Over And Out

Chapter 35, Blog 4

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

The cop car gunned it. Nicky locked on. Up Indiana 49, through the toll gate and onto Interstate 90, the caravan raced. Melinda hit speed dial again. This time the Indiana State Police waited for us at the Lake County border. The Porter County police handed off, and a white Ford Crown Victoria hurtled out in front of us.

“C’mon, Nicky,” pleaded Melinda between phone calls.

“Hey, I’m doin’ 95 now.”

“You’re losing them.”

“All right, all right. Gawd help us.”

I tried to nap, closing one eye.

“What if I hit a freakin’ deer?” asked Nicky.

My closed eye popped open.

“I knew it! You Baby Boomers are all alike,” said Harry. “Nothing but Debbie Downers …”

A blanket of Boomer boos covered up the rest of his myopic observation. Things quieted, and I breathed for the first time in 20 minutes until my heart began to flip flop. Did I feel the pressure now that I had half of Indiana’s law enforcement involved?

… you never should have drank all of that …

… you have a terrible lane assignment …

… is it going to rain in Eugene tomorrow …

“The Olympics?” I asked out of loud.

“Yes, Hon,” Melinda answered. “I would never have believed it. You’re just one step away.”

“Gulp.”

… you’re not napping now …

Never doubt your wife. Melinda, of course, was right. There were no nonstop flights to Eugene from Chicago. However, Harry and I had to change planes in San Francisco – not Los Angeles. By then, Harry was cranky. I was hung over.

… that’s the last beer you’ll ever get, buddy …

At 2:21 a.m., or 4:21 a.m. back in Valparaiso, the Wells Track Team checked into the Paradise View Motel, 12 miles south of Eugene, down I-5. Melinda found it on the Web. It was the closest our travel coordinator could book. Lugging the bags in from our rented yellow VW Beetle, I banged my knee on the motel room’s door – and cracked a small hole in it.

Didn’t matter. Moments later, I fell face first on a petrified mattress and passed out.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

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

O’Hare Or Bust

Chapter 35, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Melinda hit me with a pained look and whipped her keys to Nicky, who seconds later backed our Jeep Cherokee into the driveway.

“Mom, watch the kids,” hollered Melinda as we crawled into the middle seat. Folding his walker, Harry tossed it in the back, slammed the hatch door and took shotgun. Under his breath, he hummed a tune. I focused on the faint melody.

“Let’s go, gang. We have miles to burn,” my coach said and restarted humming. I leaned forward to catch it. The hatch popped open. Ralphie hopped in with a crash and slammed the hatch door shut.

“No freakin’ way I’m missin’ dis,” he said.

“Don’t bend my walker, Son,” said Harry.

I had other concerns.

“Hey, we don’t have any plane tickets.”

“We will call,” said Melinda. “We can call before we get there. I think there’s a flight to L.A. leaving in less than two hours.”

“L.A.?” I asked. “I don’t want to go to Los Angeles.”

“What ’bout airport security and all that crap?” asked Nicky as he backed the Cherokee onto the street. “It’s gonna to take forever.”

“Just get this buggy going,” said Melinda. “We WILL deal with it. All right? Let’s go!”

“LET’S GO!” we shouted.

“L.A.? What happened to Oregon?” I was stuck.

“Hon, there is no direct flight to Eugene,” Melinda said. “I already looked.”

I poked my head out my window as we turned onto Stonington. There were at least three cars following us – an impromptu convoy headed for O’Hare.

“Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines!” I shouted at a little girl walking her dog. Already I was flying.

Melinda tugged my head back in by the shirt collar.

“Listen, you Moron, you better sober up – and fast,” she said. “You big, fat idiot …” She paused. “Do you know I love you?”

I couldn’t remember the last time Melinda said that. I forgot I was drunk.

“I love you, too. You should come to Eugene. The kids, too.”

“We don’t have the money right now,” Melinda said.

“Make another deal with Depends. Or use the damn credit card,” I said. “How many times am I going to be in the Olympic Trials?”

“Maybe none,” interjected my coach. “If we don’t get moving …”

Melinda sighed. “We’ll see.”

“Did you bring my good track shoes?”

“I have them right here,” said Harry.

“How about my old, ratty, green warm-ups?”

“We have it all in the back,” said Melinda. “Shut up and take a nap or something.”

