I'm Out of Control
I was just thinking…
Vanity thy name is Blogger! I won’t presume to speak for anyone else, but it just occurred to me how vane doing this is. I write stuff for people to read, as if what I have to say might be worth a squat to them. Now I’m NOT saying that I plan to stop; just that I’m onto myself! Every time I post something I feel a bit like an imposter. I wonder if anyone else who posts feels this way?
With that smidgen of self-analysis out of the way, I just realized that all the things I’ve written about either show me in a positive light, or put forth opinions that are purposely sculpted NOT to reveal any of my faults and foibles. Anyway, I’m quick to point out OTHER people’s shortcomings, but what about mine?
Sounds like I’m about to turn this post into a revealing “tell all,” a veritable “behind the scenes” exposé on myself. Well, yeah, I guess I am.
There are times when I can be “hard to take,” or so I’m told. From the time I was a kid I’ve pranked and kidded, sometimes to the point of cruelty. Why? I wish I knew. I couldn’t stop myself. When opportunities came up, I couldn’t resist following my “playful” impulses, and I rarely tried. Shame on me, as you are about to read:
------------------------------------------------Sister Gail (Driver’s Test):
I was 16 and the proud owner of a brand new driver’s license. I had read about a dastardly practical joke that I knew I MUST spring on an unwary victim. The easiest “victims” are the young and naïve, so my youngest sister, Gail, at ten-years-old was the perfect prey. She was very impressed with my new status as a driver; so one evening I asked her if she wanted to take a “test” to check out her own potential driving skills. In her enthusiastic young girl way, she excitedly accepted.
“Okay, we’ll have to do this in a dark room. I’ll get two chairs for the test.” I told her.
I dragged two kitchen chairs into the front foyer and turned the hall lights off. We sat facing each other, knees to knees, and I handed her a large plastic dinner plate. She didn’t notice that I held it in the center on my palm as I gave it to her. Earlier, with a lit candle, I had layered the entire outer circumference of one side of the plate with black soot. Thus, the darkened room was a necessity to keep my joke from discovery!
Acting the part of a driving instructor I started, “This test is to check your reflexes and concentration while driving. Are you ready?” She assured me she was. “Okay, good. Now, hold the “steering wheel” in both hands and listen very carefully to my instructions.” Expectantly, she held the sooty plate out in front her, almost at arms length.
I continued on with the make believe test. “Step on the accelerator and go forward. Now, you’re coming to a corner, so turn right. Now, turn left. Oh no, a bee just flew into the car and it’s landed on your nose—use one hand and shoo it away! It landed on your cheek, use your other hand this time, but make sure you use the other hand,” I insisted. The “test” went on like that—stopping, turning, scratching imaginary itches, swatting flies, and any other scenario I could dream up that would cause her to transfer soot from the plate to her face. After ten minutes, her face was as blackened as Al Jolsen’s. In the near lightlessness I could barely see her and I was glad of it, otherwise, I would have ruined the prank by laughing. I congratulated her on a “successful” test and she proudly went off to tell our mother.
Mom wasn’t nearly as amused as I was. I have to admit, I’m chuckling now thinking of my sister’s face, completely smudged, especially remembering how brightly white her proudly smiling teeth looked. She showed them to me in response to my laughter as I began to admire my handiwork in the full light of the living room. She laughed right along with me, not yet knowing why I was so amused. I was a very bad boy!
---------------------------------------------My mom (Helen Keller’s House):
Year after year I have ambushed my mom with the exact same gag. She seems to get amnesia every single time, and I am able to spring it anew upon her every couple of years. It usually goes like this:
“Hey Mom, when I went to Georgia I did some sightseeing. I saw Helen Keller’s house. It is SO beautiful. Have you ever seen it?”
For only the 12th or 15th time she’d answer me, “Really? No!”
I spring the same punch line, just like every time before, “That’s okay Mom, NEITHER did she!” And I laugh like a hysterical jackass. Will I ever grow up?
-------------------------------------------Come on; KICK it!
There are times after springing a prank that I have felt genuinely bad about it, of course that didn’t stop me from laughing just the same. The problem is, some people just seem to “ask” for it. There was this one fella, Roy, in North Carolina. He was retiring after 20 years in the Air Force, and he had always been someone few of us in the shop had ever really respected. As I said, he brought this disrespect on himself. This guy was a 39-year-old under-achiever, and he would tell us unbelievable stories about past exploits that would make Bruce Lee proud.
Here’s one: When he was stationed in the Vietnam back in the 60’s he was a finely-tuned, high-strung martial artist—a black belt in some kind of deadly karate. One day, some unlucky, unsuspecting fellow came upon him from behind. My guy told us with a straight face that he reacted like lightning, without thinking; he claimed that he actually ripped into the unfortunate fellow’s chest with a deadly strike, pulling out a hunk of the poor man’s rib in the process! Our reaction was never what he was looking for—we usually laughed. Can you blame us? He had a million ridiculous tales like that one.
