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The Biggest City in America: A Fifties Boyhood in Ohio

The Biggest City in America: A Fifties Boyhood in Ohio

by Richard Schwartz

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In a series of stories drawn from his own experience coming of age during the 1950s, Richard B. Schwartz revisits his boyhood in southern Ohio. His memories of adolescence bring back the birth of rock and roll, the rigors and absurdities of religion and parochial schools, trials of little league baseball, grueling summer construction work and caddying jobs, the thin


In a series of stories drawn from his own experience coming of age during the 1950s, Richard B. Schwartz revisits his boyhood in southern Ohio. His memories of adolescence bring back the birth of rock and roll, the rigors and absurdities of religion and parochial schools, trials of little league baseball, grueling summer construction work and caddying jobs, the thin pleasures of 3.2% beer, drag racing lore, and, of course, the youthful discovery of sex.

By turns hilarious and poignant, satiric and nostalgic, the book focuses on a period and place through a perspective somehow both engaged and withdrawn--engaged through its feeling of innocent immediacy, and distanced because of the awareness developed in the intervening decades. If the memoir expresses a sense of loss at the passing of good times, it also exhibits a sense of relief at the end of those awkward years.

Product Details

University of Akron Press, The
Publication date:
Ohio History and Culture Series
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Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

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The Biggest City in America

By Richard B. Schwartz

The University of Akron Press

Copyright © 2000 The University of Akron
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-884836-49-6

Chapter One

1955: The Shack

It was never the "caddyshack," just as it was never the "country club" or the "golf course" or the "links." It was the "shack." We went "up to" the shack, which was in Pleasant Ridge, several miles above Norwood. And we never walked to it or took the bus. Too young to drive, some of us rode bikes, but since that stretch of Montgomery Road was too steep to pump through easily, we were locked into an alternating pattern of riding and walking, punctuated with long bouts of heavy breathing.

The preferred mode of travel for the brave, the stupid, and the foolhardy (which pretty much included all of us) was hitchhiking, the accompanying uncertainty adding a touch of adventure to the trip, particularly on the way back when your Norwood or Cincinnati-bound driver was likely to have stopped at a Kenwood, Silverton, Deer Park, or Pleasant Ridge bar en route. Bonus points for hitchers were given in three categories: when you got to the shack in record time (ten minutes or less), when you were fortunate enough to ride in an open convertible, and when the gods took special mercy on you and you were picked up by an attractive woman driver between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one.

The club still exists; its name was andis Losantiville, an early name for the city of Cincinnati, though it was (obviously) later abandoned. Losantiville was an exclusive club, which is to say it was exclusively Jewish (as other clubs were exclusively not Jewish). The other Jewish club on our side of town was called Crest Hills. Next to the Swifton Shopping Center, Crest Hills was a decidedly down-market affair compared to Losantiville. Their caddies had a reputation for heavy gambling and preying, financially, on the young and innocent. Losantiville members were occasionally heard to utter the k-word in connection with the Crest Hills rank and file.

The caddymaster's name was George Nagle, an aging alcoholic with a florid nose, blood-webbed cheeks, and short, oily hair that ran in tight waves across his crown and temples. When he breathed, you could hear all manner of things moving in his nose, throat, and sinus cavities. As the shack was separated from the clubhouse by a stand of pine and hardwoods and linked by a snaking dirt trail, George was seen twice daily carrying his lunch or dinner through the woods from the clubhouse kitchen back to the shack. Late in the day, his steps became less and less certain.

There were three classes of caddies: B caddies, A caddies, and honor caddies. Everyone started out as a B caddy. Honor caddies were those thirty-five individuals receiving the most points for attendance in the previous year. Each time a caddy showed up for work, he received points, with extra points for those days when caddies were likely to be tempted to go elsewhere than to work. Some caddies showed up even when there was little chance of "getting out," just to receive the points. Experienced caddies who were not honor caddies were A caddies, unless they had received bad reviews by their golfers, in which case they could be knocked back down to the lowly status of the B caddy.

Upon the completion of a round the golfer (routinely termed the "gopher" by the caddies, the "member" by the caddymaster) completed an evaluation of the caddy, marking the caddy's yellow ticket "Excellent," "Good," or "Fair." Two Fairs resulted in your prompt demotion to the rank of B caddy. Two more Fairs and you were fired.

Several countermeasures were utilized to forestall such developments. For example, every caddy worth his fee ($1 for nine holes; $2 for eighteen) learned how to watch the members fill out the yellow assignment/evaluation form. Even if you didn't have a clear line of sight at the form, you could at least estimate whether the member was marking the box at the top of the ticket or the one at the bottom. The middle box was more problematic, particularly when there was a lot of shuffling and feinting on the part of the member, but in time the skill could be developed and the body language read.

