Wednesday, November 13, 2013
THE ART OF RACING IN NOVEMBER
Autumn 1965: For an eighth grade PE class session, teacher/coach Smitty Jones “planned” an impromptu track meet. Coach Jones acted the tough guy and I didn’t much like him.
My event? The eighty-five yard dash. Why only eighty-five yards? The schoolyard wasn’t 100 yards wide.
Smitty paired me against Benjamin Dentz a husky farm boy of average or so wit who lived out by the river. At high school graduation he would be recognized for never having missed a day of school starting back in Kindergarten.
“I’m gonna whup your ass,” Benny snarled as we lined up at the heavy, black garden hose that served as the starting line. I’d heard that Benny could horse ninety-pound sacks of nitrogen fertilizer into the back of his pop’s Studebaker pickup and that he got to drive a jeep through the orchards on their property, while I hadn’t ever made it to the top of the fifteen-foot rope we were all supposed to climb in the gym, so I figured he probably would whup my ass.
I stood dope-like as Benny crouched like a cougar at that hose while Coach Jones, from across the field, hollered: “mark… set…”
When the pistol sounded, I threw my gangly body into motion. Flailing through the November air, I didn’t look for Benny. I just focused on another black hose, the one serving as the finish line. It appeared to be bouncing on the grass, one bounce for each of my pounding strides. I’m not sure if I looked more like a daddy long legs spider or a jackhammer as I charged forward. I do think I felt a lung crack.
Smitty Jones was yelling something and seemed very agitated or excited as I neared the hose. Crossing, I felt his hand pop me between the shoulder blades.
“Hey,” Benny whined as he panted. He’d finished a step or two behind me. “My, my… I tripped back at the…”
Smitty turned to Benny: “Not what I saw.” Then he slapped my on the back again. “Didn’t think you could do it.”
Smitty Jones’s wife – or someone – had collected and painted some paper milk bottle tops of the day, fastening them to loops of fuzzy yarn to serve as awards. I got a gold one. Benjamin got a blue one.
I wore mine all that day and part of the next.
Church of the Open Road Press