How not to sell a car

As an auto enthusiast since my teens who long ago lost count of the number of used cars I’ve bought and sold, I look at used car ads for fun. And boy, have I been having fun looking at cars for sale on CraigsList. For an education in how not to sell a car, it’s hard to top. Some of the listings are hilarious—or baffling. For (unedited) proof, read on…

“I have this great car for sale. I don’t have any problems with it. Just bought 4 New tires. Comes with 18″ runs with tires. I don’t think none of the glasses is broke. I kept doing everything on time as far as oil change. Gas. And topping all my liquids. Please text me if you want to know more. Serious buyers only!! And no lights is on.. The pictures is on because I did not turn the car on all the way .. Great first car.”

“Iam sale my bmw wagon 165 mille the bmw need change heat gasket the wagon over heat the car run good only heat iam no time for repare the price is 2500 obo tex or call for more inf”

“No Ties,No Seats,No Motor,No Transmission”

“this 87 Brougham is Highway ready, full tune up already done rebuilt carburetor, new brakes all the way around 4 Brand new thick white wall tires, interior is Brand new peanut butter guts, brand new peanut butter ragtop, 4 pack pioneer 4 ways with Pioneer CD player wood grain wheel the whole car has been ran through no problems!!! no low ballin hit me with a good offer and you can get it!!!! hmu my name is Big Chad”

“Everything’s in good condition. My grandpa is selling it at this one time price because he is out of town and he needs the money.”

“Really super nice truck rebuilt engine only 60,000 miles . dual glass tail pipes and runs like a champ however it needs a transmission. The one for this truck is the 4L60E.they have one at I pull it for 80.00 dollars so as is 1000,00 o.o if I go by the transmission and stabb it myself 2000,00 and please only serious inqueries as we have has three deaths in the family and I need to sell it asap or trade it for something else”

Unfortunately, such descriptions are not usually offset by great photos. In fact, the photos are often comically defective. For example…

Bad car photo 1

The old vaseline-on-the-lens photographer’s trick may work for making high-mileage people look younger, but it’s not as useful for cars.

Bad car photo 2

Considering that the first part of the word “photography” means “light,” perhaps the presence of more of it would have helped.

Bad car photo 3

This “effect” turns up on CL with surprising frequency. For reasons that escape me, it’s an attempt to mask the license plate. Why, say, a piece of paper would not work better also escapes me.

Bad car photo 4

One hopes more effort went into maintaining the truck than the yard.


CarMax isn’t nearly this entertaining. If you have the nerve to cast off the security blanket of corporate capitalism and plunge into the automotive flea market for your next ride, give CL a look. At the least, you’ll laugh more than you ever did at the local MegaMotors dealership.


Picture this

A stack of Smithsonian magazines, the detritus of a former subscription, had me scratching my head a few years ago about what to do with them besides giving them the heave. What made me reluctant to throw them away was the great photography of an amazing variety of the interesting subjects they contained, subjects which were unlikely to be encountered anywhere else, at least not at the rate of this publication’s monthly regularity.

At that same time, I was also scratching my head over an eternal problem: where to find low-cost amusement. All this two-handed head scratching inspired an idea for solving both problems at once. I gave myself a challenge: use the great photos in a pile of publications otherwise destined for the dumpster to create a collage, but use only two photos in each collage. (Fellow collagists will attest to the superiority of Smithsonian magazine’s raw materials.)

With a limit of only two photos, this scheme also had the advantage of quick execution, thus my formal name for the new genre: Five-Minute Collages. And, the activity was amusing. I recently excavated a few of them, and, in the interest of paying it forward one might say, I offer them for your amusement as well.

