Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Chapter 22: Westerling

Beads of Sweat is a novel about running.  This is the team's first duel meet.

The lull in the premeet lockerroom told him all he needed to know.  As the team changed from school clothes to uniforms, Hartman perimetered half the room and made his way to the old lab counter.  Behind him stood an even older green chalkboard that he himself screwed into the cinderblock wall.  He wrote nothing on it.  He looked out at the fourteen-odd boys and shifted his weight to one leg as he waited for Pereira’s silhouette to substantialize in the threshold. 

            -Don’t put your flats on yet.  We still have a warmup to do.
            -Are you wearing flats or spikes?
            -Spikes.  You?
            -Needles or pyramids?

            He listened to a half dozen more hushed conversations before Pereira appeared.  Then he clapped his hands together a few times and spoke. 

            -This is our first meet of the year.  Duel meet.  We have Westerling today and they’re one of the three or four best teams in the conference.  We’ve been training hard.  We’re not ready for this meet.  We’ve trained right through it.  Our legs are tired.  We’re still building.  Don’t expect to blow their doors off.  Remember what I told you yesterday.  Do the warmup right.  Do the stretches right.  And if I talked to you individually, be sure to do what I said.  We are the class of this league and when we leave this lockerroom we will conduct ourselves accordingly.  No bullshit.  I’ll see you on the softball field in ten minutes.  Smitty bring them together and take ‘em out. 

            With that Hartman grabbed his clipboard and headed for the door.  He greeted Pereira at the doorway, shook his hand, and ushered him to the field. 

            -Great day for a meet.
            -Sure is. 
            -What’s the word?
            -Well, Coetaine’s out with the knee.  No jv race today.  Just boys and girls varsity. 
            -How good is Westerling anyway?
            -Well, unless they’ve been sandbagging for the last two years, I’d say their good for two guys in our top five.  Coughlin, a senior, ran in the top thirty at states last year.  They have a junior, Washman, who may’ve improved. 
            -That’s it.
            -I hope so.
            -I told Jenkins and Spider to run together for the first two miles.  Told them not to kill it.  Just lead it.  Torres, Hammond, and Smith shouldn’t be too far off.
            -Was Jenkins pissed?
            -Yeah, but we reviewed his goals.  PR’ing in the fist duel of the year wasn’t on his sheet.  I showed it to him.

            The Yellowjackets trotted out to the field in one big mass.  Some of them ran with a sneaker in each hand, and some of them ran with knapsacks held tight to their backs.  Their baggy shorts and t-shirts stood in stark contrast to the royal blue of Westerling, who were already stripped down to their singlets and nuthuggers.  They were stretching on the firstbase line and as Springfield passed, the visitors gawked.  Individually, Hartman’s boys may’ve stole furtive glances but collectively they didn’t even look at Westerling.  Ran by them as if they were tombstones.  Like they weren’t even there.  Paws said nothing but thought it badass and had to restrain himself from brushing up into Kimihara.  They stopped between the thirdbase line and dugout and piled up their belongings in that dugout.  They loitered for a minute; some kicked out their legs, others stretched their torsos and rolled their necks.  Jenkins recollected them and told them what they were doing.  They’d run a two-mile warmup.  Out to the two-mile mark via the shortcut then the last mile.  Stay together, he told them, I’ll set the pace. 

            They ran as mutes until out of earshot of Westerling.  In that hundred yards or so, Lee couldn’t believe how slow Jenkins paced them.  This aura hadn’t surfaced during camp week or in practices.

            All remained quiet until out of nowhere Torres pushed Wallan into a copse of scrubpine saplings.  Wallan lost his balance but didn’t fall.  Before he could register Torres’ shove, the guys were laughing.

            -What the fuck Torres, Galiozzi said.
            -You’re a fucking nut, from Smitty.
            -Oh yeah, maybe you’ll be next.
            -Real tough guy here everybody, Jenkins said.

            Wallan recovered and arranged himself next to Torres.  I’m telling Hartman on you, he said, you and him will be playing cards instead of racing this afternoon.

            -Oh please, Torres crouched down and pressed his hands together like a supplicant, not the cards. 

            The banter continued through the woods.  The chalk from the milers had washed away but the boys knew where the two-mile mark was.  On the way back the banter continued.

            -Did you see those guys just staring at us, Hammond asked.
            -They look like fairies.
            -Tinkerbells, right Paws?
            -We’re gunna destroy them.
            -Westerling, this from Deo, less sterling.
            -That’s right, Deo, less sterling.

            Back at the thirdbase line, they began stretching.  Knowing eyes were on them, the formation was tighter and the stretches deeper.  They did their static stretches first.  The seniors choreographed the underclassmen through a routine every member involuntarily knew by heart.  First the floor routine: lower back and hamstrings, adductors, IT-bands, hips, and Achilles.  Then prostrate for the calves, quads, and hamstrings again.  One done with the static stuff, they progressed to the dynamic: two different types of leg swings, hurdlers, and toe raises.  During the second set of leg swings, a couple of Westerling harriers passed. 

            -What the fuck was that, Smith said.
            -Are those assholes laughing at us?
            -Better not be.
            -Wait till we’re in the woods, Smitty yelled at them.

            Westerling did not look back. 
            Done discussing the particulars of the meet with the Westerling coach, Hartman jogged over and gestured his troops together. 

            -I want a hard steady pace from everyone today.  No doggin’ it.  I told you we weren’t ready for this race and that’s true.  But let’s be clear.  We will win.  We work hard and we win.  That’s what we do here…Race starts in five minutes.  Seniors, get ‘em ready.

            Paws and Deo appeared ready to jump out of their skin.  The countenances of the seniors and juniors looked determined as well.  Hartman removed himself from the circle.  He headed toward Pereira who was chatting with the meet official. 

            -Alright now freshmen, welcome to Jacket Running.  When we run, we kick ass.  If there is a blue jersey within fifty feet of you with a mile to go, you catch him and pass him and don’t look back.
            -That goes for all of you.  Nobody comes to our home course and laughs at us.   Nevermind beat us.  Nobody.

            -This is our first race of the year.  Let’s send a message.  Jackets on three.  And when we say Jackets we say it loud.  One.  Two.  Three.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

This Week in not Running: 4.18 to 4.24.11

Monday - bike 100 min / core
biked in 2 sessions; pre and post marathon
Tuesday - bike 90 min / core
Wednesday - bike 60 min / core
Thursday - bike 40 min + elliptical 40 min
Friday - lift / leg core
Saturday - bike 60 min
Sunday - bike 65 min
For the Week
bike 415 mins
elliptical 40 min
4 core workouts
1 lift
Analysis: Went to Mika for treatment on the left foot.  Due to the slow recovery rate, the diagnosis has evolved into a split tear of the plantar fascia or FHL tendon.  This is bad news.  Very bad.  This injury could take up to 6 MONTHS to heal.  Bad news.  I can just feel myself getting more and more out of shape which every passing day.
Good news: I can participate in activities that keep the heel flat like the bike and elliptical.  Good news: I'm already 2 months into this debacle.  Mika also gave two suggestions: 1) a slight heel lift to place in my shoe and 2) a "sole" cushion insert that will allow for better cushion under the arch/heel where I'm feeling the pain.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Chapter 21: Malcolm Galiozzi

Beads of Sweat is a book about a high school cross country team.  About one in every six chapters is a biography of one of the runners.  This chapter, we meet Malcolm Galiozzi, a fringe varsity runner.

0615  So glad it’s a Tuesday morning.  No Dank Tank today.  He nearly killed us yesterday after “the situation.”  It’s like he knew we didn’t have the tank this morning so killed us yesterday afternoon.  And why the hell is he punishing us so hard two days before our first meet of the year.  It’s not like Westerling is a pushover. 

Man, if this was a tank morning I’d already be up and at school right now.  Smith would be blaring his music, he recently discovered AC/DC and it’s been a “Long Way to the Top” every damn morning, and getting in our faces.  The dude needs like two hours of sleep a day.  Check that, I bet he sleeps in his classes all day long.  At least Hartman lets a kid pick the music.  The maniacal one does every other damn thing for us.  Like today, he’s going to tell us how to “conduct ourselves” when we have dual meets.

Unlike some other guys, I don’t skip breakfast.  My mom hooks me up with something, usually hot.  Today, she put together some oatmeal.  I pour the oj and she makes the hot stuff, “it’ll stick to your ribs,” she tells me.  She thinks I’m too skinny and is always tell me to eat, eat, eat.  Hartman looks at me and tells me I need to work on my love handles.  Sonuvabitch, he’s always riding my ass. 

I need to look good for the ladies.  Non Dank Tank days I make sure to dress it up.  I need to get in the shower and then pimp myself out.  Hammond picks me up and can’t stand it when I make he wait.  He leans on that horn till the whole neighborhood is up.  After the shower, I dress it to the nines.  I got these sweet kicks for back to school and they don’t even have creases in them yet.  What takes me the longest is the hair.  I got to make sure it’s just right.  Smitty, if I see him before first period, will come up from behind me and jump on my back and mess up my hair.  I hate it when that asshole does that.  The hair has got to look like I don’t care.  That’s not easy.  But they got this new gel that makes your hair look natural and not wet and greasy.  The stuff is eye-talian gold, as Spider puts it.  Hey, these guys might laugh at me but who’s always the one trying to hook them up with girls.  I mean I got girls calling me all night.  When I don’t pick up, they text me.  It’s a miracle that I get even some of my homework done.  Damn. 

0710  Right on time, Hammond picks me up.  He lives like four streets over, so it’s really no inconvenience for him, only when I make him wait.  My mom tries to hurry me along, but that’s just because she doesn’t want the neighbors squawking to her about the horn.  I get in the car and every morning it’s the same thing.  The dude listens to sports radio in the car.  Can you believe it?  I try to punch the presets but he slaps my hand away.  Tells me he’ll put me in the backseat.  What a jokester.

