D. MICHAEL POPPE
Monday, March 18
Lake Jennings, California
The man stops the motor and patiently settles himself in his seat, and decides that the setup of his campsite can wait. He can hear the faint buzzing of the fly which has been tormenting him since he left El Centro. As the fly moves closer to the front, the buzzing grows louder; finally the fly is bouncing up against the windshield on the passenger side. He waits patiently and as it moves in front of him, he cups his right hand against the inside of the windshield and carefully covers the fly closing his well-manicured fingers gently around it, careful not to injure it, but tightly enough to prevent it from escaping. He then very carefully pinches its legs with his left hand. When he opens his right hand, the insect buzzes frantically, its wings only a blur. He waits until the wings stop then he snaps one wing off and the fly sits motionless. After a moment, the fly moves so he steps out of the vehicle, still holding the fly. He searches for a trail of ants, and kneeling next to it, he snaps the other wing from the fly with practiced deftness and sets it in the path of the oncoming ants. The fly does not move soon enough and in a moment the ants are attacking it. The fly struggles violently at first, but within seconds the ants are swarming all over it and he watches until they start to carry away its dismembered parts...then he kills the ants. He stands and dusts the knees of his trousers and realizes he has been so intent on the fly that he has not noticed the pleasant hint of eucalyptus in the warm breeze.
It is late afternoon and he is exhausted.
Prior to the distraction from the fly, he had been traveling west on Interstate 8 toward San Diego and exited the freeway at the sign for Lake Jennings. He had followed the road through a canyon and found his way to the lake, which deceivingly turned out to be a reservoir. He then headed to the designated camping area which was surrounded by eucalyptus trees and other vegetation.
It is dusk on Monday and the grounds appear appropriately deserted for the middle of March. He finds a shielded campsite within a grove of small trees and decides to pitch his tent. He prefers to not have neighbors, but as he backs his SUV into position, he notices an older pickup truck and a camping trailer in the adjacent site. Both vehicles are dented and primer spotted. He is immediately irritated by the knowledge that he will not be alone and hopes that the occupant will leave before darkness falls.
He needs to wash his hands and reaches inside the driver’s door and pulls his keys from the ignition, locks the door and heads for the restroom. It is a simple concrete block building with a metal roof; everything is the color of the landscape. He finds the end marked ‘Men’ and enters. The odor fills his nostrils and the subsequent nausea triggers his anger over the memory of torture by his high school classmates.
The bullies would take turns throwing him against the filthy bathroom walls then would squeal with pleasure as they held his head in a toilet until he is sure he would drown.
He whispers, curses and realizes his fists are clenched and as he shakes off the horrible memories, he sees that the restroom is a typical campground setup; a row of toilets on one wall and sinks opposite on the other. He walks to an opening in the back wall that contains a public shower; he hates that there is no privacy. He turns, goes to the sink and thoroughly washes his hands. He uses the urinal, a trough type with the dripping pipe across the back; then returns to the sink and washes his hands and face. When he reaches for a paper towel, there are none. He curses himself for not having anticipated this typical issue. Dripping and angry he heads back to his vehicle as he removes a hand sanitizing wipe from its wrapper and finishes his hand cleansing ritual.
As he reaches his campsite a man is walking outside the trailer that he had noticed when he parked his car. He purposely doesn’t look but before he can activate the power for the rear lift gate with his key, the man is waving and mouthing something. He nods but continues with his task, opens the lift gate and surveys his equipment. He pulls the tent out and makes sure the ice chest is still covered with the blanket and as he turns, he notices the man from the trailer is approaching.
“Howdy, I guess we’re gonna be neighbors. You sure have a nice car here; it’s one of those SUV’s ain’t it?” he says.
He is repulsed by the odor of the intruder. “Yes it is,” he curtly replies.
“An’ it’s a Lincoln too, must a cost you a bundle! Funny color...what a ya call that? Is it leather inside?” The man is now adjacent to him causing him to step back.
“My name is Foster, Burl Foster. I been livin’ here for about a month, so I got to move in a couple a days. You stay’n long?” He’s holding out his hand.
