The Odd Threesome

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
Tales From Dirt Mountain, Part 6. Energy is what makes chemistry happen.

Submitted: February 25, 2015

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Submitted: February 25, 2015

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In Mr. Peterson’s chemistry class, I learned that the physical universe is composed of atoms.  When atoms are arranged in a certain order, they become molecules.  A particular combination of molecules might be a golf ball or a 1968 Ford Mustang. 

Atoms have a center, called the nucleus.  That is where the vast majority of the substance of an atom resides.  Things called protons and neutrons make up the nucleus.The rest of an atom is mostly empty, except for tiny things called electrons.  Electrons buzz around the nucleus like planets around a sun, only much faster and not in a circle.  Helium has two electrons, both orbit the nucleus at the same distance.  That is referred to as a shell. 

If you add a proton, a neutron, and an electron to helium, you get lithium. The first two electrons in a lithium atom orbit just like the two in a helium atom.  The third electron orbits farther from the nucleus and begins a second shell.  Each additional proton, neutron, and electron will form the next element.  Each new electron adds to the current shell, until it is full, then a new shell is started at a further distance from the nucleus.

The number of electrons an element has in its outer shell is an indication of its properties.  The Periodic Table is a chart of all of the elements.  Each vertical row of elements in the Periodic Table has the same number of electrons in its outer shell.  Each of those elements has similar properties.

Take the elements in the last column, starting with helium.  These have a very unusual property.  They have a “complete” outer shell.  There is no room for another electron.  These elements are stable, they will not join with other atoms to form molecules.  The neon atoms in the sign at the McDonalds on US 84 will spend their careers as soloists.  Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.

But not the rest of the elements.  Any atom with an incomplete outer shell will join other atoms, to form a combination that creates a shared, filled outer shell.  That is how molecules are made.  When atoms combine in a way that all have a full outer shell, that makes for a stable molecule. 

The simplest of all is the hydrogen molecule.  Hydrogen is the smallest of the elements.  Only a solitary proton for a nucleus, and a single electron in orbit.  When two hydrogen atoms join together and complete each other’s shell, they become a hydrogen molecule.

When Mr. Peterson was lecturing about chemistry, part of my brain must have been listening.  I didn’t make this stuff up.  Mostly what I remember from chemistry class is daydreaming about playing golf.  If I had paid more attention, it might have occurred to me that my buddy Earl and I were like a hydrogen molecule.  Two tiny, identical atoms constantly orbiting around each other, usually to be found somewhere on the fairways of Dirkin Mountain Golf Course.

If Neil Simon had written a play about Earl and me, he would have called it The Even Couple.

The first time Esau Crutcher walked into the pro shop at Dirt Mountain, I didn’t know what to think.  I’d never seen a black man that big, and I had never seen one golf at Dirt Mountain.  Esau was a Sergeant in the U.S. Army, he’d just been stationed at nearby Fort Wilkinson.  He had been bitten by the golf bug at his previous post.  Fort Wilkinson didn’t have a golf course. 

Pin Oaks Country Club would have hired Esau to work on the crew, but there were no black members.  Remember, this is southern Georgia in the 1970s.  The nearest place Esau Crutcher could play golf, without causing some kind of incident, was Dirt Mountain. 

George Saunders ran Dirt Mountain on a shoestring budget.  When the cameras pan over the 18th green in a PGA tournament, you won’t see a doublewide in the background serving as the pro shop.  When Esau Crutcher walked through the pro shop door, George didn’t see a black guy.  He saw a black guy with money.  Who wanted to spend it at Dirt Mountain.

What I saw was someone somewhere between Muhammad Ali and Too Tall Jones.  Esau could have put one hand around Earl’s neck, and one hand around mine.  The index fingers wouldn’t have had any trouble touching the thumbs.  So when George told Earl and me to play a round with Esau and show him the course, I knew it wasn’t going to be an ordinary day.

It turned out to be one hell of a day.  Esau knew a million jokes, the kind you couldn’t tell at the dinner table without getting in trouble.  And he had an endless supply of stories about Army life.  During the year Esau was stationed at Fort Wilkinson, he became a frequent playing partner for me and Earl. 

An atom of oxygen needs two more electrons to complete its outer shell.  An excellent way to address that problem is to join with two hydrogen atoms.  That forms one of the most stable, and perhaps most important molecules in the universe, water.  An oxygen atom is huge compared to a hydrogen atom, and has very different properties.  But each has something the other needs, and together they make a successful team.

When me, Earl, and Esau were walking down the fairways at Dirt Mountain, we were like a water molecule.  One really big atom, joined by two little ones.  Neil Simon would have called that play The Odd Threesome.

There wasn’t much about life two teenage boys could tell a man like Esau Crutcher.  He had escaped the hard streets of Cleveland and clawed his way up to Sergeant in his 18 year military career.  He’d done a tour in Viet Nam, he never talked much about that.  He’d been all over the world.  Earl and I had hardly ever left Maynard County.

But there was one thing the two hydrogen atoms had over the oxygen atom.  Esau was a relative beginner at golf.  Compared to me and Earl, a hacker.  When Earl would don his mask and snorkel and pull balls out of the pond in front of the 18th green, he always found at least one with Esau’s ball mark.

George loaned Esau his copy of Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons, The Modern Fundamentals Of Golf.  Earl and I surrounded him on the range and analyzed every aspect of his swing.  Turn your hands more to the left.  Slow down the backswing and pause at the top.  By the time Esau transferred out of Fort Wilkinson, we had done a lot of chipping away at his handicap, it was a respectable 14.

We didn’t expect to get paid for giving Esau golf lessons, we were having fun.  But having a muscular golf partner has its advantages.  Like the time we came up on an abandoned cart.  The wheels on one side were stuck in a crevice.  The golfers had taken their clubs off the cart and finished the round on foot.  Normally, that meant Earl and I would have to come back later in the pickup, tie a rope to the stranded cart, and pull it out. 

The concept of molecular weight is used to describe the relative mass of atoms.  An atom of hydrogen has a molecular weight of one.  An atom of oxygen has a molecular weight of sixteen.  Two hydrogen atoms are tiny compared to an oxygen atom.

Esau walked over to the stuck cart.  He didn’t bother to put down his bag.  He didn’t bother to use both hands.  He bent down, grabbed the bumper of the cart with his left hand, and pulled it out of the hole.  He wouldn’t even take the offer to ride in the cart.  Earl and I had an excuse to cruise in luxury for the rest of the round.

The summer Earl and I played golf with Esau was filled with good times.  But there was a downside to being a member of the Odd Threesome.  Earl and I were used to being picked on, used to being called names.  But there was a new name we began to hear, when word got around town about our new friend.  An ugly name that can inflame tensions even today.  The word started with the letter N, and ended with “lover”.

One August Saturday, when Dorothy was out of town on family business, George was doing his best to run Dirt Mountain by himself.  Not an easy proposition.  The gas cans were empty, the fairways needed mowing, and George couldn’t leave the pro shop.  Yancey, Earl and myself could all drive the tractor/mower on the course, but none of us had a driver’s license.  Esau did, so the Odd Threesome filled the bed of the F-150 with gas cans and headed to the filling station. 

There are some sounds you hear, and you immediately know what it is.  The tail of a rattlesnake.  A snapping bone on a football field.  When we were putting the cans back in the bed of the truck, the unmistakable sound of a pump action shotgun got our attention.

We turned around and were facing two of Maynard County’s finest, Ronny and Donny Salter.  It seemed like Earl and I were destined to constantly tangle up with twins.  These were the only twins we tangled with that eventually ended up in prison.

Esau looked at the two boys, one holding a shotgun, the other holding a tire iron.  He smiled and said, “Is there something I can help you gentlemen with?”

He had one of those ear to ear smiles, the kind where everyone else in the room would smile when they saw him, you couldn’t help it.  But Ronny and Donny didn’t smile back that day, instead they had a stunned look on their face. 

Maybe they expected Esau to be pleading for his life.  After a brief pause, Donny pointed the tire iron at Esau, and let out a string of curse words I won’t repeat.  He stopped talking when we heard the sound of Sheriff Newby’s siren approaching from a distance.  The gas station attendant had seen what was happening and picked up the phone.  Ronny and Donny ran to their truck and took off.

The next day, the story was all over town how Sheriff Newby’s siren had saved Esau’s life.  Earl and I knew better.  We knew Ronny and Donny Salter.  We knew Esau Crutcher.When we saw that look on Esau’s face, we knew he was about to take that gun and that tire iron away from those boys.  It was Ronny and Donny’s lives that got saved by the siren.

A few months later, Esau’s tour at Fort Wilkinson came to an end.  The last round we played together was also the quietest.  Esau wasn’t in the mood to tell stories that day.  Earl was not his usual ebullient self. 

After we shook hands for the last time in the parking lot, Esau reached into his car and pulled out two boxes.  Each contained a dozen Titleists.  The golf ball of choice at Dirt Mountain, whenever we could find them in the woods or the pond at 18.  That was the first time either Earl or I owned twelve of them, brand new.

If you apply electricity to water, you can make it separate into its components.  Two water molecules, given enough energy, will split and form two hydrogen molecules and one oxygen molecule.

In our case, it was the United States Army who supplied the energy.  They brought Esau to us at Dirt Mountain, then took him away.  The water molecule turned back into the hydrogen molecule, and the Odd Threesome turned back in to the Even Couple.

AUTHOR’S NOTE

Earl is fictional, he is a composite of John, Cam, Les, and Sammy.  With a little Mike and Gary and Gary thrown in.  And a few others.

Esau is real.  I didn’t play with him at Dirt Mountain.  I knew him from the golf course on the military base.  He is as friendly, generous, and imposing as I portrayed him.  There was never any confrontation, all that was fictional.  And I didn’t teach him how to play golf, he already knew.  But we shared a passion for golf, that created common ground between two people who were otherwise quite different.  Whenever I ran into Esau, he made it a point to give me some of the nicer golf balls he had found while playing.  He and I were definitely the Odd Couple.

 


© Copyright 2017 Serge Wlodarski. All rights reserved.

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