Postmarked Zolvinskiland

Chapter 19, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Then Ralphie dropped his own homemade bomb.

“Ya know whut? I think I might wunt to try, too,” he said.

“Try? Try what? Did I miss something here? Did you hit your head?”

Ralphie shifted forward. I could hear the sofa springs plead for mercy under the monstrous burden.

“ ’Member when we were kids, and we staged da Olympics in your backyard? Ya made ever’one march in with those dumb dime store flags your mom bought.”

“We must have been 6 or 7,” I said.

“Yup,” said Ralphie. “Seems like a hundred years ago, don’t it?”

“I’m surprised you even remember,” I said. “I forgot about it.”

“Dat’s back when I could outrun your ass,” said Ralphie. “That’s why.”

Now I sat up.

“Like hell you did.”

“Used to kick your ass on a regular basis.”

“I can’t recall one time you beat me, you big clod.”

“Sounds like repression ta me.”

With all those dead brain cells of his, it was amazing Ralphie could remember his own address. But he did remember our backyard Olympic Games.

“We made medals out of cardboard and ribbon and gave ’em ta da winners,” he said. “I still have a drawer of ’em at home.”

“And we would sing the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ because we Americans would always win,” I said. “We dominated the old neighborhood.”

“Except the long jump. Dat damned Zolvinski kid would win da long jump,” said Ralphie. “Ever’time. He’d win, and we’d sing sumthin’ dat sounded like a funeral march.”

“It was the theme from the old ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ show. We said it was the national anthem of Zolvinskiland. That always pissed him off.”

Ralphie and I chuckled at the memory.

“We really picked on him, didn’t we?” said Ralphie.

“Yeah, but he deserved it.”

“Well, said Ralphie. “I’ve bin thinkin’ about all dat crap since ya got us hauled off to jail. Dat whole night I couldn’t sleep.”

“I heard you. You were snoring.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Ups And Downs

Chapter 18, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

“Invincible” told the real-life story of Vince Papali, who at the over-the-hill NFL age of 33, joined the Philadelphia Eagles as a walk-on during Dick Vermeil’s first season as head coach in 1976. After players twice his size hammered Vince until he was close to quitting, he made the key plays to help the Eagles beat their rivals, the New York Giants.

At the end, I cried. My empathy for Vince was too much. Ralphie cried, too.

“Now you get it?” I sputtered, choking with tears.

“Yeah, I git it,” said Ralphie. “I got it da first time I saw it.”

We sat there in the dark, illuminated by only the rolling credits. We were two grown men, sobbing like lost, little boys. For me, it wasn’t just the movie. The last six weeks were too much. My roller coaster of emotions careened out of control.

“So Lindy wants a divorce, huh?” asked Ralphie, wiping his tears.

SSSSCCCCRRRREEEECCCCHHH!!! Went the roller coaster.

“Say what?”

“A divorce,” Ralphie repeated.

… ha, you’re always the last to know, dude …

I stared straight ahead, but my mind ran in circles.

“Dedra, right?”

“Like puttin’ it on da ’Net,” Ralphie said.

I liked my mother-in-law. Dedra was many times more reasonable than her daughter. Often, Dedra would take my side – right or wrong – against Melinda. But this wasn’t one of those times.

“She can stay over there until the fat man takes a dump,” I said. “They’ll kill each other before it’s over.”

Ralphie pushed his hand up and down as if he were erasing a chalkboard. I didn’t appreciate the gesture.

“Stick it up your ass,” I said.

“Dat sounds like your slush fund of anger talkin’ now,” he said. “Why not jist own up to bein’ an ass and apologize for screwin’ around. Let Lindy come home. It’s da right thing to do.”

“Well, maybe ’cause I wasn’t screwin’ around?”

“Whutever,” said Ralphie. “Ya know women. They’re gonna believe da worst anyway, no matter what da truth is.”

“You think I was having sex with a high school junior?”

Ralphie paused, then sighed.

“Hope ya got more sense than dat. But look in da mirror. Ya bin actin’ pretty damned screwy, no pun intended. Whut ya think people are gonna say?”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Sucker Punch

Chapter 17, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

The morning workouts gave me a vital high I clung to like a crack addict. I needed it. It was tough at night when I sat alone in a dark, quiet house. I had taken my family for granted, and I was being punished for it. Was this Olympic insanity worth the price? No, but what could I do? No one would talk to me. I reflected on it nightly into June.

It wasn’t the first time someone had left me.

“Charlie! Come here! Charlie!” My mother shouted. That tone meant business. Even as a third-grader, I could tell. I ran into the kitchen.

“Charlie, Mrs. Erny says you were acting out in class again today. Didn’t we have a little talk about that just last week?”

“Yes, Mom, but … ”

“Look here, honey, I know you miss your father. We’ve been through this a thousand times. God wanted him and called him home. If he were here now, he would be very displeased with you.”

“But, Mom … ”

“Listen, little man, you need to straighten up. I know you’re just acting out because you need some more attention. I’ll try to do a better job, OK?”

“OK.”

“All right now, any questions?”

“What should I do the next time Freddie says you’re a bitch?”

“WHAT? Freddy? That little shit! Punch him in the nose!”

A sharp rap at the front door interrupted my flashback. I thought it had to be a court employee with a subpoena. Everyone else was avoiding me.

… don’t even think about answering that …

A second round of knocking ensued, harder, more determined.

I sat frozen in my Lay Z Boy.

Silence.

A moment later, I could hear a key jiggling in the lock.

… these people stop at nothing …

The doorknob creaked, and a shadowy figure crept in.

I gasped.

“Ralphie!”

“Ya big Ass-wipe. Why didn’t ya let me in?”

“Where’d you get that key?”

“From the usual place in your garage, Moron.”

Reveling in sublime misery, I didn’t care to talk to anyone, not even my former – yes, former – best friend.

“Git outta here,” I groused.

Ralphie ignored me. He shuffled over to the TV, turned it on and plopped in a DVD.

“Jist give me a minute.”

“Ralphie, I don’t care to watch any movies.”

“Jist shuddup.”

He fumbled with the remote control.

“C’mon, tell me how ta start this stupid thing.”

“Go home.”

“Shuddup, I mean it. Or I’ll sit on your head and fart until you die. It’s your call.”

“Hit play.”

“Thank ya.”

“What the hell is it?” I asked.

“It’s a move, Dumb Ass.”

“I know it’s a movie. What is it?”

“It’s called ‘Invincible.’”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Round And Round

Chapter 17, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Geri had transitioned to afternoon practices and meets, so I was limited to running with whomever showed up in the morning, whether they be humans or wild dogs. Sadly, it was none of the above – it was just freshmen.

They had the option of training in the morning or waiting until early evening when the varsity was finished. Many opted for mornings. It wasn’t bad. I had someone to run those damned intervals with – and bitch after each one. Yeah, we bitched. Man, did we bitch. You would, too, if you were high on lactic acid.

I felt wicked. A gaggle of eight children with me in the middle, all cussing like convicts for 30 odd seconds, then dashing for 45 seconds more, slowing to a crawl and letting loose again. I wish we had a video of it for that television show. We would have won the top prize. On the other hand, there would be some angry parents when millions saw their little Johnnie swearing on national TV. Remarkably, no one reported us. We were obnoxiously loud and the music we played during practice was louder, mostly Maroon 5, Daughtry and our favorite by Justin Timberlake, “What Goes Around … Comes Around.”

On Saturday, I’d race whatever sucker wanted to try and beat me. The prize was $20. Even with head starts, though, no one could touch me, least of all, freshmen. No one else tried. Racing for money was illegal, of course, but I never had to pay. It was good practice. Staying out of box traps, sprinting the last 200 meters to the finish and setting the pace when the race was slow, I tried to invent every situation imaginable and some that weren’t.

Could you tell? I was bored. But the daily dose of training proved therapeutic, keeping my mind off the chaos in my personal life for about 90 minutes. Also, I loved the limited socialization it provided since Melinda, Ralphie and my other friends were shunning me. Only my daughters came around to see me. My kids, my job and my running were all I had.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

It’s Not Cheap To Be An Athlete

Chapter 17, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Short of 15-year-old fishing line, have you ever seen anything so snarled and screwed up? The steep price of being an Olympic athlete was climbing by the minute. Melinda took the kids and moved in with her mother, Dedra, nine blocks away, over on Franklin Street.

I tried calling. She hung up on me.

I tried visiting. She wouldn’t answer the door.

I tried writing. She sent the letters back, unopened.

I talked to Dedra, who said Melinda refused to listen. “Never has, never will.” Dedra then chastised me for being so selfish and ignorant about women. She had an inkling of what happened, but her real motivation was personal. Dedra wanted Melinda out of her house as quickly as possible. Soon, a week peeled away. My daughters came over a handful of times because they missed me. I sure missed them. I missed their mother, too. Melinda didn’t seem to care. She made the kids promise to leave if I dared bring up any “issues,” Shannon said.

After two weeks, I begged Geri to go over and tell Melinda the whole truth and nothing but the truth. She did. Melinda listened politely and then told Geri that her lawyer would contact me. Midlife crisis she could overlook. Adultery she could not. Melinda wanted a trial separation.

And who was having a midlife crisis?

Meanwhile, I left it all on the Valparaiso High School track. Melinda’s last words about the Olympics hung in the air, haunting me. Now I would do anything I had to make it. And that included running intervals with freshmen.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

You Only Live Once

Chapter 15, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Geri started her workout. Billy and I rehashed the race. He said I needed to sprint the last 200 meters and not wait until the last curve to make a move.

“You’ve got maybe two chances to accelerate during an 800,” Billy said. “You can’t wait or you’ll waste them.”

Gobbling everything the young track star fed me, I craved more. I was starved for feedback. Who knew the fount of knowledge just happened to be this tousled-hair, 150-pound kid who scampered like a scared rabbit. What I wouldn’t give to be 17 again, have his wheels and know what I knew as a 48-year-old.

“Tell me. How do I shave off five more seconds?” I asked while Billy gave Geri her split times.

“Five seconds?” he repeated, taken aback.

… yeah, we know, world record territory, big effing deal …

“All right,” I said. “How about three seconds. No need to be greedy.”

Billy frowned.

“For starters, let’s get you some decent shoes,” he said, making a face at mine. “Are those from the Seventies, too?”

Brand new out of the box, my Pumas were a gorgeous red with white trim. Now they were a disgusting, rusty brown. Not wanting to make myself sound any older, I didn’t answer as Geri flew by again. While she did propel herself with an exaggerated arm and leg movement, she ran easily, sailing down the track.

“Tell me how I could run like that, and I’d hand over my firstborn,” I said.

“I’m still waiting for that twenty,” Billy said. “So you got kids?”

“Yeah, don’t tell anybody, OK?”

“Nobody would believe me anyway,” he said.

“Geri keeps telling me I need to find somebody to run with. I think she’s tired of my holding her back.”

“I don’t know about that,” said Billy. “But starting next week, there’ll be a mess of freshmen out here every morning. You can always run with them.”

“Thanks, Billy. But won’t an old guy like me just get in their way?”

“I wouldn’t worry,” he said. “They’re just freshmen.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Freakin’ Fast

Chapter 14, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Off we zoomed. Billy got the better start. Already he was two meters ahead. My feet tiptoed down the track, investigated the feel – and flirted with the sensation.

… don’t look now, but you’re freakin’ racing …

A tidal wave of emotion hit.

… you bastard, you love this …

RACING, YES.

The rush, freedom, juvenile joy …

… hey, you idiot, he’s pulling away …

GOOO, SEABISCUIT!

I lengthened my strides. Pushed them quicker, deeper.

And …

Came up even with Billy down the backstretch. The pace quickened, maybe too quick. Split times? Too smokin’ fast.

… he’s just a kid. What you waiting for? BEAT HIM! GRAB THE LEAD …

I ignored the voice and the temptation. Into the turn, I dropped behind Billy, just missing  his heels. I loped down the front stretch, inches behind.

“DING, DING, DING,” Geri sang as we crossed the line. “One lap to go!”

Billy shifted into high and cruised to a three-stride lead. No decision here. I had to go, too. I hit the pedal. To my surprise, it responded. A couple of sputters, but it responded.

I closed the gap again. Into the last turn, we roared. Again, Billy pulled away.

… there he goes …

It was now or never.

Out of the turn, I whipped into the second lane and ran like a man on fire. I was on fire. The lactic acid kicked in. My legs burned.

… burn, baby, burn …

I tried to embrace it. Every step hotter, hotter.

… DAMN, your legs, they’re melting …

… HOT, HOT, HOT …

… so what, GO…

I did. We were neck and neck. My legs seared. The faster I ran, the hotter they got. I smelled flesh cooking. At the line, Billy stretched. I didn’t.

It was Billy by a nose.

I didn’t collapse in a heap, but I wanted to. No way I would give those children the satisfaction. Bent over, hands on knees, I felt hungover. My head spun like a cheap propeller and my sides threatened to cave in. And then I remembered.

… you lost, you lost to a kid …

I hated to lose. I hated it. I hated it.

“Yeah, so what?” I said through teeth clenched and slowly straightened up.

… why didn’t you lean, you too good to lean, you damned loser …

“Really?”

The unmistakable sound of laughter sucked me back to reality. Geri and Billy were more than giddy, laughing so hard tears were rolling down their cheeks. Freakin’ bastards. Are you kidding? Furious, I pivoted to lash out.

“Guess what, Old Man,” Geri said.

“You disqualified Billy for being too young?”

“No, worse.”

“What?” I yelled.

“You two freaks just broke the school record by almost three seconds.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Get Set …

Chapter 14, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

That was the difference between Geri and me.

I saw training as nothing but pain and misery. Something to get through, an evil means to a desired end. Go ahead. Throw in your own trite cliché here. But for Geri, it was spiritual, rewarding – and nothing short of miraculous.

Seemed to me, old school got old for a reason.

In spite of my hard-charging coach, I weaseled a week’s reprieve from racing to train with renewed purpose. With my first dose of competition looming, even those devilish intervals didn’t seem so hellish. See, I was trying.

On race day, I didn’t feel ready, but I had little choice. So at 7:30 a.m. on an overcast but dry Saturday in early April, I awaited my first race in 30 years. My sadistic coach matched me against Valparaiso High School’s current 800-meter champ, Billy Tubbs,

… you have no freakin’ chance, dude …

Geri and Billy showed at the same time. Billy seemed like a nice kid, long, lanky, a natural runner. He stretched easily, doing some of the same moves I saw Geri do. And then, he did some real ball busters.

OMIGOD! Did he!

We jogged a few warm-up laps, chatted. He was mulling going to Purdue, as I had, also for engineering. I told him not to rush it. Enjoy high school while he could.

“You sound just like my dad,” he said with a rueful grin.

… you probably look like him, too …

Geri lined us up, a lane apart with Billy on the inside. She pulled a starter’s pistol from her pocket.

“A starter’s gun?” I asked, startled by the formality.

“You saw the movie ‘Seabiscuit’ didn’t you?” Geri countered, winking at Billy. “It’s all part of my method.”

“Just don’t point that thing at me,” I said and inhaled every molecule of air my lungs could hold, counted to 10 and exhaled. “All right, let’s get it over with.”

“Take your mark … ”

“Just a minute,” I interrupted. “Billy, would you take $10 not to beat me by more than 10 meters?”

Billy smiled. Geri acted annoyed.

“Make it 20,” he said.

“Meters or dollars?”

“Gentlemen, take your mark … get set … ”

BANG!

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Love It Or Leave It

Chapter 13, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

“So what’s your excuse?” Geri asked, sensing my mood shift. “I suppose your wife makes you, right?”

That woke me.

… apparently, she doesn’t know Mrs. Wells …

“Ummm, no, I think Melinda truly hates my training. It takes time away from her and the kids. But my girls, they’re all for it. They’re all in. They like to encourage me.”

“But something tells me ya don’t care for it much,” she said.” Am I right?”

“When I was young, it was like standard practice,” I said. “It was second nature to say we hated anything good for us like running or reading or eating vegetables. Know what I mean? If you said you liked those things, you were branded as weird or not from this planet. You know how peer pressure works.”

“So why run if ya hate it so much?”

“Means to an end, I guess. I don’t dislike it as much as I say I do. That’s still a reflex thing. My body, though, does have its own ideas.”

“OK, jist so I know where ya stand. I don’t mean to discourage ya,” said Geri. “Jist the opposite. If ya work at it, I mean, your strides are good – for an old dude.”

“Gee, thanks, Coach. You think I’m going to stroke out, don’t you?”

“Knock it off, Wells. I’m saying physically ya can go a long way. And I can help ya with that if ya want. I can tell ya what to run, what to work on, that sort of stuff.”

“But?”

“But I can’t help ya with what’s between your ears.”

I looked at Geri. She was sincere. I still wasn’t.

“That’s easy.” I said. “There’s nothing there.”

She nodded in agreement.

“I can tell,” Geri said. “Ya might need someone smarter than me to help with that.”

I tried to stay positive.

“So you think I can still motor, huh?”

“Let’s find out,” Geri said. “Let’s have ya race somebody. How about Saturday?”

“How about a month from Saturday?”

Geri ignored me.

“And I know jist who to get.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Back On Track

Chapter 11 , Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

That Ralphie, he made me so damned mad.

So mad I was ready to take it out on anybody I ran across – or with.

“OK, muscles, you sorry bastards, enough coddling. We’ve got a job to do.

GIT TO WORK!”

“NOW!!”

Sssssssstttttttrrrrrreeettttttccccchhhhhh, like you mean it.

The time off did help my legs. The ankle sprain was low and 98 percent healed with only a few twinges. Damn, I used to be such a fast healer. What the hell, happened? Yeah, yeah, don’t tell me. I knew, but I didn’t have any time to dwell on it.

After jogging the block three times, I called it a day. My key objective was more online research. It was becoming addictive. Calling up the USAT.org website, I searched for a running club to join. The closest to Valparaiso was the Porter County Sheriff’s Police.

Sheriff’s Police?

That was it. I emailed the contact for some info. And I’m still waiting for an answer.

Then I threw on street clothes and a coat, and drove over to Valparaiso High School. Bless her heart, Mrs. Fuqua was right. I should run on a better track, one without ice or potholes.  I was not only an alum there, but I knew the track coach. Boy oh boy, did I know the coach.

School was under way, so I registered at the office, got my guest pass and marveled how the high school students looked like children. The coach, well, he was the biggest kid of them all. Long-haired, rotund and forever jolly, Coach Rockard welcomed me, almost calling me by my real name. If Rockard wore a red suit instead of his old, green track sweats, he could have been Santa’s brother. Thirty years ago, he was just a youngster out of Indiana State when he took over the VHS program. Me? I was a know-nothing twig.

“Fred, ya knucklehead,” he said. “What’s up?”

This “knucklehead” wanted to qualify for the Olympics, I said with a straight face. I sat back and waited for Coach to stroke out. Instead, his craggy face beamed amusement. Except for the gray-flecked hair, he hadn’t changed. His irrepressible spirit and Kentuckian cadence tripped me back to 1977 for all of 30 blissful seconds.

“The Olympics, huh? Ya don’t say.”

“That’s right,” I said. “Crazy, no?”

Rockard twirled his shaggy beard in his fingers, leaned back in his chair and glowed. Nothing ever surprised him.

“Better later than never, I guess,” he said. “What can I do to help?”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang