Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Tale of Amen Corner

The Masters Tournament has been held in Augusta, Georgia since 1934. It is regarded as one of the crown jewels of golf. And every spring thousands of people spend millions of dollars to flock to the area. They go to smell the Cherokee Roses and see who will come home with the famed Green Jacket.

In 1951, my father, who never picked up a golf club in his life and had zero interest in the game, also made the pilgrimage to Augusta.

He went for free.

And he was wearing a set of handcuffs.

The trip, and the wrist jewelry, were compliments of the U.S. Army. And he didn't actually go to the Augusta National Golf Course, he was carted off to Camp Gordon, 11.2 miles west of the country club.

You see, right after the war my father had been drafted. He didn't want to go into the Army. Nor did any of his trouble-making friends from the South Bronx. So they did what most 19-year old boys would do, they lashed out.

And one of the best ways to thumb your nose at authority in those days was to indulge in some reefer madness. The Army caught wind of it. Court Martialed him. And sent him to the brig for a year. A harsh sentence in anyone's book.

Neither of my parents had ever uttered a peep about this. I only heard about it recently through my uncle. Naturally I was shocked.

"You're not going to write about this, are you?" my uncle asked.

"How could I not?" I replied.

This revelation explains my father in a way none of my blurry childhood memories could. And far from being shameful, I see his incarceration as a remarkable badge of honor.

As any screenwriter will tell you the key to a good movie is character arc. That is, the audience needs to witness change. The greater and more believable the change, the more the audience will cheer on the main character. To do this, you'll notice the protoganist in any good movie starts out in the down position. He could lose his job. His wife could leave him. His dog could die.

Or he could be sent off to prison for smoking a joint.

The point is, to emerge victorious he must summon his strength and do what is necessary to overcome his personal obstacles.

My father did that.
And more.

Not only did he grow up in working class poverty. He found himself at the ripe age of 20 with nothing more than a high school diploma and an irrevocable stain, compliments of Uncle Sam,  on his permanent record.

This might have sent lesser men down the path of lesser resistance. But Al Siegel was not lesser men.

He went to work. When that wasn't enough, he took on a second job. He waited tables at restaurants. He married my mother. He had three kids. And then, when he could have resigned himself to just getting by, he enrolled in college. He didn't graduate from CCNY until I was 8 years old. I vaguely remember a big celebration, but only now appreciate what an achievement this was.

Three years after graduating college, he passed the CPA exam. And because NY state had a law on the books banning convicted criminals from practicing certified accountancy, he had to petition Governor Rockefeller for an official pardon. The Governor obliged. And my father successfully lifted himself by his jailhouse bootstraps and made something of himself.

It's the feel good story of 2013.
Well, it's my feel good story.

Maybe I'll write a screenplay about my father one day.

The beginning is pretty incredible. The ending, achieving a modicum of affluence, owning a house in Suffern, NY, raising three kids and working 22 years as the comptroller for an electrical wiring company, may not seem all that cinematic, but it feels pretty damn heroic to me.