Friday, 9 May 2014

The Baseball Hat

Chicago Midway, waiting at the gate. The man across from me wears baggy American dad jeans and a pair of trekking runners. He has a trim, greying beard, peers at his magazine through sober reading glasses. The outdoorsy type. He wears a baseball cap that says ‘Annual PTA Father’s Club Golf Outing,’ which is a lot to fit on a baseball cap. At least they didn’t spell out Parent Teacher Association in its entirety.
It’s a strangely cryptic message. I read it, first, as ‘golf club outing’, since that is the way those words usually succeed each other, in my lexical environment. But then, I realize that it wouldn’t make sense for golf clubs to be sent on their own outing, and for their owners to wear the commemorative hat.
Maybe it’s Club Golf. The Oregonian fathers could be off for a merry day of engaging in Club Golf, whatever that might be. A variant on mini golf, perhaps. Or ‘Club Golf’ could be something more specific, and somehow unintuitive, like a club sandwich. Golf with added bacon.
Come to think of it, the placement of the apostrophe indicates that there is only one father in the club. It’s this guy. The only dad in the Oregon PTA. Of course he deserves an annual Golf Outing.
But he doesn’t look like the golfing type. More of a hill-walker, I’d bet. I doubt he’d organize a trip all by himself. He must have been dragged along by the other dads, who are as enthusiastic about golf as they are careless with apostrophes. Father’s Club – those belong together. Then, there’s a golf outing, to which the component fathers of the club are being treated. But I still find it odd that the PTA has a separate sub-group for the fathers. Does the PTA also have a teachers’ organization? A mothers’ group? Seems like they’re missing the point of the A, if so.
Or maybe this is the group that fathered the PTA itself. The august body, from which sprang the Oregon PTA, fully formed and glorious, like Athena from the head of Zeus.
Golf outing is ambiguous too, however. It could be an organized excursion to a golf club, but of course it would have been silly to include a second ‘club’ on the baseball hat. Annual Oregon PTA Father’s Club Golf Club Outing. They would have needed a ten-gallon hat for that. Alternatively, it could indicate the annual ceremonial ‘outing’, on a golf course, or some, if not all of the PTA fathers. In which case, I could see why they wouldn’t want to invite the teachers, or the wives for that matter. Though the reasoning behind the commemorative baseball hat now becomes opaque.
I think the most straightforward explanation is that the Oregonian fathers have formed their own PTA guerrilla splinter group, and have taken it upon themselves to organize a group excursion to a golf course, to compensate them for the year of unending toil on behalf of their offspring. Being an enthusiastic, albeit somewhat unimaginative, bunch, they have commissioned a singularly unwieldy baseball hat to commemorate the event. And the Oregonian fathers – or at least, this Oregonian father – continue to wear their grammatically complicated baseball hats with pride, in honour of the debauched, drug-addled, gin-soaked orgy that was this year’s Annual Oregon PTA Father’s Club Golf Outing.

It's not like they'd remember it otherwise.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Human Again

Real endorsement on a calorie-counting website: "‘I can honestly say that finding this website has been the best thing to happen to me in my life’ – Maggie Bailey" (name has been changed).
‘Tell us how much this website means to you, Maggie. In your own words,’ says an oleaginous daytime TV presenter with a loud tie. He sets his face to ‘earnest’.
Maggie dabs at the corner of her eye with a handkerchief. ‘Well, Bob,’ she says, brokenly, ‘my life just felt empty, you know?’
LIFE FELT EMPTY, says a caption under her face.
‘Mmm.’ Bob moves his head in an ellipse, somewhere between a nod and a shake. Leans toward her slightly.
‘I mean, I felt like I was – nothing,’ she continues. ‘Nothing seemed to matter.’
‘You must have felt something, Maggie. How about your wedding day?’
‘Nothing, Bob.’
‘Your children? How about your dog?’
‘No, Bob. I felt nothing.’ She sobs. ‘I was a shell, an emotionless, unfeeling shell.’
MAGGIE: I WAS A SHELL, says a caption, flashed on the screen.
‘Is it because' – here he turns to the camera - 'you were fat?’
Back to Maggie. Silence. She sniffs, dabs again with the handkerchief.
‘It was, Bob. It was.’
Close up to concerned figure in the audience, shaking head in silent sympathy.
A still image of a slightly more rotund Maggie is shown on the screen. FAT, it says.
‘We feel for you, Maggie. We really do. But tell us about what changed.’
A smile wavers under the tears. She puts her handkerchief down in her lap.
‘I found, Bob.’ The smile becomes radiant.
‘You did?’ Knowing glance to the camera. ‘Tell us about it, Maggie. Take your time.’
‘Well, I remember it like it was yesterday. My husband had just gone outside to shoot some chickens. My children – well, those who were left anyway – were wrestling in the yard. I turned on my computer, checking my eBay auction. I was bidding on a deep fat fryer and an AK-47 at the time. And then, as if by magic, there it was.’
Concerned audience member is now smiling rapturously.
Bob grins. ‘There it was.’ Shakes head at camera, avuncular now. ‘How about that.’
‘Oh Bob, it was magical.’ Maggie clasps her hands in reverence. ‘I had this sense that everything was going to be different. I started counting calories with their online guide, trying some of their handy recipes, and after just a few months, oh Bob…’      
‘What happened after a few weeks, Maggie?’
‘I wasn’t fat any more.’
Spontaneous applause. Somebody cheers. She looks around in gratitude.
‘That website was the best thing that ever happened to me, in my whole life,’ she says. 
‘Of course it was.’ Bob nods, magnanimous, lets the audience have its moment. ‘Of course it was, Maggie. Tell us about it.’
‘Oh it changed everything, Bob. I began to love and esteem others. My IQ shot up by fifty points. I started to behave in accordance with moral codes. And all because of’
HUMAN AGAIN, says the caption.
‘Well, that’s an incredible story, Maggie. Thank you for sharing.’
He turns back to the camera, resets face to ‘informative but supportive’. A scrolling marquee appears on the bottom of the screen, advertising the website.
‘To all you folks at home who are struggling, just like Maggie was, log on to today. You don’t have to settle, folks. Live the life you were meant to live.’
His wife joins him on stage. Stands mutely, smiling vacantly. They clasp hands as the credits roll.