<%@ Language=VBScript %> <%response.buffer = TRUE%> Tiger and Ralph: On the Tyranny of Organized Grass
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Tiger and Ralph: On the Tyranny of Organized Grass

Ralph Nader, wrapped only in a towel and staggering hopelessly from the effects of a spliff I delivered an hour before, directs me to the wet bar where a bottle of vodka has been smashed open. Apparently someone is in a mood. "I never understood your fascination with fairways and lawns," Nader says to Tiger Woods, "but you won't be a real golfer until you plug grass. Buicks and Nikes don't count."

by Nathan Callahan, FrictionMagazine.com Staff Writer
Illustration by Bob Aul

October.13th.2003

Excerpted from the forthcoming book Confessions of a Cabana Boy.

Tiger and Ralph Cut a Deal

"Subvert from within..." Ralph Nader says. "And you, Tiger, have definitely got the 'within' part covered. Golf and grass go together. Sam Snead, the 1952 Masters Golf Tournament winner, advertised for Toro lawn mowers. Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Bobby Nichols all hocked lawncare paraphernalia. It's a ritual that reassures middle-class American males they can find their balls in a well-trimmed lawn. Now it's your turn, but with a different spin. You can take down a corporate polluter and be the ultimate adbuster. The contract is sitting right here on the coffee table. Donde esta tus huevos? When is the world going to hear: 'This is Tiger Woods for Chemgro?'"

Tiger is pissed. Ralph won't relent. That's when I walk in with two iced Stolis. Let me explain.

For the last five years, I've been a cabana boy. I work at "del Nada" which isn't the resort's name, it's just what the hired help call it. The truth is, del Nada doesn't have a name. To the clientele it's simply known as The Club -- the world's most exclusive and confidential playground. You won't find The Club reviewed in Travel Magazine or on Goggle. Even its guests are reluctant to talk it. Exclusive with a capitol E, del Nada is where "patrons of pleasure" do whatever they want in complete utter unapproachable privacy -- provided they could throw down $20,000 a night and get social clearance.

But that's all going to stop here in the summer of 2015. I'm ending my tenure at del Nada and, after months of soul-searching, I've decided to tell all. The result is what you have in your hands -- the most scandalous book ever written. But these confessions are more than unbearably shocking exposés or intimate secrets of the rich and famous. They contain lessons for all of us -- about relationships, about life, and about making a small fortune capitalizing on the idiosyncrasies of the celebrated.

Saddam Hussein, Bono, Arianna Huffington, Donald Rumsfeld, Ann Coulter, David Lynch, Martha Stewart, and Marlon Brando (they had adjoining cabins) have all been patrons of mine. So when I walk in on a bitch fight between the 10-time US Open Champion and the man who brought us "Unsafe at Any Speed," I don't ask questions.

Let's get back to the action.

Nader, wrapped only in a towel and staggering hopelessly from the effects of a birthday spliff I delivered an hour before, directs me to the wet bar where a bottle of Stolichnaya vodka has been smashed open. Next to it, an uneaten cake with the inscription "Happy 80th, Ralph" has been chopped in half with a nine iron. Apparently someone is in a serious mood.

"I never understood your obsession with clubs, but a real golfer plugs lawn care." Nader says. "Buicks and Nikes don't count."

Tiger is ferociously brushing his Colgate kid smile as he paces. This seems to please Ralph -- which is one of the reasons I campaigned for him way back in 2000. Nader is uncompromising in an argument. He's never satisfied to simply insert the knife: He can only achieve pleasure while twisting the blade. If you want to know why Democrats stopped acting like Republicans, just blame Ralph and Nathan.

"You wouldn't be living this upscale lifestyle with me if it wasn't for Buick and Nike," Tiger says. "What do you want anyway? Every golf course in the world to be Al Ahmadi?"

For those unfamiliar with Middle Eastern eccentricities, Al Ahmadi is the world's strangest golf course. It has no grass. A par 70, 6,299 yard sand trap located in Kuwait City, Al Ahmadi requires players to caddy a small piece of artificial turf. Wherever their ball lies on the fairway, they transfer it to the patch and swing away. The course has no greens. Instead, the compressed dirt around the hole is called "the brown." I'm told, through the cabana boy grapevine, that they play true.

"All golf courses should be as dry and chemical free as Al Ahmedi," Ralph says. "What's the point of a lawn 50 yards from the tee when you're driving the ball 300 yards. It's a waste -- hundreds of miles of godawful green turf sucking up water like a Shop-Vac.

"So move to Kuwait, weasel lips. And sober up while you're at it. I'm not going to be one of your Raiders," Tiger, toothpaste foam on the corners of his mouth, rabidly barks.

Nader growls and throws back a shot. "No kidding. You plugged Nike and their global sweatshops. Remember? Your mother was Thai. Did you ever wonder how many of her relatives made slave wages sewing on the swoosh? It's time you made up for that. When I ran for President, there were 46.5 million acres of lawn in America. If you ask me, that's about 40 million acres too many. Show some courage. Sign the dotted line. Pitch lawn care products. Then hold a press conference and blast the biotech business. End your career with a bang. Sabotage Chemgro.

By now, I'm sure you're wondering why Mr. Nader is focusing his efforts on lawn care. Was he forced to mow the lawn as a child? Is his octogenarian medication affecting his mind? Does he believe fairways have something to do with grassroots politics? Who knows? My job is to focus on soaking up the vodka spill as ordered.