The plot evaporates

As a frequent critic of the news media, particularly at the local level, it was impossible to resist needling the local newspaper, in a 2007 column, which was also intended to reflect the industry’s views on certain things:

“Data suggest oil industry squeezes supply”
Houston Chronicle, November 26, 2006

This “news” may come as a surprise to those companies working as flat out as any company in any booming industry ever did. Ignoring a few inconvenient truths (to borrow a phrase from global warm-monger Al Gore), the Associated Press (AP) thinks it has uncovered another plot that would explain high gasoline prices more persuasively than supply, demand, and regulation.

This one is particularly over the top. “Why would Shell Oil Co…simply close its Bakersfield refinery? Why scrap a profit maker?” an AP “analysis” asks. It turns out that it wasn’t scrapped but sold, a business decision the company would have sound reasons for making.

As further argument for the existence of the plot, the AP quotes a construction worker “[The industry] ain’t trying: That’s more money for them.” Making more money by trying less is a novel economic theory (and a fantastic daydream), but the AP did not allow this person to develop his thesis further.

The AP did wobble back into mainstream economics by exposing the shocking fact that businesses like high prices. “A handful of very large companies realize it’s in their mutual interest to keep prices as high as possible,” said an “energy expert” at the consumer group Public Citizen (founded by Ralph Nader, as the AP took the trouble to point out). It may also shock the AP and Public Citizen to learn that more than a handful of companies of every size like high prices. They just can’t have them in perpetuity because free markets won’t let them.

Then there’s regulation. As this is written, Environmental Defense v. Duke Energy is before the US Supreme Court. This case is the result of the EPA’s retroactive application of a part of the Clean Air Act, the New Source Review (NSR), to upgraded or modified facilities even if there was no increase in emissions. For many years, the EPA applied NSR to new facilities only. Now, suddenly, electric utilities are on the hook for billions of dollars in fines.

If adequate electrical power at a stable price is the goal, this is not the way to get it. The refining business operates in a similar regulatory environment. Perhaps Shell thought there was better opportunity or less unpredictable risk for shareholders in an endeavor not subject to the same extent of regulation by whim. The article even admits, “[Shell] says it could make more money on other projects.”

So, is this alleged scheming actually creating an artificial bottleneck in refinery output that will increase fuel prices? Here’s the answer, in the same newspaper, two days later:

“Big expansion points to role of Gulf refining”
Houston Chronicle, November 28, 2006

This article notes projects planned or under way that total 580,000 b/d of additional crude oil processing capacity among three Gulf Coast refineries as well as an increase of 2.45 million gallons of additional gasoline and distillate production per day at two other US refineries. It also cites Motiva’s Port Arthur refinery, which is preparing to double its capacity to 600,000 b/d. This could make it the largest refinery in the United States by 2010.

Public Citizen and the AP are in for yet another shock. One of Motiva’s joint venture partners is Shell Oil Co.

Wealth and worth

On July 14, 2015, William Daniel Lee Pryor died, at the age of 88, a wealthy man. In his obituary, a tally of his accounts includes “…friends far too numerous to list.” As an educator, his was a life well lived, and, “…as testimony to his years of dedicated teaching, many former students and colleagues became lifelong friends.”

My friend Warren was one of them. He talked about Lee often, in tones of admiration and respect. I only met Lee once; I mostly knew him through Warren. About Lee, I also know this: Warren is a keen judge of character, and to have won his unqualified friendship tells me a lot about the kind person that was Lee.

Lee had other friends. Among them were Ima Hogg, Leopold Stokowski, Nina Vance, Andre Previn, and Tennessee Williams. In his later years, “…it seemed as if approximately half of the eminent physicians in town were among those admiring ranks.”

His accomplishments in the arts and humanities were remarkable for both their value and sheer number. Many would agree, as his obituary notes, that “…William Lee Pryor was in the running for ‘World’s Most Interesting Man.’”

All this is Lee’s fortune. And, without even the need for a will, many people have already benefitted from it. Lee’s name isn’t that of a forgotten philanthropist on a building somewhere; it’s everywhere in the minds of people fortunate enough to have known him.

