Use Care, Not Dare

Chapter 29, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

We laughed the rest of the way home. Sure, I was embarrassed. Never did I trip anyone in a race. I felt bad. But Harry told me to forget it. So what if I were disqualified and forever banned in Terre Haute?

Also, I was injured. Harry made me clean my knee wound at the McDonald’s in Kentland. Then, he prescribed a trip to the doctor on Monday to get a tetanus shot. Shifting into teaching mode, my coach said I should learn three things from the mishap:  1. Don’t fall at the start. 2. Don’t lose my cool. 3. Always pass with care.

“Should I write it down for you, Charlie? Perhaps print it on your hand for every race?” he asked. “Maybe a tattoo?”

“No, thanks, Harry, I’ve got it. Would it be easier if I just took the lead and didn’t give it up like Prefontaine used to do?”

“I wish it were that easy,” said Harry.

The injury did allow me to take Monday off to let my knee heal, but I still did visualization on my own. Harry was right. It was a powerful tool. I played the Terre Haute race over and over in my head, and not once did I clip that guy. But I did beat him every time. Back at practice on Tuesday, I wore the blindfold while I did my Tai Chi and jogged three laps with it on. Addictive? No, just superstitious.

I took the blindfold off to see Geri Price staring at me in mock horror.

“What in the name of Nike are you doing, Wells?” She asked and then winked at Harry.

“Training,” I said.

I told her about the Terre Haute debacle, and she thought it was ridiculous.

“I had no idea you were such a dirty runner,” she said. “Did Rockard teach you that?”

“Back in the day, I took out a whole relay team with a single baton,” I said.

“Wells, you’re such a bad liar.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

 

// //

Let’s Race

Chapter 29, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

I craved it. I dreamt it. I ached for it.

And now, here it was in my face. R-A-C-E.

After enduring Harry’s endless methodical meanness, I was going to run in a real race. But where was the jubilation? Was I too exhausted to be excited. Was I relieved?

My heart knew what to do. It raced in my chest.

VVVRRROOOMMM!

My lower lip quivered. I sweated like a cheap air conditioner. Fear vise gripped me.

… you’d think you’d be careful what you wished for…

“You will run every weekend, and we’ll see what happens,” said Harry as if he were planning a trip to the grocery. “I have it all mapped out on my calendar. In April, we will take a lap around the state.”

“We will?” I repeated, skipping from one foot to the other. Every leg fiber vibrated with mounting trepidation.

“Yes,” Harry said, sensing my reluctance. “Just part of the process. You will be all right. Competitive work, that is what you need now. A few races. Seasoning. Just a touch. For flavor.”

“What am I? A stew?”

“You do not want to go stale, do you?”

“Stale?” I asked, having pleaded for months to race.

“Yes, stale,” said Harry. “I figure three or four events should be sufficient before we try and qualify you.”

… listen, Coach, he’s already certifiable …

“Great,” I said, meaning anything but.

“You will be fine. I have done this a hundred times,” said Harry. “Any fool who can run blindfolded like you has the right stuff.”

Blindfolded? That was easy. I was outside of my body, looking down.

“Trust me,” said my coach. “You already have more courage than a hundred morons.”

Harry slapped me hard on the back.

“Let’s go eat,” he said.

Whistling something straight out of “Indiana Jones,” Harry rolled toward the car. I stood there stunned silly. Then it hit me like a shot put to the noggin.

“Hey, I still don’t have a pre-race routine …”

But it didn’t matter. I was going racing. The blindfold should have been an eye opener. I didn’t think I was ready, but everybody else already knew. My legs knew it. My heart knew it. Harry knew it.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Guess It Depends

Chapter 27, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

In less than a week, my agent decided she needed to move back into “our” house to keep up with the growing snowball of offers rolling in.

… sorry, you atheists, this proves there’s a God …

“Charles, the Depends Company called again,” said Melinda.

“No.”

“Shouldn’t we see how much …”

“No, I am not endorsing diapers.”

“Even if it’s limited to one 30-second commercial? As your agent, I must …”

“Melinda, do you know what my friends would say? Do you know what they would do?”

“But what about the girls’ college funds?” My agent countered. “They’re not exactly running over.”

“No.”

“Charles.”

“No.”

Instead, we signed with Sunset Prunes and Associated Fruits. Insert your own juvenile joke here if you must. As part of the deal, I got all new, purple and yellow track gear complete with the company’s logo strategically placed on both sides of my shirts and trunks.

As I suspected, no detail was too small for my agent. Melinda was a natural. But we both knew the offers would not last. You get only 15 minutes, right? Each day she spent about an hour on the phone before work, talking with marketing departments, vetting the companies and then negotiating if she wanted to pursue an offer.

When Melinda moved back, she took over the master bedroom. I stayed downstairs. I was ecstatic. My separated wife of nine weeks had come home. Already, our daughters were sleeping in their old bedrooms three nights a week, so the transition proved minimal.

Long after the fact, I discovered it was Dedra who “persuaded” Melinda to go home. My agent was tying up Dedra’s phone line. Also, I heard Dedra was seeing someone new.

At first, Melinda was suspicious of Harry, but he charmed her as he had done Shannon and Jessie. That he took care of all the cooking didn’t hurt either. After Melinda and the girls moved back, come to think of it, I didn’t see Harry much around the house at night. He would fix a quick dinner for us and disappear. Coincidence? I think not.

In any case, I adored having my family back under one roof even if I had to sleep on a moldy, old sleeping bag in the dank basement. It was worth it. My being in the basement was more than punitive or symbolic, too. It was practical. I could come and go without disturbing anyone. And yes, I still got my nightly dose of Russian.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Lost In Thought

Chapter 24, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

“Yeah, so I have a few issues to deal with. Who doesn’t? But you’re not helping by interrogating me,” I said as my growing agitation began to show. “If you mean, did I feel old and stupid and out of step – no pun intended – the answer is ‘yes, I did.’ ”

Harry pushed the foot rest down and sat up.

“My question is do you feel the need to continue?”

A cold draft wafted over me as if someone had opened a window. I shivered.

“Continue?”

“Yes,” said Harry. “Do you want to continue? It is not a difficult question, even for you.”

“Are we still in the tearing-down stage? Are you always this nasty to your athletes?”

Harry stood.

“I do what I think is best for each one. You, sir, need a good boot in the posterior. Now that you participated in that meaningless event and incurred further mental damage, you will need … ”

“A kick in the head? Right? Where do you get this malarkey?”

“Malarkey? I swear. You and your peers are some of the most narcissistic in the history of the world,” said Harry, waving his right index finger like a band leader. “Why do I need to explain anything? In my day, sir, we did what we were told. No questions asked.”

“So?”

“So we did not feel a neurotic need to ask a basketful of simplistic questions every five minutes,” he said.

“Is it my fault we’re not sheep?”

I made a face.

“BBBBAAAAHHH!” I bleated.

Harry made a face.

“Enough of your childish sarcasm. Woe is the day that a baby boomer takes responsibility for anything.”

… here we go again …

“Your generation truly confounds me. I suppose you could blame your malaise on the acceleration of change during the past 40 years,” he said, rubbing his eyes again. “You boomers are probably the most technologically stressed of all time. And it shows.”

“Say what?” I was lost.

“See? said Harry, pacing a circle around me. “Space travel, computers, cellphones, iPods. No wonder you ask questions. It’s a flawed stalling tactic designed to keep you from falling further behind.”

“What’s the point, Harry?”

“And you have no patience either. Instant this, instant that, instant gratification always.”

“What’s your damned point?”

“And always skipping to the bottom line with no interest in how one gets there.”

“The point, if you please.”

“I saw your races.”

“You what?”

“I know the coach at Georgia Tech. He recorded your races and emailed them to me. They’re on your computer. You were beat before you ran the first step.”

“You were spying on me?”

“You boomers know what your problem is, Charlie?”

… who is this Charlie …

“You think too much.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Atlanta Or Cuss

Chapter 23, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Thursday after work, Ralphie and I settled into his multi-dented Ford F1 pickup and cruised for Atlanta. I had less than 24 hours before I would run a 5:37 p.m. heat at Georgia Tech’s George C. Griffin Track and Field Facility.

But already I was in Angst City.

Was Harry right? Ralphie said no way.

“Don’t lissen to da ol’ nutjob,” he said. “Whut’s he know anyway? He’s probably forgot more dan he ever knew.”

Then it struck me.

“You’re an anarchist, aren’t you?

“So? So what if I am?”

“Nothing. Just sayin’. After all these years, you think you know somebody, but you really don’t. Maybe you shouldn’t even try.”

“Like Lindy?”

“Whatever.”

For the next 50 miles, I daydreamed about running against the best in Atlanta’s annual Peach State Games. Yeah, you can visualize only so many races. I was dying to see how I stacked up. On the other foot, I felt bad going against Harry’s wishes. What if I blew out a hamstring? What if terrorists blew up the track? What if …

“OK, whut da hell is an archivist?”

“Say what?”

“Whut makes ya think I’m an archivist?”

“Anarchist, man, an anarchist, someone who believes in anarchy. I noticed you’re always encouraging me to go against authority. Like Harry. What the hell is the deal?”

Ralphie mulled the question.

“For one, it’s mindless. Can’t stand people tryin’ to tell me whut to do. Like you.”

… this is going to be a long trip …

“And I don’t like to be labeled,” added Ralphie.

Back into reverie I plunged. Through the moonless night and countless bad radio stations, we took turns driving and arrived with daybreak. We checked in at a mom-and-pop motel off I-75, 15 miles from downtown Atlanta. I tried to sleep. But my inner clock would not allow it. Rest? Forget it.

Did Harry think I was going to freak out competing against 20-somethings? Did he think I didn’t have enough heart? Could he not be telling me something? Something I needed to know?

Ralphie’s competition started at 1:30, so I dropped him at Griffin before noon, ate breakfast at Waffle House and went back to the motel to wrestle with more self-doubt – and lost.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

The Power Of Suggestion

Chapter 22, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

Tossing out the club members, Harry attacked me with his evaluative tools. First, I endured a homemade IQ exam, including an essay question about the type of pen I preferred, ballpoint or felt-tipped.

Harry would make no commitment until he knew my mental capacity. I tried hard to tolerate it. I wanted a coach. He tested my verbal skills with associative drills. He made me guess each scribbling in a series of abstract pencil drawings. I swear the last one looked like Frank Shorter. He peppered me with psychological queries.

“If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?”

“If you were a car, what kind of car would you be?”

“If you were a man, what kind …”

I was tempted to walk out on that one. As soon as Harry was sure I had a brain, he measured my head, my neck, my biceps, my fingers, my calf muscles, my feet – and grunted at each number. Then he measured from my right heel to the back of my left knee and whistled.

The only thing he didn’t do was open my mouth and look at my teeth. Me? I didn’t ask for his AARP card or anything. Truth be told, if I knew then what I know now about Harry Nurmi, I would have torn out of that room, screeching. How clueless was I? After Harry agreed to take on my challenge, I suggested my new mentor move to Valparaiso and stay at my house until he could find a new place.

STOP! There’s no need to pile on. I’ve taken enough verbal abuse.

YES, I might have mental issues caused by my mother. Who doesn’t?

NO, Harry is just my coach. I’m not his bitch.

At the time, I wanted to facilitate training. I thought it was a good idea. It made sense. I didn’t want to drive to Michigan City every day. Maybe, too, I was honored, maybe a little in awe, to have a big-time coach, even if he were years past his prime. Sure, it was supposed to be for a few weeks, a month at the most, until he found a suitable place in a Valparaiso assisted-living facility.

He’s still looking.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

I Can See Clearly Now

Chapter 21, Blog 5

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

“We all have glaucoma,” said Claire with a theatrical, all-encompassing wave of her hand. “Or think we do. You know, others wish they did. We do have a waiting list for the club.”

“Don’t make up stuff, Claire,” said Frank. “He might believe you.”

“Did Indiana change the law or something?” I asked, passing the joint to Claire.

“Sir, I will have you know it is perfectly legal in my room,” Nurmi said. “Tyler’s management does encourage periodic attempts at limited socialization.”

“Isn’t he so delicate?” Claire asked. “I mean, I could sit here all day and listen to the bastard.”

“Would you care to enlighten us on the nature of your mission?” Nurmi asked. “Or should we start a game of 20 Questions? This poor bastard would like to know what it is you seek.”

“It was my understanding pot made you mellow,” I whispered to Claire.

“Not Harry,” she giggled. “It just makes him even more verbose and pompous.”

“I said, young man, be a good boy and tell us what you want,” Harry said.

… now or never, bad boy …

“I need a coach,” I said. “I’m trying to qualify for the Olympics. Right now, I need to shave off a few seconds from my best time, but I think I’m stuck on a plateau. Does that answer your question?”

… I see someone else can’t hold his reefer madness …

Everyone turned and stared at Harry, puffing perfect circles. He paused. You could tell he grooved on the attention.

“A coach.”

“Yes, I want a coach.”

“That is the most ludicrous thing I have heard all day,” Harry chuckled between puffs. “What? I suppose you consider yourself an athlete?”

“Well, yeah, a runner. Is that so hard to believe?”

“HA! That is a genuine, 100 percent hoot,” Harry bellowed. “This country stopped making runners late last century. They went out of style, you see.”

The record changed with a flop.

“Hey, that’s “Hotel California,’ ” I said. “The Eagles.”

“That’s one of my favorites,” said Claire, taking her turn puffing on the joint. “But Pink Floyd’s good, too.”

“I still like Led Zeppelin,” I said.

“They’re not bad,” Claire said. “What others do you know?”

“Got any Elvis Costello?”

“What is this?” asked Harry. “Music Appreciation class?”

“Oh, Harry, coach the poor boy,” said Claire. “He’s not a bad guy.”

Everyone turned toward Harry again. He sat up and stared at me.

“Why should I? I do not know the first thing about him, do I? I do not know what he intends to run.”

“That’s easy,” I said. I’m sure I was stoned. “The 800, the 800 meters.”

“That’s a sprint, isn’t it?” Claire asked. “I just love sprints.”

“The 800?” asked Harry. “I am afraid the 800 is a race for real men. It is no sprint.”

“Oh, you’re so technical,” said Claire.

“What makes you think you could compete meaningfully in the 800?” Harry asked.

“Because I CAN,” I asserted under a growing buzz.

Except for the Eagles, the room fell silent.

“We shall see,” said Harry.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Baloney Detector

Chapter 20, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

For the inquisition, I wore my best – a navy blue suit, white shirt and red silk tie – only to arrive eight minutes late. Late, because I grew agitated as I left the house, turned back and had to throw my running gear in a brown paper bag to bring it along. I promised myself, if the session let out early, I would sneak in a short run.

Sitting at a conference room table, Melinda, looking resplendent in her black pantsuit with white pinstripes, and her lawyer, Mr. Peabody, a white-haired, no-nonsense gentleman, in his late sixties, waited patiently while Sterling whispered last-minute instructions.

“And for God’s sake, whatever you do, don’t say one word more than you have to,” he warned me. I nodded.

Sterling questioned Melinda first, asking if there were any possibility of reconciliation.

Melinda looked me up and down and said “no way.”

Peabody wanted the financial statements that I was asked to produce. After Sterling checked them, I handed the papers to Peabody. He tossed them in his briefcase and slammed it shut. It appeared the hearing would finish in record time. Faking a sigh, Melinda’s lawyer looked at her and then at me.

“There is one way to avoid all of this,” he said.

… oh boy …

“And that is?” Sterling asked.

Again, Melinda’s lawyer glanced at her. She nodded.

“My client, uh, she might be willing to reconcile if her husband would give up this, uh, this, this Olympic, uh … ”

“Nonsense?” I filled in the blank.

“Yes, something like that,” Peabody said.

“And why is this?” asked my lawyer.

“It should be obvious,” said Peabody. “Let us cut the baloney and be realistic. At his age, he has no real chance of running in any Olympics. Now, if he were a 20-something … ”

Hot blood surged throughout my face. My heartbeat picked up the pace.

“I don’t believe you’re qualified to make that determination,” said Sterling.

“Baloney?” I was incredulous. “What would you know about baloney?”

Sterling shushed me.

Peabody ignored us both.

“Number two, it takes too much time away from his family.”

“They’re asleep when I train,” I said, standing up.

My lawyer pushed me back into my chair. He glared at Peabody and then Melinda.

“Is there another reason?” asked Sterling.

“Yes, his daughters miss him,” Peabody said.

My lawyer tapped his pen on his lips and considered what he had just heard.

“I propose a recess,” he said.

“Baloney,” I said. “We don’t need a recess.”

“Uh-oh,” said Sterling. “Chuck, I think we should talk it over.”

“Number one,” I said. “It’s not nonsense.”

“Your words. I believe you called it nonsense,” said Peabody.

“I’m less than three seconds from qualifying for the Olympic Trials in the 800.”

Melinda’s lawyer exaggerated a glance at the court reporter taking down the transcript and then at me.

“Mr. Wells, may I remind you that you’re on the record here, and anything you say here will be … ”

“1:48.399. I ran a 1:48.399 last Saturday. I have witnesses.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

To Run Or Not To Run

Chapter 20, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

Atlanta would have to wait.

Two days later, I received a letter from my lawyer, Sterling Miller. Despite my pleas, Melinda still wanted a trial separation – maybe even a divorce. She was convinced I was beyond hope. Her lawyer, E.A. Peabody, had proposed an initial hearing.

I tried to call Melinda, but she still wouldn’t come to the phone. I swear she could be so stubborn. It had to be genetic. And that was why I loved her. I wanted her back. In the letter, Sterling suggested we propose marital counseling to slow down the process.

Again I questioned my priorities. Was I wrong? Maybe.

Meanwhile, I called Sterling’s paralegal assistant, Jan, and gave her the go-ahead to schedule “the damned hearing.” Three days counted off before she called back to say it would be at the Peabody & Pickett office on June 25 in Merrillville.

… that’s just great, you have to burn another comp day. This time Barnacle is going to throw a rod …

“Where’s those Cedar Lake drainage plans you promised me, Wells?” I could hear him taunting me. “You know, I needed them yesterday.”

Checking the calendar, I was surprised and then relieved. I saw the boss was slated for his annual Las Vegas conference (gambling expedition). Barnacle would be out of town all week or until he ran out of money.

HALLELUJAH! Now it didn’t matter. No one else would care what I did.

The minor miracle helped to lift my spirit. Sadly, school was out, and again I trained by myself. Plus, I had smacked up against a glass barrier at 1:48 and change. I needed help to crack 1:48 and fast.

Thing was, I was becoming a junkie – a running junkie. After my brain and then my body had gotten past the initial shock of training, I noticed two red-flag signs of addictive behavior.

First, there was an increase in obsessiveness. I couldn’t think about anything but running. At work I pored over training schedules and researched the best foods for runners. At home I reread all my Runners World magazines and any other running material I could find.

Second, when I wanted to take a day off from training, I couldn’t. I’d sneak it in somewhere. Otherwise, I felt nervous, anxious. I needed that little training buzz. My muscles would twitch when I didn’t work them. It was obvious. Running had slowly become my drug of choice. I had given up beer, snack foods, TV and all the other things normal human beings used to gain comfort. No, I didn’t live in a cave yet, but I could have.

June 25 would be one of those off days. In retrospect, I should have skipped the hearing. I should have run.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Spin And Win

Chapter 19, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

The next day at the Valparaiso High School track, Ralphie met my racing buddies. I think he scared them. But one squeaky-voice joker named Henry asked Ralphie if the Incredible Hulk were his uncle. Instead of turning green with anger, Ralphie went purple with laughter. It proved infectious. The kids laughed and nicknamed Ralphie Hulk Junior – or Junior for short.

Ralphie adored it.

While the runts and I melted through another hot session of interval training, Ralphie heaved a shot put into the orangy, dawn sky. Spellbound, the big kids studied his technique. Ralphie’s tosses more than doubled theirs. They covered their ears as his grunts rumbled across the early-morning landscape. Ted, a beanpole with swimmers goggles for glasses, asked Ralphie if he ever tried to spin when he threw, such as a discus thrower. Ted cited statistics that more than 28 percent of high school shot putters spun a turn and a half across the circle to create more force. Ralphie shrugged.

On the next throw, Ralphie spun through the circle and tumbled flat on his face. But his throw flew four more feet, digging a crater far beyond the high school mud hole, near 65 feet. Yep, I thought, Ralphie will be ready for Atlanta.

But will I?

After burning through the last interval, I scurried home, showered and hustled to work. With Ralphie onboard, I needed that weekend off for Atlanta, maybe string four days together. I had put off making the request because I would have to ask my boss, Mr. Barnacle. When a schedule needed changing, he was as understanding as a guillotine operator.

The silvery-haired crab shoved his chair away from his mahogany desk buried by blueprints and barked at me. I decided to be assertive. It was the new me. I noticed the running gave me more confidence.

“Hey, Chief, you DO owe me the time.”

Barnacle’s dollar green eyes popped wide. He rubbed his red, bulbous nose until I thought it would fall off.

“Wells, you’re wasting your time. Even I could beat the likes of you.”

… why you pompous sonvabitch …

I counted to 10.

“You? You couldn’t beat my dead grandma,” I said, not thinking.

He started to foam at the mouth.

… oh-oh, brain hemorrhage at 3 o’clock…

Then he lost it. Barnacle guffawed so hard his nasty, yellow dentures flew into my lap.

“Go, ahead, Wells,” he spitted. “Knaa yoursell oudd.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang