Jesus Golf

When I made my first trip back to my hometown of Lexington, Kentucky in over two years a couple of months ago, my friend Jenny asked me what I wanted to do in my limited time there. I had two musts. First, we must go to Billys BBQ which remains, in my estimation, the best BBQ I have ever had. Second, I had to go play Jesus Golf.

To clarify, the name of the establishment isn’t Jesus Golf, it is more a name of convenience coined by locals of my generation.  In actuality, the place is part of the Lexington Ice Center, which is a venue that offers an ice rink, recreational sports league facilities, and your standard religious-themed 54-hole mini golf course.

The owners of the Ice Center are devout Christians and believe that people can have fun and get a little taste of the lord at the same time, so back when I was a kid, they built a mini golf center with three courses to choose from: Old Testament, New Testament, and miracles.

We always choose New Testament, believing all of Jesus’ finest work makes for the best course. We always realize five holes in what we want is Miracles, as all of the best parts of the Jesus narrative are on that one, while the New Testament course is a little more conceptual and esoteric.

I could go on for days about this anomalous little gem from my childhood, but instead, I will simply let the photos tell the story of what a mini golf course can accomplish with the power of the lord and a trip to the cement figurine store (Note: if you click on the “i”, you can see the captions explaining what some of these things are):

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Zuzu’s Petals

Jimmy Stewart seems to be following me around these days.

I’m not complaining.

Well, I am complaining about the recent rumors of an “It’s a Wonderful Life” sequel, as this is just straight up cinematic blasphemy (more on that in a minute).  What I’m not complaining about is being able to have reasons to discuss Jimmy Stewart with people several times over the past two weeks.  As someone who vastly prefers the old to the new when it comes to movies, this is a problem I run into a lot.  While my peers reference Lloyd Dobler and his boombox or the cue card scene in Love Actually as some of the best love declaration scenes movies have to offer, I am in my corner with no one to discuss the wonder of the “hearthfires and holocausts” speech from The Philadelphia Story except myself.

Now, I love Say Anything and Lloyd Dobler. I am, after all, a female born in the 80s subject to the same Cusack problem as everyone else. And Andrew Lincoln’s storyline in Love Actually is certainly my favorite.  But there is nothing that compares to the earnest delivery of a Jimmy Stewart monologue.

If anything, it is because I love Jimmy Stewart so much that I enjoy these other flicks as much as I do.  When given the opportunity to try and convert a friend who is not interested in watching black and white movies to the wonders of classic Hollywood cinema, I almost always try to win them over with Jimmy, because I think so many of the things they like in modern cinema are so Stewart-esque.

For those not in the know, before there was Tom Hanks, there was James Stewart. The entire Hanks trajectory from affable and funny comic lead to respected, well-rounded actor and everyman, pretty much matches Stewart beat for beat.  One of the things that helps calm me down when I think about scary situations like an It’s a Wonderful Life sequel is that there is only one guy who could be George Bailey and it is Tom Hanks.  And Tom Hanks would never, ever agree to do something as stupid as star in the sequel to It’s a Wonderful Life.

If you liked Tom Hanks in Philadelphia or enjoy a good courtroom drama or The West Wing, you should check out Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Not only will you have a textbook example of what people are talking about when they say “Capra-esque”, you’ll be treated to a Stewart monologue that can get you hopeful about politics even in this time when no one can seem to get along.

If you’re looking for something a little more lighthearted or you could use a break from watching Elf for the umpteenth time over Thanksgiving weekend, consider Harvey.  Like Buddy, Stewart’s Elwood P. Dowd lives in a blissfully different world than the rest of us, convinced he has a partner in crime that is a six-foot tall bunny.  While this isn’t my favorite Stewart performance and I would probably say Will Ferrell gives us a better jubilant man child than Stewart does, let’s review this logline one more time: This is a movie about a guy who thinks there is a giant bunny following him wherever he goes. That, my friends, is a concept.

Rom com fan? Hard to narrow down all the lovely Stewart performances in the screwball comedy genre.  You Can’t Take it with You is becoming a quickly-forgotten classic , but I think the best entrée into screwball comedies of the 1930s is The Philadelphia Story. Not only do you get Jimmy, you’ve got Cary Grant being his dapper and endearing self as well as Katherine Hepburn in a role that might help you understand why many people think she is the superior Hepburn.  Plus, there is the speech. The hearthfires and holocausts speech. If you like a good speech like Ben Affleck’s in Chasing Amy or the orations from Grey’s Anatomy or The Notebook, you’re gonna want to watch this movie just for the speech.

