Monday, November 16, 2015

Chapter 13 - Dear Pullman...

The Boys in the Boathouse
A Novel -- really, none of this ever happened -- by Dr. Frank Emfbo

Chapter Thirteen
Dear Pullman...

Dear Pullman,
Fuck you.

It's been said that Wazzu is in Bumfuck Egypt. That's a straight up insult to Egypt. Doctor Frank has seen Egypt. Well, pictures anyway. Doctor Frank has friends who have been to Egypt. Egypt is a beautiful place. And Pullman, you're no Egypt.

There was a time, in my childhood, when I thought Wazzu was cute. Yeah, cute as in impossible to take seriously. Those football guys who passed through Wenatchee on a bus once a year, stopped for lunch on a Friday on their way to Seattle to play the Huskies. Got beat, stopped for dinner on Saturday night, and disappeared into the hills across the river until next year. All smiley cowpokes and dairy farmers on a lark for the last weekend of a shitty football season.

Those guys.

Then came crew in my life. I assumed we still didn’t take Wazzu seriously. Gruntie year, we crossed the mountains on Wazzu moms' weekend, took our second and third gruntie boats and beat their varsity and frosh teams, then spent a lovely evening in Moscow drinking legal beer (we were nineteen) and getting into the pants of the MILFs who sent their kids to college over there so they could partake in the hottest weekend for condom sales in history. All piles of empties, smoky motel rooms and walks of shame. While daddy stayed home minding the baby.

The chatter on the way home the next day, in those UW vans full of insatiable young Husky wild oats sowers, wasn't about the hot illicit sex the night before with women twice our age. Who’d kiss and tell when he’d had a beer with an old high school friend who ended up at Wazzu, but spent the night porking the old friend’s mom? Who’d ever admit that? No, we spent six hours pissed off in wondering disgust about the dickhead cocky fucking Coug rowers.

Their varsity barely loses to our second gruntie boat, and you'd think they'd fallen a deck length short of an Olympic medal. We were damn near the shit rock bottom of Husky crew, but that W on our chests made us targets, and rightfully so. But Jeezus, have some fucking perspective. You still lost, and you lost to a bunch of second boat grunties. We thought the fucking hayseeds might just start a barn dance right there on the riverbank.

We swore we'd never come back. We were wrong.

Next season Doctor Frank is trying to establish himself as an unstoppable pillar of strength and a viable candidate for the first boat, among those studs and future hall of famers. While pushing those guys and challenging them on to excellence, championships, and purple jackets, Doctor Frank ends up in the fucking fourth boat. Well shit. The good news is, I stay home this weekend while the third boat heads for Pullman.

Nope. Wrong again honey, wrong again honey. All my hard work for two years of rowing finally paid off. Dik's erratic shuffling of the tongue blades on a Friday morning sent me off on a return trip to the asshole of the state, that very afternoon. Thanks Dik.

We were four rookies, four seniors, and the Husky men's first female coxswain. Plus the three-piece, 800-lb Royal Brougham eight tied to the top of a pickup truck. After a six hour drive across the Crab Creek Plateau's volcanic desolation, we were all supposed to stay at a nice local Pullman family's house the night before the race. But the seniors found a fucking friend in a frat and told us rookies see you at breakfast.

That should have been the first clue. Seniors in the third boat, sent to Pullman without a coach, the sun setting on a four year career of Husky frustration. We should have seen it. Should have said no, get with the program. But we were rookies. A year earlier we were grunties looking up to these same guys. Varsity fuckers who deserved our respect. And our coxswain was a rookie, damn good steering the boat but too timid to tell those four old whores what to do. So none of us had the chutzpah to say a fucking word.

We rookies were good boys. Drank lots of water with our dinner. Chatted up the nice Coug family, thanked them for their hospitality, tried to get some studying done, and went to bed. Got to Denny's the next morning to be greeted by four fucking bleary eyed warmed over hung over chewed screwed tattooed seniors.

One of these guys was our stroke. He laid out the race plan. Twenty stroke start, 34 all the way, no tens, no sprint, the Cougs suck, let's just beat these assholes and go home. Yeah. Nods all around from his three classmates.

Fool me once, twice, blah blah blah. We missed the second clue and yes one of us rookies should have said fuck you, we're changing the lineup right now you pussies, nobody lets down their teammates like you assholes just did, we're now stroke four, you guys arrange yourselves in the bow however you want but we're gonna pound this race out like real Huskies even if you're all blowing chips and going along for the ride. Which is what we should have said.

Coulda shoulda, but we were racing the Cougs and there would be no ambush, no surprise, no Coug upset. Right? Sure. Let's go.

It takes an hour of twists and canyons to get from Pullman to the Almota race course on the dammed Snake River where the Cougs store their boats and hold practice. Which maybe should generate some respect for the Cougs' commitment to their sport but only elicits what the fuck are we doing here from us. There's a dam downstream and the Corps of Engineers calls this a lake, but there's plenty of water in the springtime Snake River runoff, meaning currents, swirls, and everything but flat placid water. Plus contours and bends and natural shorelines you'd find on any riverbank. With current. Did I mention current?

It takes another hour to put the damn eight hundred pound, three piece Royal Brougham together, giant flanges wth twenty-four five-eighths inch bolts in each section. We had an equipment manager. Raoul or Lucky was there, maybe Tee-Bear, don’t remember. But Dik did not send a coach. He expected the four seniors to take charge and provide some leadership. See first and second clues above… maybe it should have all come together ominously in our heads by now, all the signs and warnings that this was destined to be a shit show.

We just want to get it over with. The starting line, if you can call it that, is a guy randomly anchored with a fishing pole in a boat in the middle of a glassy windless flat expanse of blue, with nothing on shore or on water to give anyone an idea of five hundred, a thousand, any landmark. The guy tells the coxswains where to point, ready all row. Twenty at the start, the cox can see the boathouse at the finish so she steers a perfectly straight course and by the time we figure we've gone five hundred we’re open water ahead of the fucking Cougs. Just like the plan, keep it going, stay at thirty-four.

Then their boat disappears.

Doctor Frank is well aware, for any smartass fucks reading this, that you keep your head in the boat. Still, if you’re open water ahead you know it. And when a boat disappears from that position without going past you, it’s a baffling feeling. One minute they’re behind us off the port side in plain view, the next they’re just poof evaporated and you’re not racing anymore, you’re just pulling a hot dry dehydrated two-thousand-meter piece in a place you didn’t want to be, with a fucking hung over bitch of a stroke oar ready to blow his Denny’s Mexican omelette on your coxswain.

Coxswain figures she better keep the focus, so at some point only she can determine, she decides we’ve gone a thousand, another thousand to go, power twenty. We can guess what the stroke oar’s gasping to her about goddammit we said none of this shit, but we slap together a few crisp strokes. Then we can feel the power and the snap fading for good. The beers or the doobs or the pussy, whatever those fuckers never admitted to us, is catching up to them with seven fifty to go. Not really worried, we took off like a rocket at the start, open water, just finish this thing and go home. Right.

Now we can feel the shoreline getting closer on our port side, still no course markers but we can hear the handful of fans cheering. The fans that drove the hour down from Pullman on a hot Saturday morning because who the fuck wants to go to the library on a day like today when you can stand on the muddy bank under the sagebrush and basalt cliffs and watch this fucking travesty of a race.

Must be getting close. But we said no sprint.

Then we feel them more than see them because we’re keeping our heads in the boat goddammit, but there they are, the Cougs are next to us, at least a half boatlength in front and pulling away. Our cox calls for a sprint, we all panic, the juice drips away and we fall apart. We cross the line at the imaginary end of their bullshit race course, open water behind.