The irritation mounts; he’s just sterilized his hands. He takes Mr. Foster’s hand and shakes it tentatively. He can feel the calluses and grime and sweat and notices tattoos on the man’s forearm. He is grateful for the sterile wipes in his pocket. He is astonished by the tufts of white hair growing out of the top of the old man’s nose.
“I’m John Dixon,” he lies. “I’ll just be here overnight and if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to get my campsite set up before dark.”
“Ya sure,” says Foster while peering in the back of the SUV. “Say, it’s leather inside, pretty fancy. Golf clubs seem pretty fancy too.”
“Yes, well, if you’ll excuse me?” he says as he picks up his tent.
“Ya sure. Gets pretty cold up here after dark and if the marine layer comes in, kinda wet. If ya want a beer, stop over when you’re done, we can visit a bit,” he says as he moves away still glancing at the car. “What color did you say this is?”
“It’s green.” He is rather exasperated and bordering on contempt for the old man.
Foster is now near the front of the vehicle and in an excited voice says, “oh and tinted windows, you can’t even really see inside. Say! You’re from Illinois. I never been there. You’re a long way from home. This a vacation?”
“Yes,” he says and abruptly turns and carries the tent to the area he has selected.
“Well, I’ll see ya later,” says Foster as he finally heads back to his own vehicles.
The man immediately opens a single use sterile wipe wrapper and vigorously cleanses his hands. He unrolls the tent and proceeds to stake the corners and as he completes the setup of the tent it pops up into its igloo shape. He unzips the doorway and returns to his vehicle. He retrieves the sleeping bag, duffel bag, an electric lantern and the book on anatomy which he is reading. He crawls halfway into the tent and unrolls the sleeping bag, setting the lantern and book within easy reach. He places a rubber mat outside the opening of the tent, and finally satisfied that he can sleep, he begins to think of bathing, then eating some dinner.
He returns to the vehicle, crawls in the back to retrieve his soft luggage which is tightly packed up against two sets of golf clubs and his other golf equipment. Placing the clubs laterally behind the front seats with the second seat laid down makes his golf equipment easily accessible from either of the side doors. He finds the bag containing his toiletries and bath towel. He retrieves a change of clothing from another larger bag, closes everything and makes certain all is in its place. He slides to the tailgate, checks his gear for omissions and steps out. He closes the tailgate, locks the car and heads for the restroom again, deliberately avoiding eye contact with Foster.
He is relieved that the restroom is vacant. The smell of urine again assaults his senses. He moves to the shower area and sets his belongings on a bench. He notices a board above the bench has some metal hooks for clothing. Only two are intact, the others are broken off leaving them sharp and jagged; but at least the area is out of range for most of the spray from the showerheads. He undresses quickly, using what hooks are available to hang his clothing and towel and steps up to the closest shower in the corner, soap and razor in hand. To his surprise, the water is almost immediately hot and after tempering it with the cold, he steps in. He does not know if it is the water or just that he is so tired, but he can’t help de-stressing. He scrubs his body and feels the stubble of his body hair emerging but realizes he is too weary to shave. He knows how much it will itch in a few days but decides a full body shave can wait. He stares into the shower and rubs his face, then lathers his cheeks and neck and begins to shave.
He hears someone using the restroom and is alarmed by the intrusion. He keeps a continual eye on his belongings and as he brushes his teeth, he feels a sudden change in the water temperature, informing him that he should soon end his shower. He finishes rinsing, turns off the water, and steps to the bench where his towel and clothing are waiting. While he is drying his chest, he feels the fatigue seep into his bones and is thankful for the simple dinner he has planned.
He dresses and rolls his dirty clothing into a ball with the towel, packs his toiletries, and heads back to his camp. He sees that Foster is sitting by his campfire and is drinking a can of beer and motioning to him with another. He hesitates, but then resigns himself to the fact that he is going to have to join the old man. He does not want a beer but he does not want to be rude, that would only further solidify Foster’s memory of him; and that could be dangerous. He opens the lift gate of the Navigator and sets his things carefully inside to be attended to later. Leaving his belonging in disorder aggravates him, but he forces himself to suppress the feelings. He turns and walks toward the warmth of the fire, which somehow soothes his irritation. As he takes the beer from Foster he thanks him, turns slightly and wipes the top of the can before opening it and sits on the edge of the picnic table. Foster is sitting in a lawn chair that has molded itself to his contours. Thankfully, he is downwind.