It was Roy’s last day in the Air Force. As a matter of fact, I was throwing a retirement party for him that night at my house. We were cleaning the shop for shift change and Roy was standing there watching us. I had emptied all the trashcans into a single plastic bag and I good-naturedly goaded him. “Hey Roy, let’s see one of those deadly karate kicks you always talk about on this bag!” I held the bag by the closed end and the bulge of it hung down waist high. Both the day and night shift people were there, so more than a dozen of us were on hand. I really didn’t think pudgy old Roy would show us a kick, he never had before; but then I saw his face take on a determined look. It was like he was thinking, ‘I’ll show them
!’ We all saw his reaction and it took us by surprise.
Roy got into a fighting stance, such as it was. We all went quiet while he poised himself to kick the crap out of that bulging bag of garbage hanging from my fist. He took two quick steps and flung his right foot quickly into the air at the bag. Without thinking, I simultaneously raised the bag and moved it to the side as he tried to kick it. I was Lucy and he was Charlie Brown! Poor chubby Roy’s foot went high into the air, without even slightly coming into contact with the bag. The freshly waxed and highly polished floor tiles could NOT hold him, and soon his other leg followed the first into the air. At the same time, ill-fated Roy’s hands also went up, so that for a split second he seemed to almost float horizontally over the shiny floor. What goes up must come down, and he landed with an ugly thump on his back. I’ll give him credit though; he scrambled back to his feet almost immediately, red faced and all; and if looks could kill, I wouldn’t be here today writing about it.
None of us wanted to laugh, but we could not contain our mirth. I have never seen anything even remotely as hilarious as when I caused that poor man to humiliate himself that day. Why in the hell did I do that to him? I didn’t plan it; it just happened! I apologized to him straight away, and several more times at my house at the party that evening. I’m pretty sure he forgave me, but I sure didn’t deserve it. Even now, thinking back at the way he looked, I’m laughing. God, it was so hilarious! Sorry about that Roy.
When I was but 12-years-old I executed one of my first “planned” practical jokes. We were living in a suburb of San Antonio, Texas on Quirt Drive, when one evening my dad’s buddy, Mr. Deruso, came over. It wasn’t much of a plan, because I didn’t think over it for much more than a few seconds, but it was an inspired scheme of absolute “genius,” even if I do say so myself.
Chuck Deruso always had a cup of coffee when he visited, so I grabbed a plastic coffee cup and saucer and carried it carefully, albeit empty, using two hands as if to steady it, into the living room where he sat on the couch talking to my dad. To complete the “illusion” I remarked, “Here you go Mr. Deruso. Watch out; it’s hot.”
With a step or two to go, I pretended to trip and dropped the cup and saucer on his lap. Mr. Deruso was naturally excitable and skittish anyway, and when he saw what he thought was hot coffee on its way onto his “family jewels,” he yelled loudly in alarm and jumped straight into the air like his ass was spring loaded. I must have taken at least ten years off that poor man’s life with the fright I gave him. I can’t remember if I got in much trouble over that, but I should have. Lord help me, but it was worth whatever punishment came my way. NO, wait, I shouldn’t be so proud of such cruelty!
----------------------------------------------Brother Kevin (he just snapped):
Much of my problem is that I don’t have a clue as to when to “stop.” One summer day, late in the afternoon, I was engaged in one of my normal pursuits of teasing my little brother, Kevin. I can’t remember now what it was that I said that irked him so much, but whatever it was, he became very angry. And once I saw that I had gotten under his skin, I went into “idiot autopilot” at which point there was no stopping me. I verbally hounded him until he finally lashed out and tried to give me a well-deserved bashing.
At one point, Kev started chasing me around our yard, where we lived at the time outside of the small town of Birch Run, Michigan in the early 70s. With me being older, faster, and stronger, he couldn’t catch me—try as he might. I eluded him, jumping over bushes, twisting and turning, while purposely barely evading his grasp. To make it worse, the whole time he pursued me I did a ridiculous Daffy Duck impression, you know the one, where he jumps around hooting while Elmer Fudd tries to get him? Anyway, “Elmer-Kevin” became very frustrated, and then, for the first time ever—he just snapped. Abruptly, he stopped chasing me and stalked angrily into the house. I followed him, continually goading and mocking, but I stopped when he opened the knife drawer and picked up a butcher knife. The tables had unexpectedly turned.
With his face set in stone he now continued his quest to catch (and kill?) me, only this time he didn’t run, instead he quickly walked. I was stunned! I had but two options: evade or hide. I wasn’t about to grapple with him over possession of the knife; I didn’t want to risk getting one of us cut, especially me! I retreated out to the back yard hoping he would come to his senses. He just kept coming, never hurrying and saying nothing; his face was frighteningly determined and although he didn’t speak, I could hear him breathing deep and fast as if he were hyperventilating. At first, I spoke to him in an attempt to break through his seeming insanity. He never acknowledged a word; he just kept coming.
I was barefoot, so I couldn’t go anywhere but the yard or in the house, and the house is where I eventually went. No matter how fast I ran, or how long I continued to evade him, he kept after me. It was frightening, and worse, it was physically and mentally wearing. I hurried into the family bathroom and locked the door. Seconds later he began trying to break it down. If he broke through, I was trapped. The bathroom window was too high above the ground for me to try to jump for it, so I braced my body against the door while Kev continued to batter at it from the other side. My hope was that our mother would come home from work and rescue me from impending death due to multiple stab wounds! And finally, much to my relief, I heard her knocking on the door in place of Kevin’s battering ram sounds. With her arrival, Kev became a normal 11-year-old once more, and I learned NEVER to mess with him again. But did that stop me from being insufferable? I’m afraid not.
I always did very well in school academically, but my prankster propensities would inevitably come to the fore, and sooner or later get me into trouble. In the eighth grade, just months after we moved to Michigan, I did something really impulsive and ill advised. One of my dad’s buddies had showed me a cool trick, and I had tried it on a couple of my school chums, but on this day I got a chance to show it to my Health teacher. I wish I could remember his name, because he was a really good sport, in fact, unbelievably so.
During class one day he gave a lecture on the hairs of the human head. I spoke up and told him that I could remove a hair from his head and he would never even feel me pulling it out. He was intrigued, and so he became MINE! He challenged me to come to the front of the class and demonstrate. I walked up to him grinning and got behind him in preparation for my demo.
He had fairly short hair, especially considering it was the 1970’s. I reached up with my left hand and found a likely candidate declaring, “Here’s a good one, and it’s a gray too! You ready?” He nodded and as soon as he did, I slapped him hard on the opposite side of his skull with my right hand, while yanking out the gray hair with my left. The reaction from the class was in itself rewarding—the other kids laughed so hard that some of them were crying. The teacher, on the other hand, was only slightly amused, but he still managed a weak grin. What COULD he do? He had given me his permission! This time—I had manipulated the circumstances perfectly; and even more importantly, I had chosen my victim well! Actually I was just lucky that he was a nice guy, and not vindictive. But, did that hair come out without him feeling it? Yes!
--------------------------------------Daughter Rebecca (Give me five!):
One of the most shameful scams I ever pulled was on my daughter, Rebecca, when she was just 8 or 9 years old. I think about it now and I can’t believe I could do something so mean, but that’s me.
I had a small tack left over from putting together a bookcase. I placed it between my fingers so that the sharp end barely poked up between them. Then I said to her, “Give me five Bec!” She did so, and she was surprised, or more like shocked, to feel the slight prick of the tack on her palm. “Dad!” She protested piercingly, checking out her hand for damage. I told her, feeling very ashamed, “Just a lesson for you Bec; never slap someone’s hand, or even shake hands with anyone until you look first, even from me!” The tack didn’t even break the skin, but what the hell was I thinking? The answer: I wasn’t, …as usual.
--------------------------------------Sister Mary Kay (Youth-in-Asia):
I have to recount this one because to this day, my sister, Mary Kay, still hasn’t forgiven me for it. She is just a year behind me in age, but there’s no doubt she was always ahead of me when it came to schoolwork and the brainy stuff. She went on to become an accountant, a profession I would never try to get certified in.
I was in the 9th grade when I came upon a report she had just finished on the topic of “Euthanasia,” only she had spelled it, “Youth-in-Asia.” I was convinced it was a clever play on words that she had purposely come up with, but when I asked her about it she didn’t have a clue as to what I was talking about. I waved the report at her and said, “You really MEANT to spell it like this? It’s NOT a joke?”
I was so tickled by her innocent gaffe that I started giggling and couldn’t stop. She was mortified, and then she became infuriated at the way I made her feel—totally humiliated! Once again, I went too far and really hurt someone with my insensitive heckling. I had saved her some big time embarrassment at school if she had tried to turn it in with the misspelling, but that was the last thing on her mind. I horribly bruised her psyche for at least the next 25 years, or maybe for two or three days.
--------------------------------------Rum (and Rum) and Coke (and Rum):
I was 13, and the adults were having a party at my Grandma’s house. They were mixing rum and cokes, and other drinks like that, and they made the mistake of leaving me with access to the opened bottles of the “hard stuff.” My Uncle Joe was just a lad of 20 years and he was also imbibing and having fun. When no one was watching, I would “freshen” his drink with a little more rum. I did this for 3 or 4 drinks until he was completely plastered. My mischievous merriment came to an abrupt end, however, when I must have added just a little too much rum and he finally noticed how strong his drink was. He looked over at me and must have seen either guilt or mischief written all over my grinning face, because he knew right away that I was the culprit. He, and my mom really gave me hell, and rightly so. But did I learn my lesson? Maybe, but ONLY for a few minutes or so.
