The invitation came a few weeks ago from the communications coordinator for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, who asked if I would be interested in playing in John Daly's celebrity golf tournament at the Grand Casino and writing about it for the Flyer. I thought about it for, oh, three seconds before saying, "Sign me up." After all, what golfer wouldn't want to watch Daly hit some of those mega-drives and hang out with some Hollywood types for a day? Sounded like a dandy idea to me.
Being the shallow type, the next question I asked was: "So who are some of the celebrities who show up for this thing?"
"Well, Joe Pesci has committed," she replied. "And Nolan Richardson and Dickie Betts, maybe Meatloaf, lots of Nashville musicians, and ... "
"JOE PESCI is coming?"
"Yes, and Hootie and the ... "
The communications coordinator (also a friend) sighed. "Yes, Joe Pesci is coming."
"Man," I said, "Joe Pesci would be perfect for the story. Can I play with him? Please? I just want to be there to hear him go off when he screws up: 'Look at dat freakin' bawl. It's in da freakin' watah! How da freak does dat freakin' bawl go in da freakin' watah?'"
"Nice," she said, "very nice. But, look, it's kind of a luck-of-the-draw thing. There's a pairings party you have to go to. And besides, this is about the kids, not about who can get the coolest celebrity to play with."
"Can't you put the fix in for me?" I asked, remaining firmly in the shallows. "Joe seems like the kind of guy who'd appreciate a good fix."
"I don't think so," she said wearily. "But I'll see what I can do. Are you in or not?"
"Freak yes, I'm in."
The pairings party was held AT the Rendezvous the night before the tournament. I showed up early so Joe and I could talk strategy for the next day's match. I figured he'd want some tips on the course, or maybe he could give some advice on the best way to get a good lie when nobody's looking.
It didn't take long before I started seeing some of my fellow celebs. There was former Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer standing in the alley smoking a cigarette.
"Hey, Coach," I said. (Coaches love it when you call 'em "Coach.")
"Hey fella," he said. "How's it goin'?"
"Fine," I said.
"Nice to see ya."
Yeah, baby, I was in the bigs now. Chatting up the beautiful people. I glided inside and almost stumbled over Hootie. Of course, only the truly ignorant would call Darius Rucker of Hootie & the Blowfish Hootie. There is no actual Hootie. Rucker's just another Blowfish. (As we all are in the vast ocean of life, when you think about it.) I thought of sharing these deep thoughts with my man Darius, but for some reason, he seemed to want to continue talking to the gorgeous brunette with the deep tan and turquoise jewelry. Go figure.
Inside, there were other Blowfish, including the tall guy with straight hair and the tall guy with curly hair. A veritable school of Blowfish, right there in the Rendezvous. Eating barbecue.
Our host, John Daly, was in the midst of it all, smiling easily, charming everyone he met. I was struck by how small he really is, which makes the fact of his incredibly long drives even more impressive. His dedication to this tournament is also impressive. Since 1992, he's raised almost $1.5 million for Make-A-Wish.
After much noshing and chatting, the whole shindig was moved to B.B. King's, where the pairings were to be announced. No sign of my buddy Joe yet. Playin' it freakin' cool, as usual.
After a steaming set from Little Jimmy King, Daly took the stage to announce the pairings. But before he could get started, there was a voice from the wings.
"Hey, you crazy sonofagun."
It was Joe Pesci, at long last. He and Daly embraced and exchanged a little celebrity banter.
"Stand up, Joe," Daly said. "Oh, wait, you're already standing up." Like that.
As the pairings were read off, people around the room were high-fiving. "Yes! Nolan Richardson. Cool."
Finally, I heard my name through the din. And my celebrity teammate was ... John Cafferty.
John Cafferty? Huh? Obviously, the fix wasn't in. Joe would have to carry on without me. And I'd have to figure out who John Cafferty was before our 8 a.m. tee time the next day.
Actually, I found out a little sooner. The party moved en masse to the Rum Boogie for an impromptu jam session as various musicians hit the stage to join the house band, the Gamble Brothers. Johnny Lee got up and sang "Poke Salad Annie." Mark Bryan of Hootie et al. (the tall one with curly hair) jumped in on "Fire on the Bayou." Then Steve Cropper started working a slinky guitar lick, and a sax player who looked vaguely familiar stepped up and began to wail the opening riff to the soul classic "Shotgun." Next to him was a small man with tousled hair and a soulful face who grabbed the mic and started to sing in a strong, sandpaper voice.
"Who's that?" I asked the guy standing next to me.
"John Cafferty. From the Beaver Brown Band. So's the sax player. Remember them?"
"Oh, yeah," I said. "'On the Dark Side.' Big '80s hit."
"From Eddie and the Cruisers ... "
Then it all came rolling back: the summer of '83, or was it '82? I was a young father, starting a journalism career after quitting the last of a forgettable string of bands. Eddie and the Cruisers was on cable -- constantly. It was an oddly compelling film, with Michael Pare, Tom Berenger, and Ellen Barkin all getting their first big parts. It was about youth and death and sex and drugs and rock-and-roll, and I watched it several times that summer. It spoke to me, baby. The Beaver Brown band, of course, played on the soundtrack.
Up on stage, "Shotgun" was building to a climax. Cropper and "Tunes," the Beaver Brown sax player, were trading four-note licks, climbing higher with each exchange, sending the soul chestnut to places it had never visited before. Then it was back to the chorus and Cafferty's raw shout brought it all back around. It was probably the best rendition of "Shotgun" ever played in the history of the world. At least. Even the audience was exhausted when it ended.
So, okay, I thought. I didn't get Joe Pesci, but John Cafferty might be kind of interesting. Sonofagun can still sing, that's for sure. What the freak.
The next morning came early. Very early.
At 7 a.m., the Cottonwoods Golf Course was awash with more than 80 yellow-shirted Make-A-Wish volunteers checking in golfers, setting up breakfast, directing golf-cart traffic. I was struck by the missionary zeal of this group. They believe in what they're doing, no question.
As I was leaving the clubhouse, I got an idea why. A small girl on crutches and in leg braces -- maybe 10 years old -- was attempting to climb the three steps into the clubhouse. I waited on the landing above as she painstakingly, slowly lifted one leg up, maneuvered her crutches into position, set her leg down, pushed off on her crutches, lifted her other leg, and dragged it up. Those with the girl made no move to help but offered encouragement.
"You're doing great, baby."
"Just one more."
Her courage was beyond measure, but it was hard to watch.
Finally, she was up on the landing and through the doors.
"We're going to go out and play 18 holes, and she's just tryin' to climb three steps," a voice behind me said. "Kinda puts it all in perspective, doesn't it?"
"Yeah," I said, a little moist-eyed.
I turned, and the guy behind me stuck out his hand. "John Cafferty," he said.
I'm here to tell you now that y'all need to go out and buy John Cafferty's records and rent Eddie and the Cruisers several times, because this guy is one of the nicest, most genuine people I've ever met. Plays a decent game of golf too.
That said, there's nothing more boring than recounting a golf outing, but I will say our team finished a respectable eight under par and everybody contributed at least one miraculous shot or two. We even got a little help from John Daly, who played one hole with each team.
Daly pulled up in a cart on the 10th tee, just after we'd put four 220-yard drives in the fairway -- or close, anyway. He jumped out and said, "Y'all want some help?" Yes, we did.
"How long is this hole?" Daly asked.
"Says 299 from this tee box, John."
Daly let this information sink in, looked down the fairway, then took 10 paces back from the tee markers. He tossed aside his cigarette, stuck a ball on a tee, waggled his driver once or twice, and took a massive 340-degree swing. There was a thwack loud enough to stunt grass growth, loud enough to loosen the elastic in your shorts, loud enough ... well, it was freakin' loud. The white pellet disappeared into the ever-blue Delta sky, heading west toward the unseen green, hidden behind a row of moguls about 275 yards out.
"Uh, thanks, John," we said. We piled into our carts, drove to pick up our meager offerings to the fairway gods, and headed toward the green -- where we found Mr. Daly's ball about 20 feet from the cup.
"Need any more help, fellas?" Daly shouted from his cart.
"I think we can handle it from here, John. Thanks," we said.
After our round, we headed to the dining room for lunch, all of us, that is, except Cafferty, who went immediately to an adjoining area that had been set up for Make-A-Wish kids and their families. About 45 minutes later, as we were finishing our sandwiches, he rejoined us.
"Whew," he said, shaking his head. "Those people are amazing -- the stuff they're going through is unbelievable. It makes you humble."
It was clear that Cafferty, who has two small children of his own, has become personally involved in the Make-A-Wish cause. As various celebrities walked into the dining room, he urged each of them to go to the kids' room before eating. "Go on in there," he'd say. "They need you in there now."
As he finished his lunch, one of my playing partners asked Cafferty how he got connected with Eddie and the Cruisers.
"It's a strange story," he said. "At the time, we were playing up and down the East Coast, just bars mainly. One weekend at a gig in New York, this guy came up and asked for my phone number. We didn't hear from him again until three years later. He called and asked us if we were still together and if we wanted to be the band in this movie he was making.
"So we make Eddie and the Cruisers and it gets released and just dies immediately, and we think, Well, that's that. A few months later -- I think it was the summer of '83 -- it gets released on cable. This was when people first started getting cable in big numbers, and that movie played almost every day. There were a lot of kids home for the summer, and they saw the movie and liked it and started buying the soundtrack. We had no idea at first, but one day, we were playing a gig in Toronto and my manager called and said, 'You better get back home. You sold 30,000 records this week.'"
"I said, 'What record?'"
"That's a hell of a story," I said.
"What it says to me," Cafferty said, "is that life is all about being in the right place at the right time."
Just then a child in a wheelchair was pushed over to our table. He was impossibly small but with a teenage face peering out from under an Alabama baseball hat. I find out later he has an evil little ailment called brittle bone disease.
"Hey, John," he said in a very high, small voice. "How's it going?"
"Hey, how are you, man?" John replied, obviously renewing an aquaintance. He turned and started talking animatedly to the kid with the big dose of bad luck in the Alabama hat.
As I watched, I couldn't help but think John Cafferty was still in the right place at the right time.
If you know of a child in need of a wish, or to volunteer, call Make-A-Wish at 680-WISH.