Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Chapter 14 - Connie Quarter

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

Chapter Fourteen
Connie Quarter

It wasn’t really a quarter.

Google Earth says it’s 0.19 miles at best, and that’s if you go as far as the guy called Hubbard did. But the guy called Hubbard’s story is just one of the tales from the legendary raceway.

It was simple enough, a couple gates and a straightaway on the road leading to the Connie. With the added bonus that only crew guys and a few football coaches used it. You had to go up to the Parking Division in the little police shack on campus and pay a few bucks for your E8 permit. They’d give you a plastic key card. Way high tech at the time. Through the magic of modern engineering, you stick the card in and the gate goes up.

You drive through and the gate goes down. Which is where things go wrong sometimes. The guy behind you forgot his card, so he slips in after you. If he doesn’t beat the gate, it comes down on his roof, or maybe his windshield. They’re made to break off, but damn they leave a mark on your car.

Or you’re minding your own shit, driving through the out gate, and a teammate is waiting to get in, having trouble with his key card. You try yours, and his gate still won’t go up. Fuck it, you say, and you snap his gate off. Might as well. When you come back from dorm dinner you’re going to need to get in anyway.

The signature of the Connie Quarter, though, was racing. The finish line was at the parking lot entrance, which left a couple hundred feet to the T intersection, the curb, the fence, and the ball field. A nice runout if it’s used correctly.

Now and then two guys would line up at the start and have a normal race. Boring. The Move was more thrilling. Unpredictable. You’re coming back to the Connie and you know there’s only one decent parking spot left. Maybe it’s raining and you’re a pussy, just want to be up close to the door. But there’s a guy ahead of you. So you follow him through the gate, hit the gas and make The Move. You have two hundred and fifty yards to get there, and if he sees you coming he just might pull left and not let you pass. Then, if your ride has the juice and you have the balls, you pass him on the right and still cut him off on the left turn into the parking lot. Nobody died. No paint ever got swapped, unless you count the guy called Hubbard and the fence. 

Then there's rarely used The Mother of all Championship Moves, where you're following the other guy as you approach the gate, and as he stops to put his card in, you whip left and smash the out gate, leaving him sitting there calling you a little bitch as you pump your fist out the window. The Mother required acceptance of the risk that you'd smash your windshield, which explains why it was rarely used. Flat windshields, like those on Volkswagens, worked best. But we'll get to that.

The Dikmobile never did the Connie Quarter. The Dikmobile was a work of art. Pristine. Undefiled.

Dik drove a ’65 Skylark, a classic white piece of crap that testified to a crew coach’s status, salary and benefits. No beneficiary of the Husky Car Coach program was Dik, no luxury pimpmobile from your friendly local dealer. Those guys wanted Don James’s ass, or even the second assistant offensive line coach’s ass, in their free rides. Dik humbly made the trek from Marysville to the Connie every day in his old ride with bald tires, chippy paint and coffee-stained seats. He didn’t care. He only wanted to get where he was going. Didn’t want the attention or the extra work of a fancy car.

He got one anyway. Dik would leave his car, locked up in front of the crewhouse when the team had a road trip. When the first boat, JVs, and lightweights packed up for San Diego, the early season test that would lead them to the podium at Henley three months later, plans were made. Plans by the mechanics, grease monkeys and pistonheads in the third boat and lower. Some of whom may have had an issue with not getting selected for the traveling squad.

They’d be deselected for good if Dik found out. So the word was, everyone here knows who’s in on this, but nobody’s saying a fucking word. Within ten minutes of the team bus leaving for the airport, classes were skipped and the plan went into action. Locks were picked. The ignition was hot wired. Dik’s plain old rig was driven to the boat bay, never to be seen in the same condition again.

Mikey’s massive rear tires were pulled from his GTO. This required new shocks, which someone found. The look was badass, but the sound needed some work. So the debate went on about the muffler, finally ending with just taking the fucking thing off. Yeah, it sounded as good as it looked. The interior was filled with fluffy fur and dingle balls around the windshield.