Whenever I learn of people like Lee, it makes me reflect on the true nature of wealth. It seems mundane to say real wealth is not money in the bank, yet many people, by the way they live and the activities they pursue, seem to regard it that way.

Financial advisors almost comically misstate the true nature of wealth when they refer to one’s “net worth.” By my calculation, Lee Pryor was fabulously wealthy. Donald Trump and others of his ilk are worthless.

What’s going on

Marvin Gaye would surely be dismayed to see that his landmark anthem from the 1971 album still has powerful relevance.

Growing up in south Louisiana, in a working-class environment, taught me a lot about how bigotry gets ingrained. It’s really no different from the way any culture’s myths are propagated. Racial shibboleths get passed down from adult to child, with zero critical thinking attached. Institutionalized bigotry is a powerful force acting on impressionable young minds, with no organized opposition.

It certainly explains how so many people I grew up with, who were otherwise decent people, could parrot these kinds of things without thinking about what they actually meant. In the South, they are articles of faith among many. And like faith often is, they are accepted as fact, without critical examination.

Such acceptance requires willful ignorance of self evident truths:

We can’t deny people an education and then call them ignorant.

We can’t deny people economic opportunity and then call them poor and lazy.

We can’t incarcerate people in large numbers and then say they are all criminals.

It’s interesting to note examples of what happens when African-Americans are allowed to freely participate.

Take entertainment: They created Jazz and Blues, two of America’s most important, enduring, and original art forms.

Or athletics: people like Jackie Robinson started to excel from the moment they were allowed inside.

Or national defense: the Tuskegee Airmen succeeded wildly, on the thinnest opportunity.

Or politics: after starting so late, a long and distinguished list of lawmakers has already accumulated, from President of the United Sates on down.

This list of African-American pioneers in many other fields is too long to list.

What about any of this would imply innate inferiority? Why don’t people think about this kind of stuff when mindlessly reciting racial shibboleths?

Here’s something people should think about, with amazement. To me, the actual level of unlawful response to the level and duration of oppression visited upon the African-American community is an incredible feat of group self-restraint. Say what you wish about Palestinian reaction to treatment by the Israeli government; African-American response to more than a century of organized, state-sponsored mistreatment has been remarkably controlled by comparison.

There was a moment in the past when I thought everything was going to work out. Now, I’m not as certain. In his book “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” Hunter S. Thompson’s wonderful description of the counterculture zeitgeist resonates with how I feel in light of recent events:

“There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda. . . . You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . .

“And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .

“So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”

Intellectual Integrity

Paul Krugman got it right.

In a recent New York Times opinion column, the well-regarded economist put his finger on a problem that has gnawed on me for a long time. It is this: Why can’t we allow the people whom we choose to govern us to change their minds when experience demands it?

The classic definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, with the expectation of a different result. this is no more true than in politics, yet “gotcha journalism” (don’t get me started) and a twisted perception among the electorate that mind-changing and intellectual weakness are somehow equivalent drive politicians to do just that—maintain a fixed position in the face of contrary facts.

And so they do, at great cost to our collective ability to solve large problems in a manner that provides the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people. The ability of our government at every level to solve narrow problems to the benefit of political cronies, large campaign contributors, and short-term poll results continues with impressive efficiency, and you can be sure that in these less-visible areas of government function mind-changing goes on all the time.

Because it’s a prime suspect in this case, let me get started on gotcha journalism anyway. This is at the core of news organizations’ dumbing down of journalism, to compete for your attention with fictional dramas that have easy-to-discern heroes, bad guys, and plots with tidy endings.

Behind the dumbing-down lurks journalist careerism. Among such such towering egos competing for national recognition—and especially for the anchor-chair brass ring—it could hardly be otherwise. Certainly, the companies employing them have apparently decreed that in the service of ratings and profits no trick is too cheap. And all of these tricks are performed at the expense of thoughtful analysis and in-depth reporting of information that is important to know but harder to uncover than, say, personal peccadilloes. They’re also performed, especially at the local level, by “journalists” who lack only big red noses and floppy shoes to be actual clowns.

