Or How I beat the pants off Zachary Jackson
In our Junior year of high school, our track team was average. We would neither dominate an opponent, nor would we be dominated. Such average teams almost never did well in Conference finals, nor in any Invitational Meets. Our Coach rarely brought the team to any of the Invitational meets. This was true of the Penn Relays, a yearly invitational meet that was held at Penn University for any high school to attend. Since the Penn Relays were held after track season ended, and after Conference finals, we never were offered the chance to compete. In our Junior year (is there an echo in here?) Harrisburg High held an invitational meet the same weekend as the Penn Relays. Coach Roland did not want to bring a team to either meet, but gave us the flyers for Harrisburg. If we wanted to, we could enter as individuals. Three of us entered: Frans, Tommy Fager, and me. Frans was the designated driver, and we all piled into the surviving vehicle (from the Stump’s corner crash) and drove to Harrisburg High.
Upon arrival and registration, we noticed that no school brought a “team” – all the “teams” went to Penn Relays. What came to Harrisburg on a windy Saturday morning was a collection of individuals, wearing their school track uniforms, each hoping to earn a medal. Frans, Tommy and I all entered the 100 yard dash (yes, in those days we ran good ole English units of measure, not those putrid metric “meters”), 220 yard dash. Tommy entered the pole vault. We were allowed to enter 4 events, but Frans and I were sprinters, and we only had 3 people (not enough to enter a relay team). There were so few runners for each event, that instead of running heats, the meet officials decided to run every event as a final. After hearing that there were only 6 entrants for the 100 yard dash, we all felt pretty good about our chances of pulling at least 1 medal. As we warmed up, we looked over the competition: our 3 heroes from Camp Hill, 2 runners from Cedar Cliff, and Zachary Jackson. Yes, THE Zachary Jackson. As in “State Champion 880 relay team” Zachary Jackson. Harrisburg High’s own senior. Now Harrisburg High did not bring its team to the meet (which is odd, they were the host), nor did they send a team to the Penn Relays. Zach was the lone runner, along with 2 guys in the field events. So much for us feeling confident about winning a medal. As far as we were concerned, Zach was going to place first, second and third all by himself.
Zach was a very short person, even shorter than me. I was one of the shortest boys in my class, so being slightly taller than Zach was something. Zach was a soft spoken young man, very pleasant demeanor, very light brown skin, and a full, thick beard. I guessed he was about 25 years old and still a senior in high school. Before the race we talked and Zach was very unpretentious. I guess his maturity impressed me, here was one of the top runners in the State of PA, who definitely had something to boast about, yet he was humble and care free, willing to befriend us (but not the Cedar Cliff guys).
As we lined up for the 100 yard dash (see English units ref.), I was positioned in the outside lane, Zach drew the lane right next to me. As a sprinter, I always liked to be in one of the center lanes, I hated the outside. In the 100 yard dash, lane positioning makes no difference at all – except the psychological effect it has on your own performance. Outside lane means I will not run as fast, and therefore lose. Only that’s not what happened. After the gun went off, I exploded out in front and led the race from start to finish. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw this black streak gain on me and pull even. (Harrisburg High’s uniform was black shirt with black pants). Zach dipped for the tape at the exact moment I did, a photo finish. The timers wouldn’t even tell us who won, they said wait for the announcement over the loudspeaker. Zach asked what time we ran the race in. When the timer said “Eleven flat”, Zach went ballistic. Without swearing he managed to convey to the timer that they must have been crazy because he “Ain’t run no eleven flat in my life”. (meaning the slowest time he ever ran was much faster the eleven seconds). I had to agree that eleven seconds was a slow time, but it was cold, overcast, slightly windy, and a cinder track. Waiting for the official results was torture, did I win? Could I possibly have beaten Zach in the 100 yard dash? When the results were read over the loud speaker, I finished first and Zach was awarded second. I don’t remember who placed third, but I really don’t think it was the Cedar Cliff guys. On the way back from the press box with our medals, we came up to Zach’s mom in the stands. Zach introduced me to his mom, and she asked to see both our medals. Zach’s mom was one of very few fans sitting in the stands, braving the wind to support her son. After I returned to Tommy and Frans, we stood around at the start line of the 100 yard dash, waiting for the next event. Fred Sprunk, sportswriter for the Harrisburg Patriot News came over to interview me. Tommy made a big deal about the race, and answered Fred’s questions for me. It was funny to read the article in Sunday’s paper, I had mad it through the entire interview without saying one word, Tommy was my agent. Before the 220 started, Zach asked me if I was going to coast for this one? I told him I was. I false started the race. This must have enraged Zach; some punk was trying to beat him at HIS race – the 220. When the gun went off, Zach took off so fast you would have thought he was shot from a gun. He finished the race about 50 yards ahead of me, I was dead last. The Cedar Cliff guys got 2 jumpers and formed a relay team. We asked Zach if he wanted to join with us and see if we could beat them. So Frans started, handed off to me then Tommy, and Zach pulled the anchor. We won by about 100 yards, gold medals all around! After the day ended Tommy mentioned that I had beaten the pants off Zach Jackson. I owned a white pair of gym shorts and wrote in black magic marker “Zachary Jackson” along the leg – Just like Zach’s Sweat pants (he wrote his name in marker). All three of us were thrilled with our performance, what a successful day! But this day was far from over, see the next story.
This happens to be Craig’s favorite High School story, not only because it involves my cousin Chuck, but just because of the overall humor it represents.
Of course on the way home from the track meet, Tommy suggested that we celebrate. Such a momentous occasion could not possibly go without some form of merriment. Frans agreed and said he would pick us up at 7:00. Tommy said he would bet some beer to celebrate. All would have been well and good, enough time to shower and dress, eat dinner and go. Ahh, but fate was to play an interesting and silly trick on me. My cousin Chuck from Syracuse and his family were in to visit (unexpectedly). Chuck was exactly one year younger than me, and in our youth we were more like brothers than cousins. After the quick shower and dinner, and a gleeful accounting of the day’s victories (proudly displaying medals, yes medals!), I announced that Frans and I wanted to go out and celebrate. Would it be ok for Chuck to come along with us? A quick note on why we would have to ask such a question – most parents would be glad to get rid of two teenage boys for a few hours, especially if one of those teenagers was Chuck. Chuck’s mom was somewhat of a worry wart, and had to be coaxed into agreeing. This evening, she was right (the horror! the horror!). Frans was right on time and we drove off in my second most favorite car (first most favorite license plate) to meet Tommy. Tommy delivered on his promise, he had a case of Pabst blue Ribbon beer in 12 oz. bottles with him. You can easily see that 12 divided by 4 equals 6 beers each. I guess Tommy, Frans and I didn’t think anything of drinking 6 beers in a night. What I did not know at the time, was that my cousin Chuck never drank. In fact this was his first adventure that involved drinking with friends. The experienced party goers know that it is not wise to drink and drive. We drove to an apartment complex in Highland Gardens, pulled into the parking lot, and parked in the back. We then calmly drank and talked about the day. Chuck fit in well, he knew Frans a little from other meetings, he did not know Tommy at all. By the time we drank 5 beers, it was dark. Chuck tried to keep pace with the experienced drinkers, which may have been his fatal mistake. Tommy collected our empties and deposited them in the dumpster (never litter, its rude). I guess that Chuck had about 4 or 5 beers, which is 4 or 5 beers more than he ever had at one time. Chuck was starting to get “silly”. He was giggling and telling jokes that did not make sense. I had never seen him this would up, so I suggested that Frans drop us off at home. He and Tommy could finish the few beers left later. As we pulled up to the house I was confronted with the dilemma – how could I get Chuck into the house, past both sets of parents and down into the basement to my room in the condition he was in (silly, staggering, giggling, talking a mile a minute)? I told Chuck to be cool, don’t talk and head directly down the basement. Meanwhile I quickly explained that we were very tired (hey I ran 3 races today didn’t I), and that we were going to bed and would see everyone in the morning. To this day I don’t know how we made it through the gauntlet and down the steps to my room with out any suspicion. Poor me – I thought we were safe and the night would end with a fond memory. Whenever Chuck came to visit we would set up a cot in my room next to the bed. The cot was about 2 and ½ feet lower than the bed and was just as long. To be fair, Chuck and I would take turns sleeping on the cot. This visit it was my turn for the bed and Chuck had the cot. I got Chuck settled and relatively hushed and into bed (uh, cot), then turned out the lights. I lay back and congratulated myself on a successful day and equally successful night. Chuck was uncharacteristically quiet; we usually talked for a long time at night. I then felt this:
Tug, Tug, Tug...
Three very sharp tugs on the bed sheet, I reached down to the cot and swatted Chuck’s hand and said knock it off go to sleep, or something of the sort.
Tug, Tug, Tug...
Three more hard pulls on the sheet. I may have said come on knock it off or some other words of admonishment.
Tug, Tug, Tug...
This time I ignored Chuck, he was obviously playing some game that I did not get. What followed the third set of tugs was a sound almost exactly like a water fountain in the park turning on for the first time. A loud gurgling rush of liquid was erupting from the cot next to me, following the gurgle was the sound of Chuck retching and I immediately knew what the Tugs were for. Many a time the room was spinning for me; Chuck; however, never had this experience and was unprepared to deal with it. In the 12 seconds it took for 4 or 5 beers to empty out of Chuck, I thought of 3 things:
We were caught; there was no way I could keep this from my parents
I was going to be killed; no way out of this problem
Man, Chuck is still throwing up, his stomach could not have possibly held that much liquid
I went upstairs and told my parents that Chuck was throwing up. I then sat on the front couch and cringed. My mom, aunt and uncle went down to check on what was happening; my dad sat on the couch next to me and didn’t say anything. That’s how I knew I was in big trouble. My uncle brought Chuck upstairs and put him in the shower. My mom went back downstairs and started to clean up the mess. My aunt took charge of the shower, Uncle Chaz came into the living room and paced, every once in a while checking on the progress in the shower. While Uncle Chaz paced, my dad started firing questions at me in a low, flat monotone (this was uncharacteristic also, he usually yelled at me). I think I answered 100 questions, all the time trying to downplay the role the beer played in all of this, and underestimating how many beers each of had. I will go on record as not have lying to any of the questions (all 100 of them). For you attorneys out there, I did say the Frans was not drinking and driving (the car was absolutely stationary when he drank). Now that I reflect on the 100 questions, I wonder if at about question 5 my father may have decided that “boys will be boys” and only continued as a show (to show me how serious he was, to show Uncle Chaz and Aunt Anne he was taking serious measures). When Chuck was cleaned up and dressed, my Uncle brought him to the living room. My mom threw a few blankets and pillows on the floor. They laid Chuck down and he spent the night passed out on the living room floor. I felt really bad for Chuck. That was the moment that I found out Chuck never drank. I was expecting to be grounded for life or some other extreme punishment. My dad never did punish me, nor did he ever say anything about the night.