The tickets were placed in a box just beyond the eighteenth green. In the case of a sure Fair, tickets were retrieved through the slot with the help of sticks and gum or, ideally, gum and bendable lengths of wire. There were occasions when the box was so cluttered with foreign objects lost in the probing for Fair tickets that the caddies were collectively lectured on the practice by the caddymaster. In the case of an irretrievable ticket, the countermove was more desperate: one simply set the box on fire. After three such incidents in a single year, the box was temporarily moved into the clubhouse, a marginally more secure location.

Measures and countermeasures were omnipresent elements in our work. For example, when caddies were done some great wrong (for example, a member informing a guest that tipping was not permitted, just at that moment when the guest was reaching for his wallet), the standard response was to relieve the member of a new golf ball or two, depending on the level of the infraction. This was done in that interval of time between the member's entrance into the locker room and the caddy's return of his bag to the pro shop for storage. Members seeking to avoid such losses counterattacked by carrying all of their golf balls in a cotton bag with drawstrings, tucked into the ball pouch at the base of the golf bag. After the completion of the eighteenth hole, they reached into the pouch, removed the cotton sack with the balls, smiled knowingly at the caddy, and carried their balls into the clubhouse. The resulting countermeasure (particularly if the gloating was extreme) was obvious: caddies stole their head covers, umbrellas, or one or more of their golf clubs.

When the warfare had escalated to an unacceptable level, a meeting was called by the caddymaster, the purpose of which was to recount anecdotes, level charges, and issue threats. The standard countermeasure was a sit down strike by the caddies, who assembled at second base on the overgrown ballfield on the wooded edge of the first hole and ignored the caddymaster's angry cries. Under the right circumstances, a unique mix of sounds resulted. The first was the voice on the pro shop intercom, desperately calling for caddies for impatient members, the second the cries of the caddymaster, and the third a carefully orchestrated hum from the striking caddies, who claimed to be in a state of deep meditation. The sound level of the hum rose in direct proportion to that of the caddymaster's cries.

In between the field and the shack was a horseshoe pit and a crude miniature golf course, carved out of the hard clay and tree roots adjoining the shack. The purpose of these facilities was to keep the caddies on site and otherwise occupied on a slow day. The shack itself contained a Ping-Pong table, the favored pastime site (on which more later). Alternative diversions included the general harassment of B caddies and the setting of time bombs beneath the caddymaster's office. These were short, burning cigarettes with the fuses of cherry bombs or M-80s inserted into the end. The bomber crawled under the shack, installed the bomb directly beneath the floor boards on which the caddymaster's chair rested, and then returned to the porch, where he sat politely and quietly with all of the other caddies, waiting for the explosion and the resultant "JESUS CHRIST!" from the caddymaster. If his chair was knocked over in the process or paper was seen to fly in the air, the bomb was judged to be an especially effective one.

Which brings us to the architecture of the shack itself. The building was approximately four-to-five hundred square feet in total space, with a Ping-Pong room, the caddymaster's office, and a porch with built-in benches. The caddymaster had an assistant (dubbed his "suck" by the other caddies) whose job it was to sell drinks and snacks to the rest of us. The suck was resented and scorned because it was universally believed that he had free access to soft drinks, popsicles, and such favored items as moon pies and "Nip-Cheese" crackers. In front of the caddymaster's window was an open walkway that was an extension of the porch, and on the caddymaster's desk was the intercom box connected to its opposite in the clubhouse.

The caddymaster first received a request for caddies from the former sucks who had been promoted to jobs in the pro shop. He then decided which caddies to assign to the golfers, following more or less the order in which they had registered for the day. (There was also a "carry-over" list from the prior day and some caddies came to the shack the day before, particularly on Fridays, so that they could both receive the points and be listed on the carry-over in hopes of getting out early on the course the next day. That materially increased the odds of getting out a second time in the same day, thus increasing the weekend wages.)

When the caddymaster had decided whom to assign to the golfer (working from his three-columned list of B, A, and honor caddies), he called out a number. That caddy then presented himself at the window outside the caddymaster's office. Note that the top caddy would be caddy number one (of the thirty-five honor caddies), but to be caddy number one was automatically to be dubbed one of George's sucks, so an ideal number would be something like eighteen-a number identifying an honor caddy, but one with a number unlikely to call attention to itself. The number thirty-five was, of course, as suspect as the number one, with automatic allegations of a caddymaster fix. Thus, the actual announcement of the number frequently resulted in a succession of catcalls and jokes.

