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.

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