“How about my lucky jock?”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Thunderstruck

Chapter 34, Blog 4

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Uncle Fred coolly stared me down and told Sheila what a brat I STILL was. He then told how his nephew, at the age of 4, had ruined his ’55 Plymouth by leaving his dog, Brownie, in the car overnight. Brownie, bless her heart, didn’t want to stay in that “stinking cigar car” and tunneled through the floorboard. But she shredded the upholstery and crapped all over the car before she got out. I did recall my dog had destroyed someone’s car about 150 years ago.

“Uncle Fred?”

… he ain’t no fairy godmother …

Whatever. I needed another beer. I chugged it and tossed the bottle in the fireplace. Uncle Fred could wait. I had some drinking to catch up. The repressed emotions of 18 months started to leak out. I needed a confessional. Instead, I had the next best thing – the local print media.

“This is for all those Boomers that wrote letters of support,” I said, draped on the sofa, guzzling another beer. “Did ya get that?”

I could see Melinda out of the corner of my eye. She put her head down. I bet she was sorry she ever agreed to be my agent. Probably Harry was sorry, too. I was sure he had left.

… he left because you are a big disappointment …

“No kidding.”

… and it’s not about some stupid race either …

“Forget the subtle stuff. It doesn’t suit you.”

… OK, how’s this? Life is nothing but disappointments …

“Wow! Now we’re falling back on cliches.”

… the measure of a person is how he handles the disappointments …

“Really? You just make that up?”

… no, asshole, got it from a movie long before your time …

“Yeah? Well, you can go to hell, too.”

Harry appeared, rolling his walker in front of me.

… you are sooooo dead …

“Did you just tell me to go to hell?” Harry asked.

“No, no, not you,” I said and tried to hide my bottle, but it was too late.

BUSTED.

Harry clapped his hands twice, thundering through the living room like a Zeus thunderbolt. The party froze. My coach stared long and hard at me. I could feel my brain sizzle like frying bacon in my cranium.

“H-H-Harry,” I stuttered.

“QUIET!”

Ashamed, I shut my eyes and hung my head, awaiting a verbal whooping. Harry cleared his throat and paused.

“I just got off the phone with the president of the USOC,” Harry announced.

The whole room gasped as one.

“Apparently, the committee has come to its senses,” he said.

My eyes flew open.

“Chuck Wells has been assigned Lane No. 5 for the second quarterfinal heat of the 800 meters.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Bliss Or Blitzed?

Chapter 34, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

“And really, Man, I actually thought I had a chance. Can you believe it?” I said to each consoler unlucky enough to come my way. Laughing at my own naiveté, I slapped my thigh as hard as I could. “Take that you lazy, good-for-nothin’ right leg. You never bought in for a second. Take that and stick it. YOU’RE FIRED!”

“And left leg, you’re next.”

In my beerful, blissful state, I spilled drunken nonsense all over the place. I stopped and peered over my shoulder for Harry. He had been chatting with his pals near the kitchen door. But now he was nowhere in sight, so I reached for another beer to destroy.

Out of respect for me, Harry’s buddies decided not to play cards. Instead, one by one, they came over to cheer me. One white-haired, nice-looking guy named Clifton noted the Michelob in my hand. He, too, scanned the room.

“Training’s a bitch, huh?” he said with a straight face.

The phone rang. Chicago Channel 7 wanted a comment for the 10 p.m. newscast, something profound about dealing with the end of my long, implausible journey to the Olympic Trials. As the sensitive, mature, 49-year-old adult that I had become over the past 18 months of training, I had no trouble revealing my true, introspective self.

“Here’s my quote: ‘Do not pass Go. Instead, go directly to HELL!’”

I slammed the phone down.

“Damn TV whores!”

The crowd roared.

As the laughter died down, my eyes focused above the fireplace at our imitation, antique mantel clock displaying 7:15 p.m. – or 5:15 p.m. in Eugene, Ore. – where in 24 hours the first 800-meter quarterfinal heat would start without me.

“Screw it! Just screw it! Who the hell cares?”

… did you say that out loud …

“And just WHAT are YOU going to do about it?”

… stay out of your way, that’s for sure …

“HA! About time. Why don’t you get lost?”

… you’re killing me, dude …

I knew it. I knew I was that drunk. But no one cared if I was having a breakdown. They were more worried when the tardy pizzas would show. I spotted Sheila over in the corner, talking to some old, fat guy I didn’t know. I stared. Sheila saw me and waved for help.

“I didn’t know you had an Uncle Fred,” she said.

“Me either,” I said, glaring at him. “Who the hell ARE you?”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Your Royal Highness

Chapter 34, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Thursday evening, Ralphie, cast, crutches and all, lumbered by with a Budweiser 12-pack. He rode with Nicky, who carted in a six-pack of Michelob. Frank brought his usual case of Coors Light. Harry’s poker pals carried in a couple of bottles of homemade, blueberry wine for their card game.

Sensing my quest was all but over, Melinda invited her friends and even her mother, Dedra, to take part in the wake. Sheila from The Times came over to cover the final chapter and write my track obituary.

Before I knew it, our house was packed with people yacking, drinking and waiting on pizzas from Tony’s. I marveled at all the happy faces. We hadn’t hosted that many since New Year’s Eve three years ago when our house caught on fire. That’s a story that will remain untold – at least until the lawsuits play out.

For me, the waves of noise covered my head like water in the deep end of a pool. It seemed official. In its sleep, my Olympic dream died a peaceful death. But everyone was making the best of it. Shannon played her Katie Perry CDs. There was music. There was chatter. There was laughter. Everybody was having a good time, except me.

“Go ahead, have a freakin’ beer,” said Ralphie, limping here and there on his crutches. “Have a freakin’ beer. Ya ain’t trainin’ no more, no how.”

Without thinking, I shook my head no. All during my journey, I had resisted the temptation and abstained. It was now second nature. No beer here or near.

“C’mon, ya earned it,” said Ralphie, waving a Budweiser in my face. “Whut? Ya still a track Princess or sumpthin?”

Braced by his crutches, Ralphie bowed awkwardly before me.

“I’m at yar service, yar royal highness,” mocked Ralphie.

That did it. For some stupid reason, that pissed me off. It shouldn’t have, but it did. I ripped the Bud out of his hand and guzzled it. Three seconds. No more feeling sorry for myself. No one else gave a damn. Why should I?

… enjoy yourself, you loser …

“Just shuddup.”

My, oh my, that golden taste. How I had missed it. And that beer buzz. That easy, light-headed, mind-numbing buzz. I went without it for how long? And for what? My 15 minutes ran out weeks ago. Three beers later – yes, three beers – I was plastered on the sofa and ready to burst into tears.

Except I was too busy laughing at myself.

“You piss-poor, pathetic track Princess.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Runner Without A Race

Chapter 34, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Harry spent more than three hours on the phone. He got up early the next day and called some more. He did the same for a week. My coach called everyone he knew on the U.S. Olympic Committee. Then, Harry called the ones he didn’t know. He talked to everyone he could in the U.S. Track and Field kingdom. Many sympathized, but they had no power. The ones with power proved immune to Harry’s charm. He had stayed away too long and had little clout left.

All I had to show for his marathon effort was an Olympic-sized phone bill. As the days dwindled, I still trained, drifting through my Tai Chi. I stretched. I visualized. And I ran and ran. But my heart was not in it.

The visualization part was easy because I didn’t have to pretend much. All I needed to do was rerun my last race – and win it. That I did every five minutes since Iowa. It was the same every damn time. I could have won that race. I would have won that race. I should have won that race.

So why didn’t I?

Did I warm up too much? Was it a poor choice to run only a handful of races? Did that cretin who beat me use steroids? Should I use steroids? Did I need a better pre-race ritual? Maybe different shoes? Maybe a kick in the head as Harry had suggested.

…does it really matter. Just pull the plug …

“You know, I’m really tired of your attitude.”

… you want a lobotomy …

“Don’t go there.”

… in your case, it won’t make much difference …

With less than a week to go before the Trials, Harry asked Times Sports Editor Sheila Beaven, my old girlfriend at the local newspaper, to do a story on my plight in the hope several news wires would pick it up. Can you say long shot? Sheila had a better idea.

“I’ll call my old boss in L.A. and see what he can do,” she said.

A day later, a reporter called. Harry told her the whole story. I talked to her for about eight minutes and said it was nothing but age discrimination. It sounded funny when I said it out loud. But what else could it be?

A day later my story was out there. We got a handful of calls, a few more interviews, but it was a dead end. The window was closing. The Trials would start Friday night – without me.

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

Rhymes With Malfunction

Chapter 33, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

No sooner through the front door, I hit bottom, nailing a flawless pirouette and then sinking into a heap on the living room floor. The ceiling fan twirled above, saluting the biggest loser on Hillside Drive. Yep, I had HAD it. No mas! I closed my eyes and shut the world out.

“How is Ralphie?” asked Harry, hovering upside down over me.

“He’s fine,” I sighed and rolled over on my back. “But that body cast is awful.”

Harry stared at me for a long moment.

“Forget the letter,” he said.

I sat up.

“No, thanks. I don’t need any pep talks.”

“What you need is a good kick in the head,” said Harry. “One does not give up because of some words on a piece of paper.”

“I’m still processing it.”

“Your dinner is on the table.”

“I’m not hungry.”

Harry’s face clouded over.

“STOP FEELING SORRY FOR YOURSELF!”

“That’s easy for you …”

“Did I teach you nothing?”

“Apparently so.”

“Did you learn nothing?”

“Maybe.”

“You are so …”

“Pathetic?”

“Yes, pathetic,” said Harry. “That is right. Pathetic. That is a good word. You are DAMN pathetic. You quit at the first sign of trouble. Do you not have any gumption?”

“Gumption?”

“Yes, gumption. It is a word your generation does not seem to have in its vocabulary. Want another? How about perseverance? Ever heard of it?”

“I don’t even know how to spell it.”

“Damn right,” bellowed Harry. “You never will.”

He whipped his walker around, muttered some inaudible insult and scooted toward the kitchen. I didn’t care. I closed my eyes again. I didn’t need his abuse. I didn’t need the Olympic Committee’s endless red tape parade. I sure didn’t need Depends.

I opened my eyes and sighed.

… look out! Incoming. More abuse at twelve o’clock …

“You’re a lousy speller,” Melinda said.

“Who the hell asked you?”

“You know, Harry’s right. We don’t have a good track record,” she said. “No pun intended.”

I made my best who-really-gives-a-crap grimace.

“Melinda, you’re a riot.”

“So, you’re going to let those people stop you?” she growled with a passion I hadn’t heard in years. “Just like that? Let them stand between you and your dream?”

“I thought you didn’t give a damn about it.”

“What if I did?”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Alive And Bickering

Chapter 33, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

If only fate would pace itself. Give us one bad thing at a time. Maybe a bad thing followed by a good one, then a bad one, then maybe a couple of good things.

Doesn’t work like that, does it?

Two ball-busters minutes apart pushed me to the brink. Both our Olympic dreams – poof. The only thing that kept me from jumping into Lake Michigan was the need to know about Ralphie. Dropping the Olympic Committee’s letter, I searched Melinda’s contorted face for an excuse not to run out in front of the first semi.

“Is he …”

“No,” said Melinda. “He’s still alive.”

“What the hell happened?”

“Got drunk. Hit a tree. Broke both legs. His truck’s totaled. Bottom line, he’ll live. He’s over at Porter.”

Hustling over to Porter Hospital, I found a doped-up Ralphie trapped in a fresh body cast up to his waist. He was glassy-eyed and a tiny more delirious than usual.

“Well, looky here,” snorted Ralphie. “Da great track star hisself comes to pay me a visit. Dis is truly an unexpected honor.”

“You know, Ralphie, you really don’t have to go to all this trouble just to get my attention,” I said. “One broken leg would have been sufficient.”

“Go screw yarself, ya stupid bastard.”

“Shut up and tell me what happened.”

After we got the other customary insults out of the way, I told Ralphie about the USOC letter.

“Dey are jist ass wipes,” said Ralphie. “It’s illegal as hell. Take ’em ta court.”

“No, I’m done with it,” I said. “I can’t take any more. It’s become a freaking soap opera.”

Propping his meaty elbows for support, Ralphie struggled to sit halfway up.

“Lissen ta me, dogshit brain. Ya gonna ta fight dis, and ya gonna ta win it. Don’t ya start givin’ in ta dose buttheads.”

“Are you crazy?  It’s nothing but bureaucracy. It’ll take five months before I ever get a hearing.”

Ralphie grunted, lifted himself higher on the bed and looked me in the eye.

“Plow dis through dat dogshit, numbnuts. If I can’t go, ya big, goddamned dumb ass … “

Ralphie gathered his strength.

“YOU GOTTA GO!” he thundered.

The words smacked me in the face and ricocheted around the room. I stood dumbfounded for all of 30 seconds. Regaining what little sense I had left, I grinned.

“What are you going to do? Chase me on your crutches?”

Ralphie grunted again, sank down and started to snore.

I crawled back home.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang