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.



Muddy Puddin' said...

Awww...c'mon man!!! I was ready for the meet!! You're teasing!! :)

KG said...

I know. I know. Suspense.

Glenn said...

"When we run, we kick ass." Love it!

Anonymous said...

We're ready for the next chapter!!!

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