In War, No One Retrieves the Golf Balls

I grew up in San Marino, California.  It is a conservative, wealthy suburb of Los Angeles.

It has a lot of rules, or at least did when I grew up there.

For example, when I was there, you could not park on the street overnight (without first calling the police department and getting permission).  You could not pump your own gas (the attendant at the station had to pump it for you).  You could not blow or wash your leaves into the street.

McDonald’s were not allowed.  Nor were movie theatres.  And you could get a ticket for jaywalking (as my sister did from a police officer who was hiding in the nearby bushes).   I have feared jaywalking ever since.

It is all about preserving status quo.

And it is not a land of surprises.

Fast forward 30 years.

To midnight in Baghdad.

Where I, child of San Marino, am standing outside the palace of Saddam Hussein.  The air is warm and still.  It is tinged with a hint of smoke.

Next to me is Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau.

We are hitting a bucket of golf balls into Saddam Hussein’s lake.

“Who gets the balls out of the lake?” I ask the soldier who gave us the bucket.

“We don’t,” she said.

Of course, I think to myself.

In war, no one retrieves the golf balls.

I immediately imagine the island of golf balls that must be forming at the deepest depths of Saddam’s lake.  One day it will crest above the surface, like a coral island made of Titleist.

While this is happening outside the palace, cartoonist Mike Peters is inside, looking for someone who can fix our room’s thermostat.  He finds a two-star general.  The man is in charge of 22,000 soldiers.   But we are chilly and we need him to fix our thermostat.

If that’s not far enough from the pristine lawns of San Marino for you, consider this:

Twenty yards to the left of me is editorial cartoonist Mike Ramirez.   He has won two Pulitzer Prizes.  But he is not drawing that night.  No, Mike Ramirez is feeding Cocoa Puffs to Saddam Hussein’s fish.

And these are not normal fish.  They are ugly, scary fish.  Some appear to be five-feet long.  I assume they’re eating golf balls.

One of the soldiers shows us a video of a duck landing on the surface of the lake.  A fish ate him. In Baghdad, even the fish are evil.

I hit a long drive.

Watching the golf ball ascend, I see in the distance the faint silhouette of a Blackhawk helicopter.  It is firing its guns.  It is a deep boom you feel in your rib cage.

I cannot sleep that night.  All ten of us cartoonists have to sleep in the same room in five bunk beds.  We end up sleeping with the light on, because not one of can remember to turn it off.   So I now know the answer to the joke, “How many cartoonists does it take to turn off a light bulb?”  It is something more than ten.

I walk outside at 6 a.m. and hit more golf balls.  The air is grayish brown.

I’m a long way from San Marino.

And I am not afraid of jaywalking.




34 thoughts on “In War, No One Retrieves the Golf Balls

  1. @luvspearls.. BUNK beds.. imply one bed over another; therefore ten beds…

    MY question is, who got the TOP bunk? Was there bunk torture going on? Bottom-kickers? Flatulence? Just seems appropriate with ten 12-year-olds..uh.. I mean comic artists sharing one room.

    That wasn’t OUR duck that got munched by evil fish, I hope? I love the duck!

  2. how do you not have any pics of the large-creepy-saddam-fish? Will these possibly be making an appearance in the strip, i.e. a water predator that actually does eat the crocs? (and maybe spits them out, tastes bad and all)

  3. Nice swing plane. You are doing a lot of things right there.

    Try to keep your left heel on the ground and turn more with your hips.

    Your right elbow looks like it might be flying out a litle bit. Keep an eye on that…

  4. Funny that everyone says “cool picture” and all I could think of was “I bet be has a tendancy to block the ball right with a bit of a push fade that people wrongly call a slice”.

  5. Also, your stance looks a little closed which could be your compensation for that push-fade Danny mentioned. I think collectively we can fix that for you. Send us another photo and we’ll tell you why you tend to pull your putts short and left.

  6. Couldn’t you guys find a mine field to drive balls into? THAT would have been, (forgive me,) a blast.

  7. Mr. Pastis:

    While you were playing golf in the Middle East, my newspaper, which has featured your comic forever, went out of business. It’s too late to step up your game in an effort to keep us afloat, but maybe you could visit my blog and leave an apology for the troops? Our last day is Dec. 31, so something before that would be great. I created a blog entry for you so that you will not have to reside with the riff-raff.

    Remember, you are wealthy beyond your wildest dreams and I am bound for the unemployment line. The cause for this may or may not have been your phoning in the strip now and then. All I ask is a short apology. Thanks.

  8. I concur with the profound and powerful writing. You surprise yourself sometimes, don’t you? What a surreal and amazing experience!

  9. Yes, Baghdad is surreal, or so my daughter tells me. Without sounding mawkish, thanks for going there for all of the soldiers who grew up in places like you did, where there were rules. New day, new rules, new freaky fish, new golf balls.

    Thanks, Stephan.

  10. “In War, No One Retrieves the Golf Balls”. This statement is really classic. I can see little Jeff saying this or Opus or Beetle Bailey. Someone in the comic strip world is going to steal this one, if you don’t use this.

  11. One time, when I was young and naive, I wrote a paper in creative writing in college about my experience in a very bad neighborhood in downtown Chicago. I, being from the south, was used to seeing poverty, but nothing like I had seen that day. From this experience, I wrote a paper full of adjectives and word pictures trying to convey the culture shock I had felt. Now I am older and have seen much worse. I’m no longer shocked by what I see. I think that taking us out of our world and placing us in another is one of the best things we can do for ourselves.

    Thank you for sharing your other world experience. I loved how you drew your word pictures.

  12. Hopefully you didn’t have to deal w/ any incoming rockets while practicing your swing. Don’t worry about the golf balls, the fish eat them, trust me they eat ANYTHING.

    I spent 15mo in Iraq and during my trips to Victory Base my friends and I would try and see if we could find anything the fish WOULDN’T eat…we never found anything.

  13. Just found your blog…wonderful observations, and thank you for visiting our soldiers.

    I grew up and still live in “Sub” Marino…the northern part of San Gabriel. The police will still give out jaywalking tickets there!

  14. Good to see there are some constants in Baghdad, like those bloody mutant koi carp-cum catfish. I remember seeing one of the fish attack its own young once just to get to some cocoa puffs. I like to think it was the same fish I later saw getting eaten by a bird. But then that bird had its head bitten off by a bigger bird… The circle of life, Iraqi style. I’m glad to be out of there. And thank you – sincerely – for going.

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