Foster is staring at him, one hand rubbing his chin making that rasping sound even over the crackling of the fire. Eventually he interrupts the calm and quiet with another question. “So whata ya do in Illinois?”
He sits there a moment and then lies again, “I’m a salesman for a large auto dealership; that’s how I acquired this great car,” he nods toward the Navigator.
“Oh,” says Foster. “And you like to play golf, I guess?”
“Yes, it’s rather an obsession.” For once he not lying, but he wishes he hadn’t said that.
Foster is opening another beer.
“I’m just traveling and playing at some of the better courses around the country,” he offers very casually. “It’s just an indulgence.”
“Never did understand that game, chasing that ball around, and it cost a damn arm and leg to play. I’d rather go fishin’ anytime.” He swallows another huge gulp of beer and belches.
“Well, I enjoy it.” He thinks of the Mark Twain quote, ‘Golf is a pleasant walk spoiled’ but does not bother to confound Foster by sharing it. “Do you fish around here?” he asks.
“I been over to the ocean a few times but didn’t do no good. It’s the wrong time of year.” He finishes the beer with another gulp and reaches for the plastic cooler at his feet. “Ya want another?”
“No, this is fine, thanks. I really need to get some sleep. I drove quite a lot of miles today”.
Foster squints. “Yea? Where from? I’ve drove all over this country.” Foster glances at the man’s hands, and says sarcastically, “them sure is purty hands!”
“Sacramento,” he lies. I’m going to play a few courses in Southern California and then head home. Well, thanks for the beer. I’ve really got to eat dinner and get some sleep. Good night.” He hurriedly stands and moves toward his camp.
“Yea, ok. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” Foster scratches his belly; it is apparent he is getting quite drunk.
The man walks to his car, and is relieved that Foster is drinking; he will remember less that way. He wants to check the cooler before he retires. It has been a long day and he is certain most of the ice will be melted. He opens the lift gate, the interior light comes on, and he squirts some hand sanitizer into his hands, rubs them together, then crawls inside and uncovers the cooler. He takes in his surroundings before opening the lid. He is surprised by the amount of water in the bottom, some of his food containers are floating and the baby food jar is submerged. He closes the lid, slides the cooler to the edge of the car, tilts it to the rear and opens the drain plug. The water pours out, splashing, then finally dripping; he curses himself for the mess it makes. He reinserts the plug, dries the bottom and slides the cooler back into place. With the lid reopened, he reaches in his pocket and removes a small foldable knife.
He loves his knives, they give him an almost erotic pleasure, some more than others, but he loves them all.
He cuts a large piece of Havarti cheese and grabs a handful of grapes. He stares momentarily at the baby food jar; the alcohol has taken on an ethereal shade of pink and the nipples bob about as if dancing for his pleasure alone. He can’t help smiling and almost laughing at his cleverness; a woman’s nipples in a baby food jar…Brilliant!
He closes the lid of the cooler and covers it with the blanket. He also closes and locks his vehicle and heads for his tent. He glances over at Foster, the fire is low and the old man appears to be sleeping.
Once he is settled in the tent, he shuts off the light, opens a tent window for some fresh air and begins to relax. He wants to edge his big knife but it is too dark and he is too weary. He sits on his sleeping bag, careful to lay out a paper towel to catch crumbs, cleanses his hands with a sterile cloth, and eats the cheese and grapes in the darkness.
He reviews the First Hole.
Debbie Beatty was forty-three years old. The First Hole had been a par four and he had made Birdie, four: three.
He smiles to himself. He is satisfied with his standing in the Match.
Finally, he slips into the sleeping bag and after a few moments he thinks of Joan.
Excerpted from "Match Play" by D. Michael Poppe. Copyright © 0 by D. Michael Poppe. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.