0730  Even though Hamz gets us to school in plenty of time I got to hustle to first period so my old fart of a teacher doesn’t mark me tardy.  “Late is late,” he says, “there are no degrees of tardiness.”  My mom would kick my ass if she knew I check into first period late when Hamz gets me to school with like fifteen minutes to spare.  But there are just so many people to talk to in the morning, never mind all the texts I’m getting.  I have to check in on Sarah and Marlene and Jessica, and, of course, my boys: Smitty, Jenks, and Frank.  Believe it or not, I even hang with some non-xc guys like Williams, Haji, and Brimmer.  Paws and Sellberg came up on me in the hall the other day between classes, but I had to tell them to skedaddle.  I can’t have frosh hanging on my jock in the corridor, I mean really, that’s reserved for the guidettes. 

0950  English class is like the best class of the day, besides lunch and gym, of course.  I mean the teacher, Mr. Miele, is old but cool.  He lets us just talk most of the class.  He calls what we do Socratic Seminars or Fishbowls or Get One Give One, but I just see it as talking.  He never nags us to, but I even take some notes.  He lets us use them on tests, a history teacher would never do that, so I take some.  What the green light symbolizes, the character traits of Daisy, the problems with the first person narration because he’s not even the protagonist, the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleberg, I think that’s how you spell it.  I got this shit on lockdown. 

1136  Why do schools always come up with these crazy ass schedules.  Everything’s so precise.  1056 to 1101 passing time.  1101 to 1131 lunch A.  1131 to 1136 passing time.  1136 to 1206 lunch B.  Can’t they just round off to the nearest zero or five?  At lunch, we actually get to use our phones without having to do it secretly in our pockets or under our desks.  I keep mine on the table but really I don’t use it that much.  I’m hanging with my crowd.  I eat lunch with Smitty and Torres from the team then Brimmer and Haji.  Also at our table, as if there were any doubt, are the ladies.  Marlene, Jessica, Maggie from the girls’ team, and Tatas.  I know you know why we call Tatas Tatas.  Oh yeah.  She always wears the low cut V-necks.  She makes Frank blush.  We eat and shoot the shit and Marlene is always running her mouth with some gossip.  Smitty will turn to her every once in a while and say in slow motion, “Marlene shut the fuck up.  Nobody cares.”  Brimmer and Haji will do this weird ass foghorn tugboat noise and Torres will laugh and Tatas will too and she’ll jiggle and we’ll make fun of her and before I can finish my Gatorade the bell is ringing and it’s off to afternoon classes.

1337  Made it to the last class of the day.  This marathon is almost over.  I can hardly sit in my seat at this point and Miss Priss up there decides she wants to lecture us on enzymes.  Please let us go to the lab and play with the microscopes or centrifuges or let us dissect a frog, something, anything, but a lecture.  Sometimes I swear I have ADD. I just can’t pay attention.  In the morning I’m okay, but after lunch forget about it.  I never really thought about it before but in the morning, besides first period, my grades are pretty good.  But in the two classes I have after lunch, my grades suck.  The classes are boring as all hell too, so that doesn’t help.  I got to make sure I have gym or art or some bullshit class like that after lunch next year.  If it’s math or science or history, I’m screwed.

1430  Practice.  Today should be a doosey.  I wonder if Hartman is still pissed from yesterday.  I was the lookout but I swear I never saw him till he saw me.  I saw him look at me and I said, “Oh shit.  We’re fucked.”  The bastard got us good.  Cards.  What demonic mind thinks of that?  And what was up with him calling me Damon all practice long.  That better not be some anti-Italian guido shit or I’ll have to kick his ass. 

So this is how Hartman starts practice.  He says, “What’s happened happened.  It’s in the past but I’m not going to forget it.”  Of course, he’s not.  He’ll punish us all year long because we dared to have a little fun on a Monday afternoon.  Those frosh aren’t here today, though, so I don’t know what’s up with that. 

Ole Hartman can’t be bothered with the past because we got our first meet tomorrow.  Practice ran real late yesterday because he still made us do our run after the card playing.  I’m hoping today’s practice is quicker because I have to work at Parker’s Market from five to nine.  Before we do our shakeout, he lectures on us on how to conduct ourselves before the meet.  I’m hearing this stuff for the third time now, but I suppose he needs to tell the pfb’s what to do.  He tells us to warm-up and stretch as a team.  Stay together.  Have a light sweat on your body when you go to the starting line.  Do your static stretches first then your dynamic ones.  Get to the line early and do some strides.  Do them fast.  Scare the other team.  Don’t even talk to the other team.  Talk with your legs.  Show them that you work harder than them and are willing to dig deeper than them.  Don’t let somebody pass you without a fight.  Always hang on their shoulder for at least ten steps.  And if you’re hurting, never look back.  At least pretend you have things under control.  He gives a couple more pointers, but you get the picture.  Paws and Deo stare and listen; I’m thinking let’s go let’s go I gotta be at work at five. 

1717  I’m late to work but I’m blaming Hartman for it.  Punch clocks don’t lie.  I texted Brimmer and told him to punch me in, but he didn’t text me back.  I sneak in through the exit door and go upstairs to the timecards.  Brimmer didn’t punch me in.  Oh well.  I go down and check in with the guy running the front of the store.  He tells me to bag for lanes six, seven, and eight.  Bag?  “I would’ve let you ring, but your ass is twenty minutes late.”  Fifteen, I tell him then add, just don’t tell Lengel.  He nods.  He knows the boss can be a real prick. 

Bagging’s not so bad.  I mean it’s busy for the first hour, hour and a half or so, but by seven all the women are at home cooking dinner for their husbands and kids.  I can’t talk on the phone but at least I get some texting in.  Haven’t checked it since practice and my inbox is about to blow up.  Marlene, Trisha, Stephanie.  Brimmer texted me back, “dumbass im not workin 2night.”

2125  My mom warms up a plate for me and asks me about my day.  It’s a roundabout question for how much homework I have.  She talks to me while I eat.  She won’t let me bring my phone to the table, but I can deal with that since she’s the one making the dinner.  I go to put my plate in the sink to grab the sponge, but she tells me, “Nevermind, go do your homework and try to get to bed before eleven.  You got your first meet tomorrow.”  I’ll know she’ll be there. 

2310  My mom lightly knocks then walks into my room.  For chrissakes, good thing I’m not giving it a grab.  I’m on the bed with Gatsby half open.  She coyly walks over to me, takes the phone, shuts it off, kisses me on the forehead, and pulls the chain on the light. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Boston Marathon: Photo Gallery

Click here for 2011 Boston Marathon pictures.  There's 65 of them.  I have a whole new appreciation for Krissy K after taking these photos.

Ryan Hall: American Record

CMS' Scott Leslie
My sis

Sunday, April 17, 2011

This Week in (hardly) Running: 4.11 to 4.17.11

Monday -  bike 80 min / core
Tuesday - 54:00 jog / core
6 min jog 1 min walk: had to cut this short due to foot pain
Wednesday - 50 min bike / core
Thursday - 42:30 jog + 15 min bike / core
Friday - lifting / calf work / 35 min bike
Saturday - 49:34 run + 40 min bike
Sunday - 100 min bike

For the Week
17 running miles
280 mins on bike
4 core workouts
1 lifting
Analysis: Yet another setback with the left foot this week.  I'm coming to the consensus that I probably had a tear in the FHL tendon at some point and anytime I jog over 30 mins it's back to square one.  I need to go back to Mika for more treatment.  I feel fat.  Muddy Puddin picture fat.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Writer's Block

Was fortunate enough to have another short piece (flash fiction) published at 52|250.  It's called Writer's Block.  The prompt for the week was "tainted love."  Still a little upset that I couldn't incorporate a Soft Cell reference into the story somehow.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Chapter 20: The Practice That They Would Not Forget

Beads of Sweat is a novel about a hs xc team.  This chapter occurs just moments after a hazing incident.

After an uneasy four laps of speculation and worst-case scenario thinking they filed themselves along the home straightaway and worked through their stretches.  No one talked much and the tone of the practice stood in direct opposition to the bright cloudless sky above them.  It seemed like an eternity passed before Hartman made his way to them.

            He pointed to Spidestrom
-Come here.  Read this, he said.
            Spidestrom got from the track and moved toward the clipboard he was holding.
            -What does it say?
            Spider hesitated, squinted, then read, “5 easy miles.  8 x 100 yd strides.”
            -Go sit down…That was going to be today’s practice.

            From his coat pocket, he pulled out a deck of cards and showed them to his team.  They stared at him dumbfounded.

-Come on, pick a game, he said.  I’ll deal.

            No one spoke.  He waited.  He chucked the clipboard to the ground and began to cut the cards into themselves.  They stared at his hands like grammar school kids before a thaumaturge.  A minute passed.  They lost another minute.

            -Torres, what game should we play?
            He shrugged his shoulders and kept quiet.
            He shook his head.

            He kept his head down.  He knew this was punishment, knew there was no right answer.  Four years of Hartman told him that.


            He went back over to the clipboard and picked it up,  “Pawgoski, Buck, Lee, and Sellberg.  Go do today’s run.  Five easy miles…Know what?  Make it four.  Stay on campus.  Come back here to do your strides.”

            Relieved to be abdicated from the tension, they hustled off the track together toward the outer perimeter loop.

            -Yeah Coach?
            -What game do you think we should play?

            The frosh stopped and stood listlessly for a moment.  Then his face cowled.  “I don’t know…Fifty-two pickup I guess.”  He broke into a gallop before he could hear an answer and the three other sickly-sweet freshmen followed suit. 

            -Fifty-two pickup.  That’s too easy.  Anyone else got a better idea…No…How bout Go Fish?  Let’s play Go Fish. 

            He ordered them into a circle and started to deal the cards.  They mumbled their way through the game.  Several times Hartman had to tell them to speak up and have fun.  No one, except Hartman apparently, was having a good time.  Galiozzi won the first round and looked miserable for it. 

            -What’s a matter Damon?  You should be happy.  You won. 
            Gales kept his head down.
            -What?  Nobody having fun?  Okay then, let’s play another game.  I’ll pick this time.  It’s a good one.  Here’s what we do.  We shuffle the cards and I’ll deal them.  But the trick is that everybody gets the same card.  You do what’s on the card. 

Hartman flipped over a card and it was the nine of clubs.  The boys paused.
-Oh you don’t know what to do?  Let me explain.  It’s simple.  You do what’s on the card.  Clubs are flutterkicks, diamonds are pushups, hearts are planks, and spades are bridges.  You know, from the core work we do.  The number equals how many we do.  So a nine of clubs, he showed the card again, means you do nine flutterkicks.  Double count of course.  Now, if it’s a heart or a spade, he shuffled through the deck found one and displayed it, you hold for five times the number shown.  That means a six of hearts is a thirty second plank hold.  Got it…A face card counts for a ten.  Let’s play…spread out and let’s play.

He shuffled the deck one last time and then started pulling cards.  Four of spades.  Seven of hearts.  Two of clubs.  Five of clubs.  Six of diamonds.  The boys were getting the hang of it and doing alright.  Through seven cards they were eyeing each other and saying this isn’t so bad.  The sophomores felt that way for about another five cards and the upperclassmen made it through almost half a deck before the tingling began.  Hartman’s tone remained unflinching.  He called card after card without sympathy or remorse.  His crew was silently persevering through nearly thirty cards before the audible groans commenced.  It was the back-to-back face cards that did it.  An ace of diamonds followed by a jack.  Some of them couldn’t do the second ten.  Muscle failure.

-Finish it. 

They all looked at him.  Since the game began, it was the first time he had spoken something other than a number or a suit.  Wallan was bellydown on the track.  His elbows flexed, his chin gritted with pebbles, try as he might he could not lift is torso.  The team looked at Wallan.

-Come on, Kimihara said.  Deo shimmied his legs under Wallan’s body.  Together they formed a crude plus sign.  Deo did a pushup and in doing so lifted Wallan’s torso.  They did ten like this. 

            He gave them no rest between cards.  He only allowed them to switch into stances.  By the fortieth card grumbles and moans turned to guttural profanity.  Coetaine collapsed on an eight of hearts.  He managed the three of spades but collapsed again at the queen of hearts.

            -Somebody help him.

            Jenkins, mimicking Deo’s earlier intervention, slid his legs under Coetaine’s chest.  Sam released all his bodyweight onto his benefactor. 

-Lift you asshole. 

            Hammond, Smitty, and Torres did their summer work and Hartman could tell.  Yet by the forty-fifth card even they started to break. 

            -Are there any face cards left?
            -Who knows?
            -We have to be done with diamonds.

            Two of Hartman’s next three were just that.  Diamonds.  Most of the team could not lift.  Put your knees on the track if you must, he said, do girl pushups if you can’t do regulars.  

Humiliated, some of them did.  Coetaine stood up at the forty-ninth card. 

-I can’t do anymore.  My knee’s killing me, he said.
            -Oh bullshit.
            -Your full of shit Sam.
            -Come on you asshole, Jenkins said, finish this shit.
            -Naw, I’m done.  He walked toward the locker-room.  Hartman watched.
            -Fuck him.
            -You better not let him run varsity.
            -I don’t want that on my team.

            Smitty jumped to his feet and tracked Sam down under the bleachers near that stanchion.  The team paused.  Hartman kept them in the front leaning rest.  They could hear voices but not words.  Sounded like Smitty was bullying him.  Not a minute later Coetaine reappeared and made his way to his spot.  Smitty gave him one last shove and told him, We’re going to do this.

            And they did it.  The last three cards.  Ace of spades.  Eight of diamonds.  Four of hearts. 

            The frosh had been gawking on the far corner of the track since the forty third card.  Paws and Sellberg didn’t blink once.  When the torture ended and Hartman had sent them on their way, the pfb’s started their striders.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Chapter 19: Hazing

Beads of Sweat is a book about a high school cross country team's quest for a trophy, a big one.  This chapter describes a bluebird initiation.

-Come on, come on!
-Hurry up!  We don’t have much time—
-You got the grass clippings?
-Hartman’ll be here soon.
-Yeah, said Spider.
-You got the water?
-Nice and cold, said Gales.

In a dead sprint, taking three steps at a time, Smitty and Coetaine led Spider and Gales to the top of the bleachers.  When they reached the last step, they peered over the railing to see a group of seven peach fuzz babies looking up at them.  They were just standing there.  They weren’t moving.  Lassoed to the stanchion.  Lassoed to the stanchion by Jenks, Hamz, and just about every other non-bluebird on the team.  Everybody put in a real group effort.

Seven pfb’s.  Like Torres did two years back, three joined the team a day after school started.  These newbies had been running modified workouts that Pereira led them through.  Just easy little base building jogs of three or four miles.  This did not help their cause, for as the varsity sweated through workouts these frosh got to lick up candycanes and lollipops.  The other four freshmen—Pawgoski, Sellberg, Buck, and Lee—had been running with the junior varsity squad.  Still, frosh are frosh and must be treated as such.  Hartman gave the three new guys the weekend off and Coetaine and Smitty came up with the ingenious idea of some ad hoc initiation.  While they were at it, they figured it’d only be appropriate to get the other ones too.  This event, not quite spontaneous as Wallan, Spiderstrom, and Kimihara fell victim to the tar and feathering just a year ago, happened without Hartman’s knowledge as far as they were aware.

-Get off of me!
-Tie it tighter.

And the underclassmen obeyed Jenkins’ command.  With brute force they corralled a rope around the seven.  Hammond incurred a bloody scratch on his forearm and Deo suffered a fat lip.  Who knew from whom these maladies came?  Everyone bet Paws.  Once captured, however, he took his hazing like a man.  Let’s get this over with, he demanded. 

-Are you ready yet?
-Yeah, we’re ready.
-Remember to keep an eye out for Hartman and Pereira.
-I’m the lookout, Gales shouted down at them.

First came the water.  As Jenks and Torres and Hamz worked to lasso the bluebirds, Smitty’s group worked to bring the goods to the top.  They managed twenty-five gallons of tap water and ten bags of freshly cut grass clippings from the infield of the track.

-Not yet.  Not yet, Jenkins cried.  Stand there.
-Stand there.
-Right there.

Hamz and Jenks pointed to the spot.  They wanted them far enough from the stanchion so Coetaine and Smitty could douse them.  The seven took baby steps toward the spot.  At this point Sellberg and Paws wanted it to happen.  Wanted to suffer it, endure it, and become a member of the team.  The three freshest had no such desire.  They, wide-eyed from the hard work and looking for an excuse out, took the punishment and never returned again.  Nobody snitched but those three never came back neither. 

-Come on already.  I bet you assholes can’t even get us.
-Do you hear that little punk, Gales said.
-Yeah, I hear him, Smitty said as he proceeded to unleash the first five gallon drum onto nothing but pavement.
-Here.  Let me try, let me try, Coetaine said.
-I got this, Smitty said pushing him away from the container and abruptly missed his intended target again.
-Smitty, Sellberg parodied and the seven laughed.
-Hey assholes we’re right here you know.  What are you blind?
Sellberg and Paws were becoming dunktank clowns.  They were loving it.  They goaded they saboteurs. 
-Come on, Paws said, Buck needs a shower.
-Yeah, I’m kinda thirsty.  Get me good.
And they did.  The third bucket sloshed them dead on.  And so did the fourth and fifth.
-Oh that feels good, Paws had to say it extra loud to drown out the complaining of the three newbies. 
-Good.  Now take that bluebird!

Slowly, like the first snowflakes of winter, the grass clippings fell from the sky.  The upperclassmen proved lucky.  The wind had ceased.  The four up top dumped eight of their ten bags.  All of them greened the pfb’s. 

-Alert!  Alert!  Untie them now!  Hartman’s coming!
-Gales bolted down the bleacher stairs before the other three could register his call.  They followed leaving two brown bags behind.  Jenks, Hamz, and Torres were already untying.  The freshmen were soaked and covered in blades of grass.  Paws had a smile on his face. 

-Go in the locker room and clean yourselves up.  Now!
-What’s the rush, Jenks?
-Get in there!

Hartman slowly walked out to the track before heading into the lockerroom.  He looked up at the bleachers and continued his slow walk.  He entered and the boys stopped and looked at him.
-What in hell…silence…Everyone in front of your lockers.  Now!

They crowded and shoved themselves to their lockers.  Three freshmen, dripping, remained in the center of the room.  He looked at them long and hard and without words proceeded directly to Smitty.  Walked right to him in a straight line then stopped and breathed.  Like a drill sergeant on Paris Island.  He kept breathing into his face.  Smitty, too scared to blink, inhaled peppermint.  He angled directly to Coetaine and did the same thing.  “How’s your knee?”  Sam jumped and before he could collect an answer, he made his way to Jenkins, Torres, Hammond, Spidestrom.  To every upperclassman in the room.  Then he returned to the three frosh  in the center of the lockerroom.  There they stood.  Wet, cloying, treacly.  He told the others, go start your warm-up, and they couldn’t get out of there fast enough.  He told Pereira to get to the bottom of it and followed his varsity out to the track. 

-Damon.  Damon.
They all turned though none of them owned that name. 
He looked at Galiozzi, who felt he should tell him his name was Malcolm. 
-Tell your teammates…
-Be ready to taste pennies.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Chapter 18: Yellowjacket Relays

Beads of Sweat is a novel about running.  It chronicles the adventures of a high school team vying for a state title.  In this chapter the boys' team interacts with the girls' team in an annual intrasquad relay race.  Warning: this chapter is a little longer than the previous ones.

Hartman and Board didn’t dovetail their workouts often, but they did have this one pretty much set in stone.  The first Saturday after Labor Day the boys and girls got together for an interval workout that the runners self-named, ages ago, the Yellowjacket Relays.  Everybody’s role was defined.  The coaches had to come up with evenly matched relay teams.  Each relay team would be joined with a team of the opposite gender.  The runners had to run as fast as they could around a cow pasture that was approximately 1200 meters in perimeter.  Due to the fluctuating sizes and ability levels of the teams from year to year, alterations in the format of the event always existed.  One rule did not change: everybody had to run three laps.  The athletes could order themselves in any way, shape, or form.  Different teams had different approaches, and there was always strategizing on the warm-up before the event, even before the runners knew whom their teammates would be.  All of this for the prized bumblebee.  Every year Hartman would present the winning team with the coveted hand carved bumblebee.  Hartman crafted them by hand, woodworking was a hobby of his, and engraved each one with “Yellowjacket Relays 1st Place” followed by the year.  Jenkins already had two and  wanted another.  Torres got his first last year and was hungry for more.  And Hammond hadn’t won one since his freshman year.  Smitty had never won one and that Galiozzi had drove him nuts. 

            The excitement led to a faster than usual warm-up.  Everybody was talking and running and not paying attention to it.  The freshmen hung back and tried to figure out what was going on.  They picked up bits and pieces.  When they circled back to the starting point, the women’s team was already stretching.  It being a hot day, some of them wore only fitness tops.  The boys gawked.  Both they and the girls knew that Hartman would never let them do that if he were coaching them.  He wouldn’t even let the boys run in their skins.  Do you ever run a meet without a shirt on, he would ask them when one of them would attempt to go topless.  No, he would answer for them.  So why would you do it in practice?  Nobody ever answered this last question.  The boys just assumed it was part of his methodical, superstitious logic.

            As the kids stretched, Hartman and Board conferenced to finalize the teams.  Some of the upperclassmen desperately tried to eavesdrop on the coaches’ conversation.  They continued to speculate until Coach Board signaled for their attention.  The results settled, Hartman let him announce the teams.  Board brought them through the general rules of the relay and, in a suspense-inducing voice, gave them their teams. 


The “oh yeahs” and groans were simultaneous.  Coetaine was psyched; he thought his team an easy winner.  Katherine, a senior, was also happy.  Jenkins and Lindsey commiserated; Galiozzi thought his chances good.

            -We’re screwed, Jenkins complained, we got three girls on our team.          
            -Excuse me, Casey said.
            -Yeah, Katherine said, I bet I’m probably faster than half the freshmen on your team.

            Coetaine, seeing the opportunity of victory before him, immediately started strategizing.  Hartman chuckled to himself and couldn’t help asking Coetaine if his knee was feeling well enough to participate.  I think I’ll be okay, he deadpanned.

            -Five minutes.  The gun fires in five minutes.  Be sure to get some fast strides in.

            Those five minutes passed swiftly.  Casey and Jenkins were fighting about the order of their team.  Galiozzi took the leadership role of his own and the freshmen and girls listened closely.  Smitty and Maggie just so happened to agree on their legs, and Spidestrom tried to take charge of his group but was unceremoniously supplanted by the older Katherine. 

            When the five first leg runners toed the line, everyone yelled and hollered.  Coetaine pretended to elbow Maggie; Kimihara, akimbo, stepped between them with exaggerated mannerisms.  Amy, the slowest on either team stood in the pole position, and on the far side Buck leaned into his starting stance. 

            Board, who had brought the starting pistol with him, gave two commands then fired.  They were off.  Immediately some of the later legs ran out to the midpoint of the cow pasture loop.  They didn’t want to miss a beat of the action.  Others stayed by the start to yell at their brethren.  The real serious ones stretched and did strides. 

            After the first fifty meters or so, the runners entered a wooden thicket that obstructed the view from the start/finish line.  The view was again obstructed at 400 meters and nobody could see the runners again until nearly the halfway mark.  That’s why some of the later legs headed out that way.  They couldn’t stand waiting and straining their eyes to see whom would emerge first. 

            Halfway through and Coetaine had a commanding lead.  He moved gracefully along the dirt trail, almost floating over it with nary a glitch in his stride.  Next came Kimihara.  Hartman took one look at him and knew he was pacing himself for all three laps.  Maggie ran in the bronze position, and to almost everybody’s surprise Buck wasn’t far behind.  Who was far behind was Amy, and the people still at the finish line could hear clear as day Jenkins yelling at her to pick up the pace.  When he cut the tangent again to the finish line, Board grabbed him by the arm and told him to settle down.  Jenkins glared at the hand on his arm and shook it off with a look that said a lot more than you’re not my coach. 

            The enthusiasm of all the teams remained high throughout everyone’s first turn.  Even the teams in the back remained optimistic because they sandbagged and put their fastest runners in the penultimate and anchor positions.  In fact when it was Jenkins and Hammond’s turn to go, they ran with such reckless abandon that Hartman worried about their hamstrings popping.  Jenkins caught two teams and Hammond extended his team’s overall lead.  After everybody’s first run through, Hammond’s team was in the lead, Galiozzi’s in second, Kimihara’s third, and Smith’s and Jenkins’ fourth and fifth respectively. 

            When Coetaine got the baton for the second time, he again exploded like a ball from its cannon.  What his competitors and coach noticed, however, was how long it took him to come out the other side of the thicket.  Kimihara and Maggie couldn’t see it at the time, but as soon as they crossed the line, their teammates coyly told them of Sam’s downward spiral.  Coetaine himself even gave it away as he started to rub at his knee and hip for everyone to see. 

            -You think you can run your 3rd lap?
            -I don’t know.  I’ll try it.

            Hammond was pissed.  Typical Coetaine.  Run the first repeat way under pace and not be able to finish the workout.  He wanted the wooden plaque and that Coetaine could deny him of it infuriated him.  Jenkins, too of course, was infuriated because his team wasn’t winning.

After all the teams had finished their first two laps, the first leg of each team started their bell turn in this order: Coetaine first but with a shrinking lead, Buck, Kimihara, and Amy in a close two-three-four, and Maggie just far enough behind for everyone to realize her team wouldn’t win it.

            Coetaine started this lap much slower than his first two and a hiccup in his stride developed.  Having been briefed by their teammates, Kimihara and Galiozzi acted like vultures circling a wounded animal.  When they came back into view after clearing the thicket, Buck was in the lead then Kimihara and then Coetaine.

            -Go Buck go, his teammates cheered.
            -Come on Deo.  You can do it.

            Buck—in first place?  The men’s team was in shock.  That little freshman was running his ass off and all the guys were cheering him.  Too bad for him cool hand Kimihara hung just close enough.  Instead of cheering Hammond kicked the dirt in disgust.  Even Desiree let a crude remark pass her lips.  Jenkins, renewed by a rival’s demise, cheered on Amy in a revised tone. 

            At the halfway mark, Buck was still giving a valiant effort but losing steam.  Kimihara came up on him and surged passed with ease.  As they rounded the corner for home, Kimihara, the precise tactician, put in one last surge that left Buck in his wake.  Maggie closed the gap, but Buck hung on for second by a nose.  The Yellowjackets greeted him with slaps on the back and words of disbelief.  Kimihara and Maggie received high-fives too.

            Coetaine came limping in a minute later.  His team reduced from first to fourth, he crumpled at the finish line and tugged at his knee from the ground.  Ola paid him heed but she was the only one.  Even Amy had closed the gap on him.

            Going into the anchor leg, the pursuit of the wooden bumblebee came down to three teams: Galiozzi’s, Spidestrom’s, and Smith’s.  In their haste, Smith’s group over-strategized and switched their order, a perfectly legal yet uncouth move.  They moved the men up in the order into the two-three positions.  They closed the gaps but weren’t rested enough to do as well as they could’ve.  They got themselves in the hunt but had Theresa and Maggie running the final two legs whereas Spidestrom anchored his team and Galiozzi his.  Those guys were still worried about Jenkins running last, even though his team had a better chance of being lapped than winning.

            In year’s past, the race would often be decided after the second lap.  Not this year.  Hartman and Board devised very even teams. By the team the anchors took their batons, however, it was a two-team race: Galiozzi v. Spidestrom.

            Galiozzi took off first with about a seven second lead.  Both he and Spidestrom knew that Spider was faster, so Galiozzi emptied his playbook and made all the moves Hartman had taught him.  Surge around corners, make a preemptive strike, only glance back around turns.  He ran tough but scared.  He kept waiting for Spidestrom to sidle up next to him, and Spidestrom finally did a little bit after the halfway mark.  Employing some racing tactics of his own, Spider thought he would just fly by Gales, but the junior hung tough and stayed on his shoulder for almost fifty yards.  Everyone was going wild and many began to run out toward them to cheer at them louder and closer.  Their teammates got real close to them, only arms’ lengths away, and if this was an officiated meet each runner would’ve been disqualified for pacing. 

            But in the end Spidestrom’s talent and speed were too much for Galiozzi’s toughness, a newfound toughness that impressed the coach.  Spider held up his hands as he crossed and his teammates huddled around him and they all told each other how great they ran.