Perhaps thrillers are your thing. Alfred Hitchcock movies tend to have a broader appeal than a lot of old movies, and Stewart has been in a ton of them.  The Man Who Knew Too Much is a fun case of mistaken identity that has Stewart traipsing across Morocco and Europe a la Tom Hanks in the Robert Langdon films.  If you’d rather something a little more suspenseful, Rear Window is a story you’re probably familiar with—the man who is spying on his neighbors and then thinks he has witnessed a murder. Many movies have done this story since Hitch and Jimmy did—none have done them nearly as well.

My favorite of the Hitchcock movies is a strange one though. Most people remember Rope purely because of the gimmick that it is filmed in one time with what appears to be one continuous take.  This is also an incredibly campy movie with a massive amount of homosexual subtext.  So much so that my best friend and I developed a Rope drinking game that basically amounts to drinking to every time one of the characters says something suggestive.  There is a point where Farley Granger (yes, that is his real name) gives a speech about choking chickens. You chug during that speech. We have never played this game and not gotten absolutely hammered.

And then there is It’s a Wonderful Life.

It defies genres, the Frank Capra classic.  I may have just spent 800 words trying to win you to the ways of Jimmy Stewart by comparing his flicks to stuff you may have seen, but I am going to get cliché when it comes to this film and say this: they just don’t make them like this anymore.

It is a small drama about a small town and an everyman living a small life.  Rather than see our hero save the world, stop a plague, suffer from a disease, or uncover a mass conspiracy, George Bailey just tries to live his life right. Along the way, he falls in love, he buys a house, he helps his family, and he makes the small sacrifices and compromises we all make because we couldn’t afford it or things just couldn’t work out.

And one holiday season, things just get too tough for poor George Bailey. He hits his breaking point and wonders if maybe not being in the world would make things better.  If you haven’t been there, I congratulate you on your happy life.  Most of the rest of us have hit these spells of self-pity from time to time and we need It’s a Wonderful Life to snap us back into order, give us the motivation and inspiration to put our head down, push through the crap, and keep going.

I can’t tell you the last contemporary movie I’ve seen with the basic message that life doesn’t work out as planned most of the time, but that is okay. You’ll be okay.

Movies are bigger now. The stakes are higher, the escapism more outlandish, and movies with feel good messages like Life of Pi are done in 3-D.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just doesn’t happen to be my thing.   On TV, I can find things more my speed. This is where the small scale lives now, which makes sense given the differences in medium between film and TV.  In fact, some of the best shows on TV during what many call a golden age are character studies about relationships, small decisions, and events that don’t threaten people’s lives.  If you like Parenthood, Gilmore Girls, Sorkin, early Grey’s Anatomy, The Sopranos or The Good Wife, you probably understand this desire to not have so much peril in your mass media consumption.

There were a lot of jokes on Twitter about what on Earth an It’s a Wonderful Life sequel would even be about. The article indicated Zuzu, the precocious daughter of George Bailey, would play a role.  Maybe the old Building and Loan got embroiled in the fiscal crisis.  Maybe Zuzu uncovers that the descendants of Old Man Potter are secretly dumping chemical waste into the town’s water supply. Hell, maybe Zuzu finds more magic petals and travels to outer space on a magic carpet with Clarence.

No matter the scenario, there is no way a sequel doesn’t undercut the resonance of the story of little old George Bailey.  At some point, the movie would have to acknowledge what happened to George; how his wonderful life ended.  You’d realize the hope he has on New Year’s Eve in the film faded again. That he ended up having to sell the Building and Loan after all, or that he had a heart attack three years later. Rather than suggest that life is wonderful, this movie would inadvertently be about how life goes on without you.  Charming, right?

My life isn’t going on without Jimmy Stewart though.  Yours shouldn’t either. If you haven’t seen It’s a Wonderful Life, find time to watch it.  Every time I convert a person to the wonder of Jimmy, I’d like to think an angel gets its wings.

 

New York City? Somebody Get Some Rope

In my lifetime, the instances I have been mistaken for a cosmopolitan person are few and far between.  It happens on occasion, usually with my family. Last Christmas, I made mac and cheese for the big family dinner. It was a Giada di Laurentis recipe from Food Network with bread crumbs on top. No one would touch it, opting instead for the large bowl of cooked noodles tossed in Velveeta next to it. “Fancypants mac and cheese”, they called it.

Recently my friend Danielle referred to me as sophisticated because I knew what a snifter was. 

Those rare instances aside though, I am typically viewed as what I pretty much am: a pop-culture obsessed redneck with the taste level that comes with such a designation.

I thought when I arrived in Bossier City, Louisiana for work yesterday that I would take to this place like a moth to a flame. Biloxi is my favorite stop on the Circuit, with New Orleans a close second.  This seemed right in the wheelhouse.

