Thursday, July 22, 2004

Putting Up with It

Six-year-old Aviv loves mini-golf. On the computer, that is.
It seems that many of the big candy and cookie conglomerates have discovered that if you create a virtual game online, and then strategically sprinkle images of
Oreos, Lifesavers and Jello Pudding Bites throughout, you can dramatically increase brand awareness and what marketers call “stickiness.”
Without all the mess involved with real candy.
Popular sites like
CandyStand and NabiscoWorld offer a wide variety of interactive treats – including pinball, bowling, virtual snowboarding, and of course, the aforementioned mini-golf. Heck, even good old Planters Peanuts has its own slam-dunk virtual basketball game on the web. 
In our house, Aviv is the leading consumer of these sites, and golf is his clear favorite. But lately it has been getting to be a bit much - mini-golf every single day. "Want to go out and play with your friends?" we would ask. The usual reply: "Nah, I'll just play some more on the computer."
Clearly, we needed to get this kid out of the house. So when we asked the kids where they’d like to go for an afternoon outing, Aviv didn’t hesitate.
“Do they have real mini-golf in Israel?” he asked.
Well actually, yes, they do. Several in fact. The closest was in
Tel Aviv, at the far end of HaYarkon Park.
The day we went, Amir wasn’t feeling well, so it was just Jody, Aviv, ten-year-old Merav and me.
Now, I was a big fan of mini-golf when I was a kid. I remember the long putting greens, with turning windmills and other colorful obstacles that attempted to stop the ball from getting to its appointed destination. For some reason,
mini-golf in the “old country” was always located just off a busy highway.
That was about the only similarity between mini-golf in California and Tel Aviv. Instead of a green course, Tel Aviv’s Mini-Golf had what I can only describe as cracked concrete with patches of green on raised platforms. There were a couple of moving obstacles but they were all broken. It was fairly pathetic. Don’t believe the
picture of the course on the Internet.
Aviv and Merav didn’t notice for a second. As soon as we got our clubs ("one ball per team," explained the bored teenager with three rings in each ear and another in her nose), they were bounding to the course.
Now Merav is very diligent about game playing. And even more so about rules. Aviv, on the other hand, has his own style when it comes to mini-golf. I’d describe what he does more like “gliding” than putting. When he moves his club, he doesn’t whack and release. Rather, the club gently continues with the ball, all the way down the course, in a single fluid movement.
Maybe that’s how they do it online. But Merav picked up on this breach of protocol immediately.
“You can’t do that Aviv. It’s cheating,” she cried.
Aviv ignored her.
“Just let him have fun, Merav,” I said.
“Well, that doesn’t count as swing,” she declared. “Make each stroke count for six! Give him a score of 300 or something.”
“It says here you’re supposed to stop at five,” Jody, our record-keeper, explained. (She’s like her daughter, also a stickler for rules.)
“Put up with it... or stop putting,” I cracked. No one laughed (but then again they never laugh at my jokes).

Merav walked back to the concrete course in a huff. And so the two of them played what essentially were two separate games. Merav played golf. And Aviv played something…I’m just not sure what it was.
Over the course of eighteen holes, Merav eyed Aviv…and the score card occasionally, but Aviv’s lack of conformity was too maddening for her to grace him with any sort of meaningful attention on for long.
Every so often, another group of players would cut in ahead of us. Israeli mini-golf etiquette, apparently, doesn’t include going in order. We saw teams zig zagging through the course, grabbing the next available hole. It was like standing in line at an Israeli supermarket. Or trying to get on a bus. 
And then it happened. On the 16th hole: the unbelievable. Aviv “glided” a hole in one. OK, it wasn’t really a hole in one, as his club never left the asphalt. But Merav put aside her competitive bravado and ran over to give him a big hug.
“You did it, Aviv! I knew you could.” Then turning to Jody, with a look of slight concern, she asked “So what’s the score now?” As if a single successful “scoop” could throw off the entire balance of the game.
But Jody was smarter than that. “Score?” she asked. “Oh I stopped counting long ago.”
Merav gave Jody one of those exasperated “oh mother” looks, but this time it didn’t seem to throw her. She turned to Aviv. “So did you enjoy mini-golf?” she asked him.
“Yes, I guess,” he replied, seemingly hedging his response. Then he added brightly: “Now I’ve got to go back and try it again on the computer!”
Oh well, we tried…

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