Gone Fishin’

Chapter 21, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Rockard stopped tugging junk out of the bottom of his linen closet and peered at me as if I were a true orphan. Sadly, he shook his head.

“Ya goofball. I’m tellin’ you I wouldn’t know what to do. I have no experience with that, zip, nada, zlich. I work with children, not old guys.”

“Thanks,” I said sarcastically. “Thanks a lot.”

“You know what I mean,” he said “With kids, you can run the piss out of ’em. You? Ya might need a specialist.”

I searched that craggy, bearded face. Indeed, he told the truth as he knew it. Dejected, I turned and shuffled my feet toward the door.

“You know what …” Rockard started.

I spun around.

“WHAT?”

“Wwweeelll …”

“Well what?”

“There’s, uh, well, uh, naaaaaaah. Jist forget it.”

“You know, I could come up there, too. I bet it could be a lot of fun. Gee, I haven’t fished since third grade. Do they still use worms?”

Fear jumped out of Rockard’s eye sockets.

“DAMN! All right, already. Uncle. There I said it.”

“Great, who is it?”

“There’s this guy. Gawd, please have mercy on my soul.”

“Who? Who is it? Do I know him?” I asked with all the patience of a kid on Christmas morning.

“I think, I think he’s, well, in a, uuuuummmm, nursing home? Over in Michigan City.

“A nursing home? Who the hell … ”

“As far as I know, said Rockard. “Truth be known, he could be dead by now.”

“Coach, I’ll take that chance.”

“Still has his mind, I think. Jist can’t take care of hisself. Know what I mean? Physically.

“Has his mind?” I asked. “Certainly a plus.”

“Shuddup, Fred. I don’t have to tell you nothing.”

“OK, OK, please continue.”

“Anyway, last time I heard, I think it was Mylar’s or Sylar’s. Something like that.”

“And?”

“This guy – he coached during the sixties and seventies. You know. When you were a kid.”

“The sixties? He coached in the sixties, and he still has his mind. You sure?”

“Are you gonna lissen or not?”

“Go ahead. I’m listening.”

“Nurmi. His name’s Nurmi. Harry Nurmi. And, Fred, be careful. He’s a little different.”

“Never heard of him.”

“That’s because back then, nobody this side of Doc Counsilman, gave a shit who coached who,” said Rockard. “Anyway, I’m pretty sure Nurmi coached Carlos or Smith. You know, those guys who got kicked out in Mexico. Maybe both. I don’t remember for sure.”

I was stunned.

“You mean, THE John Carlos and Tommie Smith? Mexico City 1968?”

“Are there others?”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Baloney Detector

Chapter 20, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

For the inquisition, I wore my best – a navy blue suit, white shirt and red silk tie – only to arrive eight minutes late. Late, because I grew agitated as I left the house, turned back and had to throw my running gear in a brown paper bag to bring it along. I promised myself, if the session let out early, I would sneak in a short run.

Sitting at a conference room table, Melinda, looking resplendent in her black pantsuit with white pinstripes, and her lawyer, Mr. Peabody, a white-haired, no-nonsense gentleman, in his late sixties, waited patiently while Sterling whispered last-minute instructions.

“And for God’s sake, whatever you do, don’t say one word more than you have to,” he warned me. I nodded.

Sterling questioned Melinda first, asking if there were any possibility of reconciliation.

Melinda looked me up and down and said “no way.”

Peabody wanted the financial statements that I was asked to produce. After Sterling checked them, I handed the papers to Peabody. He tossed them in his briefcase and slammed it shut. It appeared the hearing would finish in record time. Faking a sigh, Melinda’s lawyer looked at her and then at me.

“There is one way to avoid all of this,” he said.

… oh boy …

“And that is?” Sterling asked.

Again, Melinda’s lawyer glanced at her. She nodded.

“My client, uh, she might be willing to reconcile if her husband would give up this, uh, this, this Olympic, uh … ”

“Nonsense?” I filled in the blank.

“Yes, something like that,” Peabody said.

“And why is this?” asked my lawyer.

“It should be obvious,” said Peabody. “Let us cut the baloney and be realistic. At his age, he has no real chance of running in any Olympics. Now, if he were a 20-something … ”

Hot blood surged throughout my face. My heartbeat picked up the pace.

“I don’t believe you’re qualified to make that determination,” said Sterling.

“Baloney?” I was incredulous. “What would you know about baloney?”

Sterling shushed me.

Peabody ignored us both.

“Number two, it takes too much time away from his family.”

“They’re asleep when I train,” I said, standing up.

My lawyer pushed me back into my chair. He glared at Peabody and then Melinda.

“Is there another reason?” asked Sterling.

“Yes, his daughters miss him,” Peabody said.

My lawyer tapped his pen on his lips and considered what he had just heard.

“I propose a recess,” he said.

“Baloney,” I said. “We don’t need a recess.”

“Uh-oh,” said Sterling. “Chuck, I think we should talk it over.”

“Number one,” I said. “It’s not nonsense.”

“Your words. I believe you called it nonsense,” said Peabody.

“I’m less than three seconds from qualifying for the Olympic Trials in the 800.”

Melinda’s lawyer exaggerated a glance at the court reporter taking down the transcript and then at me.

“Mr. Wells, may I remind you that you’re on the record here, and anything you say here will be … ”

“1:48.399. I ran a 1:48.399 last Saturday. I have witnesses.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Spin And Win

Chapter 19, Blog 3

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

The next day at the Valparaiso High School track, Ralphie met my racing buddies. I think he scared them. But one squeaky-voice joker named Henry asked Ralphie if the Incredible Hulk were his uncle. Instead of turning green with anger, Ralphie went purple with laughter. It proved infectious. The kids laughed and nicknamed Ralphie Hulk Junior – or Junior for short.

Ralphie adored it.

While the runts and I melted through another hot session of interval training, Ralphie heaved a shot put into the orangy, dawn sky. Spellbound, the big kids studied his technique. Ralphie’s tosses more than doubled theirs. They covered their ears as his grunts rumbled across the early-morning landscape. Ted, a beanpole with swimmers goggles for glasses, asked Ralphie if he ever tried to spin when he threw, such as a discus thrower. Ted cited statistics that more than 28 percent of high school shot putters spun a turn and a half across the circle to create more force. Ralphie shrugged.

On the next throw, Ralphie spun through the circle and tumbled flat on his face. But his throw flew four more feet, digging a crater far beyond the high school mud hole, near 65 feet. Yep, I thought, Ralphie will be ready for Atlanta.

But will I?

After burning through the last interval, I scurried home, showered and hustled to work. With Ralphie onboard, I needed that weekend off for Atlanta, maybe string four days together. I had put off making the request because I would have to ask my boss, Mr. Barnacle. When a schedule needed changing, he was as understanding as a guillotine operator.

The silvery-haired crab shoved his chair away from his mahogany desk buried by blueprints and barked at me. I decided to be assertive. It was the new me. I noticed the running gave me more confidence.

“Hey, Chief, you DO owe me the time.”

Barnacle’s dollar green eyes popped wide. He rubbed his red, bulbous nose until I thought it would fall off.

“Wells, you’re wasting your time. Even I could beat the likes of you.”

… why you pompous sonvabitch …

I counted to 10.

“You? You couldn’t beat my dead grandma,” I said, not thinking.

He started to foam at the mouth.

… oh-oh, brain hemorrhage at 3 o’clock…

Then he lost it. Barnacle guffawed so hard his nasty, yellow dentures flew into my lap.

“Go, ahead, Wells,” he spitted. “Knaa yoursell oudd.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Postmarked Zolvinskiland

Chapter 19, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

Then Ralphie dropped his own homemade bomb.

“Ya know whut? I think I might wunt to try, too,” he said.

“Try? Try what? Did I miss something here? Did you hit your head?”

Ralphie shifted forward. I could hear the sofa springs plead for mercy under the monstrous burden.

“ ’Member when we were kids, and we staged da Olympics in your backyard? Ya made ever’one march in with those dumb dime store flags your mom bought.”

“We must have been 6 or 7,” I said.

“Yup,” said Ralphie. “Seems like a hundred years ago, don’t it?”

“I’m surprised you even remember,” I said. “I forgot about it.”

“Dat’s back when I could outrun your ass,” said Ralphie. “That’s why.”

Now I sat up.

“Like hell you did.”

“Used to kick your ass on a regular basis.”

“I can’t recall one time you beat me, you big clod.”

“Sounds like repression ta me.”

With all those dead brain cells of his, it was amazing Ralphie could remember his own address. But he did remember our backyard Olympic Games.

“We made medals out of cardboard and ribbon and gave ’em ta da winners,” he said. “I still have a drawer of ’em at home.”

“And we would sing the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ because we Americans would always win,” I said. “We dominated the old neighborhood.”

“Except the long jump. Dat damned Zolvinski kid would win da long jump,” said Ralphie. “Ever’time. He’d win, and we’d sing sumthin’ dat sounded like a funeral march.”

“It was the theme from the old ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ show. We said it was the national anthem of Zolvinskiland. That always pissed him off.”

Ralphie and I chuckled at the memory.

“We really picked on him, didn’t we?” said Ralphie.

“Yeah, but he deserved it.”

“Well, said Ralphie. “I’ve bin thinkin’ about all dat crap since ya got us hauled off to jail. Dat whole night I couldn’t sleep.”

“I heard you. You were snoring.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

‘Little Girlfriend’

Chapter 16, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

“What are you doing?”

Without looking up, Melinda shook her head.

“You’d think in a town as small as Valpo, you’d have the decency not to do something like that out in the open.”

“I’m not doing anything.”

That made her stop. I expected the suitcase to fly at me next.

“You can deny it all you want.”

“Where did you hear such a thing?”

“Carol just called. She told me all about your little girlfriend.”

“Carol from work?”

“She heard it from Alice.”

“And Alice saw me?”

“She heard it from Susan.”

My mind raced. I didn’t know any Susan.

“And this Susan,” I said. “She saw me?”

“No,” Melinda said. “She overheard Mrs. Price at Town and Country Market, talking about you and her daughter.”

“Mrs. Price?”

“Yes, Mrs. Price.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Why she would let her daughter run around with a 48-year-old asshole like you is way beyond me.”

Determined, Melinda returned to her packing. I cowered in the doorway, waiting for Shannon to show. Maybe she could talk some sense to her mother.

“Just a DAAAAAMNED minute,” I stammered.

“What is it now?” asked Melinda, irritated by a new interruption.

“Mrs. Price’s daughter is a high school junior.”

Melinda walked over in front of me, stood toe to toe and …

“WHHHAAACCCKK!

I bet Mrs. Fuqua heard that one. Melinda slapped me so hard, my head spun like a weathervane in a Midwestern windstorm.

“You SICK ASSHOLE. Taking advantage of a child.”

Melinda started packing again. I counted stars.

“You’re really sick, Mister.”

My head came to a rest. I tried again.

“I told you I was working out with her.”

Melinda stopped again.

… oh-oh, that didn’t come out right …

I took a step back, then another.

“YOU WHAT?” Melinda snapped.

“I think I told you we were training together.”

“You most CERTAINLY did not.”

“Yes, I did.”

“You said you were working out with someone named Jerry. Now I know it was just a lie, a cover for all of this.”

“Yeah, that’s right. Geri. G-E-R-I, Geri,” I said. “Geri Price. She won the state in the 1,600 last year.”

That was enough. Using both of her fists, Melinda hammered the pile of clothes into submission and zipped the suitcase shut.

“What did you do?” she asked derisively. “Tell her you were going to the Olympics?”

Then Melinda scooped up the suitcase and walked out.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

A Race A Day Keeps Doctor Away

Chapter 15, Blog 1

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

1:49.24

Stupefied, Billy and I took turns squinting at Geri’s stopwatch. It was true. There it was in big, black digital figures. The over-the-top effort had taken everything I had – and then some. My lungs ached, unable to pay a crushing oxygen debt. My lactic-acid-gutted, paper-thin legs rustled in the early spring breeze. Finally, I sat down in the middle of the track before I fell down. The kids exchanged knowing glances, probably wondering if an ambulance would be needed.

Billy stuck out his hand. I reached up and shook it. Think he was looking for a pulse.

“Where’s my twenty?” he asked, grinning.

“You couldn’t beat me … by 10 meters … if you had to,” I said, trying to catch my breath.

“You do the trash talking BEFORE the race, Wells,” said Geri. “Do I have to tell you everything?”

Billy laughed. Geri laughed. And even I laughed.

“That’s your first race?” asked Billy.

“First race in a hundred years,” I said.

“I really thought you had me that last hundred,” he said. “I mean, you were cooking.”

“You could smell it?” I asked between chuckles or were they heaves for air. “Think I deep fried every muscle I’ve got.”

“Want to go again?” Billy asked.

“No, thanks. All I got is one race a day.”

Billy looked at Geri and then at me.

“You’re going to have to work on that, Mr. Wells.”

“Call me Chuck. Only my coach can call me Wells.”

