Everything is stupid, and so are we. Welcome to Jezebel’s Stupidest Summer Ever, a season-long celebration of our worst, most idiotic thoughts and opinions.
A seagull cackles a descending spiral of mockery overhead. Wafting through the air to the back of my teeth is the scent of days-old oil used for French fries and funnel cake. My forehead can no longer hold all of the sweat that has collected on it, and so drops start to slide down my face like snails on slime, leaving small white trails of sunscreen that run into my eyes. Now I’m temporarily blind, but that’s okay because if I mess up my next shot, I can blame it on that and retake it.
Cluck. Cluck. Cluck. You hear a lot of that where I am, which is not on a farm. That cluck isn’t the sound of chickens or of those seagulls suddenly getting experimental, but of balls going in holes. That’s not a euphemism (how would that work, anyway?), although with all the holes and clubs and balls and birdies, the temptation is always there to say something horny when you’re discussing miniature golf.
I play a lot of miniature golf. There are several reasons for this. An important one is that I enjoy being amongst fiberglass replications of things like hippos (so many hippos!), life-sized mermaids, off-brand Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and a bootleg E.T. throwing deuces. Every miniature golf course is its own little world with its own little features that complicate the player’s goal of getting the ball into the hole—some forgo the fiberglass animals for elegant rock arrangements, some feature hidden dips and bumps in the ground that will throw you and your ball for an unforeseen loop, some have Astroturf that is weathered and lumpy, which has the very same diverting effect on your ball’s pathway. They take you through half-assed versions of world landmarks, cartoons, fairy tales, the Congo, and pirate ships, arousing a similar, if less mesmerizing, “pleasure of imitation” that Umberto Eco suggested was key to Disneyland’s appeal.
“When there is a fake—hippopotamus, dinosaur, sea serpent—it is not so much because it wouldn’t be possible to have the real equivalent but because the public is meant to admire the perfection of the fake and its obedience to the program,” Eco wrote. On a miniature golf course, you are meant to admire the imperfection of the perfected fake. Or maybe just chuckle at the giant elephant’s ass.
I love the idea of living parody—a ridiculously distorted version of a thing that you are nonetheless wholly able to take seriously in its own right. Miniature golf is the Rock of Love of sports. Or maybe since mini golf came first, Rock of Love was the miniature golf of reality shows. The stakes are even higher in mini golf than on the show. Convince me that winning a free game isn’t a better prize than Bret Michaels’s heart. That I am an above-average miniature golf player is its own version of living parody.
Though I take miniature golf seriously when on the course, I recognize that this only amounts to a brief distraction. I wish I could say that miniature golf provides a refuge from this crazy, nonstop internet world I’ve gotten myself mixed up in—that I found enlightenment in the simple act of picking up an analog club. But it’s very hard to be Zen amongst large groups of players howling when each and every one of the people that they’re playing with either makes or misses a shot. It is not peaceful having to fish your ball out of some stagnant manmade pond, possibly contracting dengue in the process. It is not relaxing to hear prepubescent boys with their bell-like sopranos, recount each and every stroke taken by their buddies (“She hits! She misses! Bam!”). It is even less relaxing for younger children to say, “I got a hole in two! I got a hole in two!” and not hear their parents tell them that there is no such thing as a hole in two. How will that generation ever be able to run the world if they’re allowed to be so misinformed? It is flat-out stressful to attempt to fit one of those little golf pencils behind my ear while I’m wearing sunglasses. If I wanted to get into balancing, I would have taken up gymnastics, not miniature golf.
As on reality TV, I’m not at a miniature golf course to make friends, I’m there to win. Even though I have no idea how real golfers are able to make the ball go hundreds of feet and land exactly where they want it to, I understand how that sport could be relaxing. You walk a lot for one thing, retrieving your ball that just went hundreds of feet. Miniature golf is baby steps of nonstop stress and anxiety for the 25 minutes that I’m playing it. Every stroke counts. Sometimes my ball will be a clear shot like a foot and a half away from the hole and I’ll melt down internally for five seconds: “I just can’t do it!!! Are physics actually a thing or are we all fooling ourselves with these ‘laws?’ What is reality even???” I have to pick myself up and tell myself to get it together on the course way more often than in real life. Miniature golf gives you choices: Do you want to hit it down the waterfall or try the dry, downhill route that’s ridden with obstacles to make your ball slalom? Should you hit it under the giant fiberglass fish whose lips are almost touching the ground, or hit around it?
Miniature golf provides few answers: On some multi-level holes, you’ll have to get your ball into one hole so that it goes down a pipe to the next level. You often have a choice of preliminary holes with the suggestion that if you land it in the right one, your stroke will result in a hole in one. Sometimes you do exactly what you’re supposed to—you get it into the right preliminary hole in one shot—and it skips over the hole or takes a sudden curve, robbing you of the hole in one that you thought you were promised. It’s just like life: Even when you think you’re doing everything right and you have it all planned out, it will deny you without mercy or explanation. Never do I feel more like I’m living the Book of Job than on a miniature golf course.
Part of the reason I take miniature golf so seriously is that I have to—this is a game I play with my boyfriend (you might even say it is “our thing”). In terms of mini-golf skill, we are evenly matched, to a “tee.” (I couldn’t not.) This is beautiful and infuriating. It is an active metaphor for how well suited we are for each other as life partners, and it is also immensely frustrating to always win or lose by a stroke or two. I just want to wipe the floor with him for once in my life! Playing golf with him is like racing my shadow, like wrestling my left and right arms. Impossible. We tie more often than not, which seems like something we couldn’t do if we tried and also makes me want to murder.
If I fuck up one hole, which usually happens because I don’t hit it hard enough when the ball is like two feet away because I don’t want to hit it so hard that it just goes further and then down a slope and then into a section of Astroturf that’s been sprayed a different color to convince me it’s a ball trap, I lose the game. That’s all it takes. Sometimes things get so heated that we’ll play several holes in a tense, furrowed-brow silence. Rarely do we bring the tension with us off the course, but it has happened.
But at least we have found a different and exciting way of getting our balls to touch.