by Steve Goldfinger
As a medical intern, I helped care for a man who was the professional at a nearby golf course., and when he learned of my passion for the game, he invited me to come and play there. I did.
When you finish your round,” he said as he escorted me to the first tee, “come to the clubhouse for beer with some friends of mine.” So, after my usual mediocre round of golf, I trudged up the hill to the white-framed building where the dining area was empty save for four laughing guys sitting at nearby table: my host and his friends–Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, and Bill Russell’s brother. With my dropped jaw, I could only mumble a few words in response to their hearty welcome.
Although not a rabid basketball fan, I did tend to follow the Celtics on a near-daily basis, and I was eager to hear them talk, to glean the kind of inside information I could gloatingly share with friends. And yet, they suddenly centered on me, the doctor. I was asked about the treatment Russell had been receiving for his ankle sprain. I was told about the games K.C. missed because of appendicitis when they both played college basketball for USF. We also joked about golf, how the water holes had overflowed their banks after we were done with them.
It was one of those “experiences of a lifetime.” And yet, I thought later, we had enjoyed ourselves at what was really a rather second rate club. Unfortunately, the Russells and K.C. Jones were unlikely to ever be invited to any of Boston’s elite clubs. That was the way it was in those days. Color colored a lot of attitudes. Russell made little effort to disguise his feelings about how shabbily he was treated by Boston fans. Their hero, for sure–that black guy, for certain. His sometimes unsuppressed insolence didn’t help.
Years later, I found myself sitting first class on a trans-continental flight, thanks to an upgrade. The compartment was almost empty. When I glanced across the aisle, there, believe it or not, was the impossibly long frame and unmistakable face of Bill Russell. My immediate instinct was to go over and sit next to him, to remind him of the beers and jokes we had shared at that golf course so long ago, to immediately recapture the kind of kinship one can slide into so easily over drinks at the 19th hole.
But a rush of propriety (or was it reality?) overcame me. Why do a thing like that? Would he even remember that remote, trivial, 40 minute episode in his life? And If by any chance he did, would it trigger a memory of the bitterness that permeated his Boston years? And who is this asshole, anyway, to want to strike up a conversation?
I returned to my book. Best to settle for one experience of a lifetime than to try to create another that could go horribly wrong.
Since joining BOLLI two years ago, after a long career in medicine, Steve has been exploring his artistic side. He has been active in both the Writers Guild and CAST (Creativity in Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre) as well as the Book Group.