Miff guided the Conculator down the flat, gently curving ribbon of I-95 through North Carolina toward South, stopping only to pee, fuel up, and grab a handful of fresh cigars from the barn-sized humidor at J.R.’s in Selma. When he’d left Pittsburgh, it was thirty-five degrees and sleeting. Here, in the Heart of Darkness, the sun shone on the windshield and offered him the warmth that always made him forgive Dixie its sins. Trucks bound for Myrtle, Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville, and Miami surged past in a great convoy plying the center lane. Miff cruised in their wake, gripping the wheel tight to hold his line. Twenty miles further down the road he found himself in the pocket—no one in front nor behind for a good quarter mile—so he powered down the windows and sucked in the tacky, WarmSouthern™ air. “Earth, pine straw, sea salt, asphalt, tobacco, cotton, mud, deep fat fryers, leather, shame, Spanish moss, creosote, manure, swamp gas, dogwood, defeat ….” Improvising an incantation, Miff rattled off all the elements he imagined into that unmistakable fug. He assembled this holy list for several minutes, finally coming to rest on “golf course fertilizer.”
He got his first good whiff of it forty-one, forty-two years ago pulling Pop’s heavy old leather bag full of clubs around Tam O’Shanter on a rickety steel cart. Something about that blend of nitrogen, phosphoric acid, and potash lodged itself deep in his brain. Filed away somewhere with citrus and conifer and Tanqueray gin, he sometimes lost track of this aroma and the lovely green bittersweet memories of Pop, his buddies, and the tree-lined fairways of “Tammo” it evoked. But it never really left him, even during his punk rock days in Philadelphia when the occasional SEPTA train stole him away from the beautiful losers on South Street to a Main Line hinterland spiced by the likes of Overbrook, Radnor, Waynesborough, Philadelphia Country Club, Aronimink, and Merion. Courses unseen and unknown to him at the time, they exhaled enough of the fragrance to catch his nostrils and distract his thoughts. Maybe this was why the glide back to Centre City always seemed to him a little mellow, and maybe it saved him from the kind of main line rides his frenz seemed to prefer.
Thoughts of those days astonished him. How, Miff wondered, can that kid in heavy black boots and leather jacket have anything to do with me? Not that Miff didn’t try to channel that kid on the odd Friday or Saturday night when, a few beers in him, he pulled out old vinyls of The Gun Club or The Cramps or The Dead Kennedys. It was fun, but he felt like a big-eared ET in the Triangulum Galaxy tuning in distant signals from planet Earth—curious, at times excited, but ultimately unable to connect with the apparent passion banging out of the stereo speakers. Thirty years between that kid and me, he thought. Long enough to allow for an evolution into a fit fifty-year-old dude driving a Chrysler Concorde to South Carolina for a stint on the Sun Coast Senior Golf Tour. What the hell?