ADVENTURES The Ultimate Runaround

If you can run, drink beer, and sing raunchy songs, you can hash.

I WAS RUNNING ACROSS THE railroad trellis with three or four others when someone spotted a green hat. On this day, St. Pat’s, green hats served as “checks, ” or trail markers. False trails could run in any direction, but the hat meant we were on the right track. The problem was that I was up here and the trail seemed to be heading down there-at the bottom of a sheer grade stretching 80 to 100 feet. I had already run about three miles (or 100- ask my legs) in a cold, steady rain, through mud, brambles, and briars, and I just wasn’t especially keen on doing anything but finding a wool blanket and assuming the fetal position. I don’t want to dwell too heavily on the womb metaphor or sound overly philosophical, but, existentially, this felt like a pivotal Moment. Though the conditions didn’t seem to be thrusting any of my running companions-people with dog tags boasting nicknames like Minnie Pearl and Pole Shaker-into Sartre-like spasms, 1 was asking myself the question of all questions: Just what in the hell am I doing here?

The answer: hashing.

Every other Saturday the Dallas Hash House Harriers, a “running” club of otherwise (I’m told) normal individuals, get together for a hash, a variation of the English game hare and hounds. The idea is to follow a trail marked by flour dollops around, through, over, under, or across whatever and wherever the lay might lead. Hashes have been laid through downtown (as was the New Year’s Day hash), malls, train stations, strip joints, and deep woods. Whenever flour is sighted, shouts of “on, on” are heard. The lay might include checks, beer checks, blow jobs (not what you think), and just about anything the hares, or course setters, want to include. It is not a race-there’s no prize for finishing first. Nor is it really a sport. And if there were rules, cheating would be entirely permissible, if not encouraged.

“The whole premise is called ’half a mind, ’” explains Monk, a. k. a. Robert Vernon, the longtime, though recently departed, running columnist for The Dallas Morning News. “If you’ve got half a mind to run, you can hash. Hashing is a way to take your fitness and have fun with it. It usually ends with drinking a cold beer and singing some really disgusting songs. “

Hashing as we know it originated in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, some 53 years ago. It was the brainchild of A. S. Gispert (nickname “G”), who began taking walks with his fellow soldiers after evening meals. The walks led to runs, which led to hashing. Gispert and his friends usually ended their runs at a drinking establishment called the Hash House, thus starting two traditions at once. Hashing is now an international activity; the Dallas chapter, in existence for 12 years, is duly noted in the International Hash Directory. Hashing clubs exist in every state and just about every major city in the U. S.

Never one to shirk journalistic responsibility or the chance to become personal friends with a keg, I ventured into hash country, which on that day was in far, far, far Northeast Dallas. My hash newsletter had warned that anyone not wearing green would be subject to having any part of his body painted the o’ color. So in green sweats, I arrived.

Women and men, I found, were about equal in number; some were fit, some real fit, and some not. One enterprising fellow, Big Gulp, was carrying an oversized bottle of whiskey and was sporting a shot glass that hung by a string from his neck. A friendly hasher, Stroker, came over, introduced herself, and asked me if this was my first hash. She also introduced me to Knot Whole, her fiancé, and explained that not only had they met while hashing, but there would be a hash after their wedding.

That the weather was beyond threatening was never mentioned, and soon the Grand Master was giving all of us, numbering around 40, some instructions pertaining to this lay. That done, Knot Whole blew on his horn-yes, a horn from a mammal-and we were off. We had congregated at a dead-end road, and with great gusto we headed into the deader end, past a guardrail, and into the woods, immediately encountering a minor chasm, perhaps 7 feet across, with a stream at the bottom. A leap was required. No prob. Then there were the thorns. No prob. The ankle-deep mud. Again, no prob. Wading through a knee-deep stream. Beginning to wonder, Up an embankment, across a field. back in the thorns, back in the field, up a steeper embankment, and across a railroad trellis. Doubt. Major doubt.

I was wondering why Pole Shaker et al., were not clambering down the slope after the “on, on” I heard emanating from the woods below. I had been warned that FRBs (Front Running Bastards) were not to be trusted. I suspected that the guy in the gully must be one of these cretins. I went anyway. After another mile I encountered a blow job, which I hasten to add is two parallel lines of flour indicating that the trail, a false one, has ended. I backtracked, found the right trail, and stumbled onto the beer check. Standing on the creek bank enjoying some cold ones was just about the entire group. Here I’d envisioned myself a combination of Frank Shorter and Daniel Boone. and these laugh- i ing folks had been miles ahead of me all |the time.

Hashing, be warned, is not for everyone. The game is immersed in picaresque nicknames, double-entendres, blue language, and songs that would have Andrew Dice |Clay ducking for cover. Hashers treat decen-cy like a stray cat: Ignore it, and it will go away. At the same time, they give fair warning to the easily offended that this might not be their game.

As Monk explains, “If you’re offended by bad language or sexual innuendo, this is not the place to be. “

One former hasher simply found the ribald side too extreme. “A lot of people use it as an excuse for deviant behavior, ” he explains. “I’ve seen hashers go out of their way to fall headfirst in giant mud puddles so they could brag about it at the ’on-end. ’ Yet it’s better than any singles bar; it’s outside, open-air, and good exercise. “

We had reached the “on-end, ” and the hash was over-well, the running part. Pole Shaker, the Grand Master, was leading the “circle-up. ” Following the perverse logic of hashing, she was ordering penance for the hares-Big Gulp, Cherry Tart, and Tongue Job-who on this day had laid out a dandy. The dollops of flour had been plentiful, and cries of “on, on” constant. The hares accepted their fate with bravery, if not enthusiasm. Fang-the Beer Master-handed them each a green beer, which they were to chug, a process called a “down-down. ” At midcup a chorus of “Why Are We Waiting?” spontaneously swept the gathering. If the drink leaves the lip, the remains are poured over the lightweight’s head. Except for the rain, the hares came away dry.

It was then time for the new boots. I stood with five other shivering, quivering novices, accepted my glass, chugged, cheated only once, and brought it down empty. Proud doesn’t quite describe the way I felt. Woozy, wet, cold, and exhausted would be more accurate. But I had hashed, and, oddly, was looking forward to doing it all again.

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