But not for long.

Nader stumbles over to me and offers to help. I plead no.

"What do you think about our discussion?" he asks me.

Off the record, I was once allergic to grass. I'd puff up like a blowfish if I inhaled the stuff. My eyes would swell shut, tears streaming out,
Niagra-like. Now, thanks to the miracle of modern pharmaceuticals, I can visit a freshly-mowed cemetery or spark a fatty whenever I please.

"I wouldn't want to taint the vote," I say.

"Why not?" Nader replies. "I know you're on my side. As a service worker here at the Club, aren't you repulsed by the class divisions inherent in golf? Of course, grass in and of itself is not evil. It's when grass is organized for no just or good purpose that it becomes insolated ... insla ... insla ... insidious."

The fresh Stoli is already taking its toll.

Unorganized or not, grass is something I know far too much about. I owe this to my father -- a Professor of Urban Agriculture at Mexico City University. It takes every bit of my del Nada training to keep from joining in the conversation with Tiger and Ralph, letting them know that Mayans, Aztecs, ancient Persians and pre-colonial American Indians meditated in natural meadows; or that a Japanese do-it-yourself gardening book from 1156 AD featured techniques for sodding with low-growing zoysia grass; or that in the Middle Ages, grassy fields surrounded castles to serve a dual purpose -- a sneak-attack buffer-zone and a cow pasture.

Nader, in the meantime, has more congratulatory things on his mind.

"Happy birthday to me.
Happy birthday to me.
Happy birthday dear consumer advocate.
Happy birthday to me."

Plopping a party hat on his head, he mumbles a few more improvised verses of "Happy Birthday" to himself and climbs back on his soapbox.

"I bet you didn't know that the renown economist, the world's earliest
cool-hunter, Thorstein Veblen was the first to observe what I call the Tyranny of Organized Grass."

That does it. I can't help myself anymore. Dad was a student of Veblen. I begin quoting from his 1899 classic "The Theory of the Leisure Class," bedtime reading in my family.

"'The close-cropped lawn is beautiful in the eyes of a people whose inherited bent it is to readily find pleasure in contemplating a well-preserved pasture or grazing land,'" I say.

"Excellent," Nader responds. "I'm very impressed. But let me interpret for you, Tiger. Lawns were beautiful, according to Veblen, because they remind rich folk of their heritage as cow owners."

"Screw you," says Tiger.

"Make me," says Nader.

Veblen issues from my mouth again. "'To the average popular apprehension, a herd of cattle so pointedly suggests thrift and usefulness that their presence in the public pleasure ground would be intolerably cheap.'"

Nader cocks his head and stares, trying to make sense of Veblen via room service.

"In other words," he condescending slurs, "cows are lower class, especially in a yard."

And so it happened that Ralph Nader and a low-life cabana boy named Nathan Callahan turned an afternoon with the world's best golfer into a discussion of lawns as a division of classes.

"It's worth noting, however, that according to Veblen, deer 'are not vulgarly lucrative.'"

"In other words," Ralph finishes my thought, "deer are trendy. That's why antlered replicas and other useless stone knick-knacks -- frogs, bunnies, gnomes and lawn jockeys -- are used as lawn ornaments. They're the talismans of upper-class, cattle-free discretion. 'It is the shear impracticality of mowed grass that gives it stature.'"

"Can't you just let it go," Tiger says. "It's your birthday, Mr. Public Citizen. Relax and be happy."

Ralph, Stoli in one hand, nine iron in the other, has other plans.

"No. No. No. This is the part you'll love, Tiger. In 1906, the US Golf Association conspired with the US Department of Agriculture to create a super turf -- something crisp, clean and even. That was the turning point in lawn politics. That's where your ridiculous sport comes in. With the Feds on their side, golfers were ecstatic. The American public, always easily impressed by white men swinging clubs, followed enthusiastically along."

Tiger, who has worn the toothbrush to a splay of bristles, spits hard into the sink splashing the mirror with white diluted paste, but does not reply.

Nader, surprisingly agile at 80, takes this as a sign to begin bounding around the room tossing his towel back and forth like a skirt, his speech in the cadence of a schoolyard tattletale.

"Tiger. Tiger. Burning Bright.
In the golf cart of the night.
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy backswing symmetry?"

"That's why only you, Tiger Woods, can revolutionize the world of golf. Just sign this advertising contract with Chemgro. Then blast the corporate polluters with an anti-grass proclamation. For once in your life, be an activist."

"Will you just shut up," Tiger says.

"Hi, this is Tiger Woods for Chemgro" Ralph says impressionistically. "As the world's most humble golfer, you can take it from me: There are better things to do with your time than hitting a ball into a hole."

With that, a Nike Tiger Woods signature golf ball sails out of the bathroom and bounces off the side of Nader's head. At first he appears to feel nothing. Then, half dancing, half reeling, he crosses the room and sits slowly on the sofa.

"Owwww," he says.

Tiger brings a washcloth with some ice and places the cold pack lopsidedly on the birthday boy's imaginary bruise.

"Nice shot," Nader says.

Tiger smiles, rolls his eyes, signs the dotted line and hands the Chemgro contract to Nader.

"Happy Birthday, Ralphy. 'So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, so long lives this, and this gives life to thee.'"

"Thank you, Tiger."

On his knees, the situation finally under control, the soon-to-be adbuster applies kisses to Ralph's receding hairline.

"Thank YOU, gentlemen," I say and gently shut the door behind me.




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