“That’s me,” Geri said. “Ya shoulda seen him when we started. Didn’t even know which way to run around the track.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Love It Or Leave It

Chapter 13, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

“So what’s your excuse?” Geri asked, sensing my mood shift. “I suppose your wife makes you, right?”

That woke me.

… apparently, she doesn’t know Mrs. Wells …

“Ummm, no, I think Melinda truly hates my training. It takes time away from her and the kids. But my girls, they’re all for it. They’re all in. They like to encourage me.”

“But something tells me ya don’t care for it much,” she said.” Am I right?”

“When I was young, it was like standard practice,” I said. “It was second nature to say we hated anything good for us like running or reading or eating vegetables. Know what I mean? If you said you liked those things, you were branded as weird or not from this planet. You know how peer pressure works.”

“So why run if ya hate it so much?”

“Means to an end, I guess. I don’t dislike it as much as I say I do. That’s still a reflex thing. My body, though, does have its own ideas.”

“OK, jist so I know where ya stand. I don’t mean to discourage ya,” said Geri. “Jist the opposite. If ya work at it, I mean, your strides are good – for an old dude.”

“Gee, thanks, Coach. You think I’m going to stroke out, don’t you?”

“Knock it off, Wells. I’m saying physically ya can go a long way. And I can help ya with that if ya want. I can tell ya what to run, what to work on, that sort of stuff.”

“But?”

“But I can’t help ya with what’s between your ears.”

I looked at Geri. She was sincere. I still wasn’t.

“That’s easy.” I said. “There’s nothing there.”

She nodded in agreement.

“I can tell,” Geri said. “Ya might need someone smarter than me to help with that.”

I tried to stay positive.

“So you think I can still motor, huh?”

“Let’s find out,” Geri said. “Let’s have ya race somebody. How about Saturday?”

“How about a month from Saturday?”

Geri ignored me.

“And I know jist who to get.”

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang

Death Wish

Chapter 12, Blog 2

By Chuck Wells As Told To Ray Hochgesang

chuckwells2008@gmail.com

 

“Anaerobic training, Wells. When you run long distances, your muscles can’t remove the latic acid they build up fast enough. So ya get that burning feeling. Ya become fatigued and can’t kick those last 20 meters.”

“Kind of like the city trash haulers,” I said. “Too much trash.”

“Trash haulers? Whatever.” Geri said. “Interval training helps overcome it. Or at least, builds tolerance.”

I had read about intervals in my first issue of Runner’s World now that my subscription had kicked in. But I wanted to hear Coach explain it. For me, it sounded like nothing less than torture.

“Are you going to run intervals, too?” I asked.

“Of course, it’s Tuesday.”

“So what’s Wednesday?” I didn’t care. I just wanted to postpone intervals as long as possible.

Geri was happy to elaborate.

“Sundays and Wednesdays are distance days, about 10, 11 miles each.”

… GULP! You might need a new coach …

“Mondays, we’ll do 200s at pace; Tuesdays, 400-meter intervals; and Thursdays, a variety of intervals. Fridays, we’ll do some special stretching and a handful of 200s.”

… DOUBLE GULP! You DO need a new coach …

“And Saturday … ”

“We sleep in?” I hoped.

“Nah, that’s fun day. We race.”

“Race?”

Geri gave me a good, pained look.

“That’s why we’re out here, Wells.”

I wasn’t used to having young girls call me by my last name. It felt odd. But again, this whole arrangement was peculiar, bordering on Ripley’s.

“OK, Coach. What’s first?”

“We’ll do a 400 in 65 seconds, jog for 50 seconds, do another in 64, jog for 45 seconds, do one more in 63 seconds, jog for 40 … ”

“Hey, who’s going to time us?”

Geri pointed to her wrist.

“Don’t give it another thought. I have the stopwatch right here. Let’s go. It won’t hurt you a bit.”

… isn’t that what your dentist says as he reaches for his drill …

In high school, we ran intervals as a group of six or seven. When we were on the far side of the track, we bitched like prison lifers and called old Rockard names I can’t repeat here. I was a juvenile then. As an adult, I was much more mature. After each, I just cussed under my breath.

Once we got started, though, my legs got with the program. They didn’t like it, but they responded. I ran intervals with Geri and I was totally surprised that I could still do it, knowing full well I would be dead the next day.

Copyright © 2012 by Chuck H. Wells/Ray Hochgesang