Who is Tony Shuster and why is he on the cover of your book?

Tony and AlexI have been asked by folks who have seen his generous, hyperbolic quote on the cover of my recently completed novel, Night Lessons: “Who is this Tony Shuster fellow?”

I must confess that Tony’s past is shrouded in mists to me, other than the fact that he has been, and continues to be, a key member of a shady group of golfers who regularly assemble in the dead of night at a public par three golf course in Indio, California to participate in a variant of the “Royal and Ancient” game under the banner of Muni-Madness. Other than that dubious distinction, I can attest that he is otherwise a good judge of literature, a charismatic spirit, and a student of the game and its courses’ architecture. He is a looper, aka a caddie, but not just any caddie. He is a raconteur of sorts laboring beneath a golf bag – although laboring is a misleading word in the case of a fellow who traverses 36 or more holes a day without ever losing good humor or contagious optimism even when his player’s performance often merits nothing of the sort. I am lucky to have enlisted Tony’s enthusiastic support for my book, but even more…to have played a round with him that from my perspective was an extraordinary event.

I once dreamt up a magic sort of fellow – a caddie as a matter of fact – in the very book he plugged for me, but had I met Tony before conjuring up that character, I just might have inserted him into the story instead.

“Magic?” you say. Okay, first a little background: I am a very poor golfer. I possess a futilely explosive swing in which all energy is directed everywhere but the ball. Tony once described my swing as “total commitment” and I must say, it was kind of him to find such an affirmative word. We first played together at Bandon Trails, a fine Crenshaw/Coore design at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort where he loops during the summer months, I think he was mesmerized by the simultaneous viciousness and impotence of my “swing”. Yet unless the roar of air from my lurch at the ball drowned out his snickering, I never heard a note of laughter or a groan of pity at a move that was/is so comically tragic. No, he remained mum. A true professional. Such restraint borders on supernatural, but that is not the magic to which I refer.

I have “played” golf for thirty some years – over a thousand rounds – and in that time I have logged one ace, two eagles, and perhaps a score of birdies. Yeah, that’s twenty. Ouch! You single digit guys can stop laughing. But for what it’s worth (and it’s worth a lot) I do love the game; I’m just…challenged. Do the math: In my case a birdie has come along every six months or so, or so stood the depressing statistic until the day when at Tony’s invitation I met him and his fellow-caddie Alex Simcox at Bandon Dunes.

Having not traveled down to Bandon since way back in the nineties – when it cost only $35 a round for locals, and before David MacLay Kidd’s original dunes had landed in the golfing world’s sights – I was a tad overwhelmed by the present grandeur of the premises. This trip was a lob wedge into the stratosphere above the $24 per round munis I generally play. As I hauled my long-neglected clubs from the car and beat ancient grasses from my soft-spikes, a lump – a manifestation of that inescapable first-tee apprehension – formed in my throat. Perhaps I was out of my league.

I caught up with Tony and Alex at the practice green. Their nonchalance in the face of such a celestial golf environment was unsettling at first. Did they not realize where they worked? They carried themselves like pros, and after watching exactly one of Alex’s practice swings I realized they – he at least – might play like pros as well. Oh boy, I would be attempting to manufacture a golf game under the scrutiny of real players, not my fellow 20-handicappers back in Portland. Maybe I really was in over my head. My pulse quickened. Just before we trekked down a rustic trail to the first tee, Tony came jogging back from the grill-room all smiles. No, he had not had a drink, but he had just met the man himself, Mike Keiser, the visionary singularly responsible for Bandon Dunes’s very existence. Tony was stoked to have made his legendary employer’s acquaintance. My knees started to tremble… I didn’t know magic lay ahead.

I will not bore you with details of the round except for a couple of notable moments. After watching my partners fire astoundingly well-executed drives from the first tee – drives that in the case of Alex resulted in an opening eagle – I skulled a drive into the short reaches of the fairway. My second shot never gained much elevation and appeared to bury itself into the flanks of a dune guarding the green. But the magic of which I speak must have intervened, because as I pushed aside tufts of dune grass in search of my ball, Alex proclaimed that it was up on the green. Impossible! Convinced that in a kind gesture he had tossed a ball up onto the putting surface to spare me humiliation, I checked it out. Incredibly, the ball was mine, and I soon escaped with an improbable par. Some slight-of-hand seemed to be at work. As we headed over to the next tee Tony and Alex’s happy chatter was lost to me in the sound of my tantric breathing. If I could just calm down I might make a game out of it. But then the world started to wobble.