-----------------------------------------"Doctored" Cancer Stick:
My Uncle Bill was a heavy smoker, not quite a chain smoker, but close. He was also a “heavy napper.” He worked nights at Kroger and would fall asleep in his lounger in the living room, sometimes with a cigarette still dangling from his fingers. While he loudly “sawed logs,” I’d snatch a pack of his cigs from where they usually lay next to him on the coffee table. Then I retired to my “workshop” in the tiny closet out in the garage, where I proceeded to work my “magic.” I discovered that I could remove the first inch or so of tobacco from his cigarettes; stuff in bits of dried dirt, lint and dust; and then repack tobacco so that the new-and-improved “cancer stick” looked almost normal. I could doctor four cigarettes like this in about 20 minutes, after which I would replace the pack from whence I acquired it.
The fun part came next. I’d sit near him when he woke up, waiting expectantly for him to light up. I always crushed the pack a little to make it look like it had suffered a little unintended damage, and that way he wouldn’t really give much mind that the cigarette didn’t look exactly ordinary. When he got down to the 5th or 6th drag he’d reach the sabotaged area of the cigarette. Sometimes he’d just say, “Yuck! What the hell is wrong with this damned thing? It tastes like shit!” Of course he’d keep smoking it anyway. Other times the cherry would flare up into a flame, complete with different colors and sputtering sounds, after which the cherry would fall off into his lap. Damn, that “stuffed cigarette” trick was always good for a laugh! Uncle Bill entertained me more than he ever knew. He never did catch on to my little tinkerings. Oh well, he had to find out eventually, unless no one ever tells him!
--------------------------------------------------------Mr. Davis, the "Flying" Teacher:
I thought a lot of my high school teacher and track coach, Mr. Davis, and still do. I respected him and thought the world of him, but did that save him from my capricious ways? You be the judge:
Before he coached me in track, he was my freshman English teacher. We were both freshmen actually, me as a student and he as a first-year teacher fresh out of college. He always reminded me of a cross between a Mongol warrior and George Armstrong Custer. He had shoulder-length, wavy blonde hair with dark highlights and a thick moustache that turned down menacingly at the corner of his mouth. The moustache, combined with his slightly almond shaped brown eyes, gave him the intimidating look of a Mongol George Custer. In reality, he was anything BUT mean; Mr. Davis was a very nice guy and a great teacher. For some reason he liked me too. Why? I have NO idea!
Mr. Davis had been a collegiate track athlete earlier that spring, and he still had an athletic build and matching athleticism. He had a habit of popping out of his chair from behind his desk at the front of the class, and then spryly walking over to his filing cabinet in the corner. He had done this a couple times already one morning, when impulse got the better of me again. Unfortunately for him, I sat right in front of his desk. Reaching with my right foot under his desk, I pushed out his lower right desk drawer about a foot, while he intently lectured the class from his chair. Suddenly, he popped up again, like he’d done scores of times before, turned to the right and simultaneously fell over the pushed-out drawer. He fell awkwardly, face first to the floor, barely catching himself on his hands. Thank God he was young and sturdy. He thought he had left the drawer open, and never suspected a thing as he embarrassedly rubbed his skinned shins through his pant legs. Man, I really deserved an ass-kicking that day!
------------------------------------------------Coach Davis, “Dance of the Jockstrap:”
A year and a half later he was an assistant coach of the boy’s track team. My specialty was the mile and two-mile runs, but I had a little speed in me too when needed. One pleasant May afternoon during practice, I needed it.
Out in the grassy mid-field was none other than my favorite teacher (and coach) Mr. Davis, carrying his coach’s clipboard and wearing a pair of gray coach’s shorts that seemed to beckon me, just like a flower attracts a bee. With absolutely no thought to consequences, I walked up behind the coach and yanked his shorts down to his ankles! About 30 kids saw him standing there with his shorts on the ground with nothing on below the waist but a skimpy jockstrap to cover his “family pride.” The problem with jockstraps is that there is NOTHING to cover the other side, the wearer’s gluteal area, and his was very white and noticeably round! There’s something about a man’s white rump that inspires uncontainable mirth and his bare rear was no exception. Thing is, he was the ONLY one NOT laughing, perhaps because he couldn’t see the hilarity inspired by his own pale butt globes, framed at the dimples by his skimpy athletic supporter.
The clipboard kept him from immediately snatching his shorts back up, which flustered him, but he soon dropped the board and returned his shorts to their proper place. Needless to say, he was steamed! I took off like a jackrabbit with Coach Davis in close pursuit, while I giggled uncontrollably, if not hysterically. I kept ahead of him for 30 or 40 yards, let him get even closer to the point where I could feel his fingers grasping at my shoulders, and then I suddenly dropped to the grass and rolled up into a human ball. He tripped over me and flew 6 feet through the air, sprawling flat onto his face and into an unseemly chest skid. I could hear my teammates practically screaming with laughter as our physical tête-à-tête continued toward an unknown conclusion.
