How to Grieve

I don’t know. It’s been almost four months since my mom died. And this week, another gut punch via telephone. This time it was news that my wife’s former campus pastor who through three decades of friendship became a second, spiritual father of sorts to her, had died.

We are especially fortunate to have a foundation of friendship at times like this. After listening to and empathizing with my wife, she asked how I was adjusting to my mom’s death.

I told her I’m failing miserably at striking any kind of balance because it seems like I can either regularly stop and think about the permanence of my loss and be overcome with sadness or succumb to avoidance by filling my day with activities that distract me from thinking about her passing almost entirely. There has to be a large middle ground, I just haven’t found it.

Meanwhile, last Wednesday night I was sitting alone at an outside table at Vic’s Pizza while my wife went to the bathroom and gathered silverware and napkins. A three year-old boy at the table right next to me sized me up and then pointed right at me and said to his mom, “Does he have a mommy?” “Don’t point,” she curtly replied. When my wife joined me a few minutes later, he said to his mom, “He does have a mommy.”

Carol Byrnes and JSwanson would’ve laughed heartily at that and I love the image of them laughing together even though they didn’t know each other.

Besides a lighthearted story, I have one grief-related insight to share. More accurately, I have one end-of-life-related insight from Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upward: a Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. “Death,” Rohr writes, “is largely a threat to those who have not yet lived their life.”

Carol Byrnes and JSwanson lived full lives. May you and I do the same.

Fewer Pharisees, More Calzones

Using Facebook, our state legislator writes to local teachers about Washington State’s new two-year budget. He explains how the Democrats fought for even larger teacher salary increases, how the Republicans plan to slow future increases, and how the Dems and him will fight for bigger bumps going forward.

Also explains how he’s going to donate the difference between his larger state legislature salary increase (as a percentage) and teachers’ to a charity that helps teachers add to their classroom supplies without spending their own money.

And the positive comments poured in from appreciative teachers. But all I could think about while reading his missive was I could never be a politician because it’s not enough to do the right thing, you have to make sure everyone knows about it. In my view, that detracts from it. There’s still lots of Pharisees praying in public squares. Probably always will be.

We need fewer Pharisees and more calzones.

farley-katz-a-calzone-says-to-a-pizza-slice-i-ve-got-everything-you-ve-got-and-more-new-yorker-cartoon

Thanks to Farley Katz for permission to share his work.

Sentence to Ponder

From an article on Jeb Bush’s taxes in today’s WSJ.

“The average rate for middle-income households was projected to be 12% in 2013, the latest available data.”

The top 1% of earners, who do 99% of the complaining about tax rates, pays an average of 33%.

What percentage of people in developed countries would sign on to pay 12%? Trick question. Somewhat less than all because some (many?) would not want to accept the trade-offs of minimal taxes including worsening infrastructure, expensive health care, and tens of million in poverty.

What the Affordable Care Act Gets Wrong

Poor form to be contrarian following a week liberals can’t stop celebrating, but count your blessings I’m done writing about golf. For now at least. I always reserve my right to tap my inner Alan Shipnuck.

Thursday night near the end of another spirited training ride. Soft spinning on North Street, two friends and I head for home. One is a well-to-do 59 year old who just retired. His very nice lake home is paid for and he and his wife just returned from another trip to Europe. Euro vacations aside, as his threadbare cycling gloves illustrate, he’s actually on the frugal side. He says he can afford the vacations because of the gloves. Decades of having made very good money no doubt help too.

“You’ll never guess what medical plan I’ve signed up for,” he says. “No clue,” I replied. “Medicaid!” “Wait, you’re 65?!” “No, I’m 59, that’s Medicare. I was surprised to learn I qualify for Medicaid because I have no income now.”

Quick google search. Medicaid is “a U.S. government program, financed by federal, state, and local funds, of hospitalization and medical insurance for persons of all ages within certain income limits.”

I was stunned. He told me a person can make about $20k/year and still qualify for Medicaid. He hardly has any capital gains because he hasn’t sold any assets for a long time. Apart from his international vacations, I’m guessing his expenses are minimal and he’s living off of savings that he previously set aside. I’m not sure how he’s sheltered his wife’s income.

Then he tells me the adult son of a mutual cycling friend is also getting “free” Medicaid despite the fact that he has a very large trust fund that must consist of tax-free municipal bonds.

Undoubtedly, if my friends are doing this, so are other high wealth/low income people. Especially those whose income stems largely from tax-free municipal bonds. Why isn’t anyone writing about this gigantic loophole and what we should do to close it?

More generally, why does the Affordable Care Act (ACA) use income as it’s sole reference point instead of some combination of income and wealth? The same can be asked about the IRS and college financial aid offices. When it comes to health care premiums, college financial aid, and taxes more generally, it’s far better to be wealthy than to have lots of income. Just ask Mitt Romney. My guess is, and I’d love a more tax savvy reader to enlighten us on this, IRS agents, ACA bureaucrats, and college financial aid officials are unable to determine people’s total wealth with any certainty.

