And How Bad Was It?

Chapter 24, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

“Pops,” I repeated. “Just how old do you think I am?”

He squinted me up and down.

“Maybe 63, 64. I’m not a good judge at that sort of thing.”

“I bet you’re about 12,” I said, spiking with irritation.

Junior didn’t like that. He shook his head and jogged away. This 2007-style trash talking was juvenile. But what did you expect me to do? Act like roadkill? It didn’t matter. I lumbered home a distant fifth in my semifinal heat. Junior took second.

Despite my performance, another kid in a baby blue polo with “UNC” on the breast pocket wanted to harass me. He introduced himself, claiming he was an intern for the Atlanta Constitution. He sought a feature angle at the meet and stuck a micro-cassette recorder under my nose.

“You really 63?” he asked.

“What the hell do you think?” I asked.

“I think I better find another story.”

“Come interview my friend,” I said. “He’s the real athlete. And he’s just 62.”

“First, tell me why you’re out here running against guys half your age.”

“I’m not 63.”

“57?”

“Try 48.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

I told him about my Olympic quest, convinced that would kill the story. He thanked me for my time and went looking for his next ambulance. Done for the day, Ralphie and I were in the mood to drink heavily. So Ralphie drank seven or eight Jack and Cokes, and I downed countless Diet Cokes at a midtown dive. On Sunday, I was a full-time coach as Ralphie took fourth with an Olympic-qualifying toss of 20.3 meters. Just don’t ask me to convert it into feet. I was happy for Ralphie, but I was ready to go home.

About 6:30 a.m., Ralphie dropped me off in my driveway. Limping to the front door, I saw the living-room light still burning. Inside, there was Harry snoozing in my Lay Z Boy. He awoke and started rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

“Weeelll,” he began with the finality of a hangman. “How bad was it?”

“It was bad,” I said.

“Exactly, how bad was it?”

“I got more than my feelings hurt,” I said.

“And what precisely does that mean?”

“It means my legs are knotted like 3-year-old fishing line.”

“Is that all that happened? That is simply lactic acid, my boy,” Harry said. “That will wear off by the time you reach my age.”

“Great.”

“Did you suffer any mental trauma? Or perhaps, you are more brain dead than I suspected.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Pops Goes The Weasel

Chapter 24, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

“I ain’t gonna pee in no damned cup,” Ralphie told the visored bulldog peering through pop-bottle-thick glasses. With a pencil stub, Mr. Bulldog marked an “X” by Ralphie’s number on his clipboard.

“Next,” he growled.

Ralphie glared. I took the rejected cup and headed for the dressing-room urinal. Mr. Bulldog followed and watched – so much for the innocence of track and field in the 21st century. I handed over the full cup, and he circled 613 on his clipboard, wrote the number on the container and packed it in his pee cart.

“Ralphie, as your coach, my advice: Piss in the damned cup,” I said.

This time Ralphie did and had the “X” erased, and his number circled. Now we were both legal. Back at the motel, I passed out. I had nothing left after posting a personal best 1:47.06.

“Whut da hell were ya dreamin’ ’bout?” Ralphie asked the next morning. “Dought ya’d  kick a hole in da wall or somethin’.”

I didn’t remember. But my legs sure did. A pair of tree stumps, they refused to move. Alas, the semifinals beckoned, wooden muscles or not. I stuffed down breakfast, looked at the meet results in the newspaper and geared up again. Ralphie didn’t feel well, and I felt worse. Together, we totaled about a hundred years of muscle fatigue.

With few good options in the strange land that was Atlanta, we drove back to Griffin, threw on our track stuff and lounged in the luscious green infield. I stretched out on my Ninja Turtle beach towel, covered my face and soaked in the healing rays of the blazing Georgian sun. Ralphie nudged me to say he was going to practice. His finals were on Sunday. My next dose of torture was at 4:45 p.m. Although I felt better thanks to solar therapy, I had no illusions of running well. My legs still had knots I doubted most sailors could untie. But with some intense Tai Chi, I loosened them the best I could until a kamikaze runner toppled me.

“Why’d ya stop here?” he asked, sprawled next to me.

I winced as he helped me up. I was too tired to care.

“Take it easy, Dog,” I said, trying to sound younger. “Just getting ready for the 800.”

The white teen stared at me as if I were covered with green polka dots.

“Really? That’s strange,” he said. “Me? I’m running for president.”

We both laughed.

“Well, good luck to you, Dog,” he said and started to walk away. “Jist stay outta my jet stream, Pops.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Just Like Columbus

Chapter 23, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Ninety fretful minutes before my race, I sneaked my vintage gym bag into the dressing room at Griffin. At least, the sign read “DRESSING ROOM.” Only three steps in through an ordinary-looking portal, I stood with my mouth agape, my head spinning. I knew I had been tricked into a different dimension.

There was light, blinding white light.

There was air, clean, garden-fresh air.

And room, a warehouse of room.

You could see and breathe and get dressed without getting an elbow in the head or worse.

In one direction, there were workout rooms with huge diagrams and stretching areas with instructions in English and Spanish and French and, I think, Chinese. Opposite that, there were 21st century weight machines and eager ellipticals. On tables in the middle, there were bowls of fruit, tubs of bottled juice, water and other drinks I failed to recognize.

Throughout, there were padded chairs and no rickety, wooden benches. Plush yellow and black carpet not only covered the floor but wore arrows pointing to the showers. King-sized lockers, also yellow and black, waited to serve. Best of all, that ubiquitous urine smell prevalent in every dressing room I had ever known – I sniffed the air again – was missing.

Apparently, I had died and gone to locker room heaven.

Or hell.

“The Master Games were last week, Grandpa.”

Ignoring the deep, sarcastic voice, I shuffled along. But I couldn’t ignore the Mr. Universe pageant with sculpted bodies and United Nations diversity in front of me. It wasn’t long before a naked, black fireplug asked me where the towels were. I stared at him. He stared at me. Seconds ticked away before I realized he thought I was an attendant. I shrugged.

“No hablo ingles,” I said.

Annoyed, he sauntered away. I dressed and hustled through the tunnel to the track. While the dressing room was but a glimpse through the looking glass, the stadium held the New World order. From the tunnel’s opening, I saw children jogging, stretching and laughing with Atlanta’s gorgeous skyline looming over the top of the stadium bowl.

My heartbeat bumped along like a Yugo. Harry was right. I wasn’t ready for this.

… screw Atlanta …

I turned to leave only to run into a monstrous wave of impetuous jocks. The tide shoved me back over the track and into the infield. Disoriented, I jogged to get away and happened upon the shot put area in time to see Ralphie heave a sweat-drenched 64-footer, good for fourth place.

“Whut gives?” Ralphie whispered. “Don’t whites run track no more?”

“Nope, just us dumb geezers,” I whispered back.

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