We both popped back up, I took off again in the opposite direction, with him right on my tail. I zigzagged a little to throw him off the scent somewhat, and when he was almost on me, just like before, I went to ground and let him trip over me. This time he did he an amazing forward roll, sprang to his feet and came after me once more. For some reason, I could NOT stop laughing and it seemed to egg him on. HE certainly wasn’t laughing; he was cursing me, and using language really quite inappropriate for a high school teacher; and still I hooted and snorted. We continued like this, him chasing, me tripping him, and then doing it all over again. After he fell for over me for at least the 5th or 6th time, we both grew tired, and even HE began to see the humor of what was happening. When I heard him start to giggle too, I finally ended “the chase” by faking one way and then veering into the opposite direction. We stopped, eyeing each other, bent over with hands on knees, our breath coming in ragged gasps. I was not only gasping for air, but hiccupping between irrepressible giggles.
Mr. Davis finally disarmed the situation when he grinned at me and said while shaking his head, “Spear, you are ONE crazy bastard!”
Damn, I got away with it again! Can you believe that? Hey, I told you he was my favorite teacher, and for good reason. Thing is, he was absolutely right…and still is! … And the beat goes on...
Game, Set and MATCH!
Can you think back to that exact moment when you “peaked” at something? I’m at the point where I know that there are things that I will never do as well as I once could. I realize I’m leaving myself completely open to ridicule on that little observation, namely from my good pal, “Mick” Healy, but I’ll risk it. I can take his “good natured” jibes …I guess (sniff, sob, and shudder).
Physically, I’m now a wreck, but I wasn’t always the fat, hurt’n “has-been” I am now. Early in 1982, I was a couple months into my second year with the 4th Component Repair Squadron, or CRS, at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina. Back then, I was as yet more marine than airman, but still, I was enjoying the "kinder-and-gentler" culture I found in the Air Force. Marines pride themselves on operating in an atmosphere of tension, or as we used to call it, “hate-and-discontent;” I didn’t miss that rubbish in the least. The new spirit of cordiality I found myself ensconced in was quite refreshing. I was glad to be in the Air Force where people were just plain NICE. Just the same, I maintained a regimen of running and exercise similar to what I had practiced in the Corps. Some habits are had to break.
One day in early March, the commander of the squadron, I think his name was Lieutenant Colonel Sams, came into my section, the Instrument/Autopilot Shop.
“Where’s Spear?” I heard him ask. I was checking out a bombing component for an F‑4E Phantom on one of our benches. The shop chief brought him over and I settled into a position of attention as he approached, even though I didn’t have to in an electronics shop. “Good morning Sir!” I greeted him marine style.
“At ease; relax; please!” Hardly pausing, he continued, “Sergeant Spear, I have a job for you!”
Unconsciously, I snapped back into attention, “Yes Sir!”
The colonel grinned and crossed his arms, “Phil, is it?” He went on, “The commander of AGS has just challenged CRS to a duel. He says his runners can beat our runners in the 5K race coming up this May. He bet me a case of beer on it. I’m told that YOU are my best runner, so I want YOU to put together a team for CRS and kick AGS’ ass. Is that understood?”
Still at attention, I practically shouted, “Aye Aye Sir!”
“Very good. Don’t let me down Spear; I’m counting on you! If I have to buy a case of beer for that AGS prick I’m gonna come looking for you. Is that understood?”
No sooner did he leave then I started to think about who else in the squadron might help me to successfully follow his orders. AGS, which stands for Aircraft Generation Squadron, was a much larger organization. They had several hundreds of people compared to our paltry little unit. They outnumbered us by at least three or four to one. I needed to come up with four other runners to meet the minimum requirements for a team. There was only one other fellow who approached my own level as a runner; he was originally from Egypt, and he had run in college, or so he said. The other three were “sometime runners,” and not all that good. I had about two months to whip my guys into the best running shape possible, including me.
I worked hard at getting into racing shape. I became obsessed with doing my very best in accomplishing what I assumed was a valid order from my commanding officer. I took it all very seriously, and I began to daily badger my teammates, making sure that they also trained. Our schedules never allowed all of us to run together as a team, so I did my best to get two or three of us out on the road as teammates every other day or so. As far as my own preparation, I worked harder on my running prowess than I had ever before done in all my 24 years.
My training regimen was fairly simple—the best plans usually are. It consisted of a four-day cycle:
Day one—interval training, including speed work and recovery jogging covering five or six miles total;
Day two—medium distance running of no more than four to six miles;
Day three—LSD or Long Slow Distance of between six and twelve miles, and finally
Day four—jogging, usually no more than three or four miles to give my body a chance to rest and restore.
The days passed quickly. I approached the best physical condition that I had ever been in. I shed five pounds, getting down to a “speedy” weight of 132 lbs. As my high school track coach, Mr. Peters, used to tell us, “The hungry horse runs the fastest.” And I WAS hungry; I was hungry to win. I knew I was ready, but I worried continuously about the race. It was a team competition, and I knew the AGS runners greatly outmatched my poor little running team.
Less than two weeks from race day, an older gray-headed AGS second lieutenant, a grizzled former enlisted man and now an aircraft maintenance officer, was in our section on business. I greeted him respectfully, mindful of his rank; and knowing that he was on the AGS team, I queried him, “How’s the training coming Sir? You ready for the race?”
He responded smugly, “I can tell you this—WE are going to destroy CRS. You guys don’t have a chance. We got some real horses on our team, some stallions!” He couldn’t contain an arrogant smirk as he said it.
For a moment I lost my bearing, and answered him almost insubordinately, “All right buddy, we’ll see! I can tell you this though,” almost poking him in the chest as I took three steps toward him, “no matter which squadron wins, I guarantee that I will kick YOUR ass…….!” I nearly forgot whom I was speaking to and only just remembered to finish my declaration with an obligatory, “……SIR!”
A week before the race, I was training in a park outside of the base that was laced with several miles of soft dirt trails. I had planned on a simple day of easy distance running, but I couldn’t hold back. I decided to throw in a two-mile spurt at a ¾ rate of full-speed. Mind you, full-speed is as fast as one can run—it’s sprinting. I began to run faster and faster yet, and it seemed as if I could NOT get tired. I finished the last mile quicker than I had started the first. It felt completely effortless and I KNEW and felt that I was ready! I wanted nothing more than to race—the sooner the better.
Race day. It was a warm, sunny Saturday morning. I got up early and ate a light breakfast. With my wife and three small children, we drove to the base gym in our white 1975 AMC Pacer. The area was filled with scores of cars and even some buses. One bus was from the army base some 50 or so miles south of us, it had carried in several dozen troopers from Fort Bragg. Some of them were Special Forces guys and they looked like they were in pretty good shape, but I didn’t care about them. My mind was only on AGS and how badly I wanted to beat them—NO—humiliate them!
With butterflies in my stomach I got in line at the sign-in tables. One of the tables was set up for teams; and I signed in under CRS. I was pleased to see that all of my teammates had already showed up and were signed in. The attendant minding the table was a captain who worked at the base hospital, a fellow runner; he knew me, and OF me. He greeted me declaring loudly with a huge grin, “THERE’s our winner!” This caused every runner in earshot to look at me and size me up from top to bottom.
I looked up, shook my head, and with a wry smile mentally grumbled at the captain for “hexing” me. I would rather have heard “break a leg!” Swallowing my superstition, I managed to maintain a half smile, took my number from him and went looking for my team. I spotted Wendy Burke, my supervisor and a fellow CRS runner. She was with the other CRS guys near the start line getting ready to run. She was calm and jovial, but she was also upset. She told me why.
“Can you believe Colonel Sams is NOT here? He didn’t show up because he thinks we are going to get beat by AGS! Son of a bitch!” Wendy said through clamped teeth trying to disguise her resentment with a smile. She continued shaking head in angry disbelief.
“Never mind him,” I told her and the others. “Let’s run the best we’ve ever run today. Did you know that the winning team will be based on aggregate time and NOT on places? That means if our times add up to a lower total than AGS’s, WE win. We can do this guys! Let’s get loose and get our heads into this race. No matter what, don’t give up. Make every second count, okay? We all quietly shook hands and wished each other good luck. I called over my shoulder, “See you at the finish folks!”
With that, I left them alone and concentrated on getting ready. After stretching my hips, hamstrings and Achilles, I jogged slowly for about a quarter mile, interspersed with a few spates of short sprints. As I warmed up, I spotted the AGS team; they were hard to miss. The AGS commander was one of the runners, and he had bought his team “uniforms.” They were all wearing the same color shorts and t-shirt—bright red. I felt like a bull in a ring, and the sight of those red AGS pukes made me rage like a bull. Actually, they looked impressive. As the lieutenant had said, they were “horses.” They looked well-trained, long-legged, and ready to run. And THERE was the lieutenant too, dressed in the same red uniform. Our eyes met and I spat in his direction in spite of myself. I was feeling pure hatred—and it was GOOD!