Why not ballpark it though I wonder. If the government knew my friend owned his home outright, would it compromise his Second Amendment rights to privacy? How do we balance well-to-do people’s right to privacy with public policies that, through subsidies, take from those of modest wealth and give to those with considerably more?

What I Got Wrong About Professional Golf

I grew up playing golf.

My first job was parking golf carts and picking up range balls at Los Alamitos Golf Course. One benefit of that job was practicing and playing for free. The guy I played behind in high school, Mike Miles, is playing in the US Senior Open right now. Once, another teammate, who just happened to be wearing his golf shirt on an off-day, an act that required serious chutzpa in the pre-TWoods era, told our substitute teacher we had a match and had to leave our 11th grade English class early to warm up. That day we got a few extra holes of practice in on account of her naivete. Who knew at the time we’d both end up being college administrators.

Growing up I used to think that playing professionally would be la ultima. Traveling to exotic places, being on television, being pampered by tournament committees, making mad money, basically living large.

Fast forward to the US Open where I watched a new wave of rookies like Cheng Tsung Pan and Cameron Smith methodically go about their business. With their swing coaches, sports psychologists, nutritionists, and fitness trainers. Pan grew up in Taiwan, spent a chunk of his youth in a Florida golf academy, and starred at the University of Washington. Smith is a 21 year-old Australian who finished fourth after nearly making a “2” on the par 5 18th. On the practice range their ball flight is so consistent it’s mesmerizing. On the greens, their strokes are so silky smooth it’s stupifying. To say these guys got game is an understatement.

The thought I couldn’t shake was that the Tour is like a life saving dinghy floating in the open ocean. For every Pan and Smith that makes it on, two other guys have to be tossed overboard, most likely journeymen in their 40’s. Approximately 500-1,000 guys around the world make a decent living playing professional golf, but at least 50,000-100,000 are seriously pursuing the dream on driving ranges, courses, and tours in Asia, Australia, Europe, South Africa, South America, and Canada. Then throw in NCAA college golf and the Tony Finau’s of the world who bypass college and learn to win on the Web.com Tour and you have a hyper-competitive field of work. Take a breather at your own and your family’s risk.

Every time a PGA journeyman goes to sleep, thousands of guys on the otherside of the world—a younger Pan in Taiwan and a younger Smith in Australia for example—are honing their craft. Professional golf is la ultima, la ultima meritocracy. Every year 90-95% of the players who don’t have any kind of cushion created by victories, have to prove themselves all over again.

The top 50 in the world get a disproportionate amount of the media’s and our attention. Thus, our perspective is grossly distorted. Imagine having a few thousand driven people from all corners of the world strategizing day and night on how to displace you. Then imagine having a family and being on the road two-thirds of the time. Then imagine losing a little confidence with the flat stick (e.g., Michael Putnam, Ernie Els).

It only took me forty years to learn that for the vast majority of journey men and women golfers, it’s an extraordinarily difficult way to make a living.

US Open Postscript

Sunday’s 6-11a shift was my favorite. Left the house at 4:52a and walked onto the grounds at 5:51a. The sunrise was spectacular and it was nice watching the course slowly come to life under overcast skies and cool temps in the mid 50’s.

A lot of disabled spectators had either tired and turned to their televisions or simply slept in so I ate my annual donut, shot the breeze with fellow volunteers, walked a bit of the course, and made occasional runs around the course.

The Cowboy will be pleased to know there was a brief Holly Saunders sighting. She sped by in the passenger seat of another cart. On a related note, her post round interviews were goofy. Sane people know Fox isn’t fair or balanced, but we have to acknowledge that they are consistent when it comes to their television “talent”. Their coverage more generally was flawed relative to the much more experienced network teams. Norman’s bromance for Day was over the top, the lack of yardage, Pavin awkwardly overreacting to a Faxon dig, “What do we want to go here, best career?”, etc. However, the microphone in the hole was genius and almost compensated for all the other shortcomings.

The highlight of the day was my penultimate trip, from Central Meadows to the top of the 18th hole grandstand. A man flagged me down and said, “I had a hip replacement, and it hurts, and I need to get up to the 18th grandstand for a picture, can you take me?” I looked at his tournament pass everyone wears around their neck and it said, “Robert Trent Jones, Jr.” The course architect and his wife hopped on and we we’re off.

“I heard you interviewed on the radio a few days ago. It was a nice interview.” Phone call with someone involved with the picture and then, “The pros are really savaging the greens aren’t they?” What do you say to that? “Yeah, but everyone has to putt the same greens.” Weak I know, but I was working with 5 hours sleep. Then I said, “You should be proud of the fact that this is a spectacular event.” He shook my hand appreciatively. And told me he had an article in the Sunday Seattle Times about his dad for whom “I wouldn’t be here personally or professionally.”

