Curly’s Finger

Curly's Finger 1It’s Master’s Week.  That means I may skip work this Wednesday, drive the 90 miles or so to Augusta, buy a $45 face-value ticket for $300 from one of the world’s most courteous scalpers and spend the rest of my day rubbing elbows with 40,000 of the world’s most courteous sports fans, fans so well-behaved that they have their own name: they’re called “patrons.”

For me, the day won’t be about golf.  It’ll be about Curly’s Finger.

Curly’s Finger was introduced in the movie, “City Slickers,” starring Billy Crystal.  In that movie, three late-thirtyish childhood chums from New York City take a trip each year to break up life’s monotony and refuel on inspiration.

The year before, the boys had taken part in the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, and our hero, Mitch (Crystal) had been gored in the gluteus maximus for his trouble.  This year their destination is a dude ranch in New Mexico.  From there they plan to drive a herd of cattle through “some of the prettiest country on God’s green earth” all the way up to Colorado.

The boys really need a getaway this year.  One of them has committed adultery and lost his family, his job and his bearings in life.  Another is dealing with cold feet as he prepares to abandon his womanizing ways, get married and “just eat the same thing every night for the rest of my life.”  The third cowboy wannabe, Mitch, has been repeatedly humiliated at his job, is losing touch with his teenage kids and no longer burns with passion for his adoring wife.  Alarmed by the sober realization that peddling radio advertising amounts to little more than “selling air,” he’s up against a monster of a midlife crisis and knows it.

Charged by his wife to go on the cattle drive and “find your smile,” Mitch pleads, “What if I can’t?”  His good and faithful soulmate responds, “We’ll jump off that bridge when we come to it.”

City Slickers movie image Jack Palance and Billy CrystalAnd so the boys find themselves a world away from the vertical environs of New York, in wide open spaces where cell phone reception is spotty, the man-made sound of a coffee grinder can cause a cattle stampede and the scenery is pretty much the way God left it at closing time on Day 6.

After a crash course in roping, riding and rheumatism, the City Slickers set out into the great unknown as part of a bedraggled crew including five other paying customers, two bullying trail hands, a whiskey-swilling cook, 300 cattle and Curly (Jack Palance).  A tough, taciturn trail boss with the spirit of a lone wolf and a weather-beaten face that “looks like a saddlebag with eyes,” Curly is a man to be reckoned with.

After a couple days on the trail, during which Curly impresses the crew as a mysterious, psychotic authoritarian, Mitch is ordered to accompany Curly on a side-trip to round up stray cattle.

Alone on the trail, the tension between the unlikely pair builds to a climactic campfire scene.  Mitch, brimming with Curly-fear, plays his harmonica with trembling lips. An annoyed Curly orders him to stop.  Mitch obstinately continues to play.   Curly repeats the order. In an act of defiance which he’s sure will result in his throat being slit from ear to ear, Mitch locks eyes with “the toughest man I’ve ever seen” and says flatly, “If you’re gonna kill me, kill me.  Otherwise, shut the hell up.  I’m on vacation.”

Having delivered his ultimatum from a position of total weakness, Mitch resumes the harmonica.  Curly, stunned by such insubordination from a man he perceives as not only a city slicker but a sissy, looks furious for an instant, then curious for another.  At length, he begins to croak a painfully off-key rendition of “Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds,” and our fears about Mitch’s fate are blown away on the heartwarming winds of a wilderness jam session.

Next day, having rounded up the strays and strengthened their friendship by sharing in the miracle of a calf birthing—surely you remember Norman?—the two ride amiably back toward camp.  After a brief comment about his Spartan yet fulfilling love life, Curly transitions from taskmaster to self-appointed mentor and holds forth on the meaning of life.

Stogie dangling carelessly from his lipless mouth, Curly raises a gnarly index finger toward the big sky and announces, “Life is all about one thing.  You figger out that one thing, and everything else don’t mean shit.”

As it turns out, Curly has no idea what “that one thing” is, except that it’s different for every person and every person must find the answer.  Back in camp, Mitch eagerly shares the “one thing” revelation with his companions. Not surprisingly, his zeal is met with blank stares.

Meanwhile, back at The Masters, patrons are given the rare opportunity to study, at close range, dozens of humans who’ve discovered Curly’s Finger. To the chosen 72 who remain on the course come Sunday, the one thing that matters more than anything else is golf.  Everything else—endorsements, private jets, adulation, money, possessions—doesn’t mean…well, you know.

Oh sure, most of these guys, just like regular humans, know that the priorities of life are supposed to be God, family and job, in that order.  But God, family and job are the answer to the question, “What are the three things you don’t want to lose?”  God, family and job are not the answer to the question, “What gets the lion’s share of your time and effort each and every day?”  Nor are they the answer to the question, “In what area of your life are you making the most effort to be the best on earth?”

Just like you and me, none of the players at The Masters devotes the largest part of each and every day to God.  Just like you and me, none of the players devote the largest part of his day to being the absolute best husband, father, brother and son he can possibly be.  No, each and every man in that field devotes the largest part of his day, in fact the largest part of his life, to Curly’s Finger, and that Finger, for them, is golf.

Most of us have never made a personal declaration of Curly’s Finger, and few of us are personally acquainted with more than a few people who have.  Yet God makes it clear that there’s a Curly Finger for each of us (1 Pe. 4:10), and he’s rather stubborn about insisting that we discover it, declare it and pursue it:  “Whatever you find to do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” (Col. 3:23)

For most of us, the pursuit of Curly’s Finger won’t result in endorsement deals, widespread acclaim and multiple millions of dollars, but it will result in tangible rewards and a fuller life.  It’s simply a matter of literally minding our own business.(1 Th. 4:11) We must place our hands on the plow (Lk 9:62) set a course straight ahead (Pr. 13:4) and condition ourselves to believe and expect that God will take care of the reward.(Gal. 6:7)

On Sunday, April 12th at about 5 p.m., tune in for the final hour of the Masters and you’ll witness much more than mere golf.  You’ll witness Curly’s Finger, the real-time proof of one of the most exciting promises in all the Bible:  “Do you see a man skilled in his work?  He will serve before kings: he will not serve before obscure men.”(Pr. 22:29)

Get high on him.  Stay high on him.  Peace.


Tommy Libre