Meniere’s syndrome is a defect of the inner ear that causes severe dizziness and sometimes nausea. Pro golfer, Jason Day is afflicted with the disorder and, if I recall, the affliction had some bearing on Jason’s performance in the third round of the US Open last year at Chamber’s Bay. Walking to the second hole, Meniere laid me low. It is hard to mask one’s frustration at tackling a fantastic course, with two great partners when one’s horizon is pitching like a barge. Enter Mr. Shuster. He distracted me from my trials with facts and fables of Bandon, he produced a Gatorade out of thin air and instructed me in the merits of electrolyte balance and proper hydration, and he demonstrated his amazing backward swing. Lo and behold, I somehow staggered through the front nine with bogies and a couple of pars… reasonable for me on a good day.

Then on the back nine the impossible.

After a poor drive, a good approach and a great putt I walked off a short par four thinking I had made my second par. “No, it was a birdie,” Tony informed me with a genuine grin. I think Tony and Alex were happier than me. In disbelief, I sheepishly returned their fist bumps. A few holes later – a par three – after choosing not to tee the ball, and after reminding myself to hit down which I accomplished at the cost of nearly spraining my wrist, I looked up in mid-grimace to see my ball land on the green within 18 feet of the hole. Not to brag, but it was closer than either of my partners. Funny, the sheepishness had vanished.

Fantastic. A green in regulation is always a victory for me. But the putt was another matter. It had to track directly across a severe slope. Not an easy two-putt… for anybody. Tony, as he recently explained, reads about 70,000 putts a year, and he stepped in to have a look. He never said a word, though. Apparently he deduced from my set-up and my eyes that I had correctly calculated the line that a properly paced putt would have to travel across that fall-line in order to die into the high side of the hole and avoid scurrying endlessly down the slope. But what were the odds of execution?

On the road home that night I stopped for a bite and checked out some of the alarming photos that Tony had posted of me in full-throttle that afternoon. Had the game been a disaster, I might not have found them amusing, and out of sheer humanity I doubt Tony would have shared them. But it had been a good game – a magic round by my reckoning and I was in a magnanimous mood. I laughed at the pics and at myself. Even that absolute terror of a putt across the slope on that par three a couple of hours earlier had fallen resoundingly into the cup for birdie number two. This bird I accepted with a crazy grin without second-thoughts. My wrists may have stung from the sloppy swing, but I returned my pals’ high-fives with gusto.

Two birdies may not be a big deal to some, but on that magical day on Bandon Trails, beneath the spell of golf’s unmatched camaraderie and beguiled by the magic of a scrupulously professional, optimistic caddie… and despite my marginal skills, a rusty game, a serious bout of nerves and uncooperative inner ears, I had bagged two. Walking off that beautiful sandy turf I glowed with satisfaction that I had left nothing on the course. What more can a golfer want?

In a few days I am heading south into the golfing hot-spots of Scottsdale and Palm Springs in hopes of selling a couple of books (you can order one on-line at Amazon or Barnes & Noble) I have been reading Tony’s dispatches regarding Muni-Madness craziness under the lights. From the sound of it, I doubt you can get much farther from Doak and company’s Bandon masterpieces, but I doubt you can have more fun on any course anywhere. Tony is on to something down there, something irresistible. His video posts reveal players with serious skills, but crazy-bad swing or not, I’ll have to jump into the Madness. And perhaps if the magic rears its head again, two-birdie lightning might strike twice.

Some Gumbo’s Chicken/Shrimp Gumbo Recipe

Don's Gumbo 1.19.16So you’ve landed at this site thinking you might find a memorable gumbo recipe rather than a wordy blog. How utterly reasonable.

After two years of leading gumbo-hungry blog-surfers astray, I have decided to give the people of the blogosphere what they want. To wit, this post of my recently proven – and utterly delicious – chicken and shrimp gumbo recipe. Hope it is as satisfying as the words you may also have found here.

Author/chef’s note: If you prefer not to use the shrimp or oysters in your gumbo, raise the quantity of chicken accordingly. If you do not use sliced bacon, you will need to add about 3 tablespoons of bacon fat or vegetable oil at the beginning in which to brown the chicken. This recipe uses okra rather than a roux for thickening. Making the roux adds another step but I believe adds a desirable gravy character. If you choose to use some roux, drop the okra quantity down to 3 cups and add about a half cup of roux where when called for in the recipe. Retain the rest of the roux for additional thickening if desired at the end of the recipe.