With just a minute or two before start, I made my way to the mass of nervous fidgeting runners at the starting line. You could almost smell the adrenaline and dread. I loved it! I pushed to the front of the throng, feeling very aggressive and unapologetic about it. Anyway, no one complained, so no harm—no foul. The starter yelled at us through a bullhorn, “Runners! Standby! I will say ‘Ready, Get Set,’ and then I will fire the pistol. I will do this in 15 seconds.” He looked down at his watch, and then looking up, he raised his starter's pistol in one hand, his bullhorn in the other and spoke, “Runners! Ready, Get Set…”
I took off like I was fired from a cannon. For about 100 yards I was sprinting in a small group of ten other runners, then six, then two, and then, it was only me. Finding myself at the front, and so quickly, was totally startling and unexpected. I began to doubt the wisdom of my current lightening speed when I realized I was at almost a full sprint. Behind me, I heard one of the runners counseling another, “Don’t worry, he’ll come back to us.” I threw him a mental rejoinder, not wanting to waste my breath on spoken words, ‘Kiss my ass!’
Now that I had the lead, after a very fast first ¼ mile of the total of 3.1 miles, I got my head into my work and began to settle down. It’s important to think about what you’re doing in any footrace, and the longer the distance is, the more important having a strategy becomes. I slowed my speed down to ¾ and took stock of my body. I was breathing fast and deep, but nothing hurt and I still felt strong. My confidence held steady and that was encouraging. Once a runner stops believing, it’s all over.
The course turned right and left and right again, but I wasn’t too worried about following the course. There were plenty of volunteer race marshals to point the way and to shout encouragement. I made a right onto a long straightaway that ran eastward the length of the base golf course, straight towards the flight line almost a mile away. This long course leg undulated over a series of fairly steep hills; and hills like these can make or break a racer. It was on this road that a marshal began yelling my time at me as I approached his position at the one-mile mark: “4:48, 4:49, 4:50!” ‘Hmmm,’ I thought, ‘that’s pretty fast!’
Hills. I was on the hilly part of the race route and that required that I “kick” my concentration into the next gear. The trick to racing over hills is to use them to your advantage going down, and to work hard to maintain pace and momentum going up. Easier said than done, but winners know how to run hills. I’d learned in California how to let my legs go into huge ground-eating strides running down steep hillsides and roads. Even more importantly, I had developed the discipline and technique required to keep my pace fast going back UP the damned things. My method is to keep my eyes down, about 5 to 10 feet on the running surface to my front, so that I can’t see the actual grade of the incline. Then once I am up and over, I raise my focus back up to normal and simply let my legs fly out behind me as I increase stride down slope, always making sure not to over stride. No matter what, the first rule in running is ALWAYS keep your feet UNDER you when they hit the ground. Anyplace else is inefficient and slows you down.
Halfway through the long stretch along the golf course, a buddy from my shop stood at the top of one of the hills and yelled his support to me: “Come on man! Looking good! Keep it up! Go! Go! Go!” It was nice to see him there, but it also irritated me. Inexplicably, I was feeling grumpy with him, so I took off my shirt and threw it at his head. He laughed and caught it good-naturedly, “Go man, go! They are RIGHT behind you! …and thanks for shirt!”
‘Damn! Was there really someone right behind me?’ His remark did the trick. I didn’t want to know if there was a runner back there or not. I simply assumed that someone was on my tail and I found the determination to kick it back up into overdrive. I was VERY uncomfortable now, my breathing was deep, fast and loud, and I could feel the oxygen debt building up in my legs and arms. Even so, I would ONLY allow myself to think of one thing, ‘SPEED, MORE SPEED!’ Winning was NOT enough. I had to win with a time as quick as possible. I pushed against the pain with my mind, as my body began to protest. I was at war with myself.
Then, it was time to make a right turn, to the south, along the flight line. Just ahead was another timer at the two-mile mark, and I pushed my pace back up again by pumping my arms faster and higher. He began yelling, “9:48, 9:49, 9:50! Good job man! Go! Go!” I was amazed at my time, considering the hills I had just passed over. Imagining there was someone just behind me, I continued to press ahead, always trying to find a way to increase my tempo. Now that there were no more hills to speak of, it was working. I WAS going faster. I felt pretty damned good! NOT!
Now I was into the second longest leg of the race, it was fairly flat, but I was quickly losing focus. At that point, I was simply trying to maintain foot speed and it was a constant battle. I must have gone into a sort of trance, because before I knew it the 3-mile timekeeper came into view. I struggled to hear him over the raspy roar of my breathing, “14:57, 14:58, 14:59, 15 MINUTES!” I found I had no real interest in what that meant anymore.
Next thing I knew there was a boy in the road just ahead of me, almost in my running path, offering me a cup of water. I had no time, and certainly no inclination, to adjust my direction and my right arm took him out. He fell backwards over the curb. I remember thinking through a fog, ‘I’ll feel bad about that LATER! The little IDIOT!’ Then there was the turn right heading west. It took all my concentration to take the turn as sharply as possible and still maintain momentum. Damn, I was fading.
