“Why can’t you be more like Sheldy,” my motherwould say when I’d done something particularly bad. Sheldon Kleve, who my mother called Sheldy and everyone else called Shelly, was an altar boy. He went to St. Helena’s Catholic School and always looked like an angel, but the Shelly I knew also smoked cigarettes, drank beer, played the guitar and sang bawdy country-western songs.
We met in the back pews at the 9 o’clock children’s mass at St. Helena’s. I immediately recognized a soul mate. The nuns spent years trying to keep us quiet. Later, when I had a paper route delivering the Morning Tribune, I’d make sure King’s Bakery on 42nd Street was my last stop, and Shelly would slip me a powdered cinnamon donut out the side window.
We used to hunt for golf balls at Hiawatha Golf Course and sell them to golfers for a dime or twenty-five cents, depending on the condition of the ball and the desperation of the golfer.
After high school, we didn’t see each other again for almost 30 years, until after we’d both raised our families and were semi-retired—him with a disability pension from Honeywell and me after being fired from the best colleges and universities in the country for left-wing political organizing.
I ran into him again one morning in the Clubhouse at Hiawatha. He told me he helped bring golf carts up to the Clubhouse every morning (at that time the carts were stored overnight in a long shed between the 14th green and the fence), and in exchange he could play the back nine without paying a green fee. He said he could use some help. Would I like to join? And that’s how I became the Junior Assistant Cart Boy at Hiawatha for ten happy years.
Monday through Friday, every morning we’d bring the carts up and then play nine holes of golf, and laugh and tell each other stories of the crazy things we did when we should’ve known better, and complain about the Republicans and sing songs at the top of our voices. After high school Shelly worked for a while singing in his brother’s country-western band. He had the stage name of Curly Dawson. And we’d scream songs at each other: “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “’Til I Waltz Again With You” and “Ghost Riders in the Sky.”
He was quite a good golfer. He taught me a lot: “Up with the left, down with the left;” “Point your elbow when putting.” But the most important thing he taught me was concentration. He could focus on his shot (with a cigarette hanging from his lips and while I was singing at the top my lungs) like nothing else in the world mattered but his club head striking the ball at just the right point with just the right intensity. I studied that intensity and tried to imitate it, not just in golf but in everything I did.
Eventually they built a golf cart garage next to the clubhouse, and they didn’t need us to bring carts up any more. Shelly managed to get a volunteer position punching dents out of greens, but I decided there wasn’t really enough work to justify two people punching greens on the back nine, so I tried to find honest work. The best I could come up with was starting a neighborhood newspaper, and I’ve been doing that for the last 20 years.
For the first ten years we played together almost every morning, but, gradually, he came up less and less. It was always a thrill to see him and to see that he still had some game left in him. But then he started to get “Old-Timers” and he moved to a rest home in Rice Lake, Wis. He died May 11.
But sometimes early in the morning I can still hear Curly Dawson, or is it Hank Williams, singing on the Golf Course:
“Good-bye Joe, me gotta go, Me-Oh-My-Oh”
“I’m so lonesome, I could cry.”