That is, until I figured out the coffee situation. Namely, that there isn’t one. The nearest Starbucks is 2.4 miles away and the only place serving coffee near the hotel appear to be the Auntie Anne’s pretzel place with its java coolatas.

Much to my relief, there is a tiny coffee shop inside the casino which serves a smattering of lattes and, surprisingly, has kona coffee, which is one of my favorite blends.

Considering our tournament is being played on the roof of the riverboat under the cover of the tent, I knew from about 30 minutes in that this coffee shop and I were going to become fast, necessary friends.

In my first trip to the shop, I learned quickly they don’t bother carrying skim milk.  So, the second time down there, I came more prepared.

“A medium kona blend with two percent please,” I requested.

The server stared back at me, utterly baffled. She opened her mouth, paused, then shut it again, briefly looking around her area trying to figure out if she could wing such a request. She gave up a few seconds later.

“I don’t think I understand what you mean. You want milk in your coffee?”

“Yeah, or you could just leave room in the cup and I can add it.”

“So…like a latte?”

“No, I don’t need that much milk,” I responded. I realized she was still lost, but, to be fair, so was I. This didn’t seem that far-fetched to me and even in Australia, where coffee with milk just isn’t a thing, they kind of got the gist of what I was getting at when I would ask.

“You know coffee with cream and sugar?”

She did.

“I want that…but instead of creamer, just a little bit of milk.”

“Ohhhh, okay,” she said with a smile. She turned around to prep my coffee.

I stood a couple of seconds and realized the couple next to me was staring at me. It was probably justifiable. I was dressed for a snowstorm in boots and black pants, a peacoat, a large scarf, and fingerless gloves:

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Hey, stop your judging. I get cold, mmkay?

The girl in the couple couldn’t have been much older than 21. She inquisitively asked, “Do you always order your coffee that way?”

I smiled and shrugged, embarrassed to be questioned about my coffee choices a second time. “Well, yeah, most of the time.”

“Have you ever had a latte? I like those, the syrups are really good.”

“Yeah,” I responded. “Lattes are delicious, but I drink a lot of coffee, so I try not to get them every time.”

She smiled and nodded, then appeared to go back to waiting for her order. She wasn’t done though. I could feel her eyes on me and turned to meet her gaze.

“Are you from New York?”

Now it was my turn not to understand the question.

“You just look like you’re from New York.”

“Oh…no, I am from Kentucky. Not quite the same, huh?”

Judging by the look on her face, my hometown of Lexington may as well have been Lexington Avenue.

I couldn’t decide whether I was flattered or concerned. With a single sentence, I managed to convince an entire coffee shop (albeit with three people in it) that I was a strange, high-falutin’ sort. Where I come from, that isn’t a good thing. No one wants to be the person at the party with the fancy mac and cheese. Yet, here I was getting mistaken as a big-city maven with fancy coffee, fancy milk requests, and way too many winter accessories.  I can only hope these nice, nice people (seriously, Louisianans are just universally the nicest human beings out there) admired my style and knowledge…I can hope really, really hard that is the case, but I am guessing it isn’t.

I paid for my coffee, dumped in a couple of Splenda, and headed out the door before taking a sip. Before I got back to the tournament area, I realized this beverage was about 60% milk and 40% coffee. I was freezing and under-caffeinated, but I simply threw the drink out. There is no use crying over spilled 2%, after all.

It Takes Two

I think it all started when my mom took me shopping as a child.  Our trips to the mall were less about fashion and more an exercise in being pragmatic. If I found something I liked, my mother’s response would almost always be, “Let’s get two.”

Most of the time it would be multiple shirts in different colors, but on occasion we would buy two of the exact same article of clothing. She would tell me if I really liked something we should buy it in the size that fit me and one size up so I wouldn’t outgrow it as quickly.  Even when I got into high school and didn’t have these concerns, she would go back to the store and buy a second one of the exact same shirt in case I spilled something on it or got it incurably dirty..

This might have been her subtle way of trying to prepare me for the real world beyond just my fashion choices.  According to my mom, I was not to be trusted with pretty much anything a parent would describe as dangerous. I was told by my parents I couldn’t play soccer because I would hurt myself (why my parents decided gymnastics, the only sport with a severe injury rate on par with the NFL, was an acceptable activity for me is still a mystery).  I think I was 12 before she trusted me with a steak knife at the dinner table.  She didn’t keep me out of these pursuits to be cruel, nor did she do so because I was an irresponsible child.  She kept me out of them because she saw just how often I inadvertently found myself in a pickle be it because of freak accidents or because I lost something important.

