I have a pattern. (The young are so intense because they think everything that happens to them is unique, singular in their lives and in the history of the world. Us old goats—er, rather, us fit, dynamic, virile, sharp-as-a-tack middle-aged goats—know better. We realize that most everything is something we've done before and will do again. But I digress. Digression being another of my unshakeable longstanding habits.) To resume: I was talking about a pattern. Every year in August I play between two and five very enjoyable rounds of golf with some combination of brothers and cousins and husbands of cousins. I come home all fired up to get better at golf (this happens every year; the Wisconsin winter eventually stops it, er, cold). I play a few rounds locally (usually alone, not much fun), or take a few lessons (I get all enthused about what I learn, until I discover that it has done absolutely nothing to redress my lack of skill and talent). Or else I look into buying new clubs.
Every time I do the latter, I come down to the same little dilemma: I find I'm a golf-club connoisseur. I like the idea of classic, elegant forged blades, with Rifle steel shafts and plain leather grips. Of course, there is a small problem, which is that I suck at golf. It's not technically hopeless: there is nothing wrong with my golf game that constant practice, dozens if not hundreds of lessons, better eyesight, improved hand-eye coordination, and a level of natural athleticism I wasn't born with couldn't cure. It would also help if I could go back in time and start playing the game at a younger age (I started when I was 40).
The clubs I would play better with would be atrocious-looking oversized cavity-back "game improvement" irons with a huge offset and graphite shafts slathered with silly decals. The kind that look like they were designed in the '70s as a final exam in a high school mechanical drawing course. They will have some sort of ludicrous over-the-top pseudo-macho marketing name like "Afterburner" or "Powerstrike," perhaps with the name of a precious metal or a predatory animal tacked on for good measure. (Golf club marketing is an object lesson in just how horribly you can complicate and uglify essentially very simple tools, larding them up with excessive, pointless conceits. "Super power tungsten pellets give the hybrid GZ-3R 7z Platinum F-Formation clubs an extremely low center of gravity to make the ball jump off the clubface for surprising distance, without sacrificing the enhanced feel that higher handicap players prefer," etc., etc. Right—if Poindexter had been taught how to hold the wretched thing properly in the first place, and had enough atheletic ability to actually cause the clubface to meet the ball in the middle of a swing. Incompetence at feats of coordination is largely technology-resistant; marketing-speak to the contrary can only go so far.)
So what I'm getting around to (another pattern—I often enjoy taking the long way around to get to my points) is that there is an aesthetics of equipment that sometimes actually conflicts with the essential practical imperative: namely, working effectively, appropriately, and efficiently. I could buy the aesthetically perfect set of golf clubs; it's just that I'd never be able to play with them. I'd have to set them in the corner and just look at them. Forged muscleback blades have a sweet spot the size of a dime and require great skill and long practice to master. I, on the other hand, play the game four times a year, and I have detected that I am getting older (read "even less athletic") with every passing year.
I'm not talking about you
I see the same sort of the problem among photography enthusiasts all the time—they spend a great deal of time, effort, research, and money building an aesthetically perfect equipment kit, neglecting to figure out what it is they want to shoot or learning how to shoot it. Little things. So if you gently criticize their pictures, you'll be met with a serene shrug—"just a test shot"—but god forbid you criticize their equipment, because, if you do, then you shall be met with fierce arguments and strenuous counterattacks.
I hope you are not seeing yourself in that last description. Just in case, "present company excluded." ...Except that I fear I do the exact thing I'm talking about myself, sometimes. I seem, for example, to have acquired The Perfect View Camera—aided by temporary amnesia, in that I neglected to remember that I am not a natural, or very good, view camera photographer. Damn, I annoy myself sometimes. (Maybe I should set it in the corner and just look at it.)
I dream about sailboats occasionally, too. Fortunately, I also manage periodically to recall that I don't know how to sail.
Anyway, I enjoyed using the Mamiya 7II this summer at the lake. The 50 exposures I had to work with lasted from the first to the last day. I think I enjoyed the camera partly because it is not even remotely perfect, which helped it become "just a tool." It's the equivalent of that cavity-back game-improvement iron. I don't like rangefinders, I don't like color film, I don't like slow ƒ/4 lenses, and, when you have to use a clunky tripod because of the silly slow lens, you have to take the silly camera off the tripod just to focus it, because the rangefinder patch limits to you to focusing on the very center of the frame, which is often not the thing you want to focus on. The camera is not even pretty. Even the name is not pretty (who vetted the name "Mamiya" for the American market, anyway? Sounds like a cross between "Mama" and "ya-ya"). And it was all just fine. I actually enjoy making do.
Well, I think I did just fine. We'll see when I get the results back. I opted to try Dwayne's Photo—which is not closing—in Parsons, Kansas, for the developing and proofing, partly as props for their part in keeping Kodachrome alive for so long. I get to see how they do with 6x7 film, but I am also wondering how well I did with an unfamiliar camera and rusty chops. When the film comes back I'll show you a few, good or bad.
I hope I didn't just make a rash promise.
Fortunately, I continue to sensibly resist the lure of golf club marketing. My clubs cost me $100, on closeout, well over a dozen years ago now. Are they the best ones for me? I have no idea how anyone would know. I'd get better ones, but I don't know how to find good clubs for bad players.
I don't know how to use the @#$! things anyway, so it's all good.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Chad Thompson: "May I humbly suggest to you the Hickory. It's the Chamonix Whole Plate of the golf world."
Mike replies: Damn you, Thompson! That is just the sort of thing that I would spend my money on, to no practical purpose whatsover. [g]
Featured Comment by Chuck Holst: "Totally off the main point, but I used to work for a photographer who would deliberately mispronounce 'Mamiya' as 'Mama mia!' I'm afraid I still occasionally fall into that bad habit."