2 lbs       Chicken cut into 8 pieces (3 lbs if seafood not used)
1 lb.        Medium size shrimp (shelled) or Raw oysters
½ lb.       Andouille sausage sliced into ¼ inch slices
¼ lb.       Sliced bacon, cottage bacon or smoked ham
3 cups     Okra sliced if fresh, or use frozen as is
3 cups     Chicken broth
2 cups     Diced tomatoes
1 cup       Cooked rice
2 tbsp.    Butter
1             Green bell pepper diced 1/4”
1             Onion medium finely chopped
1             Celery stalk coarsely diced 1/4”
4             Garlic cloves chopped
2 tsp       Basil
1 tsp       Thyme
3 tbsp.    Rum
—-          A hearty dash of your favorite hot sauce or chipotle sauce
—           Salt and pepper to taste

Optional: 1 tbsp. file spice; 1 cup roux; 1 Small Jalapeno pepper or a smoky Hatch pepper thinly sliced.

Using a deep skillet or 4-quart saucepan, cook the bacon strips to desired crispness. Set aside and crumble the bacon strips. Pat the chicken pieces dry and season with salt and pepper. Add a pinch of flour to the chicken pieces and place them in the pan. Brown the chicken, remove from the pan and set aside. Pour off excess fat, retaining about 3 tablespoons in pan.

Add okra, onion and bell pepper and cook on low to medium heat for about 10 minutes – stirring frequently. Next add the tomatoes, chicken broth, chopped bacon (or ham), celery, and the rum. Simmer about 10-15 minutes. Add the chicken and andouille sausage and continue simmering about 40 minutes. During this step add salt, pepper, hot sauce and/or jalapeño to taste.

Carefully remove the chicken from the pan and pull the meat from the bone (discard most of the skin for health) and return chicken meat to the gumbo. Add the shrimp or oysters, the butter and the file spice. If you prefer to include the cooked rice in the gumbo add it now. Continue simmering about 5 minutes and until the shrimp is just cooked. Adjust the liquidity of your gumbo by thickening with the extra roux or thinning with a little beer. Serve hot and fresh…but it tastes even better tomorrow.

Night Lessons Released

NightLessons Final Front CoverWell folks, it has been a long time coming…Night Lessons, the novel that has been in the works and/or spinning around in my head for some time, has finally been released as an eBook on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords. It will soon be available as a print book on Amazon for your good old-fashioned page turning pleasure. Before uttering one more word of promotion, I must mention the contribution of my friend and colleague, Joan Pinkert, and my editor at Lucky Bat Books, Louisa Swann. Without their immense assistance I might never have gotten this project off the ground.

I am more than happy to report that the patience and good humor of my wife, Shara, even after the sixth edit and the umpteenth read-through, remains intact.

I have provided links to the booksellers from whom you may purchase a copy. You will find these booksellers’ links under the heading, My Web Links in the left column of the home page of this blog. In addition, I have recently created a website: http://www.donanslow.com and a Facebook page: donanslowauthor where you may read snippets from Night Lessons or other books currently in progress. The website, which will go live in early February will also provide the opportunity to listen to audio clips.

Night Lessons is on the surface a golf story, but it is much more: Engulfed by a locust storm along a remote Texas highway, two-bit gambler Hank Schwain and his son Rama seek relief at a golf course hidden deep in an arroyo of Mesquite Creek. Carlos Taddio, a ghostly greens keeper has foreseen their arrival and returns to Mesquite from the desert where he has lived for years since witnessing the deaths of two children on the mysterious 16th green. He labors under an impossible score that only Rama can help him settle.

In an enchanted midnight encounter Carlos discovers Rama possesses an amazing gift: a magic granted by the lost children’s spirits that elevates the aspirations – the games – of everyone he encounters…with one tragic exception. From that night, Rama, Hank and a cast of memorable characters are swept into a far greater game than golf. Rama becomes a caddie – a sensation – but as his celebrity grows, Hank, in a greedy rush to profit from his son’s magic, plunges towards disaster when he collides with a desperate golf hustler who also seeks to exploit Rama’s incredible gift.

I offer Night Lessons with a nod to the truly great authors of golf fiction, and with the sports writer’s axiom optimistically in mind: “the smaller the ball the better the game’s literature.”

Gumbo Tours the Beast: Infamous B-Reactor At Hanford, Washington

The author at the control officer's station at the world's first full-scale plutonium production reactor.

