Saturday, June 5, 2010

Peace On Our Fairways

Tiger Woods never had to win a tournament with a Mississippi kite flying up his back on every shot. Granted, his caddie probably would have dismembered any bird violating Tiger’s airspace. But for the average Texas golfer (and other southwest territories), it can mean the difference between shooting a 105 and a 107 or getting 108 stitches on your head.

Mississippi kites are grey with beady red eyes and sharp talons, and they are about the size of a DC-10. At least they look that big when they swoop down on you. Hence, many Texas golfers spend May through July walking around with a driver or a bazooka on his/her shoulder to ward off attacks. Usually, they just swoop up your back as you lean over to take a shot, but last year I was hit in the side of the head twice by attacking kites. Apparently they think we’re going to climb the trees and eat their young. So every time a bird shadow appeared on the ground, I ran screaming with my hands covering my head.

I’ve never personally met anyone who has needed medical attention after an attack, but I have heard many bloody horror stories from people that knew friends of friends who had to get stitches. So one sunny afternoon as they circled overhead, I decided I had had enough. It was time to make peace with the kites. In the hopes of freeing tormented golfers everywhere, I scheduled an appointment with the Chief Kite at Hillsdale Country Club.

I stood beneath an elm tree on the 7th fairway at the club where I had been tormented many times by these winged beasts. With my golf bag on my back, I usually sprinted from the ladies’ tee to my ball where I would hit the next shot like a polo player. And still, the kites managed to harass me. I should have known the Chief Kite resided here.

When my watch showed noon, I dropped my cigarette and climbed the tree. Huffing and puffing after fifteen feet, I managed to enter the nest which was actually more like a kid’s tree house: old plywood supported by some two-by-fours and a sagging roof. Dark teak wood paneling decorated the inside along with a few portraits of famous kites or perhaps family members. Not much of a club for kids but it was a nice palace for the kites.

Two kites escorted me to the main room where the sun shone through a hole in the ceiling into a perfectly sculpted bird’s nest. A real throne. Suddenly, the room grew dark as the Chief Kite descended through the hole and landed squarely in the nest. I marveled at his size; I didn’t think Floyd Mayweather could take him even on a good day.

I reached out my hand and the sudden squawking made me realize I had committed a faux pas. I slapped myself on the head. Of course birds don’t shake hands. The Chief Kite extended his wings and shook them while keeping his body still. I did the same with my arms. The kites stared at each other.

“What are you doing?” asked the Chief in a deep, foreboding voice.

“Um, introducing myself?”

“Very well. Please speak your wishes.”

I sighed and summoned courage from my soul while looking into his razor sharp red eyes. “I’ve come to make peace.”


“Yes, I’d like to ask you and your flock to stop dive bombing us while we play our game.”

“So you can eat our young and steal our nests?”

“No. I mean this is a nice nest and all, and I love the pictures in the main hall, but we have no interest in you. Can’t we all just get along?”

“Out of the question. We are all about family values. Intruders must pay the price.”

A lesser negotiator would have backed out of the nest by now, but I was ready. “You do realize you are on the government’s protected species list.”

The kites guffawed, flapped their wings and laughed uproariously. “Surely you have heard the joke about the man who says, ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you.’”

He had me there.

“Tell me human, how many of your breed has been harmed by my kind?”

“A lot. I’ve heard many stories. I know one guy who got fifty-seven stitches after an attack.”

“A friend of yours?”

“No, not really. Maybe more like a legend. I mean, a guy I played with told me about him. His cousin’s friend or something.”

“I see.” The Chief Kite nodded and gave me a little smirk with his beak. I was stunned a bird could smirk.

I said, “Riddle me this, Chief. How many humans have actually attacked your nests?”

“That’s hard to say.”

“Ha! I knew it! You don’t have an answer either.”

“Generally when we see guns, we don’t hang around to generate statistics.”

I thought it best to change the subject. “Look, we just want to play a little golf. That’s not asking too much.”

“What is this golf?”

“It’s what we do around here. Spanking that little white ball around.”

“Yes, spanking it right through our nests. Do you know how many times I’ve had to replace that hall window?”

“That’s what you get for building on a golf course. Buyer beware. That’ll stand up in court.”

He covered his beak with his wing. I had him on his heels, hind talons, whatever.

“You say that you spank a ball? A white, round thing?”

“Yes. Doesn’t harm anyone or anything.”

The kites huddled together. They squawked and chirped for a minute until the Chief silenced them. “We have always believed that you were poaching the eggs of our winged brethren. Smashing them around in some sort of victory march.”

I laughed. Finally, some understanding. I knew I was on the precipice of peace.

“Prove it,” said the Chief.

“Come again?”

“Show us this ball. Prove to me it is not an egg.”

I ran my hands through my pockets. Empty. “I don’t have one with me.”

“Aha!” shouted one of his minions.

I was so close. I had to think fast. Suddenly, we heard a crash and a thump. I thought the nest had been hit by an ICBM.

“One of your pals playing this . . . game,” the Chief said.

He pointed down at the golf ball that bounced through the nest and landed in the rough next to the tree. A minute later, Bernie Sanders, dressed in red shirt, lime-green pants and giant straw Tom Kite hat ambled up next to the tree.

“There’s your answer!” I shouted. “Get that ball and check it out.”

The Chief himself took off through the roof and circled high above the tree. He went into the sun blinding my vision, then dove straight down. As the Chief swooped up Bernie’s back, Bernie leaped forward then dropped to the ground losing his hat in the process.

I could see the guard kites in the nest covering their beaks to stifle a laugh. I tried but a second later we were all laughing and giggling like children. Meanwhile, the Chief came back around and plucked Bernie’s ball from the ground with his beak.

Bernie ranted and raved then threw a club at the tree. As his partners came up, he demanded a free drop.

The Chief landed back in the nest and set the ball down. The other kites passed it around in their beaks trying to break it open. I gasped, remembering how easily my golf balls cut every time they bounced on a cart path. Then I saw the line of “XXXX” on the ball and breathed a sigh of relief. The kites could not break it.

“This is certainly no egg I am familiar with,” said the Chief.

“Because it isn’t,” I replied. “So what do you say? Peace?”

The Chief pondered a long moment. “You have given me much to think about. I suppose we could be a little more lenient.”

I smiled and rejoiced deep inside.

“However, if one of these rock eggs comes in or near a nest, all bets are off.”

Not a landmark deal, but I could live with it.

For the rest of the summer, I played the course undisturbed. Maybe they believed in the deal. Maybe they respected me. Maybe I hit a lot of worm-burners.

But in mid-September, I stood in the middle of the seventh fairway trying for the par five green in two. As I settled into my stance, I heard and felt the unmistakable whoosh of a kite flying up my back. Annoyed, I dropped my club and looked up toward the large shadow. It belonged to the Chief. He dipped his wing slightly almost like a wave. Then he disappeared into the horizon, heading south for the winter.

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