Economics—Krugman’s line of work—is especially ill-suited to dogma. As Franklin Roosevelt once said, “The country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

But, as Krugman said, “What we see instead in many public figures is, however, the behavior George Orwell described in one of his essays: ‘Believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that were right.”

There will never be an end to ideology in politics. What we should seek, as Krugman put it, is not an absence of ideology, but an open mind, willing to consider that parts of the ideology may be wrong.

In short, we should seek intellectual integrity in the character of the person we wish to represent us.

Are you satisfied?

In a March, 2007 column, I pointed out with amusement an instance of consumer media behavior leaking into the oil and gas business:

Consumers have a fetish for ranking products. This seems to be all the more so if the products competing for first place are electronic, mechanical, sporting, or entertaining (or some combination of the above). Magazines and Web sites devoted to every conceivable special interest inevitably publish a top 10 something-or-other list. A magazine-slash-Web site like Consumer Reports casts its net wider and apparently finds no product category too mundane to dissect and examine with the gimlet-eyed seriousness of a disease-battling microbiologist.

If you’ve wondered if such an urge to rate and rank has ever manifested itself in the oil and gas industry, wonder no more—it has. EnergyPoint Research recently issued its 2006 Customer Satisfaction Rankings, a survey of customers of “drilling and wellsite service providers.” This report is the second after EnergyPoint’s initial survey in 2004.

It notes that the current business climate “…has also brought its own set of challenges, including that of meeting customers’ insatiable demand for services at a time when the personnel and equipment needed to fulfill these services are as scarce as they have been in a generation. Throw in the threat from cash-flush competitors and hungry new entrants looking to exploit instances of market opportunity, and executives and managers have plenty to keep them awake at night.”

A comment from one anonymous respondent quoted in the report should have them reaching for the Sominex: “Virtually all providers are suffering from a lack of qualified personnel these days. Equipment maintenance has deteriorated, service is a fraction of what it was a few years ago, and constant supervision to the point of micro-management is almost a necessity. And rising costs and inefficiencies are beginning to severely impact project economics.”

That opinion is not exceptional. According to the report “…results indicate that operators are overall less pleased with the quality of service they are receiving from providers compared to just 2 years ago.” Ouch.

Is there any hope? The report points to a few companies scoring at the top who share a similar long-term outlook, a factor the report considers key to their rankings. Amazingly, one of them has never had a layoff in its 80-plus year history. (That implausible fact could probably win you a few bar bets.)

How did the company that made the biggest leap up the rankings do it? “The company increased dialog with major customers and instituted a more formalized program to survey and actively address their needs. Training was beefed up, and the dissemination of best practices was improved across the organization,” the report said.

Someone has to finish last, of course. Even then, all is not lost. As the report notes, the 2004 last-place finisher climbed higher up the ranks in 2006 by changing chief executive officers, relocating its headquarters closer to its major customers, jettisoning non-core operations and increasing spending on personnel and equipment to improve safety and efficiency.

The report offers some bits of useful advice for improving performance but adds ominously that “…today’s providers would be well advised to pay close attention to their customers. After all, one hears rumors that there may come a day when demand for their services can no longer be taken for granted.”

Ad agency people redefined…

If you’ve never worked in a traditional advertising agency, this will seem like inside baseball. But if you have—or at least watched a few episodes of Mad Men—then some of these characters may sound familiar. Various jobs in ad agencies and on the client side allowed me to observe these creatures in their native habitat. You’ll notice that some terms carbon-date the period when this was written as the Predigital Epoch.

cre.a.tive di.rec.tor (kre-a’tiv di-rec’ter), n. 1. A person to whom a picture is worth a thousand words or whose words are worth a thousand pictures, depending on who got which idea. 2. A person who is thinking valuable thoughts while appearing to everyone to be doing nothing at all. 3. A person who sometimes wears weird clothes apparently without realizing it.

ac.count (a-kount’ ig-zek’yoo-tiv), n. 1. Someone who, after hearing the client’s plan to increase market share by three points with a expertly planned multimedia marketing blitz, has to explain why it may take more than the $1,400 that the client has budgeted for it. 2. Someone who has to tell the creatives that building a full-scale model of west Texas “because it would make a better photo” is not the best strategic marketing solution. 3. In the ad agency of the distant future, a creature who eats lunch four times a day and always picks up the check.

pro.duc.tion ar.tist (pro-duk’shun ar’tist), n. 1. A specialized piece of fleshware that an agency uses to convert a designer’s scribbles into a printed page. 2. Someone who can see the word “mechanical” without thinking of a crescent wrench. 3. A person who knows that “camera-ready” has nothing to do with hairspray and lipstick.

as.sis.tant ac.count (a-sis’tent a-kount’ igzek’yoo-tiv), n. 1. One who is to the AE as an enforcer is to the Godfather. 2. A remote control device that the AE uses to do things while away from the office. 3. A mechanic who keeps the account service engine running smoothly so the AE can go out and drive it real fast.

es.tim.a.tor (es’te-ma’ter), n. 1. A person who knows more about how long it takes people to do things than they do. 2. Someone who has heard more wild guesses than a game show host. 3. Like selling cars, except that the customer sometimes wants the same price applied to every car on the lot.

me.di.a (me’di-a bi’er), n. 1. Someone who reads rate cards right-side up. 2. The only person at an advertising agency who never buys lunch. 3. A person who can get more extensions than a death row inmate’s lawyer.

fl.nance (fe-nans’ ig-zek’yoo-tiv), n. 1. A person who signs the checks and thus is worshipped as a deity by freelancers. 2. Someone who can explain the difference between 15 percent and 17.65 percent in more detail than could Einstein. 3. Someone who knows that a spreadsheet is not something you buy at a white sale.

in.tern (in’tem), n. 1. A student who already exhibits warning signs of the insanity necessary for a career in advertising. 2. A person who, upon seeing how things are done in the real world, thinks of asking for a tuition refund. 3. Someone who has learned all the many steps involved in producing top-quality advertising that nails the client’s marketing objectives, but who is surprised to find out that all those steps are sometimes taken on the same day. di.rec.tor (ka-mu’ne-ka’shens direk’ter), n. 1. A person who operates a bigger post office than the one in Luchenbach, Texas. 2. Someone who makes sure that when a staffer picks up the phone to say I’ll be late for dinner sweetie, the person hearing it won’t be the president of a client company. 3. A person who has to decipher handwriting that makes the Rosetta stone look like Times Roman.

pro.duc.tion (pro-duk’shun man’ij-er), n.  1. A job that combines the skills of a juggler, artist, air traffic controller, and babysitter. 2. A person who likes to emphasize to suppliers, creatives, and AEs the “dead” part of the word “deadline”. 3. A person who gets more bids than an auctioneer at Sotheby’s.

proof.rea.der (proof’red’er), n. 1. A person who gives new meaning to the term “red menace.” 2. A vandal who scrawls enough strange-looking marks on nice, clean copy to make it look like a New York City subway car. 3. Someone who goes through more red ink than the Federal budget.

pres.i.dent (prez’i-dent), n. 1. A person at whose desk the buck stops, as well as the copy, the art board, and the illustration. 2. A person at whose desk the other kind of buck stops, stays for a minute, and turns around and leaves. 3. Someone who can visualize multilayered long-term marketing approaches to an evolving client industry whose participants and products are constantly recombining while looking for lost copy for a business card at 10:47 p.m. on a Sunday night.

The Wayback Machine

As someone who has applied a lot of effort to coherently and persuasively describing the features and benefits of complex oilfield technology, I have a special interest in the way it used to be done. With humor, as it turns out, which was fun to pass along in a 2007 column:

Talking technology is not like it used to be.

In an early example of the petroleum publishing industry’s nose for business, the first issue of The Petroleum Engineer (this magazine’s predecessor) appeared in October, 1929—just in time for the great stock market crash. But the magazine steamed ahead and left in its wake a highly readable history of the industry contemporaneously written in articles, commentary, and advertisements.

Especially the advertisements. As you sail past this page and into a month’s worth of the latest tools and techniques, you may not give much thought to how it used to be done. That’s OK—we have. Let’s set the Wayback Machine for 1929, do a flyover of some marvels of the era, and especially chuckle at the colorful ways in which they were pitched.

An item you don’t see much anymore is a steam-operated blowout preventer. This was an early attempt at remote control that “Permits installing a four-way operating valve (by which the preventer is opened or closed) at a safe distance from your well.”

Here’s a product with an unexpected benefit: a certain tubing catcher allowed you to be “nonchalant,” surely a word not then (or now) on the tip of the toolpusher tongue. “How beastly stupid it all seems, when you really get down to it, how the men should tear about, hither and thither, crying out against the flames and troubling you with their silly fears. You know, you really can’t be bothered. The cool, fragrant enjoyment of your cigarette is readily more preferable than a burning derrick, when you have a…Catcher at the bottom of your tubing.” That may be a degree of nonchalance beyond the capacity of most toolpushers.

A more straightforward appeal to reason appeared in an ad for a certain drill pipe protector, which offered “40 incontestable reasons” for using it. It’s true that some technologies appear deceptively simple, and there may be excellent reasons to use this one. But it doesn’t seem possible that there could be 40 of them.

No tool is complete without a catchy name, and it would be hard to top the Zero Hour Electric Bomb. Its maker claims that it “…is 99 94/100% perfect. The chances of its failure to operate are too small to be computed in ordinary mathematics.” Perhaps they are, but the company apparently was able to use ordinary mathematics to compute the product’s degree of perfection to two decimal places, anyway.

One valve manufacturer actually offered US $250 first prize (remember, this is 1929) in a contest for the best slogan. Apparently, they decided its current slogan—“Won’t leak… Won’t stick”—wasn’t snappy enough. There was also a $100 dollar second prize, $50 third prize, four $10 prizes and 12 $5 prizes. Slogan quality must have tailed off somewhere in the $5 range, but give the company credit for incentivizing the process.

An odd bit of economics is on display in a well-known bit manufacturer’s ad proclaiming “…a substantial reduction in the price of …Cones. This price reduction is made possible by the great demand for …Cones throughout the Rotary Fields of the world.” Pricing decisions seem to follow a different pattern these days.

A swab tool ad featured an imaginary character, “His Highness, the Reerseet of Sedan,” whose comprehension of the industry was limited. “The nearest thing he ever saw to a gushing oil well was a fizz bottle, going at full tilt. If his highness ever rammed his hand into a small-mouthed jar to get a cherry or a pickle, he’ll understand why the [company’s] Swab brings up every ounce of oil it starts out with.”

Perhaps as a reaction to that overly simplistic description, an orifice meter company went the other way, eruditely relating how “Tablets of stone, previous to 2234 B.C., tell how Chaldean astronomers used the ORIFICE principle so accurately that their computations of the synodic and periodic months fell short of our modern time by less than 5 seconds. The Chaldeans’ method was simple. By comparing the quantity of water discharged through an orifice during the time occupied by the sun crossing the horizon the morning of the equinox, with the amount discharged through the same orifice at the next sunrise, they discovered that the amount discharged between the two risings of the sun was 720 times the amount discharged during sunrise on the equinoctial morning. They thus inferred that the sun’s orbit measured 720 times its disc, and from that they derived a unit to measure space and time.”

