I have long been of the belief everything we hold dear in America is rooted in the tall tales of the raconteur, or at least started out as a pretty good joke one rich guy put over on another.
When the document that sets the foundation of life in your sworn nation state begins with the word “Con” as prefix and was penned by a bunch of man-owning, pot-harvesting, too-drunk-to-legibly-write colonial bros meeting up for a casual cabal in Philly, you know there’s a fundamental flaw in the fabric.
Our country is one giant ironic mustache.
It started out as some creepy shadow crawling between the nose and the upper lip grown as a parlor trick and suddenly spread to be this permanent fixture across the face of a land so resource rich and vast even the biggest jokesters, hucksters and, well, politicians, couldn’t fuck it up — try as we all may every single day.
Henry Ford invented the inferior product. A car that cost more than a year’s salary for most and had trouble getting from the garage to the gas station (wait, there were no gas stations, oh well) without completely collapsing in on itself. A flawed machine with no practical use and no public roads with which to traverse safely from work to school to church. Bad idea? Bad timing? Bad joke? Or all three? No matter. Do this: create a process to automate the machine’s existence into mass-being and then see who’s making money now and who’s laughing later.
Apple, currently our nation’s most cash-rich company with almost $160 billion in reserves, enough to buy and sell the entirety of this county’s operating balance — three times over, was built in a garage using a bandsaw and a soldering iron and was so bad in its first iteration it literally did not turn on. More than three decades later, marginal improvements have been made. Now its products turn on for an average of 17 months before shutting down or a new version has to be purchased. To get it, we create rivers of industrial waste in China. We turn factories into giant platforms for the oppressed to hang themselves in spooky white jackets and SARS-inspired face masks. This we call progress. This we call innovation.
ESPN, all sport and leisure time piped into the artery of American consciousness, started out as a ruse, a quickie investment backed by Anheuser-Busch, makers of American beer so bad you need another one just to wash out the taste of the first; and Getty Oil, a product so necessary for daily function people lined up to get it in the late-’70s to only miss the appointment or interview they were driving to in the first place. The lone cable sapling to broadcast sport 24 hours, bypassing roller derby and ping pong along the way and putting rise to would-be multi-billion-dollar enterprises of unpaid amateur sport like college basketball and football and curating if not creating the mainstream market for the uneventful event fringe like the NFL draft or fantasy football.
Oh, but there are some institutions we hold so dear. So steeped in tradition they transcend cynicism and turn, well, stuffy: The Masters golf tournament is one such American talisman. Born from greatness. Grown into grandeur. An annual arboreal reminder of a time gone by before men were marginalized and women were reduced to mere midriffs. The Masters is tradition, irony, wry smiles and the great white way tucked in the world of genteel green encased within the long-forgotten South.
This tiny tournament built the bucolic burg of Augusta, its enterprise now the a lone beacon of hope in our era of #hashtagging heathens. Dulcet tones clash if but for a moment with one very bright putting-green inspired dinner jacket for the winner who joins the most gentlemanly of gentleman’s clubs. A true reflection of the best we offer here in this vast land of leisure.
Well, not so fast.
The masterfully coined tournament, which tees off for the 80th time Thursday, actually started as lifetime amateur card holder Bobby Jones wanted a bunch of his contemporaries and pro idols (Hogan, Nelson and Snead) to come on down on his dime to his hidden corner of hickville, his never-harvested hill and dale of tobacco road, for a weekend to drink and duff and, well, you know, (fill in the blank) under a less-than-conspicuous canopy.
Jones didn’t necessarily put the good in good-old-boy either. He was a ribald racist and reveled in exclusion. As was socially acceptable in his day, pros and no press came on down to The Dirty anyway to play a round. And, um, play around the surreptitious South in springtime.
Unless you were carrying a tray, don’t bother showing up to the 365-acre former nursery if you’re a woman or black, bigoted Bobby said. The tourney founder was following the founding fathers’ ethos in that way. After all, they excluded the same demo from participating in or enjoying their definition of life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness transcribed in their perfect document as well.
The tournament teed off without notice or harm as the rest of the country was still turning out its pockets and waiting for a war in 1934. Were he alive today, Jones, who attended his last Masters in 1968 (the old coot died in 1971 almost 20 years before his bush-league Bushwood finally capitulated and admitted a black member in nineteen effing ninety), would have watched the bark dotting his in-crowd course of impossible greens and untenable approaches quieted down by graphite shafts and composite club faces. The faces of participants are now multifaceted as well. More than two dozen nations are represented and vie for what has become an almost $1.5-million take-home for the winner of the Masters, now the fourth major.
And, of course, the exclusivity of Augusta National Golf Club itself has been run to ruins for the Bobby Joneses of the world. Not only are blacks and women allowed to roam free on the green and rub shoulders in the clubhouse (Condoleezza Rice, who qualifies under both camps, has been a member in good standing since 2012) but now-enlightened Augusta even funds major efforts to create golf incubators in developing nations including Asia and South America.
The grounds are different too. Instead of a simple whites-only shower amongst the mahogany lockers, the Augusta of today features a new double-Costco-sized VIP facility along with the omission of the Eisenhower Tree; the century-old loblolly pine on the left side of 17th fairway finally met its maker, along with, one could say, Jones’s similarly vintaged ideology, in 2014. In other words, today’s Masters showcases much more yellow jasmine and golden bell amongst the predominantly white dogwood.
So maybe this great experiment of aristocrats and the advantaged isn’t all bad. And maybe some of the jokes this country tells end up being on the ones who told them.
Then again, there’s always Wall Street to fall back on, or rather, keep the laughs coming.