The crowd goes apeshit. All twenty five fans. We can’t believe what happened. In fact we don’t even know what happened. We try to recover and take it back to the dock. We haul the fucking eight hundred pound Royal Brougham back to the slings where we’ll spend the next hour unrigging and unbolting it for the trip home. One our guys – one of our actual guys who did everything right and drank the water and got the sleep and pulled his guts out til the last stroke – one of our guys sits down and loses his breakfast right there in front of the Coug boathouse. With all twenty five fans watching. He empties his guts of all its contents, half digested or not, until he’s just down to spits of stomach acid, then he’s done getting that out too and he sits there dry heaving for the next ten minutes. Then he stands up, finds his opposite number from the Coug boat, shakes his hand and gives up his shirt. It’s a quick conversation. Our guy is still a little wobbly. The Coug turns away and happily hands the shirt, the hallowed shirt with the sacred Big W on the chest, to his girlfriend.

Our guy is glad he puked on it.

Guys split up for the ride home. We don’t want to face each other. A couple guys drive the van themselves, someone rides with the manager, others with girlfriends who came over. That’s a devoted girlfriend. We get home too late for dorm dinner but nobody’s hungry anyway. We sulk away our Sundays and pretend to get some studying done.

Monday morning, the crewhouse bulletin board sported a Heimlich Maneuver poster someone had stolen, featuring, for educational purposes, the “international symbol of choking.” Some amateur sketch artist had drawn a coxswain’s megaphone on the face of the guy with his hands to his own throat. The coxswain is shouting, “Power Ten! Again!”. Scribbled beneath the picture, George Pocock’s words are sacrilegiously twisted.

“Rowing a race is a frantic scramble… men as fat as you, when their everyday strength is gone, go tits!”

It’s the most embarrassing moment in our racing careers, at least that goes for the four rookies. To this day Doctor Frank believes those fucking seniors never cared. Dik sent us across three hundred miles of desert without a coach, in an eight hundred pound bathtub, with four guys who were beyond giving a shit about a race they refused to take seriously. But we still should have won, and there was no making excuses at this point and we all knew it.

Five years later, dry-heaving guy is minding his own business at a party, grabbing another beer, and looks up to see a massive piece of manhood reaching into the cooler at the same time. The guy looks familiar. Scary familiar, like horror trigger familiar. A mutual friend starts talking crew. The huge fucking machine of a man shakes hands and together they figure out they were on the river together that day in Pullman. The Coug says they were as surprised as we were that they won that day.

Of course, he says, our coxswain gave us at least three lengths on you guys. Maybe more. What the hell, our guy says. Well you know you guys were rowing a perfect straight course right up the middle of the river, straight line from start to finish, against the current. Our coxswain went to the shore and into the eddy. So, until we came up next to you guys again, you were rowing against the current. We were rowing with the current. That time of year, with the runoff and everything, you can’t even see it on that lake but you’re gaining a mile and a half, maybe two miles an hour. Do that for four minutes out of a six minute race and it’s worth the extra distance of steering over all the way to shore.

You. Fucking. Cheaters. Our guy’s mouth drops open, his hands start shaking, he can’t even believe what he’s hearing. Have you fuckers ever heard of lane violations? Of a level playing field? What fucking sport is this, open water canoe racing?  Did you feel fucking good, two dozen fans doing a victory dance for you when you rowed two hundred yards less than we did and stil only beat us by a boat length? Is that how Cougs do it?

He’d been blaming it on Dik. On the boat. On his beer drinking, pussy chasing teammates. That whole trip of bullshit that still haunted him, when he’d given everything he had, even everything he had in his empty belly, and it wasn’t enough. He’d felt for five years like he’d let the program down. Personally. Now it turns out his Dawgs had been had. Not only that, they’d been had by a team of Cougs who didn’t mind telling him about how they cheated.

Dry heaver has to stop. He’s getting so angry and loud, people are noticing. He pours his beer out in the sink and goes home. On the way out the door he shouts,

“I puked on my shirt. I hope your girlfriend liked it.”

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