fellow who was about 50 yards away. You could tell he was a club member.

We hit a few dribblers and retrieved some of them to hit again. Then he yells out to us "Hey if you need some extra balls to hit, I've got some left over in my bucket!"

That was our first and last lesson in golf etiquette.

nashbabe said...

Golf: after all, it's a four letter word.

benjamin said...

Ever since the city of Chicago took over the recycling business with blue bags for our cans, bottles and WSJ's (Wall Street Journals) fewer people have had the inclination to smash wine and beer bottles at recycling centers.

It was fun, wasn't it?

But why are you reading the WSJ??? j/k!

redirecting that energy to something physically healthy? Way to go!

Amen to that. I love the endorphin release after exercise, too. Feel better all day when I play basketball in the morning on Fridays.

Another thing I like about golf: it's outdoors. Really outdoors! Like, you see deer and stuff.

Annie said...

I think smacking golf balls is great if love the sport- I don't, much to my brothers wishes. I was around when the Styrofoam bats were in. I used them until,while working in a psych hospital, I was pounded by those things. Never again did I choose to use them. Thanks for the post. Annie

A Living Nadneyda said...

Three additional anger management options:

1. Weeding. After hearing about a terrorist attack, I like to pull up all the weeds in my garden. Excellent exercise, great symbolism. (Less intensive activity required during Shmitta).

2. Dancing like a maniac. Best done while alone, with earphones, music with an intense rhythm, jacked up high but not too high, we might need to hear something in future years too.

3. Throwing china against the wall. OK - wasteful. Specifically: My friend used to work in a china shop and when a customer returned a set of china they had purchased, by law the set had to be destroyed. So the shop employees took turns hurling it at the wall. I heard that one and got incredibly jealous.


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