Perhaps none of this would have happened had they not been arguing about golf balls.
They called each other, as men will, by their surnames—Parrish, Mason, and Duncan. Mason’s last name, technically, was McDougherty, but he’d moved from Mason, Texas, when he was in eighth grade, so they’d called him “McDougherty from Mason” until everyone grew tired of that, and the city, not the surname, stuck. It was
better than Doughy, after all.
The three worked at the coffee shop, Parrish’s coffee shop— Fritter John’s. Parrish’s first name was John, they sold fritters, good ones, and everyone agreed that Fritter John’s sounded to some degree
like Friar John’s, and he was a character in Robin Hood
(or so they thought), and Robin Hood
was a book they all could get behind.
At the strip mall across the street from the coffee shop there was an Italian grocery, Tony’s, which had a few tables and a deli, and there was also a Chinese restaurant—Mr. Wu’s Imperial Buffet. It was to that buffet one Monday afternoon the three men were headed for a late lunch. They’d eaten stromboli four days running, and Mondays were Moo Goo Gai Pan Mondays. Mr. Wu made a mean moo goo.
On their way out the door, after they flipped the Out to Lunch sign and locked up, Parrish gave the sidewalk in front of his store a quick sweep, then leaned the broom against the table nearest the door so he’d remember to take it back inside after lunch. Picking up the broom, Mason used it as a baseball bat, swatting at a crumpled paper cup Duncan had dug out of the trash—a cup Parrish had just swept up. His pitch missed twice and, ragingly hungry, Duncan forfeited the game in favor of getting to the food. Mason, switching the broom into an imaginary golf club, gave the wadded cup a final swat into the parking lot, only to have Parrish fetch it and return it to the trash.
That’s how the argument began. Nothing serious; their arguments rarely were, though each fought for his own—or any assumed—position with a solemn ferocity. The three had known each other forever, and arguing came as naturally as drinking espresso, both activities performed with convivial and cavalier abandon.
Nonetheless, Mason’s poor (in Parrish’s sage opinion) golf swing spurred a debate on form and finger placement. This took them across the parking lot. By the time they’d reached the opposite curb, they’d begun postulating the effects of a proper golf swing on, say, a racquetball. Naturally, squash balls came up. By the time they’d reached Mr. Wu’s, the topic changed to the differences
between squash and racquetball. And by the time they were filling plates at the buffet, having realized none of them knew the first thing about squash, they reinvigorated the “A Golf Club’s Effect on Equipment from Other Sports” debate with the introduction of tennis balls. Here, all agreed, tennis balls would be no good. Finally, seated and eating, their conversation moved to a higher plane—they began arguing about the nature of golf balls themselves. More accurately, they argued about the little dents on the surface of golf balls.
This was Duncan’s position, the one he argued between forkfuls of rice and beefy soy bits, which he scooped into his mouth at an alarming pace. He was nearly finished with his second trip to the buffet while Mason and Parrish were still polishing off round one. In his defense, it was well past three o’clock. They often ate lunch this late in order to serve coffee to customers on their
lunch breaks, but Duncan though twenty-six years old, was still one of those tall, lean, unfillable sorts of men whose metabolism ticked and gnawed on par with a growing teenage horse.
“You eating that egg roll?” Duncan reached for Mason’s plate, only to receive a swat to the back of his hand by Mason’s fork.
“Give me a chance, Dunc.”
“Well, hurry up.”
“It’s an all-normal-people-can-eat buffet,” Mason reminded him. “You can go get six more egg rolls if you want.”
Duncan gave a forlorn glance at the buffet, as if it were a ship far, far out at sea. Mason’s job, or so he took it upon himself, was to spend a large portion of the day reminding Duncan of the obvious. They were all roughly of an age, had gone to high school and college together, but Mason was the shortest of the three. Always had been. Not too short, not bad short, not dwarfishly short, just shorter
than his two friends. Perhaps this explained his constant need to be on offense, to have a fork at the ready to swat with, to continually pummel the most oblivious of the three with the obvious. Perhaps he was simply more down-to-earth because he was the closest one to it.
“Cosmetic?” Mason announced his displeasure loudly and in an upward direction, as if he were trapped down a well and calling for help. By this late in the afternoon, Mr. Wu’s lunch crowd—though
considerable, being a well-known and well-liked buffet—had mostly dissipated, so Mason could be loud.
He could argue expansively with only a minimal return of odd stares. “Please!”
Parrish joined in. “Would you like to disagree or shall I?”
“Come on, it’s obvious!” Mason pleaded.
The other two waited. They knew he wanted them to wait, that Mason liked a pause and wanted someone to beg him for his answer. Parrish and Duncan wouldn’t indulge him so far as that—they
wouldn’t ask or guess—but they could appreciate the drama of a good pause. Besides, they were eating, and the food was tasty, and Mr. Wu had already begun to break down the buffet bar. He’d carried
several big silver trays back to the kitchen, leaving empty, steaming holes amongst the food choices—holes that would no longer be refilled, not this late. They’d seen the last of the kung pao and chicken chow mein for today’s visit, they knew, and that both saddened and invigorated their eating.
With great exaggeration, Mason cleared his throat. “Aerodynamics.”
“No way.” Duncan objected so immediately, a flurry of white rice fell from his mouth back into the plate over which he hovered.
“Yes, aerodynamics. The dents decrease wind resistance, like the fins on the back of a Camaro.”
“They’re not fins.” Parrish gulped his Coke. “It’s called a spoiler.”
“I call them fins.”
“You call them wrong.”
“I like fins better.”
“Forget it.” Parrish waved a hand. “Instead, tell me how dents decrease wind resistance.”
crease spin, cutting the air more effectively, thereby de
creasing resistance.” Mason said it quickly, all in one breath. Sometimes enough words said extremely quickly was an easy win, or at
least a serious advance.
“No, they don’t,” Parrish objected.
“Those fins don’t,” Duncan added through a mouth muffled with food.
“The fins do
,” Parrish clarified. “The dents don’t.”
Duncan shook his head and chomped the end off Parrish’s egg roll. “Those fins don’t. I know they don’t.”
“Yes, they do.” Parrish elbowed Mason. “Tell him.”
“He’s right.” Mason waved his fork. “The fins decrease all kinds of wind resistance. You put a Camaro with fins next to a Camaro with no fins, and you’ll see which one’s faster.”
Duncan finished Parrish’s egg roll. “I have done just that.”
Duncan swallowed. “Back in high school. Remember Walter Spivins, who had that maroon Camaro? Well, he was trying to decide if he wanted to go back and get the fins, so we raced his maroon one against Bill Finley’s, out behind the gym after the state game.”
“Bill Finley moved to Ohio the year before we went to state.” Parrish looked around his plate, then under it, looking for his egg roll.
Duncan disagreed. “No, you’re thinking of Bill—what’s his name—the guy with the hats.”
“That was Finley,” said Parrish, taking Mason’s egg roll, which he assumed was his, somehow either stolen or misplaced. “Finley always had two baseball caps hanging from the mirror of his Camaro, and Spivins’s was fire-engine red, not maroon.”
Duncan waved a hand, dismissing the details. “Whichever. The car with the fins lost, so I know fins are cosmetic, not functional. Just like those dents on golf balls.”
“What kind of cosmetic effect do dents have?” Parrish challenged.
Duncan didn’t answer. He just stared at the other two. Then, in a very addled way, said, “What?”
To this, neither Parrish nor Mason responded. They waited. Duncan could be addled, they knew. But Duncan also knew they knew, and he’d often hide behind an addled what
, hoping the others would forget what they’d asked and move on. Sometimes he’d what
just to give himself time to make up an answer he would then posit as absolute truth. This what
was pure stall.
Finally, Mason restated, “How are dents cosmetic?”
Duncan stopped chewing—for him, a bold and singular move. “What?”
Parrish pursued. “Are those little dents aesthetically pleasing to you?”
“No.” Duncan sounded wounded, hurt. “But…you know how when you swat a golf ball a billion times with a nine wood, you scuff it all up?”
“So, you scuff and dent it up! If the golf ball were perfectly smooth and white, you’d see! Every little scratch!”
“So they pre-dent golf balls so you don’t feel bad after you ding them up. Purely cosmetic. Same reason you spackle a wall so it won’t show scuffs.”
Parrish put up a hand to stay Mason’s attack and took this one himself. “So, according to this line of thinking, we should have scuffed and dented Finley’s Camaro just in case he had a wreck or, say, drove down a particularly gravelly road?”
“Actually,” said Mason, “Dunc did dent up Finley’s Camaro pretty bad.”
“I did not.”
“You tried to haul that volleyball pole and two ice chests on top of it, remember?”
Duncan stared defiantly for a long moment, first at Mason, then Parrish, trying hard to bluff. Then he surrendered. “Okay, but if that pole hadn’t caught that tree…”
“Nearly tore the fin off.” Mason wiped his mouth with his napkin and pushed his plate to one side.
“I thought we were talking about golf ball dents?” asked Duncan.
“Gentlemen…” Parrish tapped the side of his glass with a spoon.
“You’re both wrong.” He reached a hand across the table, twirled the round condiment rack that stood in its center, and carefully picked out his visual aid. “Look at this saltshaker.” He held it aloft. For a moment, three grown men stared at a saltshaker.
“What about it?”
Parrish rotated it with the tips of his fingers, catching the light as if it were a gem. “Look at the sides. Five, six-sided. It’s not smooth; it’s got sides. It’s an octagon.”
“That’s eight,” Duncan corrected.
“Octagon is eight. Octa—octa—octa. Like October, like octopus.”
“Why are we talking about octopuses?” asked Mason.
“Octopi,” said Duncan.
“Whatever!” Parrish shook the shaker dangerously in front of their eyes. “This shaker, we agree, it’s got sides, right?”
They thought about it, but no one could find a way to argue that it didn’t.
Duncan took the bait. “So?”
“Well…” Parrish let the shaker slip into his fist, grasped it as if he’d just solved the mystery. “Why?”
Like the characters at the end of an Agatha Christie novel, Duncan and Mason blinked stupidly at the events unfolding around them.
Sheepishly, Duncan tried, “Uh…aerodynamics?”
“No!” Parrish plonked the shaker down decisively on the table. “Grippability.”
No one knew what that meant. No one knew if that was a word. Mason picked up the saltshaker, stared at it. “Are you saying that the dents on golf balls are purposefully provided for added grippability?”
Excerpted from the god cookie by Geoffrey Wood. Copyright © 2009 by Geoffrey Wood. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.