For the first time in weeks — a small lifetime, it feels like to me -— this column (most of it, anyway) won’t have anything to do with the U.S. Opens.
They came, they made history, they eventually left town. Another illustrious chapter was added to Pinehurst’s history. I’m glad it happened.
I’m also glad it’s over. I have a hunch the late Richard Tufts, wherever he is, bless his curmudgeonly soul, would say pretty much the same thing. Two weeks after the resort hosted the Ryder Cup of 1951, you may recall, the guiding spirit of Pinehurst and author of the beautiful Amateur Creed, canceled the North and South Open, one of the oldest events in tournament golf and widely considered a wee notch below the major golf championships. He did so when pros insisted he increase his tournament’s pay-out to match that of the PGA Tour. To show their contempt, only five of the nine players who participated in the Ryder Cup at No. 2 the previous week bothered to show up. Tufts responded by canceling the tournament. Like his curmudgeonly counterpart Clifford Roberts at Augusta, he feared what might happen to golf if the game were overrun by big money and corporate sponsorship.
Tommy Bolt, who won the final North and South Open, once told me, “That was a damn shame. Pinehurst and the North and South were right up there with Augusta. Hell, I’d have played it if they’d cut the money in half.”
For better or worse, I sometimes feel as if I’m channeling good old Dick Tufts. Then again, I’m Titleist Rex, the aging golf dinosaur.
Now it’s time to move on and have what’s left of a normal boring summer. Boring looks just great to me.
Last weekend my wife and I celebrated the Open endings by doing as little as possible. We took a swim in the saltwater pool out back, gardened a bit, burned something on the grill, and took an evening walk with the dogs. Otherwise, about the most exciting thing I did was float in the pool watching a pair of dragonflies mate in mid-air.
Oh, right. I almost forgot. We also went out to a movie at the Sunrise Theater. It’s been so long since we actually went out to a movie I’d forgotten what the taste of movie-house popcorn tasted like.
The movie was called “Chef,” a charming little tale about an influential chef who rediscovers his zest for life by starting a food truck and going back to basics of making his customers — and himself — happy by cooking wonderful food. Along the way, he enriches the lives of the people around him including that of his young son, a kid hungering to see his old man happy.
The narrative motif of the universe shaking up your life in order to awaken you to life’s richer possibilities is a staple of great storytelling and moviemaking you just don’t see much anymore. Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” might be the ultimate example of the genre. Not a single moment in “Chef” seemed contrived or strained to offer anything more than a timeless reminder that having the courage to live your own life and give of yourself to others is the real key to a meaningful existence, if not happiness itself.
The audience at the Sunrise seemed to share this opinion. Can’t think of the last time I heard an audience spontaneously break into applause at the end of a film.
I was still on a “Chef” high the next evening after we took a swim and settled back to watch a movie on the fancy new home entertainment system I should probably learn to operate but probably never will.
Something called “Elysium” grabbed my interest. The word, after all, means “paradise” — or more accurately, from ancient Greek, an abode of the blessed after death. I thought it might be film about the blissful Sandhills after the U.S. Open circus left town, or at least a good movie about the gods and scantily clad goddesses of Mount Olympus.
Instead, it turned out to be an action film set 50 years into the future starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, yet another in an endless string of action films that seem to flood American movie theaters every summer with more or less the same theme: an impossibly bleak future world where an evil government relies on robotic machines to police a society rapidly disintegrating into poverty, environmental ruin and social chaos.
While the fortunate “haves” inhabit a beautiful and heavily guarded colony floating peacefully above befouled Earth’s mayhem — Elysium in the sky, if you will — Damon becomes an unlikely hero of the dying planet by leading an insurrection that ultimately crashes the party and destroys this man-made paradise.
I suppose, given the horrors revealed on the evening news any given day, one could reach the conclusion that this world is indeed coming apart at the seams and that humanity’s descent into self-destruction is inevitable. Hollywood seems to be banking on that perception, at any rate, peddling to our darkest fears. Can you name a movie about the future that wasn’t bleakly worrying?
On the other hand, every society going back to the ancient Greeks was convinced humanity was on its last leg and The End was near.
But The End has never quite come. Somehow, in the nick of time, we terribly flawed humans have found a way to evolve and muddle through a couple millennia inventing art and science, making music and creating — like the Chef — a real world based on our best basic instincts of kindness and reason doing whatever is truest to our God-given natures.
Maybe the folks who made “Elysium” were simply trying to warn us that Paradise is always in danger of being lost. That our increasing reliance on technology and machines to do the things humans have always done best across the ages points to a frightening future where big money and unfeeling machines determine everything in life, including who lives, who dies, and who finds an artificial “happiness” floating above a dying world.
This thought — the struggle between these two timeless motifs — prompted me to go outside and take a second swim in the moonlight of a quiet summer night.
The water felt even better in the darkness.