For example, one time while shopping for clothes, I got locked in a dressing room for a good three hours.  The store, which was originally something else before it was a clothing store, had what appeared to be a large closet repurposed as a dressing room. As a result, the door stretched not only all the way to the ground, but also a good eight feet into the sky, not quite touching the ceiling, but making it impossible for me to either crawl under or climb over the door, which had a faulty lock.  The employees were in the process of making the “Out of Order” sign when I went in to try things on.  So, seven-year-old me had to sit patiently in the dressing room while the mall staff hunted down a tall ladder and a locksmith to climb into the room and free me.

We still don’t quite know how I contracted the human version of hoof and mouth disease in middle school, a condition that WedMD can attest typically only occurs in people who work closely with livestock.  Amazingly, this was not the only time in my very suburban childhood I was diagnosed with a condition typically only found in farming populations.

I refrain from offering too many details of how this He-Man suction cup toy ended up stuck on forehead the day of freshman year Homecoming because it probably deserves its own post, but yeah, that happened. So did the massive forehead hickey.

“You’re the absent-minded professor,” my mom would tell me.  "You get so caught up thinking about school and other bigger things, so you just forget about what is going on right in front of your face.“

She still says this to this day. In fact, it came up again this week when we were discussing my latest wave of misfortune, which includes two sets of lost car keys, a flat tire, three calls to AAA and, most recently, the ominous appearance of the “Maintenance Required” light on my car.

“Honestly,” she said with a sigh, “I always said you weren’t allowed to do things because something weird would always happen to you or you would lose something important.” She even confessed to me that when I was in eighth grade, she resorted to storing a copy of my writing portfolio, an elaborate project Kentucky middle schoolers were required to complete in order to graduate, in her safe deposit box, for she just knew I would find a way to misplace it and then where would we be?

While most people (especially my friends in the poker world) would cringe at the suggestion I am an inherently unlucky person, nearly everyone I know will at least agree that I am remarkably forgetful.  While I can keep my work and school stuff organized and fine-tuned like a well-oiled machine, my life stuff is almost always a mess.

I lose keys, credit cards, phones, wallets, purses, IDs. If it is smaller than a candy bar, there is an almost non-existent chance I will be able to hold onto it for more than a year.  I often say that, should I ever get married, I don’t want a diamond ring. Cubic zirconia is fine by me, husband to me. I just want two. 

That’s right, I want a spare wedding ring so I don’t feel like the worst wife on Earth when I inevitably lose the first one.

At work today, my colleague told me she believed this attitude might be the cause of some of my woes.  "If you assume you are going to lose it, you’re just asking to lose it,” she explained.  "Rather than have a spare, why not just modify your behavior to try to become less forgetful?“

The thing is, I’ve tried.  I take hours to pack, meticulously checking things off lists. When I leave hotel rooms, I crawl around on the floor doing a full sweep before I leave to ensure nothing gets left behind.  I chant things to myself as I walk out the door in the morning like "phone, phone, wallet, keys” as a mental checklist of what I need to leave the house with.

Nonetheless though, I still lose things all the time.  When I was in France for WSOPE last month, I managed to lose my keys, despite them never leaving my backpack.  Knowing that I shouldn’t leave it to chance that all my receipts for my expense reports survive living in my wallet, I devised a system for long trips where I tuck them in an envelope in my hotel room at the end of every day. Then I left that envelope in the hotel room.

So where does that leave me?

I have become the everyday version of a doomsday prepper. I’m a doomsday-to-day prepper.  When it comes to technology, I have two laptops, two phones, several USB cords, at least a dozen SD cards and thumb drives, and at least two batteries for everything that comes with a battery.

When it comes to keys, I have four or five spares for my house and car floating around at any given time. I give copies to neighbors and co-workers, I leave a spare set at home, and I leave a spare set in my car.  In my old apartment, I even managed to acquire a second garage door opener.

People look at me and my backpack that effectively serves as a portable Best Buy and shake their head. Their eyes widen when they realize I basically have a tiny Walgreens worth of over the counter medicine whenever I travel.

“You just never know,” I try and explain.

It is that uncertainty I just can’t handle, I think. So, I develop contingency plan after contingency plan.  It is a concept discussed in Julie Norem’s tome on defensive pessimism, The Positive Power of Negative Thinking. People who tend to get anxious can calm their anxieties by thinking their way through worst case scenarios.  It relaxes them doing knowing they have a plan of attack should things go badly.

The more I just accept that this kind of bad shit will always happen, the better I seem to handle the situations.  They used to derail me. I would often cry. Now I shrug, maybe call my mom and vent, but by and large, it is just another day.  If the He-Man monster can’t take me down, a lost car key sure won’t.

I only wish the rest of life was this simple. Owning two of everything may solve a lot of life’s problems, but there are some things an endless amount of duplicates just can’t fix.