What’s Your Wampeter?

My regular golf buddies used to be guys I knew from work or school. I always had friends in high school and college that played golf, and it was easy to head out to the course after class, or cut class entirely when that first breath of spring took the chill off the course. (Yes, that happens even in Houston.)

When I was doing my psychology internship another intern and I scheduled our Thursday afternoons so we could get to the course by around 2:30 and get in 18 holes before dark. We always came back and took care of business after the round. We didn’t know it was a big deal, but we were shooting the breeze with a faculty member at a dinner after we had finished the program and we mentioned our afternoon escapes. Suffice it to say that it was a good thing we’d kept our creative scheduling quiet.

There was only one hospital I worked in where I didn’t have coworkers that I played with. Those three years were the longest I ever went without playing a single round. I found golfers at all the other places I worked, and we played together at least a little, and sometimes pretty regularly. My best coworker/golf buddy was an economics prof in North Carolina who had been on his college golf team. I learned a lot about golf and economics while he was beating me senseless.

My golf buddies these days are different. I really liked my friends from work and school, and I enjoyed playing with them. But golf with my current group is somehow different, somehow better. I think it’s because golf is what brought us together and it’s what we do together. We met at the course and playing golf together is what we do, it’s not something on the side.

Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., deals with the fictional religion of Bokonon. Bokonon teaches that people are organized into teams doing God’s will, but the people don’t really know what they are doing. A team is called a karass, and it’s organizing principle is called it’s wampeter. I have no idea what the cosmic purpose of our little karass on the golf course is, other than having fun, but I’m glad God gave us golf as its wampeter.

I have a feeling that I have so much fun playing with these guys now because we are together because of something we love and do entirely by free choice, not because of something we do to make a living. We weren’t thrown together and then discovered we played golf. We formed our little karass of our own free will. We weren’t hired into it.

Bokonon would say that my previous golf groups might have been granfalloons, or false karasses. Granfalloons seem to be teams, but they are organized around ultimately arbitrary principles, things that are meaningless to God’s way of doing things. Back when I was working I would have thought students, psychologists, and university professors were important karasses. It all seemed to be pretty meaningful at the time.  But the longer I’m away from it, the more I wonder if they weren’t really granfalloons.

I know that after I walked away from work I never longed to go back. But whenever I’ve walked away from golf, I’ve always returned.

It’s really too bad that granfalloons pay so much better than karasses.

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