The last turn left was “almost” easy, because I was on the right side of the road and could make a sweeping “farmer’s turn” into the final stretch. The finish line was only about 200 yards away down that last leg—I could see it! I put my head down, pumped my arms, and SPRINTED! Through the fog of pain and over the hoarse groans of my breath I could hear my wife, “Look, there’s daddy!” I looked up and through sweat and tears I could see my kids, Marie and Josh, jumping up and down near their mom, yelling: “Daddy, Daddy!” I would have felt exultant and satisfied if I hadn’t been so used up. I staggered through the finish line. I could barely grab the Popsicle stick with a number “1” marked prominently on one end from the race official who thrust it at me. “How fast…pant, pant, was, pant, my time?” I gasped.
“16:12!” I heard. ‘Wow! Personal best. Good time for it,’ I thought. I walked around in little circles for a minute until I got my normal breathing back, and started to return to the here-and-now just in time to see the second-place runner turn the corner. I was happy to see he wasn’t wearing red! I had beaten the runner-up by more than a full minute. The first AGS runner didn’t show up until well into the 18-minute range. I had beaten the first AGS puke by MORE than 3 minutes! Then the rest of the runners started coming in, finishing as a streaming horde, and so I lost track of who finished at what time in what place.
Most of the AGS runners, in their cute little red outfits, finished ahead of most of my group; but my guys gave it their best. The Egyptian fellow finished in the 18-minute range and the other three in 21 minutes and more. As each of us came in and recovered, we ran out, and as a group we yelled in the rest of our teammates, until we were all across the line.
I swigged a Gatorade, glanced around and saw the AGS colonel over at the scorer’s table. He did NOT look happy. His hands were on his hips and he was shaking his head in disbelief. My heart soared as I realized that I had done it! NO, WE had done it! I nudged Wendy, pointing at the crestfallen AGS commander, and she pumped her fist and went over to confirm our victory. She came back beaming, “We beat AGS by a FULL minute!” We high-fived, shook hands and joyously congratulated each other. As one, we got the AGS colonel’s attention and waved cheerily at him. He shook his head angrily and turned away. We couldn’t have asked for a better reaction—priceless!
The trophy award ceremony came next, and we grinned like Cheshire Cats as we accepted the team trophy. Then my teammates, squadron members, friends and family cheered me as I was awarded the first place individual trophy. Sweet!
After the awards, Wendy could not contain her anger at our commander. She got us together and she made us all agree to caravan over to his house. He lived just a short distance away over in base housing. At his house we piled out of our cars, and some twenty of us gathered in his carport as Wendy banged on his screen door. His wife answered and Wendy sweetly asked her to fetch her husband. He finally showed up and we enjoyed seeing another very embarrassed colonel as Wendy presented him with OUR team trophy. Ashamed of himself, he retreated into his home again and came back out with the ice-cold case of beer he had already purchased for the “AGS prick.”
Wendy said what we were all thinking, “Next time have some faith in your people sir.” She continued to scold him; “We did this for you sir. You should have been there!” Not normally at a loss for words, he certainly was then. Served the SOB right!
The next time I saw Colonel Sams was when he came in to congratulate us at the shop. All of his runners, actually MY runners, were gathered together at the CRS trophy case for the installation of the new 1st place trophy. He told us the story of what happened when he confronted his chagrined AGS counterpart. Colonel Sams described the conversation: “The first thing he said when he saw me was, “Who in the hell is Spear?” I just told him, “Oh, that’s my secret weapon, an ex-marine. Every squadron should have one colonel!” We all got a good laugh out of that, and I could feel myself pumped up to about twice my normal size!
My final bit of sweet revenge (and most revenge IS sweet, isn’t it?) came the very next weekend after the race. It was a Sunday afternoon and I was out for a run. I made my way off the base through the side gate, and there in front of me, no more than a hundred yards ahead, was none other than the “AGS prick” and his “lapdog,” the grizzled old second lieutenant. ‘No way!’ I thought. ‘Thank you God for delivering them both to me at once!’ I kicked my speed up a couple notches and soon caught up to them.
“Hello gentlemen! Nice day for a jog.” I said jauntily startling them. I pulled up next to the colonel slowing down to his pace. In his grumpy grudging way, he tried to be gracious and offered a bit of congratulations on my fine run during the race. I thanked him, but then I went for the gold, unable to contain myself. I said to his gray-headed companion, “Lieutenant, I want to thank you for motivating me to run the fastest 5K in my entire life!”
“What? What do you mean?” he asked.
“Well, that day when you said AGS was going to kick CRS' ass, that’s all I needed to pump me up to the point that I was NOT going to give you the satisfaction,” I chortled.
“What are you talking about? No… I…” he never finished his denial, at least not that I could hear.
I interrupted him: “Well gents, got to go. Nice talking to you!” At that, I kicked up my speed to a sprint, leaving them in my dusty wake, made a sharp turn and vaulted over a 6-foot wide ditch and onto a dirt road that angled away into some woods. I glanced over my shoulder and saw them staring after me. I could see that the lieutenant was in the midst of trying to explain what had REALLY happened to his arrogant boss. Ha! Game, Set, and MATCH!