Sorely Missing

Chapter 39, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

“And stop wrinkling your brow. You’re getting some deep lines etched on your forehead. Keep that up, Mister, and you’ll be old before your time.”

“Yes, Mom. Tell me about it.”

“Well …”

Harry and I slept and slept and slept. We slept through the evening and deep into the morning. It did me good. I awoke rested, refreshed – and with hardly any voices.

Despite turning the wrong way on Agate Street and an unpleasant exchange with the young man checking parking passes – old story, move on – we arrived at Hayward Field 90 minutes early for my 4:40 p.m. semifinal heat.

… so, bub, act like you’ve been here before, OK …

My anxiety level began a slow ascent. As preemptive measures, I tried visualizing a mistake-free race and sucked in some Chi. Harry pinned the bib on my back, but nothing worked.

During Tai Chi, my legs began to whine. On a pain scale of one to 10, my right leg registered a 12 and my left leg, a 13.5. They resisted most of my efforts at stretching. When I tried to put my right hand out for balance, my back launched into a spasm.

My body had become selfish.

“Shame on you. After all I have done …”

… you’re talking to yourself  again …

“You be quiet, too.”

A cool breeze broke the afternoon’s hot spell, so I sat in the middle of the warm-up track, closed my eyes and considered my fate. I rehashed how Ralphie got screwed out of his chance to compete in the Trials. I pondered Melinda’s change of heart and the sensational effort she made to get me to Eugene. I appreciated Jessie’s faith in me.

Too soon, it was go time, but something was missing. I hurried over to the track and scanned the infield. Where was Harry?

“Probably can’t watch.”

… you can’t count on anyone …

“I haven’t exactly instilled him with confidence, have I?”

Fretting each stride of the way to the starting line, I remembered I also was missing my front bib. A willowy racer with silver-stud earrings took pity and pinned it. Amused, he studied me.

“He’s old enough to be your grandma,” a voice said behind me.

I didn’t have to look.

“I love you, too, Franz,” I said, stretching my shoulders, then my hamstrings. “I thought I smelled some garbage.”

… classy …

“Jist stay outta my way, Granny, and I won’t have to hurt you.”

… and trashy …

I ignored Franz and ran through my pre-race checklist.

Sore shoulders, check.

Sore back, check.

Sore legs, check.

… brainless, double check …

And still no Harry.

Copyright © 2013 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Stinkin’ Thinkin’

Chapter 39, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Back-to-back races? Not since Des Moines. After that party, I couldn’t walk without pain for a week. Now it was worse. My overworked legs were so tired, they didn’t have the energy to hurt.  Add to that, my lucky charms Melinda and the kids couldn’t make it until the finals – if I got there. I peeked at Harry. Not a care in the world, he snored in peaceful, little bursts of gunfire. Angry, anxious and alone, I stood in a quicksand of doubt up to my knees and sank deeper with each new thought.

Why didn’t my coach prepare me better?

… he tried …

Why didn’t I do more interval training?

… maybe because YOU hated it  …

Why won’t Harry tell me what happened the last time?

… ’cause you can’t handle the truth …

I had worked harder than a street sweeper after a parade of horses with diarrhea to get here.  But thanks to Harry’s warning, I realized the semifinals waited up the road, ready to ambush me. I felt like an eighth-grader again, sitting outside Principal James’ door, hearing a kid wailing from the impact of James’ paddle – and knowing I was next.

Yes, I also saw the Olympics poking over the horizon, but annoying little facts made my windmill stomach spin overtime.

I should have peaked by now.

I should have concentrated more on race strategy.

I should be ASLEEP.

… shoulda, coulda, woulda … freakin’ barracuda, shuddup, you’re giving me a migraine …

Before the quarterfinals, I didn’t have the time or the sobriety to obsess. Except for the last 20 meters today, that had worked just fine.

… hit the reset button, click, click … good God, it’s stuck …

I held an ice bag on my back and lied down.

“Hey, Sonny Boy, what seems to be the trouble?”

… who IS that…

“I think it’s time we had that heart-to-heart chat.”

… I tried. He’s the Tin Man …

I looked around. Nobody. Just the old lady’s voice hanging above me.

“What?” I asked. “Are you the Ghost of Christmas Past?”

“No, worse, Bobo …”

“Mom?”

“Yes, Honey, what are you so uptight about?”

“Go away. I already hear enough voices.”

“But I want to help. What’s this mess you got yourself in?”

“No, Mom, it’s all right. I don’t need your help. Really.”

.. that’s what he thinks …

“No, really,” I said.

“You know, mother knows best.”

“OK, wake me out of this nightmare and go away.”

“That little man is right. You are so rude.”

“Hey, stop right there. I don’t need any more lectures.”

I looked at Harry. He snored on.

“Good night, Mom. I need some sleep.”

“OK, Honey, but remember what I used to tell you.”

“That I’ll go blind  if I … ”

“No, Silly, just do your best. That’s all they can ask.”

How I wish I could.

Copyright © 2013 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Semifinal Madness

Chapter 38, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

“Harry, you know, Franz has been telling people that I’m too old to be here, too,” I said. “And guess what. I’m not going anywhere until the bastards tell me to go home.”

My coach blinked.

“What if Franz is right?”

Harry ducked as the ice bag flew over his head and crashed into the wall. I didn’t throw it hard, just hard enough to make the point.

“If you didn’t yell at me all the time, it would be better.” I said. “All that verbal abuse doesn’t help – not one damn bit.”

“That is how I coach. That is who I am. You really think someone my age wants to change the way he operates?” my coach asked. “Can I help if you Boomers are thin-skinned?”

“Thin-skinned? Whose fault is that?”

Harry looked away.

“You know how old I am,” he said.

“103?”

“Very funny. I’m 84 years old. And believe it or not, at 84 one still has hopes and dreams. And to have your hopes and dreams personified in a 49-year-old who thinks he’s 15, well, that is complete …”

“Lunacy?”

“Exactly. Off your rocker, out of your mind, wrong side of the road …”

“Enough, I get the picture.” I said. ‘We’re both tired and screwed-up. You know it. I know it. Take it easy, OK? I know I didn’t do my best. Can we put it behind us and move on?”

Harry stared at me.

“All right, I guess this is what has me all tied up – the semifinals. It is the toughest race of the three.”

I suppose this was not a good time to tell my coach I had wrenched my back by swerving out of the lane on the curve to pass.

… yeah, moron, let it go …

“How in the hell can that be? I thought the first one. Or the finals. Or, or …”

Harry shook his head.

“Nope, this will be it,” he said in his earnest baritone. “You are already through the first one. How? Search me … ”

“Can we PLEASE move on?”

“The final, well, anything can happen in the final if you get there,” my coach said, laying his head on his pillow. “There, you have an extra day of rest.”

“Yeah?”

“It’s this one that has broken some of my very best thoroughbreds. In fact, my last one,” he said. “Why? I do not know. I have dwelt on it for the last 20 years.”

“And no doubt, dreamt about it last night,” I said. “You must have some clue.”

“Sure, I do,” said Harry. “But I am not about to tell you the night before.”

He yawned and turned over.

“Some freakin’ coach I’ve got.”

Instead of responding, Harry began to snore.

Copyright © 2013 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Just Sayin’ II

Chapter 38, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Harry needed to say it. He puffed up like a blow toad and let it fly.

“Just who do you think you are? Listen, here! If you think you can walk in the Olympic Trials and play that over-the-hill, feel-sorry-for-me card, you are sadly …”

“What?” I asked. “We’re playing Mad-Libs?”

“You are such a spoiled child,” said Harry. “You think you know it all. Let me tell you. You ran the most ass-backward race I have ever seen. You are lucky they did not laugh you off the track.”

Squeak, squeak, squeak …

“If you’re trying to build my confidence, Coach, you’re doing one helluva job,” I said, struggling to sit up. An ice bag slid off the pile. “Did I embarrass you or what?”

“You embarrassed yourself. That’s what.”

With one hand on his walker, Harry scooped up the ice bag and tossed it back on the pile.

“I told you to run in California,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “One, maybe two races could have made the difference. Obviously, you are not ready for this, this level.”

Squeak, squeak, squeak …

“That’s one freakin’ news bulletin,” I screamed. I was certain they heard me in downtown Eugene. “NO FREAKIN’ KIDDING!”

Harry’s tirades? HA! They didn’t bother me anymore. They were designed to intimidate children, not 49-year-olds. Coupled with what I had suffered over the past two days, however, it was too much.  If I could have grabbed Harry, I would have strangled him.

And he knew it.

“Hey, settle down …”

“You go to hell! You pompous sonuvabitch!”

“Typical,” said Harry. “No respect for your elders.”

“You said my legs couldn’t take it. And you know I didn’t have the money,” I shouted like an idiot. “We could have run more back home, but that wasn’t good enough for you, was it?”

“They run differently out here,” Harry bellowed back. “Any moron can see that.”

“I’m not just any moron,” I said.

… congrats, you win that point …

Harry cracked the goofiest smile I saw since I punched out Ralphie.

“No, Charlie baby,” he said. “You are one SPECIAL moron.”

Deflated and exhausted, Harry flopped on his bed and motioned for me to take off the ice. He sighed and rubbed his eyes.

“I just needed to say it. I do not mean any of it.” He sighed again. “I never thought I would get here one more time. I guess I’m losing it. It’s truly a nightmare.”

“You sure were rockin’ and rollin’ last night.”

“It’s all a purge mechanism, Princess,” he said.

“I know it is.”

“Anyway, I now realize it was a mistake coming out here,” Harry said. “I cannot handle it as I should. I am too old. I should not be here.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

No Picnic

Chapter 38, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Some way, somehow, I made it through to the semifinals with the 15th best time out of the 16 to advance. I did it with the worst race I had run in months.  As I plodded in tight, oxygen-debted circles through the Hayward grass, my coach answered questions from an impromptu gathering of reporters. Harry loved being the center of attention, and I happily obliged him.

Whenever the questioning veered toward my age, though, I spoke up and gave my standard reply.

“I’m not that old.”

… yes, yes you are …

“I’m NOT that old.”

… in your dreams …

“I’m not that OLD.”

… they’ve got moon rocks younger than you …

Drained silly by my 25-hour, emotional roller coaster, well into hour No. 26, I inventoried the post-race damage. My calves and thighs burned with charcoal-like fire, my lungs were twisted inside out, and my heart hung somewhere outside my chest cavity. Best guess, I needed about a month to recover.

I had less than 20 hours.

… tick … tock … tick ….

From circles, I switched to tramping figure eights to cool down in spite of the 85-degree Eugene heat and the smoky air irritating my lungs. We were down to the last news jackal from the local paper, the Oregonian.

“And what can you tell me that the other stories won’t have?” she asked Harry.

“Well, Honey, for the next round, we plan to have a pack of wild dogs here to chase him around the track,” said my coach in mock seriousness. “He responds well to fear.”

She took the hint, laughed and left.

As my race replayed on the video board, I was horrified. The kids moved free and easy, but it was obvious I was running through water. When we got back to the motel, Harry insisted on burying me under a mountain of motel ice while I lied flat on my back on the rock that was my mattress. A snowman stuffed up my ass would have hurt less.

GGGGRRRRR! BBBBBBRRRRRRRR!

Harry called the icing precautionary. From his furrowed countenance, I could see it was anything but precautionary. Squeaking his walker around my bed, he launched his version of a pep rally.

“You are one lucky bastard,” he said without blinking.

Squeak, squeak, squeak …

Sleep-deprived and now trapped, I studied the cracked, paint-peeling ceiling. I knew I had made two tactical blunders. I knew I was fortunate to advance to the next round. I knew my legs were barbecued chicken.

I just didn’t need to hear it.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

GO!

Chapter 37, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Thanks to “grandpa” stating the obvious, nervous laughter bounced on the track. The starter, who also looked younger and unimpressed, harrumphed in my direction and sent the first heat flying. Friendly Franz took third in 1:47.35, no doubt good enough for a semifinal berth. Out of three heats, the top 16 would advance.

In the second heat, I toed the line. These 20-somethings appeared older, more mature than the others I had raced. And they had huge, muscular calves and biceps.

… steroids …

“Runners, take your mark,” the starter called.

We crowded the line like Walmart shoppers on Black Friday.

BANG!

Away we darted. My first three, nerve-tickling strides were perfect.

I could not have visualized them any better.

… you’re third! DAMNIT RUN…

At the blend line, I fell in behind the first two.

I could feel hot breath on my neck. I should have run diagonally toward the next turn.

… Harry’s not going to like that …

… HEY, YOU’RE THINKING …

…. relax, react …

… don’t think …

A grunting Bigfoot pulled even and matched me stomp for stride. I couldn’t shake him.

… enough! Think already …

I inched away.

… think …

… think …

… think …

And I trained how long?

… focus on the pace, no one wins on the first lap …

That did it. My stride flowed. I loosened my shoulders. Deeper I breathed. The quick pace suited me. I guarded third. We crossed the line. The bell clanged.

… easy, easy …

They clipped my heels down the back stretch. But I kept the door shut. With 200 yards to go, I swerved into the passing lane – on the curve. I had to.

… now or never, hit it, Seabiscuit …

My legs lurched into high. I wrested second near the turn’s end. Down the front stretch I chased the lead. But I spent too much in the turn. I couldn’t get him. Another passed me at the finish. I was lucky. I got third in 1:49.29.

Harry was understanding.

“Walk it off!” he hollered. “You got dementia or something? If I told you once, I have told you a zillion times: DO NOT PASS ON THE DAMN CURVE!”

“Yes … boss …” I gasped, sucking air.

“I knew it,” said Harry. “We should have run more races.”

“So … tell me … again … that was … the easy one?”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Get Set …

Chapter 37, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

“First call for the men’s 800 quarterfinals,” blared the public address system.

“See, plenty of time,” I said. “Hey, Coach, are you nervous or something?”

Recalling months ago when Harry claimed I was an answer to his prayers, I hoped he was praying now.

“I see you do not have enough sense to be nervous,” he said. “That is what I see.”

“Well, I see it was that jackass from the Drake Relays, wasn’t it?”

“Oh, did you run into him? OK, stupid question,” said Harry. “Yes, he was blocking you somehow. Nine times out of 10, when it makes no sense on first glance, it’s politics.”

“He was blocking me because I’m old?”

Harry shook his head no and smiled.

“Because you can beat him.”

“And …”

“And you will. But save it. He is not in your heat.”

I closed my eyes one last time. I saw myself go to my mark, BANG! This time I grabbed the lead like I grabbed my first beer the night before and killed the race off in seconds. Then I cleared my mind and focused on breathing easily, slowly, deeply. My pulse dropped another notch. All those early mornings of training was either going to pay off now or …

“Second call for the men’s 800 meters.”

I felt a presence kneel beside me.

“Young Man,” Harry said. “You are missing a bib.”

Harry pinned it on my back.

“You got that right side up, Mister?”

“Yes. It is NOT the first time I did this. In fact, that is the only superstition I have. I always pin them on.”

“Last call for the 800.”

I hopped up, grabbed my right heel and tugged it to my back. My nerves popped to life, but I tried to act as if I had been here before.

“Pace and race, Princess,” my coach said. “This is the easy one. Just follow the rabbits.”

So much for acting … my eyes popped wide.

“That’s it? No last-minute strategy?”

“Just run as you have in your mind’s eye. Don’t even think. Let your muscles take over. You know, just like back home.”

“No big-speech moment?”

“Son, this ain’t no movie.”

“I wish I had my Russian CD …”

“And stay out of those damned boxes,” he added.

Harry swatted me on the behind and wheeled away.

“See you at the finish,” he yelled over his shoulder. “Make me proud.”

Out of my mind and body, I floated into Hayward and over to the starting line in the near corner. Needles of adrenaline pricked my arms and legs. I stripped down only to notice everyone was staring at me.

… must be that ugly Depends T-shirt you’re wearing …

No, it wasn’t the T-shirt. I grinned like Howdy Doody.

“Never raced your grandpa before, did ya?”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Hello, Hayward!

Chapter 37, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Three strides past the statue, my eyes opened wide, and I saw the real Hayward Field for the very first time. It was then I realized my homemade vision was nothing but a fraud, my months of visualization a sham. Stepping onto the track sent electricity surging through my legs and curling up my spine. I was stunned. Even the voice in my head was speechless.

Either I was having a religious moment or a stroke. I wasn’t sure which. Try as I might, I couldn’t verbalize the majesty of the place. I still can’t. Best I can do – start with a vintage Grateful Dead concert when Jerry Garcia was still with us, sprinkle in the karmic vibrations from the Super Bowl, stir in a good helping of solemn reverence from your favorite church, mosque or synagogue, and top with the high from your first taste of sex.

In my inadequate parlance, ladies and gentlemen, that was Hayward Field.

Enchanted, I stopped to drink it in, but Hayward’s magic crashed over me like a tsunami. Sensing I was drowning, a helpful Trials volunteer wearing the standard, mallard-green shirt and khaki shorts stopped to help.

“I’m sorry, Sir, you will have to leave,” he said, breaking the spell. “The facility is closed for public workouts.”

For three minutes, I tried to convince him I was there to compete. At last, he pointed to the warm-up area outside the track. There, I found a pack of young hyenas posing as athletes in every hue of track uniform. They played merry-go-round on the baby track ringing the tennis courts. Behind us, the crowd crackled, stuffed in monstrous, boxy grandstands flanking the track. A proud video board stood on the north side, showing home movies of earlier events.

As I loosened my legs, I clung to Harry’s prescribed warm-up list. I closed my eyes and saw myself snatch the lead coming out of the last turn. My heartbeat chanted.

… Hayward … Hayward … Hayward …

Opening my eyes, I stood up and swayed, repeating my Tai Chi for the thousandth time. Another well-meaning volunteer stopped to tell me the Tai Chi class was on the other side of campus.

“You can still make it, Sir, if you hurry,” he said.

… you know, maybe you don’t belong here, “Sir” …

“I think I liked you better when you were speechless.”

In the middle of the warm-up area, I marveled at the spectacle. The air was the cleanest, the sky the bluest, the grass the greenest … OK, the air smelled a little smoky because of all the northern California wildfires burning in the last week, but I didn’t care. I let the track speak to me as I meditated, maybe an hour, maybe more.

“Hey, Princess, are you coming or not?”

No, that was not the track.

“I have been hollering for five minutes,” said my coach. “Why do you make everything so difficult?”

“What?” I said, teasing Harry.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Nothing Like An Old Friend

Chapter 36, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Soon I found my way to the locker room. There to greet me as I walked through the doors was my “friend” from the relays in Iowa. He now had a name: Franz  Genesee. Again, he refused to shake my hand. His stubbornness was starting to give me a complex. Was Franz a germaphobe or just an asshole?

I voted for asshole – a purple-faced, agitated asshole.

And me? Hung-over and annoyed, I shifted into trash-talking mode like a pro. The visualization process was good training for other things, too.

“Franz, you sad little boy. Did you miss me?”

I glared at his bulging, bloodshot eyeballs. A twisted string bean dressed in his green-and-black-striped body suit, Franz was the Riddler from a Batman comic. An old Riddler, that is. He must have been 28 or 29.

“I’m protesting,” he said. “You have no right to be here.”

… let him have it …

“Man up, Franz,” I said.  “I’m just here to kick your ass, that’s all.”

With that, I shoved the old Riddler into the locker-room door with a sick thud and looked for an empty locker.

“You’re not getting away with this, Thompson, you, you sick, old geezer.”

… Thompson? huh …

I stopped and turned around.

“Franz, I’m sorry, but everyone knows that’s redundant,” I said. “Geezer already means old. Anyway, would you mind pinning my bib for me?”

“Go to hell, freakin’ old man!”

“That’s better. You work on that,” I said and looked for a locker again.

“You don’t have a prayer,” yelled Franz.

I spun around.

“Listen, Dude.”

… Dude? Where did you get that …

“You’re making it personal,” I said in an even tone as if I were asking for directions to the library. “Now, I AM going to kick your ass.”

“You jist try, you old turd.”

I ignored him. Maturity 1, Old Stupidity 0.

Dressing, I pinned my own bib on front. It was a thing of beauty.

Olympic

Trials08

Charles

Wells

Eugene08

The back bib had the number 818. Seeing the two eights, I felt lucky. The Chinese consider the numeral eight good luck. Also, it was Harry’s superstition to attach the back bib, so I carried it out to the track where I happened to see the Bill Bowerman statue of the famous Oregon coach studying his stopwatch. He appeared amused, almost smiling.

… it seems everyone gets the joke except you …

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Keepin’ It Real

Chapter 36, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Finally, Coach Rip Van Winkle awoke. I gathered my good shoes, safety pins and lucky jock. There would be no more pretending. The real thing – Hayward Field – beckoned. I would see the real thing, real soon.

… perhaps, too soon …

“Let’s get one thing straight. I’m instituting a moratorium on negative thinking, starting in 3 seconds … 2 … 1… NOW!”

… that’s what you think, loser …

“GET OUT OF HERE!”

“All right, all right,” said a groggy Harry. “A person simply cannot sleep … with you and your demons slugging it out.”

We ate at McDonald’s in spite of Harry threatening a supersized hissy fit. I had already broken training, so why not go all the way, I thought. We squeezed inside our rented VW Beetle, which I pointed up I-5 toward Eugene. On the way, Harry tried to distract me with a few tall tales from his glory years, but I listened with only one ear and don’t recall a single word he said.

Twenty-five minutes later, I could see the giant, yellow “O” for the University of Oregon on the south side of Hayward Field. Problem was we could get no closer. The traffic was as bad as race day at the Indianapolis 500. Thousands had made the pilgrimage for the Olympic Trials and its respective festival encircling Hayward Field.

They don’t call Eugene “TrackTown USA” for nothing. The whole city bought in and celebrated the 2008 Trials. For the next 10 days, it was Woodstock for track and field fans. Just name it: running clinics and events everywhere, a myriad of concerts, entertainment and great food plus wine and microbrew gardens. For those left without Trials tickets – it was sold out long ago – a pair of Jumbotrons offered spectacular viewing of all the drama inside Hayward for those camped outside.

Normally, I would circle the venue three times to cast my own spell. Today, I would have to do it on foot, if at all. Harry and I hiked the last mile into the Bowerman Building at the northwest corner of Hayward. My coach then rolled off to see exactly what time I would run. It wasn’t 5:30 as I originally thought, more like 8:20. But that was all right. It would give me time to flush out more poison, acclimate to the circus – and see some of the other events.

I was a track fan, too.

One prominent sign in Bowerman puzzled me, though, advertising the “International Institute for Sport and Human Performance.” I figured it was just another part of the University of Oregon’s infatuation with track and field.

… bet they’d like those goofy legs of yours …

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang