Why Run?

Chapter 13 , Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Geri and I walked the last mile back to Glendale Boulevard. The workout had refreshed her – and nearly finished me. I wondered out loud what drove a 17-year-old to climb out of a warm bed every morning to punish herself. Her confident demeanor evaporated. She looked perplexed, maybe conflicted. I didn’t think Geri would answer. Or could. But after about quarter mile of forced silence, she chose to reply.

“When I was little, maybe a year old, maybe 14 months or so, I had trouble walking,” she said. “In fact, they thought I couldn’t walk.”

“Wow,” was all I could say.

“The doctors never did figure it out, maybe ten thousand neurons failing to fire here and there. Something like that,” Geri said with a dismissive wave of her had. “My mother still says it’s a miracle I ever did walk, much less run.”

“Some kind of weird polio, huh?”

“I don’t know. Could be.”

Geri shook her head and gazed skyward.

“My parents took me to therapist after therapist until they found one who said she could help. Can you believe it? Not even 2 years old and in therapy.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“That’s why I run so methodically, like a crazed robot.”

“I don’t think you run like a robot,” I said.

“No?”

“More like an android.”

“Shut up, Wells. I’m trying to be real here, and you’re giving me crap.”

“Sorry.”

“So the short answer to your question – what motivates me, why do I love to run?”

“Yes?”

“Because I can.”

“I like that.”

What else could I say? I was embarrassed I had asked in the first place. I was trying to be conversational. Instead, I got a confessional. For sure, I thought I would hear a shallow “I’m just good at it” answer or “I did it to meet guys.” Perhaps, “I’m just an old-fashioned masochistic girl.” Now I was ashamed. Yes, ashamed I took my God-given talent for granted. Why didn’t I take more pride in it? I put my head down and trudged along, wondering why I was like that.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

And Then IT Happened

Chapter 6, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

The next morning, my training alarm rang at 5:55. I pried open my sleep-drenched eyes and slid out of bed. Blindly out of habit, I pulled off my pajamas, put on my track warm-ups, grabbed my sweatshirt, gloves, Ironman watch and stocking hat, did my 19 stretches and tumbled out the front door. The frigid air whacked me upside the head.

… OMIGOD! What the HELL are you doing …

What a mindless mope I was.

“OK, this is it,” I swore. “No more pointless torture. I will run one last lap as a farewell tour and that will be it. All right? Promise, everyone?”

“Cross my heart and hope to lie,” answered tired-sick muscles and all.

With the Olympic-sized burden lifted, I returned inside and stretched like a good, ol’ rubber band. Even my calves relented, unlocking a few knots.

“Now go out there and run like you mean it, you loser,” said my coach persona.

“I’m not a loser.”

“The hell you are.”

“Whatever, Dipstick.”

Anarchy ruled. The athlete was in charge. The coach was sent home.

“So long, Coach, ya freakin’ jackass.”

A kid at recess, I skipped onto the street, a prisoner no more, running free. The golden fireball of a sun peeked over the horizon to greet me one last time. Gliding down the street, I reveled in its beauty. My eyes refocused. Everything was crisper, clearer. Rounding the corner by the townhouses, I hit a patch of black ice – and caught myself before I fell.

Instead of cursing, I laughed out loud.

“No more of that bullshit,” I said, halfway to my self-imposed finish line.

… why in the world did you ever start this …

The aforementioned reasons made no sense. Midlife crisis? Could my wife possibly know what she was talking about? Didn’t matter. I felt at peace.

And then IT happened.

From a rounded evergreen guarding the next curb, red, beady eyes glared at me.

Devilish eyes.

The evergreen vibrated, then shook.

And the biggest German shepherd I ever saw poked his head out from behind. His growl started low, crawling on your belly low, then a little higher, then higher …

From behind his evergreen hiding place, he sprang onto my track.

Uh, his track.

I froze.

He froze.

Impasse.

He licked his chops. Drooling. Snarling.

I spun.

He lunged.

BANG! It was a race.

I could feel his breath on my heels.

Over my shoulder, I could see his ears bob.

His jaws opened. Giant teeth flashed.

… HE’S GONNA BITE …

I screamed.

That’s when I found IT. A gear I didn’t know I had.

I shifted …

And left him behind.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

I Quit

Chapter 6, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Now that I had told my wife, however, I knew I had to get serious. What did I need to make it happen? Back online, I pecked in Olympic Games qualifications and found fabjobs.com/tips137. The folks there considered training for the Olympics a legitimate, full-time job. Step by step, their website outlined what an athlete had to do to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team. And of course, they made it sound so damned simple.

  1. Assess your physical condition. That’s easy, I’m still breathing.
  2. Choose a sport. I’m a runner. I run.
  3. Find a place to train: The streets? My street?
  4. Join your National Governing body. No jokes, please.
  5. Start competing. Already, I can beat most of the small children on my block.
  6. Get a coach. Right.
  7. Visualize your success. I sat back and closed my eyes. I saw the gold medal gleaming, floating in front of me.
  8. Find financing. Don’t think Melinda will go for that second mortgage.
  9. Attend the national championships. Check. I’ll order the tickets today.
  10. Qualify for the Olympics. No problem.

Sure, they told me exactly what to do.

But knowing was one thing. Getting it done was another.

This WAS it. Whom was I kidding? Dream busted.

Hell, 48, I might as well be 108. I could see I had no business wasting any more time on this. I had no Olympic-sized heart. Or endorsements. I was cool until Step No. 6. What the hell was I going to do about a coach? Prompted, the tiny voice spoke up.

… go ask Coach Rockard, you Olympic moron. Gee, do I have to tell you everything …

The tiny voice, nasty as always, was right. But maybe Melinda was right, too. My Olympic quest had all the elements of a midlife crisis. That made me sad. I felt good about training. I felt I was accomplishing something. Guess I was just fooling myself. So that night I went to bed a quitter. I would sleep in – and skip practice.

… quitter, quitter …

… Mr. Johns will say you’re a quitter …

… Mrs. Fuqua will say you’re a quitter …

… Melinda will say you’re a quitter …

… Ralphie will say you’re a pussy – any way you go …

I ignored the taunts, rolled over and fell asleep.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Something To Chew On

Chapter 6, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Breakfast the next morning at the Wells residence proved a bit strained after Melinda bailed me out of jail. Unless they threw the first punch, the bouncers at Inman’s didn’t appreciate fights. Despite my promise to pay for the door, they still insisted the police drive Ralphie and me over to the Porter County Jail. Lucky for me, they didn’t lock us in the same cell. Given the opportunity, Ralphie would not have thought twice about evening the score.

Sleep-deprived, Melinda, Shannon and I slumped at the kitchen table without a word through a bowl of Cheerios. My jaw still hurt, the after effect of a deep bruise, but I didn’t think it was broken. The silence, though, Melinda finally did break.

“Charles, I don’t understand.”

“Understand what? That I don’t want my kid picked on.”

“Did Uncle Ralphie hurt you, Daddy?”

“No, I kicked his … ”

I stopped as my wife tried her best to turn me to stone with her deadly, blue stare.

“Shannon, you go ahead and get ready for school,” said Melinda.

My daughter jumped up from the table, headed for the hall, turned behind her mother and gave me a thumbs-up.

“Get going, Shannon,” said Melinda, using the eyes in the back of her head.

Shannon scampered off. Then Melinda let me have it.

“What is all of this, Charles? Are you having a midlife crisis? I don’t understand. You never acted like this before.”

“Midlife crisis?”

“Yes, midlife crisis. First, you’re getting up before sunrise to do God knows what. Then, you’re fighting your best friend and mortifying me in front of my co-workers. What’s next? Pro wrestling?”

“Well, haven’t really considered that. But … ”

“Don’t even go there,” she said, shaking her index finger at me.

“Midlife crisis?” I repeated.

“What are you training for anyway?” Melinda asked.

I hadn’t told her. After Melinda had chastised me for my weight, I wanted it to be a surprise. I think it was.

“You know, the Olympics.”

Melinda gave me the strangest look of our 18 years of marriage, got up from the table and left the kitchen without a word. Somehow, I don’t think she believed me.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

The Bigger They Are

Chapter 5, Blog 4

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

“Where the hell is he?” I asked out loud.

“Where da hell is who?”

Spinning around, I saw Ralphie clutching a giant pitcher of beer.

“Nicky.”

“He’s takin’ a dump, Man. Why ya wunt … ”

I headed for the restrooms.

… that’ll be better. Limited witnesses. Maybe plead temporary insanity …

I ripped the restroom door open, knocked a nerdy teen out of the way and bullied my way in. There was one stall occupied, so I pounded on the door.

“Come outta there, you sonvabitch!”

FLUSH!

“Damnit, Nicky, I swear I’m gonna kill ya. I’ll count to three.”

FLUSH!!

“Come outta there! NOW! I smell that joint.”

I could hear him crawl under the stall into the next one. Flinging the door open, I yanked him off the floor. Back went my fist. The sorry bastard looked up. Terror poured from his eyes.

It wasn’t Nicky.

“Opps, sorry, Man.”

I dropped the frightened sap, just another kid, and hustled out, right into …

“NICKY!”

“Hey, Chuckie, what’s up?”

I grabbed him by the throat and shoved him up against the wall. His glasses flew.

“Are ya crazy?” Nicky choked out.

“Your stinkin’ kid,” I yelled. “Why? Why pick on mine?”

Nicky’s eyes bulged out of their bony sockets.

All of a sudden, I felt bear paws pin back my shoulders. It was Ralphie. He had me. I struggled. It was no use. He carried me outside and threw me hard against a black pickup. I crumpled to the ground. Ralphie spit on me. He actually spit on me.

“Ya always wuz nuthin’ but a pussy,” he said with all the disdain he could muster.

“You … big …dumb ass … ” I tried to speak, but my jaw moved in three different directions. “Between … Nicky … and me.”

Ralphie chortled low and intoxicated. I pushed aside the escalating pain and focused on the slow-moving drunkard. He put his hands on his hips.

“Nicky had nuthin’ to do with dat,” Ralphie said.

“Wh-what?”

“I did. I put him up to dat.”

“Wh-why?”

“Jist wanted ya to know whut a sorry bastard ya really are.”

“Attack my kid? For what?”

It got back to ya, didn’t it?”

He turned and ambled toward Inman’s front door. I stumbled to my feet. My mouth gushed blood. My left arm burned with pain. I had about 15 seconds to catch him before he went back in. I limped after Ralphie on one good leg, dragging the other behind me. I caught him in front of the door.

“Ralph … ”

He turned.

I stared hard at him – and swung from the heels. He never saw it coming.

First, the big ape’s legs buckled. Then in slow motion, Kong tumbled backward, slammed into the door and splintered it into a million pieces. Lying there among the fresh kindling, Ralphie wore a stupefied look of disbelief. Teetering on one leg, I bent over the big heap of dumb ass.

“Just want you to know … ”

I paused to spit out a tooth.

“Who da real pussy is.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Payback, With Interest

Chapter 5, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

“What dear?”

She sat on the sofa, paging through the latest “BIGGEST SALE OF THE SEASON” flyer from Kohl’s.

“Did you tell anyone I was training?”

“No, dear.”

“That Mr. Johns has been shooting off his mouth again.”

“I’m afraid he’s not the only one, hon.”

Melinda flipped the flyer to the side, considered her words and frowned.

“Who?” I asked.

“I had to go down to school this afternoon and bail Shannon out of detention.”

“What?”

“She got into a fight with Nicky’s kid.”

“She was fighting a boy? Why?”

“Well, little Nicky was telling everybody what a fool Shannon’s daddy was. That’s why.”

“Oh no.”

Oh yes.”

“Is she all right? Did she get hurt?”

“No, she broke little Nicky’s glasses. I suppose we owe him a new pair of glasses.”

“Great!”

I got my coat and headed for the door.

“Hey, where do you think you’re going?” asked Melinda.

“I’m going to pay big Nicky.”

“Charles?”

“What?”

“Don’t break his glasses, too.”

I knew where big Nicky would be. Where he and the guys were every Thursday night – bowling at Inman’s. If little Nicky was spouting that crap, his old man was, too. It was up to me to shut him up. Those bastards! They can pick on me. They can pick on Melinda. But they weren’t going to pick on my kids.

Could Shannon help it if her dad was a nut-job?

I pulled into the parking lot, drove around the first two rows, and there it was, Nicky’s silver Camaro with those fancy, twirling hubcaps. Parking three spots away, I slammed the car door and steamed into Inman’s. It was packed. I would have plenty of witnesses to testify against me at my murder trial. It didn’t matter, though. I was on a mission. I searched the lanes, but he was nowhere to be seen.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

The Yoda Next Door

Chapter 5, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

When I reached the curb, only white-haired Mrs. Fuqua was there, stuffing her recyclable plastic water bottles into the tiny tub the city provided. Her smile glowed as I put on the brakes and scanned the area for Mr. Johns.

“I told him,” she said.

“You did?” I was confused. “You told him what?”

“You know, you were just taking a break.”

“A break?”

“Yes, indeedy.”

She squeezed in another water bottle. Mrs. Fuqua, a widow for some eight or nine years, had lived next door for as long as I could remember. She must have been at least 90 years old, but she still dragged her recyclables to the curb every Thursday night.

“Mrs. Fuqua, a break? A break from what?”

“Why, a break, Chuck, from training.”

I was taken aback.

“Training?”

“Yes, training. You still call it training, don’t you?”

With her fist closed, she hammered in another water bottle. I scanned the block again to see if anyone else was within earshot. Then I started the interrogation.

“Mrs. Fuqua, I didn’t tell anyone I was training.”

“You didn’t have to. That snoop Mr. Johns did. He watches you every morning.”

“He watches me?”

“Yes, I see you, too. If I remember.”

“You do? I didn’t think anybody … ”

“You’re always walking when you pass my window. With your head down.”

“I am?”

“Yes. If you’re cooling off, shouldn’t you keep your head up? It would help your breathing, right?”

“Yeah, I suppose it would.”

“Yes, it does.”

“And … ”

“And you should be out here running every day. You don’t have a lot of time to mess around and skip training.”

“I don’t.”

“No.”

She stopped and looked me square in the eye.

“If I were you … ”

“Yes, Mrs. Fuqua.”

“I’d think about running indoors. Maybe at the university. No ice to slip on.”

“Mrs. Fuqua, I’m 48.”

“I know. You’re just a kid. But it’s no excuse to be irresponsible about your training, is it?”

“Uh-huh,” I said.

“Get back out here tomorrow and run your ass off.”

She fished the last water bottle from her sack and proudly placed it on top of the tub.

“That Mr. Johns,” I said.

“Biggest mouth on the block,” said Mrs. Fuqua.

We laughed. I retraced my steps to the house.

… if Mr. Johns knows, then everyone on the block knows, and if everyone on the block knows …

“MELINDA!”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

No More Mr. Asshole

Chapter 5, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Depression shrouded me for three days.

Even Melinda noticed. She showed her concern in her usual, loving way.

“Are you going to take out the trash or what?”

I just stared into space.

“Charles?”

Silence.

“Charles!”

More silence.

“All right then, I WILL take it out.”

She fought the kitchen wastebasket all the way to the front door, leaving a trail of Burger King wrappers and french fries. She wrestled the stubborn receptacle outside and slammed the door behind her. I assumed Melinda didn’t know all she had to do was remove the bag.

Or maybe, she wanted her husband to feel good and guilty.

I did.

Here was a 48-year-old man, the head of a nice, suburban family of four, who should have displayed wisdom, courage and maturity – instead of martyrdom. Sorry. Make that pettiness, selfishness and vanity.

Instead, I was a baby. A big, freaking baby.

I hadn’t trained that morning or the morning before. I didn’t feel like training tomorrow either. You know, my calves never felt so good. It was party time. They were ready to celebrate the end of Olympic insanity as we knew it.

Who was I fooling?

I wasn’t a world-class athlete. Never was. Never would be. You need heart to do that. On some level, I must have known. There was a reckoning bound to happen. 1.42? Was I nuts? I had  trouble breaking two minutes consistently. What the hell was I thinking? I must be neurotic.

Sure, it had gotten marginally easier. The last week, I stretched for at least 20 minutes before each session. My whinny muscles had responded better. The running felt more natural, if not  carefree. Best of all, I felt fine afterward, stubborn calves excepted. Even the bowel movements were, you know.

But now I was copping a plea. Guilty. Yes, guilty as charged.

I, a foolish and prideful, white male with a smidgen of past track glory, thought he could suck it up and leg out 800 meters fast enough to get an invite to some half-assed track meet.

If I ever got there, well, who knows …

Yada … yada … yada.

… just forget it, you big clown …

“Charles!”

It was Melinda again, red-faced and ruffled.

“Did you run this morning?”

“No,” I answered. I was going to be mature now.

“Why not?”

“Because … ”

“Don’t tell me,” Melinda interrupted. “Go tell our wonderful neighbor Mr. Johns.”

“Who?”

“That busybody Johns, he’s out there telling Mrs. Fuqua you’re nothing but a quitter.”

Enough said. I shot off the sofa and out the door. Calves be damned.

Mr. Johns was Mr. Big Mouth in the neighborhood. He had no business telling anybody anything. I knew it was Mr. Johns who turned me in last fall for taking out the trash a day early when we went to Indianapolis. He didn’t have the guts to tell me to my face. I always wanted to take a poke at him. This was my big chance.

… you’re goin’ down, Mr. Asshole …

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang