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**PRINT: FRIENDS FROM CINCINNATI: Installment 24 features this part coming-of-age short by Chicago's Patrick Somerville, author of the Trouble collection of shorts out in 2006. | PAST BROADSHEETS |

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Paul A. Toth

On Johnny's second morning home, the two of us hit the golf course, spikes dripping dew.

"Watch this, Grandpa," Johnny said, and drove the first ball straight at the green. The arc of Johnny's drives would make Euclid cream his bloomers.

Johnny's cool. Grandpa never was.

Johnny met me that morning with a sleepy spent-the-night-in-some-girl's-futon look. He wasn't half the joke I was at 22, but I wanted and needed to set him straight, the way old men do. The problem: Johnny had no black and white nostalgia. He arched his eyebrows at every proverb, every salty dog memory, every allegory and fable I had. Johnny wore a cross like rock stars do. Johnny was cool. Grandpa never was.

Johnny was born with a cocksure walk. You know what cocksure means? Sure of cock. He sure didn't get it from his long-gone father, nor his father from me. Johnny started a new generation of Dixons and the credit or fault must lie with his mother, Margaret. These new Dixons got laid in the fifth grade and told the other kids what's what. The old Dixons were still trying to get laid when the last high school bell rang. The old Dixons were cockmuddled.

"Look at those geese," I said, pointing.


"The fuckers park it where they want. A ghetto's no cheaper than a golf course. Fucking Communists." A grandpa kind of thing to say, and I had a million. They pass 'em out with Modern Maturity, a little pamphlet called One Thousand Old Bastard Sayings.

"They're just birds."

The kid didn't say much. He let you sink in your own bullshit. The "F" word hardly phased him. It was supposed to be cool when grandpa said the "F" word, a secret handshake between generations.

I pulled the club back and felt every muscle, tendon and nerve. The ball headed straight but fell short. We walked.

"You need money?" I asked.

"Nah. I'm pulling 700 a week painting houses."

Seven hundred a week. How I longed to peel a 20 spot off my clip and hand it to him, knowing it would go for beer, just to watch him fold it up and shove it in his front pants pocket, so I could sigh and say, "Money doesn't grow on trees."

I chipped the ball on the green. When I bent over and marked my ball, two Viagras fell out of my pocket and tumbled across the green.

"You okay?" he asked.

I could hardly say, "Kid, these days it takes pills to hoist old glory." Instead I said, "Don't take biology for granted, kid. One day your dick won't come when you call it."


His eyebrows de-arched. His putter spiraled and landed next to the pills. Something changed in me when that happened. I felt vicious, as if punched in the nose.

"Kid, you're probably fucking everything that moves, but just wait."

On the next hole, Johnny swung and the club met the ball and the ball sailed, only this time it wobbled. I could see it all the way. It landed 20 feet wide.

"That's okay," I said.

I took out my club and focused on the ball. Now I saw every dimple on the ball. I swung and caught the ball dead center. Euclid shit his pants.

Usually I can't say what accounts for the chosen days when every shot lands as intended, when winds only carry, when slices assist and hooks aid. In short, when God rises from bed, says to Himself, "These fuckers aren't so bad," and then, seeing me ant-like on a golf course, bellows, "Today, let thy drives be straight and thy putts true."

I knew exactly why I shined. It was secondary gain, a bonus situation: I bet the kid wasn't even getting laid.

As we walked towards the green, geese flew overhead. "They'll be back next year," I said. "Life's a cycle. What goes around comes around."

The kid knew God was on my side that day. I took a twenty out and handed it to him.

"What's this for?"

"Buy some beer with it."

"Grandpa, I don't --"

"Everybody goes through a religious streak, kid."

Johnny missed three putts and I sank mine on the second.

"It's a streak. Everything's a streak."

On my next drive, I took an even harder swing.

"It's not how hard you believe that counts," I said. The phrases were coming from the same place as my shots, a secret reserve available on certain unpredictable occasions.

"You don't believe in anything," Johnny said.

"I believe in everything."

I was dipping into the Bag of Vague Pronouncements. I was the Furrower of Eyebrows. Johnny sliced his drive right in Euclid's nuts.

My next putt would be a beauty, my first birdie of the year. I cracked my knuckles before the shot. I wanted Johnny to study the difficulty of my task and appreciate its achievement. I wanted him to sense the last second calculations my left brain performed, the calculus of golf. I wanted him to limp out of the game with his dick between his legs.

"Is this why my dad ran away to Tucson, Arizona?"

The ball caught the rim and spun a foot away: The hole spat the fucker out.


"This competition you have. Dad couldn't take it?"

"What in the hell are you talking about?"

"Competition with your son, with me, with everybody. You know -- don't you?"

I twirled my putter. It fell out of my hand.

"You pick your little fights with the world," Johnny said.

"I'm an old man."

"You're not that old, not for a grandfather. But you need your blue pills and you take it out on me. I'm your grandson, for Christ's sake."

"Don't talk like that," I said. "It's not very religious."

"Oh, does that make you feel better? I joined the church to get laid, Grandpa. That's where the girl goes on Sundays and so I go with her. It could be cheerleader practice for all I care. This cross --" he flipped it over -- "it's for looks."

How I suddenly wanted his sleepy spent-the-night-in-some-girl's-futon look, his arched eyebrows, his Los Angeles sun and phony church schemes. How I craved his rock star cross and half-jackoff ways and most of all, more than anything, his immunity to nostalgia for all those things I never had, all my concocted memories of what could have been with her and her and her, all my fake experience.

Johnny sank his putt and walked off the course.

Johnny's cool. He would probably even be a good father one day.

Grandpa never was.