Saturday, March 30, 2013

"It Takes Balls To Play Golf The Way I Do!"

And clubs too!

After playing golf for the past 25 years with a set of Ping Eye-2 irons, which were used when I bought them, I realized that it was time to transition to "Senior Clubs" if I was going to improve my game to a substantial degree. Although I hit the old Pings reasonably well, I was unable to get much distance with them. Golf teaching pros recommended that I consider going to Super Game Improvement (SGI) irons, which usually feature graphite shafts, and oversize, hybrid-type heads. 

After researching what kinds of SGIs were available and the reviews online, I narrowed my choices down to a couple of different sets. When I went on a recon mission to my local golf superstore, I discovered one of my possible selections was on sale for a deeply-discounted price. I spent some time with the club fitter, and he determined the best specifications for my swing. The launch monitor revealed that on average, I got between 50 and 75 more yards from the mid and long irons/hybrids. That's the type of improvement I was seeking, so after a call to the Minister of Finance, also known as my Spousal Unit, I made the purchase. I ended up with a set of Adams 12OS hybrid-irons, which were featured on Golf Digest's 2012 "Hot List". (That's them in the photo, just in case you hadn't already figured it out.)

Since my clubs were custom fitted, it took a couple of weeks for them to arrive from the Adams factory in Texas. When they arrived, I couldn't wait to pick them up...this was the first time I had ever bought brand new irons, and it felt a lot like the first time I had purchased a new car. Granted, there isn't really such a thing as a "New Golf Club Smell", but aside from the missing olfactory reward, I got jazzed unwrapping each shiny stick from its bubble-wrap.

I've spent a couple of hours at the driving range getting used to the "Adams Family", and played nine holes yesterday afternoon at the Fort Lewis Golf Course. These clubs are by no means magic, and I've discovered that they are going to take some serious work before I'm at all consistent with 'em, but when I hit the ball just right, WOW!!! That orange sphere takes off like a 4.2 inch mortar shell, high and far.
Fortunately, the need to spend adequate practice time is supported by the return of decent weather to the Pacific NW this weekend...and my apathy toward organized religion helps me ignore the fact that tomorrow is Easter Sunday, which should result in the 9-hole practice course being less-crowded.

My goal last year was to break 90 at least once on a regular golf course (not just a nine-hole executive course like where I'm practicing tomorrow), and that didn't happen. I'm renewing that same goal for 2013, and I have the feeling these new clubs may really help me to do it. I'll let you know when it happens. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Travels With Morrie

It was finally time. My 87 year old WWII veteran father, who resided in a private care group home in Arizona, was approaching the point when the progression of his dementia would require a higher level of medical support.  It was a tough decision, as Dad, aka "Morrie", was very happy living where he had been since 2011. If it wasn't for the growing likelihood that Morrie would need to be moved on short notice, my brothers and sister and I surely would have voted to maintain the status quo. Unfortunately, private long-term dementia care facilities are very expensive, and Morrie has only his monthly Social Security and veteran's benefit checks. The other consideration was the distance made it tougher to keep on top of Dad's progress and maintain a good interface with his medical providers.

(By the way, Dad got his alias when he lived up here with my Spousal Unit and I, and then in an assisted-living community which caters to former military folks. I regularly reserved Tuesdays to drive over from my civilian job to have lunch with Dad. Some of my more literate co-workers dubbed these lunch appointments as "Tuesdays with Morrie", and the name stuck. Hopefully, Mitch Albom won't sue us for copyright infringement.)

Fortunately, our state has a very modern and well-staffed Veteran's Residence, with a state of the art dementia care center. Morrie had been on the waiting list for this place back in 2009, but my deployment to Iraq resulted in Dad's move to Arizona. I re-submitted admission paperwork late last fall, because sometimes it can take up to a year on the waiting list before a room becomes available. This time it only took six months before I got the call to complete the final processing.

I made the preparations to bring Morrie up north with a fair amount of trepidation. He was no longer able to do most of the simple tasks, like using the restroom, without assistance. While it had been a while since he truly recognized any of his kids, he had able to fake it pretty convincingly...once a salesman, always a salesman, I guess...but that was no longer the case. One thing I had going for me was that Morrie often thinks that he is still in either the Army Air Corps or the National Guard. I decided my strategy was to tell Dad that he had received orders transferring him to Fort Lewis, and that I had been detailed to escort him to his new duty station. While I felt guilty lying to Morrie, this fictional reason behind uprooting him did seem to make sense in his universe, as he accepted it with the resignation typical of all soldiers getting Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders.

