Amoeba’s Lorica: Zen and the Art of Golf Course Greens Mowing

…any book about class must take the form of explaining working-class life to middle-class people.

Lynsey Hanley, 2008; in her review of the book Deer Hunting With Jesus.

It is five o’clock in the morning of a mid-July day in eastern Massachusetts, USA, common era year 1970. The teenage boy steps off the bronze-painted five-speed Schwinn bicycle that he used to pedal the two-and-a-half miles from his home to the country club. He parked the bicycle at the back of the equipment shed, walked around to the open garage doors at the front, and entered, taking in the familiar odors of gasoline and motor oil and lube grease and fertilizer and cut grass, in varying degrees of fermentation, and bird droppings from the barn swallows roosting in the eaves overhead.

He weaves his way through the tractors and carts and spreaders and other miscellaneous gadgets until he finds his assigned machine. It is a Jacobsen Greens King riding mower, the first of its kind, introduced to the professional lawn and grounds care market in 1968 specifically for the task of mowing the short short grass of golf course and bowling greens.

The teenager remembers what mowing the greens was like before the grounds superintendent – his uncle, who had taken over from his mother’s father – got the club to invest in the Greens King.

He, and two of his workmates, would grab tractors and trailers, into which each worker manhandled a walk-behind power reel mower. They would drive to their assigned set of six greens. At each one, they would manhandle the mower out of the trailer, start the motor, and mow the green, parallel tracks plus once around the edge. Without gouging holes in the green or leaving any un-mowed spots or scalding the longer grass of the fringe around the green.

The mowers were heavy, and taking the mower out of gear to shift from one pass to the next was considered, well, unmanly. And it would leave him no chance of finishing six greens before the course opened at 7:30 and the members started yelling at him. So he had mastered the art of lifting the cutting blade a split-second before the mower snarled into the fringe, and spinning the mower on its roller so that it made a precise, and clean, 180-degree turn, parallel to the track just cut but not too much overlap, and for God’s sake not too little, leaving uncut grass between the tracks. And, with any luck, him still guiding the machine, instead of the machine running away with him – a non-trivial risk at every pass, especially if the fringe was wet or muddy.

And he learned not to complain, because if he did, his father and his uncle would laugh at him, and point out that they had had to push their greens mowers, and sweep the greens with a bamboo pole before starting to mow, because the smallest pebble would jam the mower blades, possibly pushing the handle deep into the worker’s chest and (far worse) possibly leaving a skid mark on the green.

But now they had the Greens King. And his uncle had made it clear that the job of riding the brand-new machine, and mowing the greens in the morning, was his. “Because I know that you will be careful.” Welcome words to a youngster who had previously viewed himself as a scrawny, weak, and useless burden to the operation. And who now had to complete eighteen greens before 7:30, when the golf course opened and the members started yelling at him.

He throws on his yellow hard hat, checks his steel-toed boots (both newly-adopted safety procedures), and leaps into the machine’s seat. Turns the key. The starter kicks the motor into action. He ensures that the three mower gangs are in the ‘up’ position, not dragging on the ground (hydraulics all OK), and then drives off.

He has a set path from green to green, the one that will mow the most greens in the shortest amount of time, and ensure that the golf holes farthest away from the clubhouse (and therefore the holes that golfers will take the most time to reach) are left for last. In case there are any really early risers. Like the time the notoriously cantankerous Jerry Lewis, performing at a nearby (Cohasset) summer stock theatre, got to play the course before it officially opened.

He reaches the first green, decides whether he feels coordinated today or needs to stop and pull the flag (“pin”) out of the cup in (more or less) the center of the green before he starts. If he’s feeling coordinated, he pulls the pin on the nearest pass, sticks it back in on the way by after he’s mowed over the cup. But, because he’s “careful”, and there’s time, he usually stops and pulls the pin first. Then, parallel passes (three at once, instead of only one with a hand mower), concentrating all the while lest a large rock or other foreign object, which can ding the cutting blade or rotors, show up and have to be removed before the mower can pass. He uses the hydraulics to lift the mower gangs a split second before they snarl into the fringe, and drop them back down on the next pass, missing the fringe but touching the green in time so that he doesn’t have to do two circuits around the edge to catch any un-mowed spots. That circuit completed, he lifts the gangs, shifts the drive from “mow” to “transit” mode, and rides off to the next green on the circuit. Rinse and repeat, eighteen times in two hours, at some places (more or less often depending on how fast the greens are growing) stopping at out-of-play spots around the greens to empty the grass-catching buckets.

He is alone, with the scent of dew and grass and exhaust and hot muffler metal, with the sounds of the motor’s droning and the hydraulic system’s whining (earplugs have not yet joined the boots and helmet). He is in a zone of concentration. How much is the grass growing, and will the boss say ‘mow’ or ‘skip’ tomorrow based on what he sees today? Are the treadless tires of the Greens King going to slip on that wet area? Can he navigate that slope or will it be too steep, and cause the mower to roll? Do the golfers always spray that much sand onto the green from that sand trap? Is that boggy patch in the 15th fairway ever going to dry out this year?

And after two to three hours, he returns to the equipment shed, hoses off the grass-covered Greens King, parks it in its spot, and steps off, his arms buzzing, his ears ringing. Within a few minutes, he gets his next task. Today, it’s mowing the rough, on an old Worthington tractor with a starter button instead of a keyed ignition system and a wheezy, aged, oil-burning motor, pulling a set of five rotary mowers. It will take him the rest of his shift. He will spend much of it watching as the rotors flush moths from the long grass and the barn swallows swoop perilously among the spinning mower blades to snatch up the moths. The birds are experts, and none is ever harmed.

1 PM. Quitting time. He parks the rough-mowing rotors, uncouples them from the tractor, returns the tractor to the equipment shed. It’s payday. He picks up his check, which he will put in his savings account for when he is the first in his family to go to college in another year, and imagines studying how turfgrass grows, and what pests attack it, in a laboratory setting, rather than spending all day, every summer’s day, mowing it. He may come back to the course later, to play golf. If he can do it without being spotted; he is not about to spend any of his college money on a club membership, and he can hit a golf ball only if he carefully contrives to make sure no one else sees him. And if he’s got the energy that evening to play golf, or the willingness to put up with the clouds of mosquitoes that typically descend on the course near dusk.

But those considerations are for later. The class implications bother him not at all. He has his longer-range plan, and does not yet see how his servant’s status could possibly get in the way of that plan. (And in this, he proved, in the end, to be very fortunate indeed.) Right now, the mission is bicycling home. And getting lunch.

… Mr. Bilbo comes up the Hill with a pony and some mighty big bags and a couple of chests. I don’t doubt they were mostly full of treasure he had picked up in foreign parts where there be mountains of gold, they say; but there wasn’t enough to fill tunnels. But my lad Sam will know more about that. He’s in and out of Bag End. Crazy about stories of the old days he is, and he listens to all Mr. Bilbo’s tales. Mr. Bilbo has learned him his letters – meaning no harm, mind you, and I hope no harm will come of it.

Elves and Dragons! I says to him. Cabbages and potatoes are better for me and you. Don’t go getting mixed up in the business of your betters, or you’ll land in trouble too big for you, I says to him. And I might say it to others, …

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Amoeba’s Lorica: The Disadvantages Of a Silicon-Rich Diet

Two words, dear reader.

Hunger games.”

OK, let Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba guess your word associations. Katniss Everdeen. Underdog. Gratuitous viole … er, gripping, mind-boggling action. Country takes on city – the Capitol, no less – and wins. Corrupt, effete, overdressed, media-addicted weirdos – and boys – get theirs, yahoo! Jennifer Lawrence for President!

But we’ll settle for Joe Biden. First, we whup up on the Cheeto Mussolini. Then, we can work on getting somebody we really like! And everyone else will like her, too. Or else. What do you think tracker jackers are for?

Anyway. First part done, yeah? Took longer than it should have, and the CM hasn’t conceded yet, but he will, and he and his will meltdown into the ground, and goodness and mercy will follow us all the rest of our days, especially when we get everyone else to agree to our concepts of goodness and mercy. Or our muttations will get you.

Feeling smug yet? Sure sounds that way from social media. Begging your pardon.

Has YFNA ever mentioned his contrarian tendencies in this space?

Like, f’rinstance, has he mentioned how weird it is that, after four years of unprecedented havoc wreaked on the United States of America, its allegedly cherished system of governance, and whatever tattered shreds of respect the rest of the world had for it, the CM and his sycophants weren’t barrel-rolled out of the White House in a blue tsunami? And that he would like to figure out why?

So, while he was supposed to be doing something else (as usual), YFNA was websearching, and he happened upon this website, which generates cartograms based on county-by-county voting patterns in the 2016 and 2020 Presidential elections. It showed (as of the date of this post, 11 November 2020) that citizens in 77.4% of the land area of the USA voted for Mr Trump in 2020. In 2016, peeps in 76.7% of the USA voted for Mr Trump. In other words, in 2020, Mr Trump gained ground. Yes, yes … Details aside (2020 votes were still being counted on 11 November), it is remarkable how little the maps of 2016 and 2020 differ.

Sorry, what? Gus has body odor? Why are you picking on … oh. Bogus. As in “you count people, not acres hectares“. Yes, YFNA is familiar with the trope. And with maps that show the population count by county and thereby tell the “true” story. That 40.6% of the population voted for Mr Trump in 2020, versus 45.4% in 2016. Populations overwhelmingly concentrated in the major metropolitan areas. Northeast Corridor. Pacific coast. Chicago. Miami. Houston. Phoenix, which went for Mr Trump in 2016, went for Mr Biden in 2020. Otherwise, the population maps for 2016 and 2020, just as for the land-area maps, look almost exactly alike. Almost certainly, votes in the capital cities were the ones standing between Mr Trump and the second and subsequent Presidential terms that were (in his own mind anyway) his by divine right.

So what do we care about what the hicks in the sticks think? You mean, besides the intention of the Founders of the United States of America to create a political system that prevented one or a few population centers from automatically steamrollering the entire nation? Which system, once upon a time, the Nation looked upon and proclaimed that it was Good? Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba asked the same question. And, once again while he was supposed to be doing something else, he went to the Web in search of answers.

What he found was this. It is perhaps worth remembering that agricultural products, besides being what’s for dinner for the 330 or so million people living in the USA, are also a key source of income for the nation. We sell food to the world, we buy trinkets from China. No sell food, We the People have to buy what our own crappy manufacturers, with their stinky feet and extortionate prices, produce. If we have any money to buy even them. (The year 2012 was the latest for which YFNA could find data organized by county; he presumed the patterns have changed little in the ensuing eight years.)

He then superimposed the agriculture graph on the land-area election graph.

He inverted the agricultural graph so that, on the combined image, the agriculture-intensive areas show up as white. White – on an almost universally red background.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba suggests that, if he were to do the same thing with mining activity, or forestry activity, he would get much the same result.

And that result suggests that We the People ought to very much care what “the hicks in the sticks” are thinking. City dwellers in these Untied States, swapping memes on social media – corrupt, effete, overdressed, media-addicted city dwellers, with their outlandish ways and overbearing, self-righteous attitudes – could suddenly discover that computer chips are a substandard form of nutrition. And concerns about whether sustenance is “vegan”, “organic”, or “GMO free” could be rendered as superfluous as they already are to most of the rest of the world. Quickly.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba would very much prefer it if We the People would collectively get over ourselves and work together to solve the nation’s pressing problems.

But the demonization that We have already subjected Ourselves to is deeply engrained, and throughout history, such demonization has been extraordinarily difficult to overcome short of “acts of God” (war, famine, pestilence). We have already dropped the drawbridge to pestilence, and are baiting famine and war. It would not surprise YFNA should the Capitol cities of the USA soon be confronted with revolt from the countryside, Katniss. With the leaders wearing mockingjay costumes.

Red ones.

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Amoeba’s Lorica: What This Way Comes

Years after the coming of Tromp the Usurper, the deposed and now despondent Emperor Yeswecan handed his faithful retainer, Lord Bidentime, the last great treasure still in his possession – the master files for the campaign posters that bore what was both his Imperial Name and his message – and went away, taking with him only his long-suffering companion MaBelle.

Though he was not old by the calendar, long brooding on the former splendor of what had been his realm had aged his body and crazed his mind, driving him to folly and destruction. He and MaBelle conspired to evade his secret escort and, having done so, left his motorcade of one in a parking lot at the end of the Long Bridge, and walked out onto the Mall, the Emperor’s Grounds.

When he got to the Imperial Residence, the gate, inexplicably, was open. MaBelle begged him to beware, but he paid her no mind, and he walked proudly into the mansion as one who claims the authority of election. But as soon as he did so, the guardians returned, slammed the gate shut, and shooed MaBelle away. And Yeswecan did not come out. That day, or the next, or the next. MaBelle, dodging security, vagrancy, and coronavirus patrols, kept vigil.

Finally, on the morning of the fourth day, there was a commotion at the gate, and a body bag was tossed through it. MaBelle, fearing that this was Yeswecan, but wary of detection and ashamed of her by-now conspicuously disreputable appearance and smell, started to creep closer. Then a loudspeaker positioned on the other side of the gate blew her cover.

“We see you, woman. And smell you. Pee yew. Come here, and make it quick. We have a job for you.”

