Go Ahead, Beet It

Chapter 26, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Good ol’ Sheila, I could have killed her. A week after the interview, The Times ran a page one story detailing my Olympic Trials quest with a photo of my push-away-monkey Tai Chi posture. Any anonymity I enjoyed jumped out the window and ran for it.

Chicago TV stations 5 and 7 called, wanting to film my training. The sports radio stations asked me to do their shows. Even Dan Patrick wanted five minutes.

I should have said “no.” It was humiliating how they painted me as a 48-year-old nutjob with a Fountain of Youth fixation. Off the air, one offered 15-1 odds I wouldn’t make it. On the other hand, a few classmates I hadn’t heard from since high school called to wish me luck. One said he had trouble chasing his grandkids, much less running. But one nameless asshole asked if I had lost my mind. Even my barber doubted me.

Twice, I considered calling Sheila to complain. But knowing her magical ways, I was afraid of ending up at her place with consequences I didn’t need to visualize. Plus, most of my friends still treated me like warm beer, even Ralphie. All he got was a story hidden in the sports section despite his Trials-qualifying toss in Atlanta. Ralphie chalked it up to my history with Sheila and got over it.

Who knew what Melinda thought?

Worse, some who didn’t know me thought it had to be a publicity stunt.

“There goes that poor, deluded man,” I overheard a mother tell her 5-year-old at Walmart.

… at least, she didn’t say “old” …

But it did hurt, and I was angry. I ran with anger. I visualized with anger. I ate with anger.

In the face of my deepening turmoil, Harry proved unflappable. It was obvious to him that we could not waste a single second. My coach bought a compact disc player and a set of Russian language CDs that I could play while I slept.

“We need to power up some of those unused synapses,” Harry said. “The more brain connectors firing away, the better.”

“Synapses?”

“If we fail to challenge ourselves mentally on a daily basis, or even minute by minute, we lose vital brain capacity, and the synapses are the first to go,” he said. “By simply hearing a foreign language, perhaps you could resurrect a few. Certainly, it is plausible.”

I stared blankly at him.

“Yes, in your case, it is a longshot. But we must try.”

At first, the Russian jabbering kept me awake, but after I got used to it, I found it relaxing. Harry said that was a clear indication the CDs were doing some good. Maybe they were. I did develop a craving for borscht.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Just Show And Tell

Chapter 25, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

I laughed. It was a nervous laugh. I’d never been interviewed by a former girlfriend. Sheila was the one who hadn’t changed. She looked better than ever.

“So I ran in one lousy meet. Big deal.”

“That’s not what I heard,” said Sheila, picking up her pen. “The Price kid says you’ve been training for months. She says you have Olympic aspirations. Is that true?”

“That Geri,” I said, shaking my head. “She likes to exaggerate.”

“She also says you have a personal trainer living in your house and some pretty solid 800 times. Is that true?”

“You know, you really should be talking to Ralphie,” I said, trying a diversionary tactic. “He’s the one who’s already qualified for the Trials.”

“I know,” said Sheila. “He’s coming in tomorrow.”

“Oh.”

“But truth be known,” said Sheila, flashing those gorgeous chocolate brown eyes. “I’d rather talk to you.”

… DANGER! RED ALERT! THIS IS NOT A DRILL …

“And why is that?” I asked awkwardly.

“There’s no real age restriction on tossing a hunk of metal,” she said. “Running, though, that’s different.”

I stretched my hands behind the back of my head, trying to appear unimpressed while my heart beat as if the bell lap had rung.

“People don’t forget how to run, do they? It’s kinda like breathing,” I said.

“Why, Chuck, you haven’t changed a bit,” said Sheila. “So c’mon, tell me. Tell me why C.H. Wells has a fixation on running 800s while most of his peers won’t run across the street.”

Sheila paused.

“That’s not asking much, is it?”

“In a word – yes.”

Sheila laughed. I started to sweat.

“Not sure,” I said. “Maybe early Alzheimer’s.”

“That’s not what I heard,” she said.

“You hear a lot.”

“It’s my job.”

“I see you’re good at it.”

“Tell you what,” Sheila said. “Would you feel better talking elsewhere? Say my place? For dinner?”

I glimpsed at her ring finger. It was naked.

“Why don’t you come over to my house? I’ll have Harry whip up something for us.”

“Ooooooh, that sounds like a date. And Harry, he’s your personal trainer? I can talk to him, too, right?”

… RED FLAG … RED FLAG …

“Sure, why not? About seven, then?”

“Sounds great,” Sheila said. “It’s so good to see you, Chuck.”

