The Corner

Impromptus

Golf, Music, Books, and Other Vital Things

(Jonathan Bachman / Reuters)

Today, I have an Impromptus column, beginning with the question of national unity. I take off from Jonah Goldberg’s superb essay on this question, published on Friday. I move on to the Confederacy (speaking of national unity), trade, and other issues, several of them touchy.

If not here, where? We’re not snowflakes, right?

I thought we’d have a little mail. In yesterday’s column, I had an item about golf and honor. I mentioned one of my favorite pieces of journalism from the entire Clinton era: “Bill’s Bad Lie,” by Byron York. Its subheading was “The way he plays golf tells you more about his character than any special prosecutor ever will.” Rick Reilly, the veteran sportswriter, has just published a book about the incumbent president and golf.

A reader of ours writes,

I was a horrible golfer who loved the game and its character … Long ago I was working for GE and we did a great deal of business in plastics with Japanese companies. To my knowledge, we never worked with any company before we played golf with them. They would bring their clubs halfway around the world to play, and I am convinced that they used the round to determine if you were the kind of person that could be trusted.

The game was also the genesis of the most polite insult I ever received. We had just played the front nine and had stopped for a drink when the president of one of our customers turned to me and said, “You must work very, very hard.” It was said with a warm, kind smile. Alas, it was very, very true.

Marvelous.

In an Impromptus on Monday, I had a long note on Tiger Woods, which included this passage: “At some level, the game takes place between the ears. (This is why golf is so hard to depict in movies. There has practically never been a good golf movie.) Tiger won the Masters, as he has other tournaments, with his mental game.”

A reader says, in essence, “What about Tin Cup (the Kevin Costner movie from 1996)? That is a movie that gets at the mental game.” I wrote about this movie at the time of its premiere: here. I was not particularly generous to it. Maybe I should see it again and be more generous?

Yesterday, I had a note, or two, on applause: In a concert hall, when should you applaud? When should you not? A reader writes,

I have a great friend who, years ago, studied music and performance at university. He came from a somewhat impoverished background, with many brothers and sisters, and was the only one who attended college. He played a junior-year piano recital, and, of course, the family came to see him.

They burst into applause at the end of every section, and included some whistles and calls. More than a few professors looked shocked — but not my friend’s piano professor. He started jumping up and applauding as the family did. I think he did it to make the family feel welcome — the mark of a gentleman.

My friend is a teacher and performer today. He recounts this story and the mentorship of that caring professor as a great influence and blessing in his life.

Fantastic. Relatedly, I got a note from Kevin Williamson, who said,

You must know the story about Queen Victoria and the visiting foreign dignitary (the Maharani of Jaipur, in most versions) who doesn’t know what a finger bowl is for, and picks it up and drinks it. Nervous looks all around until the Queen picks up hers and drinks it, too. That’s having perfect manners.

Yes — perfect.

In one of my columns, I wrote about Stephen King, in relation to Game of Thrones. In an aside, I said, “One of my friends, when he was in college, or maybe before, read a Stephen King novel twice. That was The Stand. A very long novel, too. I remember thinking, ‘What high praise, for a book — to have read it twice, when there is so much else to read.’ Since that time, I have thought about reading The Stand. Maybe I will.”

A reader writes,

I do not read much fiction anymore as a matter of choice. I did, however, read a lot of fiction as a teenager. There were a few years when all I read was Stephen King. I will say, at nearly 1,200 pages, The Stand is daunting. But if you have the time and would like to be thoroughly entertained by a classic story of good men doing their best against evil, I would give it a try.

Later on, he says, “One final note on the 1,200 pages of The Stand: I’ve read the book three times and I’m due for a fourth.”

Wow. What a phenomenal tribute, to pay to a book.

In an “England Journal,” I wrote of an old friend, who had a memory of a teacher long ago. She (the teacher) did not like it when her students began a sentence with “Well …” (“Well” was the “Like” of its time.) She would say, “Well? What well? I don’t see a well, do you?” A reader now writes, “My wife says that when she was a kid and started a sentence with ‘Well …,’ her parents would say, ‘That is a deep subject!’”

Good one.

Finally, milkshakes. Yesterday, I praised a milkshake in Pittsford, N.Y., and another in New Haven, Conn. Nectars of the gods. A reader writes,

I currently live in Brentwood, Calif., of OJ infamy, but grew up in Riverdale [New York] and lived on the West Side [of Manhattan] for many years before moving to this coast in 2003. My dad had a pastry shop in Yonkers, “Yonkers Pastry,” and I grew up with a real appreciation for exceptional sweets. There was a Carvel next to the apartment building I grew up in across from Mount Saint Vincent College. When it comes to ice cream, I always thought, and still do, that Carvel is the best in the world, and a black-and-white shake with a chocolate floater is one of the greatest inventions of all time.

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