MaBelle, seeing no alternative, stood, came out into the open, approached the bag. It was transparent, and inside were Yeswecan’s mortal remains. They had not been treated gently; MaBelle was caught in that horrid space between sobbing and retching. Then she noticed the roman numeral XLV, scrawled on the bag, carved into Yeswecan’s forehead. XLV – the Usurper’s mark. Through her sobs, she heard the private jibe that Yeswecan used to share with her, and their inner circle: “We can be thankful that he didn’t choose XLII as his mark.”

There was a chorus of harsh laughter from inside the mansion. And then the loudspeaker blared again.

“Thus shall all who claim fraudulent authority be treated. Go. Tell them. Tell all of them. I am the rightful Emperor of this realm, and so shall I remain. Go. And take your fee.”

A paper airplane flew out of the gate, smacked MaBelle in the chest, dropped to the ground. She stooped, picked it up. It had been folded from an expired official document, an application for coverage under the now-defunct Imperial Health Assurance program, decreed by Yeswecan. Its nose had been weighted with a dime.

Such was the tale that MaBelle, after a shower and a change of clothes, brought back to Lord Bidentime and his retinue. And when Bidentime had wept and tore his shirt (he having neither hair nor beard to tear), he fell silent. A full week he sat and said nothing. Then finally, he stood and screamed “This cannot be borne!” There was no response. The room he was in was empty. He grabbed his phone, texted “This cannot be borne!” to MaBelle. She replied, “No shit.”

The War of Restoration had started without him. It had previously been a bloodless war, waged in the dark and dank cisterns of the internet, but now it was on the surface. It had started slowly, with the call to arms met with a deafening chorus of “What? You mean me?!?“, but the viral videos of Yeswecan’s mangled corpse swayed enough of them to beat down Tromp’s minions and lay siege to the Imperial Residence. It was not easy, or quick. Both sides were as pitiless in combat as they had been online, and there was death and cruel deeds aplenty. Finally, a massive frontal assault overwhelmed the Residence, and from its wreckage, the warrior Kamhar pulled Tromp, cringing and whining. He was buried in sand up to his neck in the Rose Garden, the dime was branded to his forehead, and a stack of expired Imperial Health Assurance application forms was laid nearby, with a sign encouraging passersby to use the forms to have a saw at where the Usurper’s Adams apple used to be. He lasted four days.

But there was no feast or song at the passing of the Usurper among the Restoration forces, for their dead, from the war and the accompanying viral plague, were beyond the count of grief. Fewer than half of them were hale, or had hope of healing even if Imperial Health Assurance had still been a boon to grant. Nevertheless, Bidentime stood before them and proclaimed, “We have the victory! The Empire is Restored!”

They answered, “Why do you emulate the Usurper and plague us with fake news? If this is victory, our hands are too small to hold it.” And, in turn, leaders from each of the dozens of tribes represented in the Imperial forces stood, and pronounced: “And all the time, treasure, and lives spent on this wastage should have been spent promoting our cause!” By the time all these proclamations had ceased, there was an angry buzz among the assembled forces, and four of the clans had already formed battle lines against each other.

Bidentime turned to his inner circle, the last survivors of Yeswecan’s entourage. “Surely you will stand by me, by Yeswecan’s legacy, will enter the Imperial Residence with me and begin the process of Restoration?”

The warrior Kamhar rose, faced Bidentime, spoke. “We will stand by you. We have bled and died here for you here, and will again at need. But we will not enter the Residence. You will not enter the Residence. Only I have been inside, and I tell you that, through the carnage, the Emperor’s Bane has survived, and lies in wait for you. Some more powerful hand than ours will be required before we, or anyone else, can enter the Residence and hope to prevail.”

A fell mood struck Lord Bidentime. He squeaked, “I will enter the Residence and face the Bane.” Ignoring all entreaty, he strode through his entourage in the Rose Garden, stopping only once to pat a pretty girl on the head (precipitating yet another crisis in the ranks). Picking his way through the debris at the entrance, he entered the mansion and, calling a challenge, passed through its wreckage-littered halls.

He found the Emperor’s Bane in the Audience Room. It bore no weapon, made no aggressive movements. It simply stood there, a vast viewing screen wreathed in supernatural fire, showing shifting panoramas of citizens of the Empire, what they were doing, what they were thinking. Bidentime stared, transfixed, while scene after scene depicted Restoration forces dissolving into petty squabbles, while the Usurper’s supporters marshalled their resources and, in a cruel irony, bided their time. And meanwhile, most of the citizens of the Empire returned to their prime activity of watching funny cat stills and videos for hours on end.

Lord Bidentime’s confrontation with the Emperor’s Bane lasted only a few seconds. He crumpled to the floor and knew nothing more. A low, sinister chuckle rumbled through the Audience Room.

With apologies to J. R. R. Tolkien.

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