Floating out of The Times office, I thought I was having an out-of-body experience and wondered what Sheila really wanted. Check that. I knew what she wanted.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Lost In Thought

Chapter 24, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

“Yeah, so I have a few issues to deal with. Who doesn’t? But you’re not helping by interrogating me,” I said as my growing agitation began to show. “If you mean, did I feel old and stupid and out of step – no pun intended – the answer is ‘yes, I did.’ ”

Harry pushed the foot rest down and sat up.

“My question is do you feel the need to continue?”

A cold draft wafted over me as if someone had opened a window. I shivered.

“Continue?”

“Yes,” said Harry. “Do you want to continue? It is not a difficult question, even for you.”

“Are we still in the tearing-down stage? Are you always this nasty to your athletes?”

Harry stood.

“I do what I think is best for each one. You, sir, need a good boot in the posterior. Now that you participated in that meaningless event and incurred further mental damage, you will need … ”

“A kick in the head? Right? Where do you get this malarkey?”

“Malarkey? I swear. You and your peers are some of the most narcissistic in the history of the world,” said Harry, waving his right index finger like a band leader. “Why do I need to explain anything? In my day, sir, we did what we were told. No questions asked.”

“So?”

“So we did not feel a neurotic need to ask a basketful of simplistic questions every five minutes,” he said.

“Is it my fault we’re not sheep?”

I made a face.

“BBBBAAAAHHH!” I bleated.

Harry made a face.

“Enough of your childish sarcasm. Woe is the day that a baby boomer takes responsibility for anything.”

… here we go again …

“Your generation truly confounds me. I suppose you could blame your malaise on the acceleration of change during the past 40 years,” he said, rubbing his eyes again. “You boomers are probably the most technologically stressed of all time. And it shows.”

“Say what?” I was lost.

“See? said Harry, pacing a circle around me. “Space travel, computers, cellphones, iPods. No wonder you ask questions. It’s a flawed stalling tactic designed to keep you from falling further behind.”

“What’s the point, Harry?”

“And you have no patience either. Instant this, instant that, instant gratification always.”

“What’s your damned point?”

“And always skipping to the bottom line with no interest in how one gets there.”

“The point, if you please.”

“I saw your races.”

“You what?”

“I know the coach at Georgia Tech. He recorded your races and emailed them to me. They’re on your computer. You were beat before you ran the first step.”

“You were spying on me?”

“You boomers know what your problem is, Charlie?”

… who is this Charlie …

“You think too much.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Mr. Good Track

Chapter 22, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

Being an ass was natural for Harry.

No pancakes for me. Just granola, and some orange and apple slices. If I were lucky, maybe a pear. And milk, lots of milk, with consequences I don’t need to tell you about. Yeeech.

In the 17 years since he last coached, Harry discovered what he thought were the benefits of alternative training. So we started with Tai Chi each morning. As you know, it’s all about the chi and not me.

“Tai Chi is an ancient, defensive art that every athlete should strive to perfect,” said Harry. “I regret not utilizing it sooner. It could have saved Wottle from himself.”

“Should I grow my hair and wear a golf cap, too?”

“QUIET!”

Harry wheeled his walker over and got in my face. Despite his recent acceptance of new methods, in many ways, he was still old school.

“Here, Sir, I do the teaching. You do the learning. I am the teacher. You are the student. Do we have an understanding, Charlie?”

I hated like hell being called Charlie, but I kept my mouth shut and nodded.

Then we practiced visualization. It taxed me mentally and emotionally. In other words, I was goofier than ever.

“Close your eyes. Focus. The starter’s gun rises, on your mark, BANG! You explode off the line. What do you see?”

“Darkness, Master.”

Harry rolled his walker over again, his nose stopping centimeters from mine.

“If you call me Master or Yoda, or even Hop-Sing one more time, I promise I will surgically remove your testicles and feed them to the pigeons. Do you comprehend, Sir?”

I nodded.

We practiced this malarkey until my mind melted. For the few minutes I got to run, I felt giddy. Harry had me jog a lap, maybe sprint the next, then visualize another until I achieved the Zen-like optimum he wanted. It was the same crap, over and over and …

“Stop, listen, feel your inner runner. What is he telling you? What does he want?”

Then …

“Sprint one circuit. Fast. Faster. Shed that tired, old skin.”

Then …

“Stop. Close your eyes. Feel your soul weep. Do not give in to those negative notions. Go ahead. DISMISS THEM.”

And …

“Jog another circuit. Nourish your inner runner with rich, positive energy.”