When the caddy presented himself to receive his yellow ticket, his pulse was racing. The eternal hope was that there would be two tickets, not one. Carrying "doubles" meant a double fee. It was also an indication of strength and maturity. There was danger, however, for if one received doubles and a physically superior, senior caddy later received singles (the caddymaster initially overestimating the traffic flow and the supply/demand ratio), there was every likelihood that the smaller caddy receiving doubles would also be receiving, at best, a shove or other expression of anger and outrage from the dominant caddy.

Hence, when the caddymaster was in doubt, he instructed the caddy not to open his double tickets until he had left the shack. Since leaving the shack meant walking across the porch and through the gauntlet of caddies on either side of it, this was an acquired skill. The pride and pleasure of receiving doubles had to be suppressed and a poker face maintained. At the same time, a who-gives-a-shit attitude and bored expression could be assumed, in the hope that the rows of caddies on the porch might neglect to ask, "Whodjaget? Didjagetdoubles?"

Other scenarios and strategies were also possible. For example, if you received doubles and the golfers were both hackers, the latter news cancelled out the former and kept the dominance relationships in equilibrium. Similarly, a dominant caddy might receive singles but be caddying for the pro, so that some semblance of honor was retained. However, if one received singles and the golfer was a hacker, this information was never revealed, since this was a fate reserved for B caddies of the lowest order. The most dire fate of all was to be assigned to caddy for Nancy Dientz. Nancy Dientz was the worst golfer (without exception and without a close challenger) at Losantiville. She shot in the mid to high eighties (for nine holes), averaged drives of thirty to forty yards (when she made contact with the ball), and spent the majority of her time in the woods and rough.

Because of her proclivity for losing golf balls, she played a brand that was the lowest of the low, ironically named Pinnacles, usually with red or black scuffs and gaping cuts, so that on the rare occasion that she drove the ball into the air and not along the ground, the wind would catch the lips on the surface of the ball and carry it in some unexpected direction. Worst of all, Nancy Dientz added insult to injury by carrying her worthless, lip-scarred balls in one of those damned cotton sacks with the drawstrings, lest a caddy be tempted to steal them.

Enterprising caddies assigned to Nancy Dientz would always keep an extra ball (taken from her bag) in their pockets. Since she forced her caddies to search endlessly for her lost balls, it was useful to have an extra on hand to drop when a reasonable amount of time had elapsed after the initiation of the search. These "found" balls were frequently stepped on after they were dropped, an action taken with two goals in mind: first, to indicate to her how shrewd the caddy was in being able to find a ball that was nearly hidden, and second, to issue a small portion of punishment in return for that which the caddy himself had received in being assigned to such a player.

Whenever a caddy was handed a ticket with the dreaded name "Nancy Dientz" across the top, the caddymaster instructed him to conceal that fact from the caddies on the porch. The purpose of this injunction was to prevent two possible results. In the case of an experienced caddy, whose reaction was likely to be "Shit! I got Nancy Dientz!" the caddymaster was seeking to avoid situations in which the resentments of his caddies were needlessly personalized. On the other hand, if the caddy was a green B caddy who responded to the gauntlet, "Gee, I don't know ... somebody named Nancy Dientz," the resulting guffaws and endless retelling of the event could preoccupy the caddies for a week or longer and instill a collective attitude that could serve to erode whatever remained of positive, shack-clubhouse relations.

The second-worst fate was to caddy doubles but be assigned Irv Feldman and Phil Bryce. Phil Bryce had a hook and Irv Feldman a slice and neither would "take clubs," that is, allow you to walk more or less down the middle of the fairway while they carried a spectrum of possible clubs with them to the site of the ball. The result was that you walked to the left with Phil, then back to the right for Irv, then back to the left for Phil, and then back to the right for Irv. A four- or five-mile walk became, with them, a ten- or twelve-mile death march. Also, each had a large bag-a "trunk"-with an umbrella projecting from the left side, so that, no matter which bag you carried on which shoulder, there was always an umbrella digging into your ribcage and right armpit.

There were additional problems. Irv Feldman and Phil Bryce always played in a foursome with Harry Waxman. (The fourth player varied, the only requirement being a willingness to play with the other three.)


Excerpted from The Biggest City in America by Richard B. Schwartz Copyright © 2000 by The University of Akron. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Richard B. Schwartz is Dean of the College of Arts and Science at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He earned a B.A. in English from the University of Notre Dame, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in English from the University of Illinois. He has written six books, including Daily Life in Johnson's London, After the Death of Literature, and Frozen Stare, a novel released by St. Martin's Press in 1989. He has also edited two collections and published in many journals, including Studies in English Literature and Modern Philology.

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