It was one of those missions that could easily have gone either way: complete success or Epic Fail. Fortunately, thanks to a lot of folks, this one went off without any major problems. I made flight reservations on Alaska Airlines, where we have a substantial amount of frequent flyer miles accrued. I took a couple of days leave mid-week, flew down to Phoenix in late morning, rented a van to make easier access for Morrie and his luggage (I brought a gigunda, hard-sided suitcase which I use for Protective Service Detail missions, where ya gotta carry the world's supply of bulky gear.), and after checking in to my hotel I headed over to the group home.

Rowena, the group home owner and operator, definitely runs the place like it is filled with family...which it usually is! When I arrived, Dad was sitting out in the backyard, wearing his favorite straw hat, and having a semi-coherent conversation with one of the more lucid residents. While I could tell Dad had no idea who the heck I was, he greeted me jovially, and inquired if I was there to discuss the operations order. Seeing that he was in the "Army Morrie" mode, I let Dad know that I had orders for his immediate transfer to Fort Lewis, and that I was his escort. "Oh, that sounds pretty good!" was Dad's response. My youngest brother was at the house, getting ready to prepare tonight's dinner for everyone. He's a pretty talented cook, and has been the main support guy for Dad while he's been in Phoenix. While Morrie got back to his conversation with the other resident, I retrieved the suitcase from the van, and with Rowena's assistance got all of Dad's clothing and personal items packed up. There was already an old, battered roller bag from Morrie's original move to Arizona, so I crammed that piece full of old family photos and documents, and stowed both bags in the van.

After a festive dinner, and tying up loose ends of Dad's account with Rowena, I headed back to the hotel. Next morning, I headed back to the group home, picking up my brother on the way. Morrie was "Out on Pluto" as my other brother says, with no clue that he was about to embark on his penultimate adventure. No matter; I refreshed his memory, and Morrie snapped into Army Mode without complaint. We said our goodbyes, and trundled out to the waiting van. Dad happily commented every couple of minutes about the number of buildings and cars that had appeared since he was last here in 1945, followed by inquiring if we were "headed back home to California."

I really wasn't looking forward to transitioning from the Hertz rental car drop-off point to the shuttle bus ride to the terminal, having to lug two big heavy-ass suitcases and keep Morrie moving in train. Fortunately, the gentleman at the Hertz check-in line, Gary, immediately offered to have one of his folks drive us over to the terminal in the van, so we didn't have to unload luggage or anything. That was an unexpected but really welcome courtesy. The fellow who volunteered to drive us to the terminal was a really nice fellow from Northern Iraq, so we chatted about his country's current situation on the ride over.  I only had $20 cash to tip this fellow, which felt like not enough for the service rendered, but such is life.

Good things continued to go our way as I got us checked in at Alaska Airlines. The agent was (as usual for Alaska) very friendly and helpful when I asked if there was any way to get our seats moved together in the First Class cabin. (I had made our return reservations for First Class, figuring this would be the only way to make the flight somewhat tolerable and comfortable for Morrie. I hadn't been able to reserve adjoining seats, though.)  The check-in agent made a change to my seat to improve its location, and then sent a request to the gate agent to work out the rest of the move. Now unencumbered by monster luggage, we slowly made our way to the next potential obstacle; the TSA security checkpoint.

I was kind of worried that Dad's expired Washington State ID card might prove problematic, as that was the only photo identification he had. Once again, fortune smiled upon us as the TSA officer noted Morrie's escort (me) was a federal agent, so the likelihood of Morrie being AQA (Al Qaeda in Arizona) was minimal. They didn't make Morrie remove his shoes or belt, and my own screening was a breeze, so it was off to our gate in plenty of time before boarding. At the gate, yet another outstanding Alaska Airlines representative picked up the second half of the seat assignment request, and with the consent of a very agreeable fellow passenger, we were seated together...Dad in the window seat, and me on the aisle.

When we boarded, Morrie asked me if we were headed to Lowry Field, which was the airfield in Colorado where he had trained as a B-24 turret gunner. When I told him no, that we were going to Fort Lewis, he grinned and said, "Good, cuz that's where my unit is!" It was moments like that one which pretty much erased my guilt over the deception plan.  Once airborne, Morrie was fascinated by the clouds and mountains, which pretty much kept him occupied the entire flight. When lunch was served, he devoured his hot turkey melt sandwich, and settled back for a nap. We did experience one "not for publication" moment on the flight, involving the First Class restroom and a very understanding flight attendant, but it was mostly smooth sailing.