“Dr. Con Tortion, celebrated osteopath” is a seemingly well-qualified spokesman for a tong manufacturer. “Does he know his joints? Say, when it comes to knowing the joints, he’s better than Benny the bootlegger. Dr. Con Tortion is wrapped up in osteopathy and personally comes in contact with more tough joints, every day, than there are on the Bowery. He has a grip that is the envy of the osteopathic world, but he admits that there is one grip that’s got it all over his grip like a diamond studded wardrobe trunk.”


No, this isn’t about a Fifty Shades of Gray prequel, with a kinky Captain Bligh, in a leather waistcoat, as the lead flagellator. I merely want to point out that flog is golf spelled backward.

Just a coincidence? I think not…

You’re good at a lot of things. Why aren’t you good at golf? Didn’t the Bender Stik, Orange Whip, PlaneSwing, Speed Whoosh, Smash Bag, Power Sleeve, Frogger, GolfJOC, Putter Cube, Swing Sock, SmartGlove, Flatball, or hundreds of other training aids work? How about the new clubs? New grips for the new clubs? New balls? New shoes? Lessons in magazines? Lessons on TV? Lessons online? Lessons in books? Lessons with teachers? Windmilling at range balls? Yeah, same here.

One of the worst things that can afflict you on the golf course is to stand over your ball on the first tee, with six swing thoughts, five of them beginning with “Don’t.” A huge industry is dedicated to extirpating those thoughts, or at least collecting money on the attempt. Arnie’s Army (remember?) is not the fans, it’s the thousands of self-proclaimed swing wizards, each with his or her own special path to the promised land of split fairways, jarred putts, and sub-bogey rounds.

Unfortunately, golf is not like bowling, where 300 is a perfect game (in its defense, I never lost a bowling ball). So, anything that will “take 10 strokes off your game” is sort of like an erectile dysfunction drug in reverse. At bottom, golf played well means expending the least possible effort. The wrong direction romantically, it’s golf’s Holy Grail.

It’s said that golf is a game and not a sport, and therefore takes place mostly between one’s ears. That might be true, but I haven’t seen much correlation between intelligence and golf-course success. In fact, the game invites the kind of overthinking the swing-thought problem illustrates so well. If overthinking is a smart-guy problem, then I’ll bet some of the more fanatical of them would trade ten points of IQ for every stroke off their handicaps. I would, but I couldn’t afford it.

To me, golf’s biggest upside is simply being on the golf course. It’s just a great place to spend four or five hours outdoors. Often, the course is place of great beauty and serenity. Within its boundaries, a gentle breeze tickles lovely trees surrounding a carpet of green, while placid lakes are dappled by the warming sun. Squirrels scurry about, birdsongs serenade, and off in the distance, if you listen carefully, you can sometimes hear… GODDAMMIT! followed by the telltale helicopter sound of a golf club whirling through the air.

There’s even more to like. Golf’s rituals are as comforting as a church’s. They are derived from golf’s etiquette, which is the only thing a new player has to get right on the first day. No one except your friends will make fun of the whiff, top, chunk, banana ball, shank, blade, duck hook, worm burner, sky ball, or foozle you just hit—the one that lands on the beach, in the Big Ball Washer, the cabbage, jungle, OB, or puts you in jail. We’ve all hit that same shot, and soon we’ll hit it again. But curse the newbie who walks on a line (or casts a shadow on it), does not tend the pin, hits out of turn, hits into the players ahead of him (“I didn’t think it would go that far” is an excuse guaranteed to infuriate), plays the wrong ball, does not mark his ball on the green, or makes any sound whatsoever during a fellow player’s backswing.

A non-golfer might ask why anyone would want to do this. Beyond the camaraderie, being outdoors on a beautiful day in a beautiful place, and the escape from the exigencies of quotidian life, what keeps my golf clubs off eBay for another week is this: the sight, sound, and feel of a well-struck golf ball arcing gracefully and unerringly toward the beckoning pin. Golf may be a game of managing one’s mistakes, but hitting such a shot is like an alcoholic downing a drink—it makes you want another one.