More …

“Circle the oval, again, again … ”

And …

“Center yourself. Rrreeaaacch down deep. Close your eyes. Visualize the process. Own the process.”

And …

“Lie face down on the track. Listen. Listen to the track. Smell. Smell the track. Taste. Taste the track.”

… DO WHAT …

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Hey, Listen Here

Chapter 20, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

“Was it in an official meet? I believe it must be sanctioned,” Peabody said.

“Well, no, but … ”

“Correct me, please, if I am wrong,” he said. “I believe it must be recorded during a sanctioned meet, does it not?”

“Well, yes but … ”

“And the meet must be sanctioned by … ”

“The USATF.”

“Yes, so please tell us. How close are you to running in such a meet?”

“Chuck, you don’t have to answer that,” said Sterling.

“Fact is, we’re going to Atlanta next weekend,” I said.

“What? Your baby girlfriend and you?” Melinda asked.

“No, Geri is not going … ”

“So, she IS your girlfriend,” Melinda said.

“You don’t have to answer that, Chuck,” said Sterling.

“No, she is not my girlfriend,” I said.

“You said, ‘we,’” noted Peabody.

“My friend Ralphie is going,” I said. “He’s a shot putter.”

“I suppose he’s going to the Olympics, too,” said Peabody. “Or is he your latest romantic  interest?”

Sterling pulled on my sleeve.

“Don’t answer that, Chuck.”

“He’s not my lover. He’s my friend. Melinda, you know Ralphie. Why do you let this go on?”

“You’ve changed, Charles,” she said. “I don’t know what to think anymore.”

“Now, you think I’m a homosexual? You know what? I don’t care if you do.”

“Strike that from the record,” Sterling interjected. “Chuck, I think we need a recess – now.”

“No, we don’t,” I turned to Melinda again. “What are you saying?”

“You’ve changed, Charles,” said Melinda, this time with regret in her voice.

That was enough.

“You’re damned right I’ve changed.”

“Chuck, really, we need that recess,” Sterling said.

“Believe it or not. A human being still has the right to change,” I said, standing up and walking around the table. I stood behind Melinda and Peabody. “Or is that against the law now?”

“See, what did I tell you?” Melinda said to her lawyer. “It’s a midlife crisis.”

“Call it anything you want,” I said. “Since I started running, I feel better. I have more energy. I think better. I eat better. What is wrong with that? Tell me. Damnit! Tell me.”

“You’re acting like a child,” said Melinda. “Why can’t you act your age?”

Maybe Melinda was right, but I didn’t want to hear it.

“Forget it! I’m not turning back now,” I shouted.

“You’re right,” Peabody said to Melinda. “Not only a classic midlife crisis, but I think he  might also be delusional.”

Without another word, Melinda and Peabody got up and walked out.

“Sorry, Sterling,” I said, sitting down beside him. “Guess I should have listened.”

“That’s OK,” said Sterling.”My kids don’t listen to me either.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Sucker Punch

Chapter 17, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

The morning workouts gave me a vital high I clung to like a crack addict. I needed it. It was tough at night when I sat alone in a dark, quiet house. I had taken my family for granted, and I was being punished for it. Was this Olympic insanity worth the price? No, but what could I do? No one would talk to me. I reflected on it nightly into June.

It wasn’t the first time someone had left me.

“Charlie! Come here! Charlie!” My mother shouted. That tone meant business. Even as a third-grader, I could tell. I ran into the kitchen.

“Charlie, Mrs. Erny says you were acting out in class again today. Didn’t we have a little talk about that just last week?”

“Yes, Mom, but … ”

“Look here, honey, I know you miss your father. We’ve been through this a thousand times. God wanted him and called him home. If he were here now, he would be very displeased with you.”

“But, Mom … ”

“Listen, little man, you need to straighten up. I know you’re just acting out because you need some more attention. I’ll try to do a better job, OK?”

“OK.”

“All right now, any questions?”

“What should I do the next time Freddie says you’re a bitch?”

“WHAT? Freddy? That little shit! Punch him in the nose!”

A sharp rap at the front door interrupted my flashback. I thought it had to be a court employee with a subpoena. Everyone else was avoiding me.

… don’t even think about answering that …

A second round of knocking ensued, harder, more determined.

I sat frozen in my Lay Z Boy.

Silence.

A moment later, I could hear a key jiggling in the lock.

… these people stop at nothing …

The doorknob creaked, and a shadowy figure crept in.

I gasped.

“Ralphie!”

“Ya big Ass-wipe. Why didn’t ya let me in?”

“Where’d you get that key?”