The flames were a special project. While the less talented, non mechanical supporting cast members were sent to raid the free sticker bins at the local parts stores, the creative, steady-handed ones drew their plans on a sheet of red adhesive. The kind that was guaranteed to be permanent, unless Dik wanted to pull all the paint off his doors and fenders. They drew, they carved, they trimmed, Xacto knives producing absolute artistic perfection. Huge red tongues of fire ran the length of the car from front to rear, carefully trimmed so the doors would open. Tiny flickers of flame burst from each wheel well. All applied precisely, not a single flaw, fold or bubble. It was the work of master craftsmen.

The stickers were added, everywhere. STP. Champion. Valvoline. And everyone knew the damn thing wasn’t a 442, but it fucking sounded badass so that one went on too.  Four barrel, four on the floor, dual exhaust, ummm, no. But we faked it real good.

Somebody had to take it for a test ride. At least from the boat bay back to Dik’s parking spot. It was Saturday afternoon and the team would be home that night. A trip up to the parking lot revealed the bad news. Mikey’s tires were getting shredded on Dik’s rear fender. Neither one was going to be pleased. A quick dive under the rear end, a few pounds added to the shocks for a couple more inches of lift, and they barely cleared. If you didn’t hit any bumps.

The original plan was to blow a few trips down the Connie Quarter. But we didn’t want anyone to call the cops about the noise, and we didn’t want Mikey’s tires exploding. So we hot wired it one more time and brought it back to Dik’s parking spot.

The team plane landed at 7 PM, and it was dark by the time the bus showed up from the airport. Dik had some work to do before he headed home, but there were guys hiding in their cars and in the bushes and down by the launch house waiting to see what happened when he finally headed out to his car. Keys in hand, head down, he just wanted to get home to Irma and get some sleep.

He was ten feet from the car when he realized something was different. And he sensed he was being watched. He stood there, taking in the flames, jacked up rear end, promo stickers. He ran his fingers over the “Driver Dik” lettering on the door. Whether he was fuming or admiring, we couldn’t tell. In the dim light from the street lamp, we thought we saw a smile. 

Dik shook his head slowly. He knew he was on stage.

“Goddamn ratfuckers,” he grumbled, pulling his key from his pocket. He fired the motor, keeping his cool at the unmuffled wap-wap-wap as he backed out. He put it in gear and rumbled toward home. He could unfuck himself the next day.

But he never raced the Connie Quarter.

Mikey never raced it either, and he went through two cars. He showed up with the GTO and nobody challenged him. He just knew. We all knew. He’d win. Then one year he rolls in for fall quarter in a 280Z. Shiny and new. He never raced that one either. He was smart.

Mikey did, however, get a song written about him. By the first day of winter quarter, Mikey had not only gotten a new car, he’d gotten a new affliction, an illegal Egyptian terrorist importation of some untreatable breed of crotch-centered flesh-eating crawling animal. There was also the unconfirmed rumor that Mikey’s family had come into oil money, hence the new car. Put this all together and you’re bound to get some reaction from your asshole classmates, whether you’re Commodore or not.

We’d all grown up with the Beverly Hillbillies. Oil money and a coinciding upgrade of lifestyle made it a no brainer. Tell y’all a story ‘bout a man named Mike. The next line was about his sister, rhymed with Mike, and could be referenced in the homophobia section in Chapter Nine. We didn’t know if he had a sister or not. We were assholes.

Crabs rhymes with scabs. That was another verse. And Conibear is the place he oughta be, so he sold his beatup Pontiac and bought himself a Z. Now that is true artistry.

Mikey persevered. He was the only one of us to row four years and use another season of eligibility to play football. No shit. That’s mean. And awesome. Doctor Frank believes Mikey earned a letter on the gridiron by channeling all that anger at his crewmates for saying that shit about his sister.

Dik never did it, Mikey never did it, but there were those guys who soloed the Quarter. Behal did. Behal was a motorbike guy all his life. Dirt bikes, street bikes, any bikes. He lived for them. And between freshman and sophomore years, he had a great job and saved enough for a brand new, shiny Honda 1000.

Behal was a lightweight and we wondered if that wasn’t a little too much bike. But the guy could handle his shit, so we just admired him. On the first weekend, there it was, brand fucking new, and just a few odometer miles from the showroom floor, like maybe even a single digit. God it just glowed. We stood in the parking lot and drooled. Behal screamed out to the gate, dodged it, looped, dodged the incoming gate, floored it again, coasted, downshifted, and cruised back to where we all stood.

“Can I give it a spin?”

Damn, that’s ballsy. Ask a guy if you can ride his brand new bike. We turned. We looked. It was Lewis. Dude rode bulls in high school so he must be good with bikes. Bull riders are good with everything, including the women, or so he told us every time we said "smile if ya got any," so the logic seemed solid. Still it was a bold question. But no way Behal would let him, would he? Nobody would let another guy just get on his new bike and ride away. We laughed.

“Sure, go ahead.”

No fucking way. Did he just say that? We watched as Behal handed him the helmet and stood aside. Before anyone could gather himself and ask are you sure you want to do that, Lewis was off. Did the same thing Behal did on the way out, maybe not as fast. Dodged the gates OK, came back our way, hit the gas.

And he didn’t slow down.

It had been raining. As he passed the parking lot it was surreal. It went from awestruck aw fuck in about half a second. When we heard the wheels lock up on the wet asphalt as he disappeared behind Grunt Row, we started in that direction. When Behal heard the bike hit the curb, thunk, then the fence, crunch, he sprinted ahead.  That day, Behal was the fastest guy on the team.

Lewis bruised an ankle. He was scared shitless but that was his only injury as we found him lying on the grass. Pretty amazing considering all the twisted chain link. And Behal’s brand new bike wasn’t brand new anymore. It took ten of us to pull it out from where it was, wedged under the fence. He was done loaning his shit.

That fence, however, was not done. That fence had some history to make, and it came a couple years later.

Meanwhile the most creative, maybe even the most memorable, use of the Quarter didn’t even involve a car. It did however involve the only actual hazing or near violence Doctor Frank ever saw inflicted on a little fucking peckerhead coxswain. Normal protocol gave them immunity, even grunties, but this was a special case. Not saying Doctor Frank was or was not an actual part of the deed itself, although Doctor Frank might have had something to do with the requisition of ten rolls of jock tape from the trainers’ room for the evening’s activities. And truly I do not remember which specific ones of my teammates were involved. Even if I did, the statute of limitations is over so go fuck yourself.

Little Hitler, if you ever read this, I do hope you got your shit together somehow. You came in there with some fucked up baggage. We might have made things worse.

Yeah that’s what we called him. There was some rumor that there had been some military in the background. But he was truly a tiny little fucking peckerhead. And he brought with him the common sense of a thirteen year old which you would think would get a man killed in the service. But he never said anything to contradict it, plus there was the moustache. He had the Hitler ‘stache and it had to be intentional. Nobody could look himself in the mirror and say I’m gonna leave that fucking thing there unless he actually wanted to look like fucking Hitler.

Ever meet a guy who looked like Hitler but was a good guy? No, didn’t think so. But there was no ambiguity here. Little Hitler hated everyone, his classmates, the varsity fuckers (which included Doctor Frank at this point), his coaches, anyone who walked by the crewhouse. He was a loud obnoxious piece of shit, when he was sober. And he drank a lot. And he was a mean drunk.

Subtle traditional means of behavior modification were abject failures. Run of the mill bung piles, lake shots, geology lessons? Not only did they make him worse, his classmates dug them. Nobody came to help him. They even turned on him themselves a few times. Which made him hate his classmates even more than he hated the rest of us varsity fuckers.

Somebody had figured out how to make an acetylene balloon bomb. For those who’ve never heard of this or tried it, I’m not going to tell you to google that phrase or to learn how to do it or to actually try it after you watch the Youtube video. I’m not going to do that because when you blow your arm off, you’ll sue me.

So after an intense evening of Little Hitler being an asshole at dinner, the word was passed. Anyone who lives on the same side of the building as Little Hitler, you’d be best NOT to be in your room at 11:30PM. And anything you don’t want damaged by shock waves or potentially coated in broken glass, wrap it in a towel.

With all hands, even Little Hitler’s gruntie roommate who’d been alerted, huddled in the far recesses of the building, the bomb was detonated right on time. Ears were ringing all over, even the guy who was on the phone with his girlfriend in the far phone booth. Little Hitler jumped up, realized his roommate was gone, looked over at the broken window pane and freaked out. Stalking up and down Grunt Row he screamed, threatening anyone who showed their faces. Which was pretty fucking funny when all sixteen doors opened and all those big fuckers came out and stared him down.

With no improvement in behavior by the next night, the judgement came down from on high (likely the Whip, which is a police-like office for crew jocks with tiny penises and control issues) that the Final Solution would be enacted on Little Hitler. He would be Driftmiered.

Driftmier was a bad gruntie in the late 1960s, immortalized within his own classmates and then again thirty years later by Dee Walker, Class of ’70, who wrote the essay “The Rest of the Story” for a 2000 reunion. Same reunion for which Doctor Frank wrote “It’s a Hell of a Life, Dik” but that’s beside the point. The point is that Driftmier’s name became a verb when his teammates decided they’d finally had enough of him and he came back from class one day to find all his shit on the crewhouse lawn. Driftmier left, and he never returned.

Little Hitler also came back from class to find all his shit on the crewhouse lawn. Little Hitler moved his shit back in. Little Hitler must have been Richard Gere in Officer and a Gentleman where Lou Gossett can’t get him to quit and finally Gere shouts “I got no place else to go!”

Remember Doctor Frank said we were assholes? Remember that? So it is with guys who don’t give a shit about other guys who’ve got no place else to go. In any case, the Driftmier Solution did not work as Little Hitler showed up again for his crewhouse dinner that night. We were out of standard options. This would take some creative thinking.

The next afternoon, Doctor Frank, working as part of a two-man operation, waited for the diversion and dived into the tape drawer in the training room, stuffing ten rolls of jock tape in the big front pocket of his sweatshirt.

In the dead of night twenty motherfuckers, some actually doing the deed but most just there for the entertainment like gawkers at a public hanging, took action to test the weightbearing strength of the Connie Quarter parking gates.

Naked and blindfolded, hands jock taped together in front of him, Little Hitler stood in front of the exit gate. Speaking of exits, maybe he still had his underwear on. What happened next would have been really – ahhh, yeah. Underwear. He was out there in his underwear.

Little Hitler was bent over the gate, ass in the air. His captors discussed the exact horizontal positioning, wanting him to get up there pretty high without having too much leverage and breaking the gate arm. Sadly for Little Hitler, a History major did the calculations. All the Engineering guys were actually studying that night. So, hmm, angle of the cosine, logarithm of pythagorus times the mass and torque, do it right about there.

Rolls of jock tape were produced. Wrists were bound to ankles. Someone ran to get a car. Doctor Frank said this didn’t involve a car, and he was mistaken. The car was only needed for its metal mass triggering the magnetic switch. As the headlights got closer, someone remembered just in time that the experiment would fail if Little Hitler slid sideways across the gate when it went up. No concern was voiced for the slivers in his belly. Only for the scientific integrity of the experiment. More rolls of jock tape were produced.

A hush fell. It was go time. The car rolled up to the sensor, the motor whirred in the gate box. Right about then someone said oh fuck what if we burn out that motor, the whole thing catches on fire and he ends up getting burned at the stake…

No problem. Up he went, slipping the surly bonds of gravity and struggling against the bonds of jock tape. Nobody had bothered to gag him which made it even more entertaining listening to him scream.

About halfway, which even a History major knows is a forty-five degree angle, we heard the first crack. A squeak of plywood twisting away from the hinge that held it. Little Hitler may have been ten feet off the ground when it finally gave way.

History man stood to the side with his clipboard, penciled calculations dashing across his page.

“Fuck! Forgot to consider the extra weight of that last roll of jock tape! Plus, hey! Get him up! Hitler, did you have an extra potato at dinner? That just fucked everything up.”

A competent scientist has extra materials in case he needs to try his experiment again. We had another gate, right there on the inbound side. Little Hitler was still taped to the out gate. The board was cut free and discarded. What story would the cops put together from that piece of evidence? Maybe we should keep it. You know. For science.

The experiment on the inbound side was a success. Little fucking peckerhead coxswain, total weight including potato and jock tape one hundred thirty pounds, attached to the gate arm two and a half feet from the hinge point, raised without incident on insertion of a key card.

The gate was vertical, with a gruntie fucking peckerhead in his underwear hanging sideways by a half dozen rolls of jock tape. Quite a sight. The car went through to make the gate come down. Key card inserted again, car driven through again. History man jotted notes.

Key card again, twenty motherfuckers marveled at the laws of physics and the power of jock tape. Now the Sports Medicine major spoke up, deep concern furrowing his brow. “Guys, jock tape is designed to take only a certain amount of bending and stress of this kind. And it hasn’t been tested on painted plywood.”
“Until tonight!”

“Well, yeah. But we should probably cut him down.”

The crowd was still considering the idea when Little Hitler started to slide. Slowly, but before the car could hit the sensor and lower him again, belly, chest, thighs and armpits got a good foot and a half of slivery goodness.

“You guys think we should leave him here?” The question brought visions of whoever the next random driver might be, maybe not until next morning, maybe Don James himself at 4AM, pulling up to the gate to find him there. Inserting the key card and driving through, looking in the rearview and wondering just what the hell that was.

Naa. Get him down, we decided. And it was amazing how that behavior mod worked. Just a little compassion there at the end, and suddenly Little Hitler shaved that moustache and showed some courtesy. He was still a little fucking peckerhead, make no mistake. But a compliant one.

 But wait, Doctor Frank. The fence. Back to that fence.

We’ve discussed the guy called Hubbard before. No retreat. No surrender. Maybe he wouldn’t kill a guy to win, but he’d put the knife to the throat. Awesome dude as long as he was playing for the good guys, and for God sake you wanted him on your side. The guy called Hubbard had no letup as a competitor.

This is a bad thing on the Connie Quarter. Especially if you’re in a stock fifteen-year-old pickup truck and you’re racing Donny’s hopped up orange VW bug, the one with the big engine and the huge exhaust and the competition clutch and all that shit. Especially if you’re just making some idle chatter with your buddy Dago, on your way home for the evening, you come through the gate and before you know it Donny has pulled The Mother of Moves, whipping through the outbound gate all flying chunks of yellow and black plywood, and getting the drop on you out of nowhere. So now you’re racing, not letting him pass but not gaining either, and here comes the parking lot.

The finish line on the Connie Quarter was assumed to be the entrance to the parking lot. By then you usually knew who the winner was. But this time the guy called Hubbard wouldn’t let it go. Not when Donny made The Move, not when Donny tried to pass, not when Donny kept pushing it, still neck and neck past the parking lot. This was unheard of. Not even when Donny chickened out and hit the brakes right around Grunt Row.

No, the guy called Hubbard did not let up, even when he knew he’d won and he saw that damn fence coming. He kept it moving, with Dago now closing his eyes and wishing air bags had been invented, clean through the fence and into the ball field. Right there where the cheerleaders entertain the grunties in the fall.

The guy called Hubbard has a legacy though, to this day. This was the last straw for the Athletic Department. Done with having that fence knocked down, they tore it out, dug a big hole and built a tennis center. Tennis. Wow, thanks Hubbard.

We heard the guy called Hubbard was second in line for the naming rights on the tennis building. But the Nordstrom family gave more money.

Doctor Frank hopes they at least sent the guy called Hubbard a piece of that fence.

No comments:

Post a Comment