Over par on golf course; sub-par on potato cake grill
Usually, I do not need lessons in humility, because I really don't have anything to be overconfident about. Nonetheless, I just received two such lessons in unrelated areas on back-to-back weekends.
You may have had the misfortune a few months ago of reading a column I wrote about how I was a victim of potato cake revenge.
Decades after my brothers and I put our mother through the ordeal of trying to fry potato cakes faster than we could eat them, I wound up doing some frying time.
I was pressed into service at a church fundraiser as the middle guy on a three-person grill. My job was to flip the potato cakes and then slide them down the grill.
I didn't impress anyone with my flipping and sliding skills, but I counted my debut performance as a success for one good reason - the fire department did not have to be called out.
The first lesson in humility came a few weeks ago at the church festival. One of a veteran team of potato cake fryers needed a break and I was ordered up to the front lines in the battle to fry potato cakes faster than festival-goers could eat them.
When I surveyed the line of potato cake purchasers as it snaked off toward the horizon, I felt as though I was a pitcher who had been called up to the Major Leagues from a Class A farm team.
These buyers meant business. Even in the midst of a torrential rainstorm that included a rainwater spout from the church hall shooting a cascade of water at them, none of the potato cake people would give up his or her spot in line.
I was in the middle position on the grill, but my nervousness showed when I started flipping potato cakes before they were ready to be flipped and I allowed a "traffic jam of bleenies" to build up.
After a few minutes, the veteran fryers suggested I just keep sliding the potato cakes down the grill for the three Fs (flipping and final frying). Essentially, it was like playing shuffle board using a spatula on a metal surface covered with oil hot enough to singe my eyebrows.
I'm not sure, but I could swear I heard the people in line applaud when the regular fryer returned to his post.
I was assigned another potato-related duty inside - feeding potatoes into a wall-mounted french-fry slicer. It had a long handle that I would pull to force the spud through the cutting grillwork. I felt as though I were playing an old-fashioned slot machine in Idaho.
The other lesson in humility came in the form in an old source of embarrassment - my golf game. My brother Phil was coming home for his class reunion and invited me to play golf with him and our childhood neighbor nicknamed Welder.
I tried to wiggle out of it by e-mailing Phil that I could not play since I no longer had any golf clubs. They had been confiscated by the government as WGD (weapons of grass destruction).
However, Welder generously offered to provide me with a set of clubs and several dozen golf balls, so I had no choice but to return to the golf course after an 18-year absence.
Slathered with a protective coating of sunblock and sitting in the shade of a roof-covered golf cart, I figured at least I would avoid sunburn if not embarrassment. It turned out I got slightly sunburned, but considerably embarrassed.
Naturally, our first hole had a gallery of waiting golfers roughly the size of the crowd at the final hole of the U.S. Open, so there were plenty of people able to tell me where my first tee shot after 18 years landed.
It was right where I put it - on the tee. It stayed there for my next several swings until a minor miracle occurred and I hit the ball a good 15 or 20 yards.
Fortunately, Phil had suggested we play best ball, so I picked up the ball, got in the cart and then dropped the ball near where Phil's tee shot had landed. If not, I might still be playing that hole.
On most holes, my putts went quite a bit farther than my drives. By the third hole, word of my return to the golf course had spread. Gophers were wearing hard hats to prevent concussions from my ground-hugging shots.
Phil and Welder were the picture of patience as we slowly made our way through the first nine holes. They offered a variety of helpful tips.
A suggestion for me to keep my left elbow straight as I swung produced by longest drive of the day on the ninth hole. The distance was aided because the ball bounced off the hard hat of a gopher.
However, my best long shot of the day came while Phil and Welder played the second nine holes. I discovered my cell phone was missing and Phil lent me his cell phone and a golf cart as I backtracked on a seemingly impossible search.
My calls to my own cell phone eventually produced a ringing near the green on the seventh hole and I joyously reclaimed my phone, if not my dignity.
However, the golf experience did give me an idea for next year's church festival. I am going to buy a new 9 iron to use as a spatula at the potato cake grill.
Not only will it keep me from splashing myself with hot oil; the 9 iron can be used in self-defense in case I get chased by a mob of impatient potato cake buyers.
(Walt Kozlowski, a freelance writer from Mount Carmel, composes "Walt's Way" for each Sunday edition.)