“From the usual place in your garage, Moron.”

Reveling in sublime misery, I didn’t care to talk to anyone, not even my former – yes, former – best friend.

“Git outta here,” I groused.

Ralphie ignored me. He shuffled over to the TV, turned it on and plopped in a DVD.

“Jist give me a minute.”

“Ralphie, I don’t care to watch any movies.”

“Jist shuddup.”

He fumbled with the remote control.

“C’mon, tell me how ta start this stupid thing.”

“Go home.”

“Shuddup, I mean it. Or I’ll sit on your head and fart until you die. It’s your call.”

“Hit play.”

“Thank ya.”

“What the hell is it?” I asked.

“It’s a move, Dumb Ass.”

“I know it’s a movie. What is it?”

“It’s called ‘Invincible.’”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Why Run?

Chapter 13 , Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Geri and I walked the last mile back to Glendale Boulevard. The workout had refreshed her – and nearly finished me. I wondered out loud what drove a 17-year-old to climb out of a warm bed every morning to punish herself. Her confident demeanor evaporated. She looked perplexed, maybe conflicted. I didn’t think Geri would answer. Or could. But after about quarter mile of forced silence, she chose to reply.

“When I was little, maybe a year old, maybe 14 months or so, I had trouble walking,” she said. “In fact, they thought I couldn’t walk.”

“Wow,” was all I could say.

“The doctors never did figure it out, maybe ten thousand neurons failing to fire here and there. Something like that,” Geri said with a dismissive wave of her had. “My mother still says it’s a miracle I ever did walk, much less run.”

“Some kind of weird polio, huh?”

“I don’t know. Could be.”

Geri shook her head and gazed skyward.

“My parents took me to therapist after therapist until they found one who said she could help. Can you believe it? Not even 2 years old and in therapy.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“That’s why I run so methodically, like a crazed robot.”

“I don’t think you run like a robot,” I said.

“No?”

“More like an android.”

“Shut up, Wells. I’m trying to be real here, and you’re giving me crap.”

“Sorry.”

“So the short answer to your question – what motivates me, why do I love to run?”

“Yes?”

“Because I can.”

“I like that.”

What else could I say? I was embarrassed I had asked in the first place. I was trying to be conversational. Instead, I got a confessional. For sure, I thought I would hear a shallow “I’m just good at it” answer or “I did it to meet guys.” Perhaps, “I’m just an old-fashioned masochistic girl.” Now I was ashamed. Yes, ashamed I took my God-given talent for granted. Why didn’t I take more pride in it? I put my head down and trudged along, wondering why I was like that.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

No Kidding

Chapter 11, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

“Can I use the track? I need somewhere better than my block to train.”

His grin burst into the biggest smile I had seen since we won the state track meet in my senior year.

“Hell, yes, go ahead. Use the track. Jist don’t run over any of my freshmen,” he said.

“Did they always look like children?” I asked.

“Fred,” he said. “They are children.”

Rockard promised he would tell the school guards and maintenance crew, and gave me a note on his stationery. I should have no trouble.

“The Olympics, no shit,” he said as I left.

It was better than homecoming. I hobbled out to the track. It wore a new, all-weather, resilite surface. Only last century, I smashed the school’s 880 record on something black, springy and new called Rub-Kor. Now the track sported an orangy hue. I liked the makeover.

In fact, I couldn’t wait. Shedding my coat, I shuffled a lap in my jeans and tennis shoes. All the races I had run sprinted through my brain. I even remembered the one I didn’t finish. It was my first varsity meet. I was so nervous I threw up halfway through the race and almost choked. The mere thought still made me turn red. The next morning, I awoke before the sun and sneaked over to the track. No one was there, not even freshmen. I stretched long and longer, then sat in lane one for a moment to drink it in. It tasted wonderful.

“Welcome home, Chuckster,” I said.

Springing to my feet, I coasted down the main straight and leaned hard into the turn. I closed my eyes and ran back into the Seventies.

… HEY! Dumb ass. Open your eyes. You trying to kill yourself …

No matter how obnoxious, the voice was technically correct. I couldn’t afford any more tumbles. Wide eyed, I chugged down the back stretch, picking up the pace.

“Hey, Fred, don’t git boxed in, ya knucklehead,” I yelled in my best Rockard impersonation.

Scooting through the curve and down the front stretch I glided over the finish line. I slowed, walked the next lap. Not bad. You know, I could really …

“Hey, Old Man,” shouted a distant voice.

I peered through the early morning haze. It had to be a freshman. Who else would be stupid enough to be out here at this hour?

Never mind.