The locals are too damn defensive about all the criticism of the greens, Jones’s design, noisy trains, and the spectators’ many challenges. I don’t understand why people take it so personally. Given the leaderboard and dramatic ending*, the early word from Tim Rosaforte is that all the greens will be completely redone (much less undulation, much more consistent grass) and the “footprint” will be altered to be more fan-friendly and the USGA will return in 10+ years.

How many majors will Spieth have by then?

After finishing work at 11a, I picked up a Thai Chicken Wrap, banana, and water**, and headed to the practice range. It was strange that more people weren’t there because it was the best place to see the most players up close putting, chipping, hitting balls. I watched Rose, Kopeka, Poults, HMarayauma, Mcllroy, Na, Senden, the Duf who wins the “best shoes” and “most weight lost since divorcing” competitions. At 11:45a, Spieth walked onto the practice range a few feet in front of me and headed to the putting green, exactly three hours before teeing off.

Having gotten too much sun, I headed home at noon, tired from a long week. I’m lucky my vagabond daughters are both home. The Girls Club was wanting to hike Mount Rainier sometime this week before the Eldest returns to the shadows of Wrigley Field. I suggested we take advantage of the Summer Solstice and head to Rainier and the fam proved spontaneous enough.

A glorious hike on the Deadhorse Creek trail was cappped with a picnic dinner a mile above the Paradise Visitor’s Center. After returning home, I watched the tournament which I had recorded.

A full and fun day. I’m appreciative of my health and my daughters who gave me cards with touching messages. I’m also grateful for nature, in particular the Sound that frames Chambers Bay and Mount Rainier which frames large swaths of Western Washington.

Postscript: To the golf averse, I have one more golf post in me and then it will be on to new subjects.

* One take-away from tournament week. America is seriously overweight. One culprit has to be beer. Everyone began drinking beer at around 10a and didn’t stop.

** Would have been even more dramatic if the tournament had been decided by a made putt.

12th hole. Driveable par 4. For them, not us.

12th hole. Driveable par 4. For them, not us.

This is why they're better than me. They warmup with the same balls they play.

This is why they’re better than me. They warmup with the same balls they play.

The wildflowers are in full bloom a month earlier than normal.

The wildflowers are in full bloom a month earlier than normal.

2015 US Open. . . Halftime Report

The handful of faithful PressingPausers are wondering when, if ever again, the humble blog will refresh. I may not have factored the Handful in enough when I recently agreed to assume more responsibilities at work. On top of that I planned an intensive course last week and taught it this week and right now I’m in the middle of a four-day volunteering stint at the US Open at Chambers Bay.

Which is what my golf-addled friends are most curious about. I’m on the Disabilities Access Committee. Thursday, beside the green at the brutally tough fifth hole*, I perfected the badass Secret Service agent look with sunglasses, earpiece, and radio. I decided talking into my sleeve would be overclubbing. It was uneventful because no able-bodied person dare sit in the designated handicapped section given my intimidating presence.

Friday, I spent an hour riding shotgun in another cart, and then when I had the lay of the land, drove disabled spectators in my own cart over most of the 1,000 acres (the course is 250).

Low point. Cruising behind the scene solo, no one around, who do I see walking alone along the road? The winner of the 1995 US Open who I happened to go to school with. So I say, “Coreeeey!” DOES NOT EVEN LOOK UP. Shit Corey, I used to watch you hit balls on the intramural field on the way to class back in the day! We nearly ate breakfast together in Rieber Hall! I celebrated your 5-wood like I had hit it myself! My depression only lasted about fifteen minutes.

High point. Who is that female commentator walking from the middle of the fairway right towards me?! Closer, closer, eye contact, smile. Thank you Natalie Gulbis** for helping me completely forget what’s his name. After texting some buddies about my Natalie Gulbis encounter, one wrote back to say surely she thought I was her grandfather. Not funny.

Also fun. As I drove back and forth by the practice range sometimes security would raise the ropes so that spectators and I would have to stop for . . . Rory Mac, Adam Scott, Colin Montgomerie.

Like the winner Sunday evening, I probably deserve a very large trophy for my uncanny ability to skillfully weave through masses of humanity on densely packed sidewalks while simultaneously spying every player walking  between tees and every threesome’s scoring signboard.

It turns out that Tom Chambers Bay as some funny radio hosts are calling it is not a great course for spectators. Watch on television, the ropes are much, much further back than normal, so much so it’s as if the players are all alone. Given the length and hilly nature of the course, and the super slippery fescue, spectators are retreating to the grandstands.

Down the stretch on Sunday I hope they let people into the fairways. So much for my darkhorse, Michael Putnam. Now, I will cheer the newest Masters Champion to go back-to-back.

Well, I better get to sleep. I’m back at it in thirteen hours.

* Turns out the fifth hole is the Byrnes family hole. My oldest brother works the fifth hole at Nicklaus’s Memorial tournament every year.

** To Steve Wood, rest assured I am on the lookout for HS, but alas, cannot report a sighting YET.

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