There are days when sifting through the world's deadbeats in search of a stand-out shmuck just doesn't feel right. This, dear reader, is one of those days. So instead, I give you Gary.
For anyone watching from their living-room windows, it must have been quite the sight: a lonely little man sprinting wildly for cover, leaving his golf clubs and his dignity alone in the 13th fairway.
It was around five on Thursday, and I was three holes into a lonely post-work nine at Aurora's Saddle Rock Golf Course. Then, suddenly and violently, the skies opened. Lightning flashed all around me, bolts hanging in the air like unwanted guests. And there I was, having never golfed in a lightning storm, a bewildered California guy, standing on a hill with a copper sand wedge in hand. I imagined myself in line to meet St. Peter, watching MJ moonwalk through the gates to the sound of light applause from Farrah Fawcett. And that, needless to say, scared the shit out of me.
There wasn't another player -- or marshal, or snack-cart girl -- on the back nine at the time. Alone and cart-less, the idea of traipsing back to the clubhouse with fourteen lightning rods strapped to my back seemed somewhat dubious. So I did what any panicked idiot would do: I ran. Over a creek, through a bunker and across a green, violating every course decorum and looking, I'm sure, like the biggest lunatic to step foot on a golf course. I left my clubs behind.
As I approached the nearby lightning shelter -- where I imagined myself waiting out the ten-minute storm before continuing my no-doubt flawless round -- a sign on the wall came into focus: "This is not a lightning shelter." That's when I noticed the giant metal electrical boxes inside. A good place to fry bacon; a bad place to wait out an electrical storm.
I kept running, veering right off the course and into the surrounding development, finally finding shelter on the porch of a nearby home. To be courteous, I knocked on the door, to alert the residents of the wet stranger on their porch. A man, lean and tan and probably in his late-sixties, answered the door: Gary.
I explained myself. At first he looked at me as if I was the world's greatest pansy (which I am). But then a bolt of lightening flashed in his driveway, the sky's amicus brief in support of my decision to take shelter.
Before long I was on Gary's back deck, watching my very lonely golf clubs, about a three-iron away, get pounded by waterslides of rain. Meanwhile, Mother Nature, obviously still pissed about being named Shmuckess of the Week, lit up the sky with a fireworks show fit for a Triple-A game.
After an hour or so, I was on the couch watching Fox News interview strangers on the street about Michael Jackson's death, the storm as relentless as ever. At the ninety-minute mark, Gary's wife, the lovely Val, handed me a cold Bud Light and told me about her day at work. All the while, two salmon fillets sat quietly on the counter, waiting for me to go home so they could meet their demise on Gary's grill.
I, of course, was going nowhere. I had convinced myself that a run to my clubs would result in certain, lonely death, my legacy reduced to a green-side plaque on a hole I didn't even finish. The storm showed no signs of relenting. And aside from finishing my beer, I had no idea what to do.
That's when Gary went for it.
I could have stopped him, honestly. I could have thrown on my shoes and made the run myself. But my half-assed, half-hearted discouragement couldn't stop Gary, the world's nicest retired banker, from slipping into a rain coat and making a run for it. There he went: down his soon-to-be flooded street, over a sopping green, through some bunkers and across the now-rushing creek. He'd mumbled something about it "letting up" before he went for it, but as I watched him from his porch -- still sipping his beer -- the lightning was so bright, so close, it scared his wife right back into the house. (I followed behind to be polite).
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Gary returned a couple minutes later, a winded wet-nap, soaked but smiling. He loaded my clubs into the trunk of his sedan, waved me in, and drove me back to the clubhouse, shrugging off my embarrassed apologies. We exchanged cards; we talked about golfing sometime, and maybe we will. But more likely it was just one of those times, when another human extends courtesy and warmth and Bud Light to another. It's not at all unique -- it happens way more than we acknowledge -- but it's nevertheless cool, and too damn nice to ignore while thinking up more ways to call some lousy politician a shmuck.
Plus, if you're really hard up for a shmuck -- if you just can't live without laughing at the unmatched lameness of a fellow human -- I just gave you one: Me.
For previous Shmucks, see our Shmuck of the Week archive.