The author at the control officer’s station at the world’s first full-scale plutonium production reactor – now accessible to the public at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

In the scale of human endeavor, we have virtually raced – stumbled perhaps – into the implementation of nuclear fission-based technologies, often at our peril. Having recently completed one of the Department of Energy’s remarkable tours of the B-Reactor at Hanford Nuclear Reservation, this observer was compelled to question where stands the technology which offers so much promise, yet, 70 years ago, consumed well over 300,000 lives in its convulsive birth and appalling entrance on the geopolitical stage.

From the perspective of Hanford’s concrete “coffins”, it is sobering to recall that the benefits of advancing mankind’s ability to power our endeavors from the forces locked within the atom were in many ways only the spin-off of a breakneck project dedicated to plutonium…to death. Shortly after the discovery of fission by Ds. Hahn, Strassman and Meitner in 1938, sketches of a bomb allegedly appeared on other nuclear physicists’ blackboards –  before a reactor concept, and long before a power generating scheme. The danger inherent in the newly discovered natural process was so obvious from the beginning, that two of the three discoverers disassociated themselves from the work and pledged to resist development of weapons which might be derived from fission or its products. Strassman and Meitner’s resistance was ultimately for naught; we know what ghastly devices soon followed their discovery.

The technology created around the fission phenomenon has justifiably been tainted by this deadly association, and from the well-documented gross failures at several notorious reactors. It is absolutely prudent to tread with extreme caution in the nuclear arena, but equally imprudent, in the face of mankind’s inexorable march toward greater energy consumption, to abandon the only known technology that offers the potential to replace dangerous fossil-fueled power generating systems on a scale large enough to make a difference in the headlong pace of carbon emissions.

As we have woefully seen, the consequences of a nuclear misstep can be catastrophic, but so, too, can getting fission-based power generation right be beneficial. The human family produces approximately 10% of its electricity from fission, the US about 20% and France generates 75% of its power from nuclear reactors. If those numbers rise with the successful engineering of quantitatively safer, more reliable reactor and waste containment technologies, then we and our environment will benefit. The creatures of this planet currently face the deterioration of their – our – atmosphere’s life-sustaining properties from oil, gas and coal emissions; not to mention a long list of major environmental dangers associated with solid, liquid and gas resource extraction, transportation and storage. If we refuse to accept alternative energy sources, including new fourth generation high temperature, low pressure, low fissile closed loop fuel reactors, then we must accept a far greater risk to the global environment than we will likely ever face from the failure of an intelligently designed fission reactor or allied systems.

Most rational people do not balk at stepping into the cabin of an aircraft which will soon carry them at fatal speeds, to fatal heights, in fatal temperatures. When we step aboard the airliner we balance the risk of a failure against the benefits of aerospace technology. The nature of engineering is to minimize such risks to insignificant levels. It is what we as a species do, and in the case of the fearsome power of fission, must continue to do even if the technical challenges intrinsic in the safe, responsible operation of reactors are daunting…or even if the legacy of the wastes, the failures, or even the ghosts of so many innocents in Hiroshima and Nagasaki threaten to haunt us into inaction. Indeed, those ghosts should goad us into an overwhelming effort to eliminate destructive nuclear devices and the mechanisms specific to their construction, to eliminate stockpiles of plutonium, and to restrict production and enrichment of nuclear isotopes beyond what is necessary only for peaceful purposes.

Leaving Hanford, it was difficult not to salute the pluck of our forbearers, who first faced the Hanford Reach with nothing but an impossible, incomprehensible dream in mind – no matter how disgusted one might be at the horrific nature of what they wrought or the filthy legacy of what they left behind. To paraphrase what Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer prize-winning author, said in his lecture at Richland the night before the tour: “We may never witness the trust, coördination and close coöperation of science, government, and industry that we witnessed here again.” Yet in a world calling for more, safer, and environmentally sound applications of power generating technologies descended from what they infamously pioneered there seven decades ago, we must.

If we are to responsibly slip a harness on this beast, we must add another line to Mr. Rhodes’s list of cooperating entities: an educated, open-minded populace.

On April 1st of this year, the Department of Energy resumed tours of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation including the historic B-Reactor and other facilities. A visitor there will not find an answer to the challenges facing the nuclear industry, but he/she will gain valuable insight into the nature – the feel, if you will – of the technology. The tour is  approximately four hours in length and includes two hours in the B-Reactor building and its control room. Tours continue through September 18. There is no fee for the tour, and there is absolutely no danger of exposure to radiation. Tickets may be obtained only by registering on http://www.hanford.gov. Or call 509 376-1647. While visiting the website you might want to review the link describing progress of the Manhattan Project waste clean-up program.