“Wha’cha doin’ on my track?”

The figure grew. I laughed.

“Your track?”

“Ya know what I mean. Get out of here before I call the cops.”

It was some kind of female, all legs and arms. She wore Viking green sweats and her black hair in tiny pigtails. She brandished her cellphone like a weapon.

“Go ahead,” I dared her.

Ms. Pigheaded started to dial.

“No, I was kidding,” I said.

“I’m not,” she said.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Think Again

Chapter 8, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

One of a hundred million negative thoughts weaseled its way in through my firewall. They always do. They’re worse than malware.

… could THIS be a one-time deal … just asking …

Like Bob Beamon’s 29-foot-plus long jump in the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City? Twenty-nine feet is nothing today. But in ’68, it was like someone beside the cow had jumped over the moon. Some said it was the thin air. Some said a mysterious gust of wind carried Beamon a few extra feet. Some said it was a burst of …

ADRENALINE.

All I know was … The barking dog jumped. My adrenal glands pumped.

No rocket scientist need apply. As long as I had run around the block, I didn’t see that beast. He would be hard to hide, too. I never saw any dog. Whose dog was it? Where did he come from? Was he alien? Or just German? Had he stalked me all this time? Waiting for the opportune moment when I was too tired to put up a fight? Thinking about it made my heart quiver. That dog, he had crazy eyes. The eyes of a demon.

More importantly, did I need to find a new place to train?

… WHOA!

… Did you say “train?” Didn’t you just retire? That’s gotta be the shortest retirement in the modern history of track and field …

All right, I didn’t think I could sprint a record quarter mile every time Satan boy tried to put the bite on me. Nobody has adrenal glands like that. But you know what?

This is my neighborhood. This is my block.

That is my street. I paid for that street. Taxes laid that asphalt. My taxes.

“Should I let bow-wow take a nip out of me?” I asked out loud.

… uh-huh, who’s the crazy one …

“Someone owns that monster. Someone with a homeowner policy and a sizable liability provision.”

… hey, Mr. Victim, you’re talking a perfect 10 on the Imbecile Scale …

“With that kind of potential settlement, I could finance my training, stay in the best motels during meets, hire a professional coach. Depending on where the dog bit me, though, it would take a while to heal, especially if it were on my leg.”

… I KNEW IT! You are crazy …

“So what? You really think I’m going to get bitten, so I can stay at the Hilton?”

… WHEW! You had me going …

I plopped on the sofa. I tried to talk myself down, but the adrenaline still trickled. I tried meditating.

“Grrrrrrrrrrrrr … ”

Nope, no use.

Maybe some sex would calm me.

“Oh, Melinda.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Gear Up

Chapter 8, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Another gear? I had another gear all this time?

And didn’t know it?

How THE HELL is that possible?

Maybe I never needed it before. Maybe I was never that terrified before.

Adrenaline, that’s all it was. Adrenal overload initiated by sheer terror.

What’s the deal, you ask. OK. I know. You’re worried I’ll talk about cams or turbochargers next. Right? You might have an automatic transmission. Automatics are great if you just want to coast through life. Take your time. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Me? I tooled around in a standard three-speed for some 48 years, lusting for a four-on-the-floor. To think, I had a sports car waiting for me in the garage the whole time.

It’s gotta be true. I just outran a freakin’ German shepherd as if he were missing a couple of legs.

… don’t kid yourself. It was pure fear …

I have never been that scared. EVER.

The closest I could remember was when I was 7 years old and a bumblebee flew into my mouth. It stung only once, but it hurt a thousand times.

But that didn’t scare me.

My mother told me I would die if I didn’t make it to the hospital in time. You see, my father died from a bee sting when I was 3.

Still, that didn’t scare me.

It was the ungodly, horrifying drive to the hospital. My mother blew through every stop sign and red light in three and a half miles. I’ll never forget it: cars screeching, locking up brakes; people honking, cussing.

I don’t care how old you are – that WAS scary. The tire screeches alone curdled my blood because I couldn’t see what was happening. I was plastered on the floorboard.

Turned out I wasn’t allergic. But to this day, anytime a horn blows, I lose it.

After the bumblebee sting, I didn’t open my mouth for three weeks. With everything bottled up inside my head, I’m sure that’s when I started hearing voices. I got a little touch of OCD, too. Still do.

Now I couldn’t shut up.

“What if I could run like that in an 800?” I asked as I wore a fresh hole in the carpet.

“I could replay it: Man sees dog. Dog sees man. If man doesn’t run like the wind, dog enjoys breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

GULP!

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang