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

The Runaround

Chapter 27, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

When the weather blew wintry in late November, I couldn’t run outdoors. So Harry and I took my training madness to Valparaiso University where VU officials were pleased to have a potential Olympian use their indoor facility. But the checker at the front door didn’t get the memo. He still asked to see my student I.D. every morning. That would lead to Harry’s suggesting that the conscientious student instead check out a therapeutic lobotomy.

For all the actual running I did, I could have stayed in the basement. But Harry enjoyed seeing co-eds jog lap after lap while I sat and visualized sprinting the last 200 lactic-acid-soaked meters of a tight 800. At this point, my coach would allow me only a handful of laps at three-quarter speed. Harry claimed anything else would burn too many muscle fibers and make me stale. Funny, I did long for that real, lactic-acid fire.

One day, I had to ask. I knew better, but the issue was a beaver gnawing at my thick, wooden brain. It was time to ask “The Question.”

“Why?”

Harry ignored me and smiled as a slender co-ed in a tight, teal halter top bench pressed iron twice her weight. I twisted in front of Harry and grabbed his walker.

“And what in the world do you want?” he asked with the annoyance of a surgeon in the middle of a heart transplant. I persisted.

“Why, Harry?”

He didn’t blink.

“Why what?”

“Why pick me?”

“You baby boomers are relentless, bordering on obsessive.”

“Just tell me why.”

“I believe you came to me, son.”

“I mean, why did you think I had any chance?”

Harry rolled his eyes, considered his words – and hesitated. He sighed.

“When this is finished, yes, then maybe, we will sit down, have a beer, and I will tell you.” Harry looked me in the eye. “Right now, I doubt you could handle it.”

That made me angry. I spun and sprinted three laps at top speed and walked a couple of cool-down laps. Peering around, I realized Harry had left the building. I toweled off, threw on my sweats and hustled out to the car. Harry sat there. I got in and started to drive home. Harry stared straight ahead.

“Listen, Charlie. You should get yourself someone else.”

“You’re just upset,” I said. “You’ll get over it.”

“Son, you’re 48 years old.”

“I know.”

“You have the spunk of a 20-something.”

“Thanks, that’s the nicest thing you’ve said to me.”

“But you have the maturity of a 9-year-old.”

“Yeah? So tell me something I don’t know.”

“I swear, your whole generation never grew up.”

“OK, I’ll give you that one,” I said. “Maybe we didn’t. Maybe we couldn’t.”

I pulled the car over to the curb and turned off the engine. We sat there for at least five minutes without a word.

“All right,” I said. “Don’t tell me.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

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

Olympic Size That, Please

Chapter 21, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

I thought I had hit the lottery. Wishing Rockard happy fishing, I hauled ass over to Michigan City and started to hunt for the right nursing home. There was no Mylar’s. There was no Sylar’s. But there was a Tyler’s Retirement Village. The kooky nurse at the front desk said it was nap time. Could I come back later? How about next week?

Then she chastised me for daring to call her establishment a nursing home.

“It’s an assisted-living facility, sir.”

As I waited for her to look up the room number, my childhood memories cascaded in front of my eyes. I remembered the 1968 Olympics. I remembered them well because they were the first ones I saw. At the Games of Mexico City, 200-meter sprinters Smith and Carlos won gold and bronze medals, respectively. But historically, they were better known for their fist-clenched, Black Power protest on the medal stand. If Nurmi had coached either one, he had to be special.

Or a special nut.

Didn’t matter. I adored those Olympics and wanted a personal link to them. Here was my connection. I had to meet this guy, so I said I was Nurmi’s second cousin all the way from Finland. With the strangest frown imaginable, the nurse straightened and told me his room was the last one on the left. Down the sun-drenched hallway, I skipped. His door was closed, so I started to knock. There was a faint aroma of incense, cherry, I think. Then I smelled …

“Marijuana?”

I pecked on the door. A noisy minute later, it creaked open. A little black head, with big ears flanking a hairless noggin, peered at me through blood-shot eyes. Slowly, he rolled out behind a sky-blue walker with silver racing stripes. He wore a beautiful dark gray suit, possibly Armani.  A gold earring completed his masterful ensemble. Hey, was that an ascot around his neck? I thought it was magenta, maybe burgundy.

“You’re smoking pot,” I said.

“And you, sir? Are you a narcotics agent?”

Not waiting for my answer, he rolled in reverse through the doorway and tried to fling the door shut, but I caught it with my foot. He kept rolling. I followed.

“I’m here to see Coach, Coach Nurmi.”

The little man stopped. With a puzzled look, he glared at me.

“What in the name of Hades do you want?”

“You’re the Coach?”

“What? Not impressed? I suppose you are a reporter looking for an angle. I have a suggestion. Go down to the lakefront, and take a long walk off a short pier. I hear the view at the bottom of Lake Michigan is spectacular.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Beggar Boy Blues

Chapter 21, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

Too much information? Really? You think so?

Sterling packed up and took off. I felt lower than a slug. All I had was one masochistic race and my quest – or delusion. Whichever you prefer. Peabody sure thought it was the latter.

What did he say?

“At his age, he has no real chance of running in any Olympics.”

… try saying it in a condescending tone…

“Even you must realize, at your age, you have no real chance of running in any Olympics.”

… perhaps give it the pompous asshole touch …

“It is well known that at such an advanced age, one has no chance of running in the Olympics.”

… now go make ’em stick it up their ass …

Cursing myself all the way home, I vowed I would hold on no matter what. It was all I had. And if I knew one thing, it was I needed a coach.

A REAL DAMNED COACH. NOW.

I sucked up my pride and trotted over to see Rockard. This time I dropped by his latté-colored bungalow, hoping he hadn’t run off to Minnesota or Canada or wherever that summer cabin of his was. Rockard was home, but he was packing.

“I need you, man,” I said as a waif might.

“The fish need me more,” said Rockard, intent on finding his wading boots. “I should be wearing them out in a thigh-deep creek, casting for rainbow trout by now.”

“But you know what I’m trying to do here. I’m right there, Coach, knocking on the door. Can’t you stay and help me?”

“Fred,” said Rockard. “I jist can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Cuz I don’t wanna.”

“That sounds selfish.”

“OK, maybe it is, but all I git off is the summer. And it’s gittin’ shorter all the time. And after that is football, and then I got wrestlin’, and then I got track … ”

The coach who looked like Santa wasn’t going to give me anything, so I tried empathy.

“I know, I know,” I said. “You need a rest.”

“And the damned summer is almost over,” Rockard said.

“Can’t you help me for a week?”

“Look here, I can’t help you even if I wanted,” he said. “I’ve never trained anyone for that.”

“Coach, look. I’m begging you.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang