A Little Common Cents

Chapter 41, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Sensing my frustration, Harry took me for a walk while Melinda, Ralphie and Nicky took Shannon and Jessie for a swim in the hotel pool. As we strolled along Sixth Avenue, I waited for my coach to put everything in perspective.

I’m still waiting.

“They don’t want you to wear any advertising,” said Harry.

“Well, they’re going to have to take that up with my agent,” I said. “You brought me out here to tell me that?”

“No, that was the prelude,” he said. “My real question is can you just relax and enjoy the moment? Why do boomers have to overanalyze everything they do?”

“Could it be because your generation is so critical?”

“Narcissistic to the end, I see.”

“Damn right,” I said.

“Be careful,” my coach said. “Only a fool is certain.”

At 4:30, we ate at a nearby steak place, everyone except me. I was too nervous to eat. Harry took some honey out of his doctor bag and insisted I’d have some. With all the food dancing about, my stomach started doing the Twist. I needed to distract myself and quick. And I didn’t need any more well-wishers. I sneaked out and got in the car. My mind raced angst – and lost.

… those old spikes don’t dig in enough …

… please don’t fall at the start …

… can those legs go 800 meters …

I closed my eyes and chanted.

“Calm, calm, calm …”

… can’t, can’t, can’t …

A knock on the car window startled me. It was Shannon. I unlocked the door, and she crawled in.

“What are you doin’, Dad?”

“Having a minor breakdown, that’s all.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Yes, I am. I don’t want to go.”

Shannon stared at me and smiled.

“Remember when I started first grade, and I didn’t want to go to school that first day?”

“No, I don’t,” I said. “That was long ago – before I was born.”

“And what did you tell me?”

“You didn’t have to go?”

“No, Dad,” Shannon said and giggled. “You said there was nothing to be scared of.”

“Yeah, that’s the standard lie.”

“And you said if I went, I could have 50 cents when I came home and spend it on anything I wanted.”

“Obviously, we were rich back then, and I could afford to bribe people.”

Shannon reached in her pocket and pulled out a dollar in change.

“Here, I’ll pay you in advance.”

I took the coins from my daughter.

“Get it over with, Dad,” she said. “I want to go home.”

“All right, but I think I’m worth more than a dollar.”

“Your agent said you’re not worth that.”

I reached over and hugged her. I felt better.

It WAS good to have my family here.

Even Uncle Fred.

Copyright © 2013 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

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With A Little Help From Our Friends

Chapter 35, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Even drunk, I realized I needed all the luck I could conjure. For some reason, though, my superstitious worry about a lucky supporter cracked up everyone, except me. Again, I was a stylus in a record scratch until another question nudged me.

“Harry! How in the hell …”

I didn’t have to finish. He knew what was on my mind.

“The committee’s vice president – he’s originally from good, ol’ Terre Haute,” Harry said.

“He is?” I was incredulous.

Harry chuckled.

“The very last one I could call. Told him you wanted to make the Terre Haute Club event your signature race every year.”

“You didn’t.”

“Naturally, it tied his testicles in a knot.”

I pondered that.

“C’mon, Harry. WHO did you bribe?”

“You will never know,” he said and hummed on.

“Is that the Olympic fanfare I hear?”

“It’s not ‘Auld Lang Syne,’ Boomer Boy.”

Between sips from my water bottle, I dug in one pocket after the other. Yes, I had broken training and would pay for it. Yes, I had beer poisoning and needed a flush. Worse, I was missing my wallet. I knew I needed it. Did I leave it at home?

… better tell ’em to turn around …

Melinda waved my wallet in front of my nose.

“Looking for this?”

“Yeah, can I have it?”

“When we get to the airport, Hon. And not a moment sooner. By then, I hope you’re a little more sober. Nicky! Can’t you make this tomato can go any faster?”

Nicky sweated like a summertime glass of lemonade.

“For Chrissakes, Lindy, there’s too much traffic. The cops might stop us, too. Then we’ll never make it.”

“The HELL they will.”

She hit speed dial on her cellphone.

“Hey Harold, this is Melinda Wells. Hi, how are you? Yes, fine. I need a big favor. Charles is going to the Trials after all. Yes, that’s right. Yes, thank you. But we have …”

She glanced at her wristwatch.

“… about 90 minutes to get to O’Hare. OK? OK. I owe you. We’re in our blue, 2001 Cherokee, northbound on Indiana 49, crossing 500 North. Yes. That’s right. Thanks a billion.”

“Whut wuz dat?” asked Ralphie.

Melinda sat back and folded her arms.

“Just watch.”

Less than 15 seconds later, a tan and brown Porter County police car burst out of nowhere and scooted around us. The bubble lights sprayed red and blue. The siren wailed to life.

“They’re clearing the road, Nicky. Stay on their ass,” said Melinda. “And for God’s sake, don’t lose them.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

‘There’s Not A Minute To Lose’

Chapter 35, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

“OMIGOD!” I shouted and sprang off the sofa – and flat on my face.

Harry beamed brighter than the noontime sun.

“OMIGOD!” I struggled off the living room floor.

Ralphie stood dumber than a brass doorknob.

“OMIGOD!”

And Melinda?

“SSSLLLAAAPPP!!!”

I wore the hot imprint of my wife’s hand burning the left side of my face. HA! It barely fazed me.

“Snap out of it,” Melinda chastised. It was her stern, dispatcher voice. “You have a flight to catch.”

“A flight? Right. Already I see stars.”

Melinda shook her head and spun toward Ralphie.

“He’s drunk! How could you let this happen?” asked my wife. “This is all YOUR fault.”

“Forget it,” said Harry. “Pack his stuff. I’ll get mine. There’s not a minute to lose.”

Drunk or not, I felt an electric current crackle through my core like the time I touched the electric fence at Grandpa’s farm – this time without the funny, blue smoke wafting out of my nose. Friends stood in line to shake my hand, hug me or slap me on the back. Caught in a whirlpool of emotion, I giggled. I cried. I did both at the same time.

… water! Start drinking water …

“Water? I need another beer.”

… no, water…

“Water?”

Shannon slapped a full water bottle into my right hand.

… it’s your only hope, get the alcohol poisoning out …

Was I dreaming?

…all right, WHERE’S Melinda …

“OK, OK, enough said. Water, it is.”

Less than 20 minutes later, our guests carried my water bottle, my tattered gym bag, my overnight suitcase – and me – out the front door. I don’t think I touched the ground. The party spilled down the driveway and onto Hillside Drive. They dumped me on the front of Nicky’s Camaro. The jolt awoke me from my celebratory stupor.

“Watch it! Please! Those are million-dollar legs,” I kidded the excited well-wishers as they packed in around me. Somehow an actual thought found its way through.

“We have to take the Cherokee,” I said.

“What is it, Charles?” my exasperated wife asked.

“We took the Cherokee to Iowa,” I said. “We’ve gotta take it to Oregon, at least to O’Hare. It’s the right thing to do.”

“Like HELL it is,” said Melinda.

“Well, Mrs. Wells, I do not believe I have EVER heard you use so much profanity,” said a grinning Harry.

“Stick around, Mr. Nurmi. I believe there could be more to follow,” Melinda said. “Nicky, quick! Get the DAMN Cherokee!”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Say Uncle

Chapter 33, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Did I hear her right? My wife said she might care after all. At least, that was how it sounded. I sat up.

“You sure have a funny way of showing it.”

“Charles, I swear. If you would have been up front about it from the start, I would have been the first one on board,” Melinda said with a nod. “I had no inkling how much time and effort this was going to take. I gave it a week, maybe a month tops. I never dreamt …”

I shrugged.

“Honestly, I didn’t think I would make it half this far.” I sighed. “Don’t give it another thought. It ends here.”

Melinda bent down and patted my head.

“The hell it does.”

… stop the presses, Melinda said “hell” …

“You can’t quit,” she said. “We have way too many contracts out there. No one is going to pay us if you don’t compete.”

… and you would be a monkey’s uncle …

“I see. It’s all about business, huh?”

“Dinner’s getting cold.”

“I’ll be there in a minute.”

First, I needed a good, long cry. Tears trickled down my face. Now, Jessie, my 5-year-old, confronted me. Her stare melted my heart with that deep, soulful way kids have when they wanted something.

“Did your mother send you in here?”

“Daddy?”

“What, Pumpkin.”

“Don’t cry.”

“I have to.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t know what else to do.”

Jessie gave me a hug, and I started to sob. She stepped back, and I could see myself in her pupils. A minute passed, maybe two. She wasn’t going to give in.

“First one to blink, Daddy,” she said. “I win.”

“All right, all right, tell Harry to get busy.”

From the kitchen boomed my coach’s voice.

“I’m already on it, Princess.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Deal’s A Deal

Chapter 32, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

I couldn’t blame the guy. No 20-something wants to admit a man old enough to be his dad had kicked his ass in a foot race. I won’t lie. I was exhilarated I beat him and those other babies. It made me feel powerful and vibrant and young  …

And leave it to Melinda, my wife, to keep me grounded.

“Charles, are you going to decide about Depends or not?”

“I’m not wearing diapers today, tomorrow …”

“We’ll get $10,000 if you wear them for a 30-second commercial. Thirty stupid seconds. You know how long it takes me to make $10,000?”

“No, I don’t know.”

“Almost four months, Charles,” my agent said. “Tell me you cannot wear them for 30 seconds.”

“UGGGH!”

Powerful or not, I gave in. If they want to pay me $10,000 to stand naked on my head in the driveway, I guess I would do that, too, although I could already hear Ralphie.

“Hey, moron, jist give me da ol’ cloth ones any day.”

The real deal was my legs still hurt on Day 11 after Des Moines. They refused to loosen. My angst needle climbed, but I didn’t dare tell anyone. Of course, Harry wasn’t just anyone.

“What’s wrong, Princess?” asked my coach. “You’re not getting enough Chi, are you?”

“Nuthin’.” I said, toweling off the sweat.

“Well, you are either hiding something or you are pregnant,” said my coach. “Which is it? Go ahead. At this point, we have no secrets.”

“No, I’m fine.”

“Good enough,” said Harry. “Tell me when you are ready.”

He pivoted on his walker and started to roll away.

“However,” he added. “Do not wait until it is too late.”

“DAMN!”

I hobbled after him like a three-legged giraffe. Harry turned and saw. I’ll never forget the look on his face.

“Why in the name of Moses did you not tell me, Son?”

“Pride,” I answered. “I may be old, but I still have my pride. You know that.”

“Pride?”

“Really, Harry, I’m not that old, am I?”

“Sounds more like vanity to me. Simply amazing. An athlete gets a modicum of success, and it goes straight to his brain,” my coach said. “What we need here is a teachable moment. Do you think we have a teachable moment here?”

“I’m not sure.”

“I will accept that as a ‘no.’”

I admitted my legs ached ever since Iowa. For all his years of training, Harry was baffled. Eleven days after a race was plenty for a normal recovery. What to do? His healing tricks usually worked on someone half my age. Would they work on the abused legs of a 49-year-old?

Harry said we did not have a minute to lose.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

More Than Senseless

Chapter 28, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

“Really?” Now I hoped Harry was kidding. “What do you mean by that?”

“It means, let us get started,” my coach said. “Here, wear this.”

Harry held out his hand. In it was a black cloth.

“A bandana?” I asked.

“No, el stupido. It’s a blindfold,” he said.

“A what?”

“A blindfold. What? Did I stutter?”

… coach has lost it this time …

“What the hell am I supposed to do with that?”

“You wear it, Charlie, baby.”

“What the hell for?”

Harry looked at me with bewilderment. I might as well have asked if he were my fairy godmother. He waved his finger in disapproval.

“We said no more questions, remember?”

“Sure, but …”

“It is part of your training,” he said. “It will help you develop your inner runner.”

“My what?”

“You need to trust your instinct,” Harry continued. “You depend too much … “

“My instinct is telling me to forget the blindfold.”

“Quiet! As I was saying, you depend too much on your sense of vision. Anyone who can see, does. Your other senses need additional work. You know, development.”

I took the blindfold and tied it in place. The cloth was thick. I couldn’t see anything. I felt helpless – and foolish.

“Now what?” I asked.

“Jog a lap,” he said.

“Harry, I’m just going to fall down and get hurt.”

“No, you’re not. I will tell you when you get to the turn. Try it. It is easier than you think.”

“If I sprain my ankle …”

“I swear,” Harry said. “YOU are such a baby.”

That did it. I started to jog. Weird, I felt totally weird. I put my hands out.

“No,” yelled Harry. “Run normally. You can do it.”

I pumped my arms.

“Visualize the track,” Harry shouted. “See the track in your head.”

I focused. I could see a track. Was it right? I jogged slower and peeked.

“Noooo,” bellowed Harry. “Trust your inner runner.”

…. #%&*@#!*#$# …

Blindly, I jogged. I felt the track change. I peeked again. It was the turn. I stopped and glared back at Harry.

“You’re supposed to tell me,” I hollered. “I could have fallen.”

“Charlie, you knucklehead,” Harry yelled. “You felt it, didn’t you?”

He was right. I did feel it. I was stunned.

“Come on back here.”

Sans the blindfold, I jogged back.

“Tomorrow, we will get someone, maybe the Price girl, to run with you until you get used to the blindfold.”

“You knew I would feel the turn?”

“Only the good ones do,” Harry said.

“I want to run a lap with the blindfold.”

“Think you can?” Harry asked.

“Let’s see.”

Replacing the blindfold, I turned and ran off. This time I jogged a little faster. Again, I felt the contour change ever so slightly. I followed the turn. It changed again. I could feel the backstretch. Faster I ran. I felt the turn again.

“DAMN!”

It was exhilarating. I never felt anything like it. My strides bounced down the track. I could hear my shoes strike the surface and spring off it. I never heard that before. The early morning air smelled intoxicating as I sliced through it. I could even taste it.

I stopped near Harry and removed the blindfold.

“Only the good ones, huh?” I asked.

“That is correct, said Harry, full of himself. “You know what?”

“What?” I played along.

“It is time to find you a race.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Let’s Make A Deal

Chapter 26, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

Still, I needed a qualifying time. The Peach State Games was my one chance for the 2007 outdoor season. After Atlanta, the premier runners headed to Osaka, Japan, for the World Championships in late August. With the 14-hour time difference, I had to watch the competition on tape delay. In the 800 meters, not one American qualified for the medal race. Yes, there was hope for me.

Kenya’s Alfred Kirwa Yego caught Canada’s Gary Reed at the tape to win the gold in 1:47.09. Russia’s Yuri Borzakosky placed third.

Just an Oregon minute, did I read that right? The winning time was 1:47.09?

“Hell, I could run that in my sleep, Harry.”

“Charlie, you have trouble keeping your bowels from running in your sleep,” he said. “Sit and give me 30 mental pushups.”

“Harry, that Kenyan guy lunged at the finish. Shouldn’t I practice that?”

“When you are ready to lunge, you can visualize it.”

I also discovered being famous wasn’t all bad. Companies throughout Northern Indiana began to seek out our firm for consulting jobs. Even in the 21st century, the Olympics still meant something. The Times story, picked up by other papers, mentioned I worked as an engineer for Hoffman. Project managers began to ask for “that old guy who runs track.”

Initially, my boss was jealous and the worse to work for until I threatened to pursue training full-time. Realizing the jobs might follow, his attitude adjusted.

“Take all the time off, you want, Wells. The Olympics are important to us, too,” he said. “The work will be here waiting for you.”

… C’mon, I dare ya. Ask for a raise …

With the publicity came offers for endorsements. Keep in mind, I hadn’t qualified for anything, short of AARP. But some still wanted to cash in on my 15 minutes. Between work, training and Russian lessons, though, I had no time to check out the proposals. However, without a second thought, I did turn down an offer from Depends.

I needed an agent. So I took a chance. I called Melinda.

Knowing she wouldn’t come to the phone, I was prepared to pitch the idea to Dedra and have her relay it. Before the phone rang twice, Melinda picked it up.

“Yes, Charles, what do YOU want?”

Maybe the buzz had done some good.

Maybe all those roses and notes I sent helped.

Maybe Ralphie told her about Sheila.

I explained I needed someone to make sense of the offers flooding in. Melinda considered it for all of 20 seconds – and agreed, insisting on 25 percent of everything I got paid. I agreed in a heartbeat. We had a deal.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Don Quixote’s On The Track

Chapter 18, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

I had heard enough.

“What the hell do you know about the right thing to do?”

“I don’t like da sound of dat … ”

“Remember the time you hit a baseball that smashed ol’ man McCracken’s windshield?”

“YOU hit dat baseball,” said Ralphie. “I wuz pitchin’. I told ya we should have scrammed, but nnnnnoooo. Ya had ta go tell him.”

It WAS the right thing to do, Ralphie.”

“So DIS is da right thing ta do, Chuck?”

“Meaning?”

“Alienate your wife, your kids, your friends because of whut – some fool notion? Sounds kinda selfish to me.”

“Yeah, I guess it does. I don’t know.”

“Then why do it?”

After six weeks of studying the question, I wished I had a clear-cut answer. Instead, it occurred to me I had entered the ill-fated quest stage, making me the ancient Don Quixote of track and field. No doubt I was the right age.

“I guess it’s the same reason Vince did it,” I said.

“And dat is … ”

“Because he could,” I said.

“Because he could?” echoed Ralphie.

“That’s right,” I said. “And did you happen to notice how his friends stuck by him? No matter what?”

Ralphie leaned back on the sofa and stared at the ceiling.

“All dis bullshit for whut?” he asked. “And don’t tell me it’s worth it. Cuz it’s not.”

“No, I can’t say that. Maybe it’s not.”

“Dat’s real progress,” mocked Ralphie. “Why didn’t ya think of dat a month ago?”

“All I know is it’s all I got left, Man.”

“Don’t give me that ‘nobody else is gonna do it’ crap,” said Ralphie. “I’m way past dat. That works only on Boy Scouts.”

“What if I told you I broke 1:49 last Saturday?”

Ralphie’s face froze in wonderment. I thought I would have to resort to Melinda’s time-tested slap upside the head.

“Dat’s crazy,” Ralphie finally said. “I’d say you were lyin.”

“More like coasting.”

I know, I know. But I felt like bragging. I had to tell somebody. Freshmen don’t give a hoot about anything. Nothing seems impossible to them – yet.

“Dat means… ”

“I can do it.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang