I know my question the other day about destroying sports equipment (and I'm using "sport" in the broadest sense of the word) may have seemed a timewasting, one-off, but it actually is something that I do think about and has stayed with me for a long time.
When I was young I lived in an ugly puke-green house in-between a golf course and Yerkes Observatory, home of the largest telescope in the world. Large, but it can't see very far, since it's a century old, and in Wisconsin. Go figure.
The small patches of woods around my house and the golf course were inevitable treasure troves of lost golfballs. Old duffers don't have the energy to trapise into the woods to find their Titleist (pronounced Tit-Lee-Ist, according to the Venerable Beavis). My sister and I would collect them by the hundreds, sort them by quality and sell them by the dozen in old egg cartons to golfers showing up at the course. Often, I'm sure, we were selling back to them their own lost balls. Emasculating, no?
Some of the balls, though, were too damaged to ever see the face of 3-iron again, most probably caught by the golf courses iron legions of lawn-mowing doom. I would go deep down the hill of our long back yard, into the weeds my dad didn't feel like cutting, and dissect these already injured golfballs. Really, it was for the best. They don't feel pain any more. It took all my 7-year-old strength, and sometimes a carving knife stolen from the kitchen (hence my hiding in the shrubbery) to finish ripping off the rest of the outer skin of the golf ball not yet excoriated by the so-called "gardeners". Most golfballs have a heavy plastic outer skin about 1/8 inch thick, textured with an average of 336 dimples. This number has, to me, a far more evil significance than any 666. (On a side note, I stood in the middle of the entry court of the Louvre trying to count all the triangular panes of glass in I.M. Pei's infamous pyramid. I'm pretty sure there are nearly 700, and not 666 as its enemies claim.)
Beneath that layer is a good half-inch thickness of a rubber-band like material which is coiled in one long strand around the core. If the ball is quite mutilated, once you remove the skin, these intestines will automatically unfurl at a blinding (possibly literally) speed and attempt to leap from your hand. This is the source of the expression "Shuffle off the mortal coil." It originally was "shuffel offe the golfe-bal coyl" in the early days of professional golf in the 16th century. The golf ball can actually survive months without its skin, but once the coil is severed, it rapidly releases its admittedly tenuous life spirit.
I also believe this is the source of Yeats' "widening gyre." His editor demanded that he write about a falcon, as more readers would appreciate its obviously poetic symbolism, but surely the great bard had experience the aweful twisting and untwining of an expiring golf ball as it spins farther and farther in a widening arc around your head as you hold one end of the encircling band. But I will leave that question to the mini-Harold Blooms.
What truly matters is the vital heart of the creature, found no longer pulsing beneath the twisted viscera: a small, hollow ball with a course, striated surface etched with the tightened pattern of the rubber band. If you shake this ball, you will hear a sloshing, a slurping, a slithering of dark ichor at the core of the sport, unknown even to most of its cultists. This is where my dissection grew especially horrific. Despite my attempts at secrecy, my father knew all about my vile experimentation. He tried to warn me off this path to madness by telling me that the juices of the stilled heart were poison. Not that he expected me to drink them (or did he?), but he warned that they were poison merely to smell, to touch, dare I say, to see. This paternal verboten ist only served to goad me closer to unlocking the liquid archana of an ancient Scottish game. Surely it is no coincidence that golf found its nascence in the broad expanses south of Edinburgh, encircling the Templar chapel at Rosslyn, beneath which beats still some nameless heart of either eternal good or bottomless evil?
The knife slips only with great difficulty into the thick skin of the core--often I pricked my own flesh first, feeling no pain as I also saw myself as a mere coiled toy of the gods, beaten about, only to be mowed down and uncoiled at last by an uncaring lawncare deity--and a viscous jelly slides over my fingers, cold, foetid, yet not so much as I expected. There is a freshness, a sharp tang and sting, at the still centre of the real, lying disembowled in my small, quivering palm.