Wednesday, December 26, 2007


My sister was telling me tonight that one of my nephews has a goose egg on his forehead "the size of a walnut! I've never seen anything like it." I don't think they were even able to determine definitively what bonked him. She knows when it happened--loud noise, short silence while child takes first deep breath, or two, or even three, then the really serious cry--but not the exact mechanics of it.

She's out there on the east coast, I'm here in the Rockies, but I know what that goose egg looks like. And not because I can remember the time my oldest daughter decided to spin in circles until she was giggling and dizzy, and then not giggling anymore after the face plant into the corner of the steel shower stall in her grandparents' bathroom. That's not why I know what the goose egg looks like. No. She looked like a Klingon. She dead centered the vertical edge of the shower stall on her own two- or three-year-old forehead and ended up, not with a goose egg, but with a ridge from her nose to her hairline. After we got over the guilt that every parent feels every time their child stubs a toe, we had a pretty good laugh. All we needed was a Star Trek convention and we'd have been set.

No, I know what that goose egg on my nephew's forehead looks like because, I kid you not, I thought I'd killed a man with a golf ball once.

Back around 1989, I was playing a course in the Central Valley of California (the Big Valley of TV fame) with several other guys from my office. For 16 holes there hadn't been a soul in front of us. Maybe it was one of those days when the fog was so thick that you'd hit the ball and then three guys watching would all shrug and say, "Not a clue," and the guy who hit it would say, "Felt like the middle of the fairway," and you'd just start walking into the fog and hope. But if it began that way, it was clear by the time we reached Number 17, about a 160-yard par four, water to the left, and vineyard and out-of-bounds to the right.

I was having a pretty good round, and having won the previous hole, I teed up first and cut loose with a solid 7-iron. It flew nice and high and felt like it would have about the right distance, but as soon as I looked up, I knew I'd pulled it enough left to miss the green. Then, all three of the other guys, at the same time, yelled "FORE!" "What?" I said. Remember, there had been no one in front of us all day, and I'd seen no one on the green when I teed up. But looking now to the area left of the green where I knew my ball was coming down, I saw a single man standing near a tree. "FORE!" I echoed.

At that point, that man did the unthinkable. He looked up. The ball hit him square in the head, knocking off a John Deere ball cap. I doubt he ever saw it coming. Probably the brim of the cap kept him from seeing it. I will never forget the sound--like striking a tree trunk with an axe handle. By the time the sound reached us, he'd already raised both arms over his head in precisely the move that might have protected him had he done it a few seconds sooner. As it turned out, the move wasn't entirely futile. A second later, he dropped straight down to both knees, then he pitched forward, face down, into the grass, falling into the elbows now sheltering his face. Then, he didn't move.

We were all running, covering the distance of that fairway in a chorus of "Oh shit"s and "F**k me to tears!" and "Jesus Christ Almighty"s. As we got there and formed a circle around him, he still hadn't moved. He lay face down in the grass, his face resting in the crooks of his elbows, the palms of his hands laying on the back of his head. Just as one of my partners was about to start the sprint to the clubhouse to call an ambulance, the man moaned, then began to draw up his knees and then to stand up, against all our protests.

"What happened?" he asked. "I remember somebody yelling 'Fore!' and I remember looking up and I heard the ball hit the tree and then everything went black."

"Mister, that wasn't the tree you heard the ball hit; that was your skull!" I said, fighting back nervous laughter. And as I said it, two other guys whistled simultaneously and the third simply said, his voice tinged with what could only be termed awe, "Holy shit! I've never seen a knot like that in my life!" More than three minutes couldn't have passed since the ball made contact with this 70-year-old's skull, yet, I swear to you, it looked as though some plastic surgeon had lifted the skin of his forehead, tucked a golf ball under it, then stretched everything back down leaving no obvious point of insertion. I wouldn't even have imagined that skin could stretch like that.

"Mister you'd better let us call you an ambulance, or at least let us call your family to come get you."

"I'm fine." He protested. "I just live right over here in the trailer park. I came over to putt some balls because nobody seemed to be playing today. I'll be fine. Somebody got my cap?"

Someone handed him the green and yellow cap and in a move that made all four of us cringe, he hooked the back of it behind his head and holding it by the bill, screwed the cap left and right as he worked to pull the front part down over that skin-covered golf ball like he didn't feel a thing. I was frankly surprised he could get the cap on.

"I'd feel a whole lot better if you'd let us call somebody," I said. But he was having none of it.

"Ya'll have a good day," he said. "I'll be fine. I just live right over here. Ya'll go on now." And with that, he walked off.

We walked back to the tee, played that hole and the next and went on with our lives. Mostly.

For the next week, I nervously checked the local news and obituaries every day, half dreading to read that some old guy in the trailer park had been taken delirious or worse from his trailer with a knot on his head the authorities couldn't explain.

So, knot the size of a walnut? Add a Titleist dimple pattern imprinted on the skin and I know exactly what that looks like.