SeaTac Airport proved easy to negotiate, and I had parked close to the Alaska baggage claim skyway, so in a matter of minutes we were cruising down I-5 in the carpool lane. Morrie was astounded at the overcast skies, cool temperature, intermittent rain showers, and most of all, the abundance of greenery. (I could relate, as it was the same way I had felt the day I returned home from Iraq.) We made it to the Veterans Home by late afternoon, and began the lengthy check-in process. It reminded me of the first day of Army Basic Training, minus the yelling drill sergeants. I had to inventory and mark every piece of Morrie's clothing with his serial number, then stow it all in the wardrobe and dresser drawers in his room. The medical staff and activities director did their preliminary intake stuff, which Morrie took in stride after I reminded him again that this was the usual procedure when signing in to a new unit. I had planned to eat dinner with Dad, but when the meal was served I was still busy marking and folding, so the nurses escorted him to meet his new mess hall buddies while I finished up. I had just completed putting everything away and briefing the activities director about Morrie's background when he returned from chow...wearing someone else's travel vest. Turned out it belonged to his neighbor, Ray, who either loaned it to Dad to wear during dinner, or Dad saw it on the back of Ray's chair and decided he liked it. At any rate, Ray came looking for his vest, which had his glasses in one of the pockets. Dad pulled out Ray's specs, and said happily, "I've been looking all over for these!" I stopped him from trying to put them on over his own glasses, and gave both the glasses and vest back to Ray.

By now Dad was completely tuckered out, so I got him ready for bed. He said, "I think I like this place..." before dropping off to sleep. Although I knew he'd need to be re-oriented in the morning, it seemed like an agreeable end to this episode of "Travels With Morrie."

Sunday, March 10, 2013

On Being of Irish Ancestry

You don't have to be a detective to figure out that anyone using the pen name, "The Fighting Leprechaun" more than likely claims Irish heritage. Although my father's family never much discussed our background when I was growing up, one of my cousins gathered a substantial amount of genealogical information about our Irish ancestors, and shared it with me about four years ago.

Our Celtic family came from County Wicklow, which is in the southeast area of what is now the Republic of Ireland. They immigrated to Australia in the 1850s, not as convicts, but rather to homestead and farm. From there, the lure of the California Gold Rush brought the family to Northern California, which is where my grandfather, father, and I were born and raised.

I had several nicknames in junior high and high school, most of which were not very complimentary, but my favorite was "The Leprechaun". Maybe it was the combination of my diminutive stature, reddish-brown hair, and very ruddy complexion, or perhaps that I was always involved in some sort of shenanigans which earned me that nickname, as I do not have a last name readily associated with being of Irish heritage. When I became a cop, and was assigned to a detachment where everyone was assigned a nickname, once again I became The Leprechaun. (This was greatly preferable to the other tag my teammates gave me, "Bald Boinker", which was indeed intended to be flattering, but it's not the kind of handle a respectable deputy sheriff wants to be known by, right?)

I developed a great fondness for Irish music, food, and history, and on occasion sported a faux Irish brogue which some confused with a Swedish accent, but without a clear understanding of my Irish roots, I was just a phony "Eireaphile" (yep, just made that word up!) Once I learned that I did indeed come from legitimate Irish forefathers, I decided that I had better cement the deal by actually visiting Ireland.

Thanks to my supportive Spousal Unit, we were able to tour the Emerald Isle last September, said tour being documented in this blog with a small fraction of photos and narrative that we gathered there. Even more significant than actually walking the streets of Wicklow, and visiting the old Gaol where family legend has it that my great-grandfather was briefly incarcerated, was the connection to Ireland fostered by our tour guide, Stephen McPhilemy. Steve wasn't just our tour guide...he brought us through the secret door, taught us the secret handshake, and helped us see beyond the veneer that most tourists are limited to.

I was reminded of this connection to my Irish heritage last night, when I got the word that Steve and a fine fellow named Liam O'Riordan,  a retired Garda and most excellent singer/musician/songwriter, who I'd gotten to know in Kinsale, were at Kells Irish Pub in Seattle this weekend. Hanging out with these guys reinforced how unique the Irish are, and to be part of that is something I am truly grateful for. Make no mistake, I know that I'm not an actual Irishman, merely an American of Irish heritage, but the affinity and the bonds are there nonetheless. It feels very good.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

New Book: Harry Potter and the Hat of Ass

Where Harry, Ron, and Hermione seek to discover which members of Congress have been replaced by Dementors and Death Eaters.