Volume 1, Issue 12
Running Under the Influence
by Rima Rantisi Photos by Callie Lipkin
“We’re having fun when we’re running. For many other people, running is simply a respectable form of sadomasochism,” says 69-Cent Man, the “Pubic Relations Director” of the Chicago Hash House Harriers (CHHH). We’re at the Map Room (1949 W. Hoyne), waiting for the rest of the Hashers to arrive for the three o’clock run. Fifty-two years old, 69-Cent Man is a thin man with a handlebar moustache, high cheekbones and a calculator watch around his left wrist.
Although he is a real-life lawyer, Virtually Hung also happens to serve as the “Religious Advisor” of the CHHH. (He doles out penance at the post-run festivities.) Matter-of-factly he tells me about his participation in a recent HHH Red Dress Run—a running event in which everyone runs in a red dress, of course. At this, I unfocus my eyes to envision this tall, freckled man jogging in a red dress—with hundreds of others—and, strangely, a rush of adrenaline washes over me.
Meanwhile, the arriving Hashers animate the bar: Bushwacker stretches; Virgin Banger flashes his very straight teeth; Full Term says he’s “going back to England foreva;” Horn-E sips beer out of his powder horn; Rotten Whore screams about a play in the Chiefs-Packers game. Finally, Hare Mayor McTick—the leader of this particular Hash—strides in wearing a t-shirt with Yoda on it. Except, upon closer look, Yoda’s face is some strange human’s.
It was a chilly Sunday in November when I joined the Hash House Harriers for a run and a drink. I started with a water and ended with many beers. And, I came to understand how, in the same way, thousands of people across the world will go on one run with the HHH and eventually become full-fledged members. It’s difficult to pick one component of Hashing and call that its raison d’etre. No, it’s the all-inclusive package that keeps Hashers running, drinking, singing, cursing, drinking, flirting, laughing, drinking, dramatizing, playing and drinking. They love the game.
It all started in 1938, when a British man named Albert Stephen Ignatius Gispert, who was working as an accountant in Kuala Lampur, became bored. He gathered several expatriates, most of whom he met at the Selangor Club—a house where many expatriates lived and/or dined, nicknamed the “Hash House” because of its poorly prepared food—to “paper-chase.” This was a hunting sport played in times and locations where sporting game was sparse. Game was substituted with men, hounds were substituted with runners and the natural scent of the trail was substituted with strategically scattered paper. Gispert had a special fondness for the game.
After their chase, his group of men would meet in the jungle for an escape from their serious lives. They would fill a pisspot (“piss” is now a Hasher term for “beer”) with ice, pour beer and soda water over it, dip their cups and drink the stiffness of the week away, singing songs and doing what drunken men do.
Eventually, the government found out about the club and required its members to register. To fill out the registration form, the men needed a name. Combining the nickname of the place they met with the nature of their game, they christened themselves the Hash House Harriers.
After 117 runs, the members of KLHHH were forced to unlace their sneakers with the beginning of WWII. Sadly, Gispert was killed in fighting on Singapore Island on February 11, 1942. Nearly 12 years after the end of the war, the survivors of KLHHH finally reassembled. In 1962, a second chapter of the HHH was founded in Singapore. In 1973, one of the founders of KLHHH, Cecil H. Lee, wrote: “[Gispert] was a splendid fellow and would be happy to know the Harriers are still going strong and are as merry and bright as ever—or more so.”
Today, the Hash House Harriers has evolved into a running and drinking club with 1,500 chapters and a presence in almost every major city from Cardiff to Sidney.
The time is now 3:15 and we are about ready to begin the run. Canned Pussy—a petite veterinarian with arched eyebrows—collects Hash Cash (six dollars) from each runner for club costs. Meanwhile, Hare McTick, a former mayor in Michigan, calls everyone outside; about 25 of us form a lopsided circle around him.
The “Hare” has an especially important job for each run. He or she must set the trail. This means that the Hare must have an astute knowledge of the area as well as a trick in his or her hop to make the trail interesting. The Hare must also plan the start and end points (bars, usually) and ensure that there is a beer stop partway through the run.
Hare McTick begins marking the sidewalk with chalk and bellowing out the rules of the game.
“You’ll see some of these.” Arrows. “And, you’ll see some of these.” Circle with X through it. “And some of these…”
As I watch McTick bend and mark the sidewalk, I am completely confused. Experienced Hashers around me ooh, aah and boo according to the marks drawn. That’s okay, I think, I am a Virgin—the name given to first-time Hashers—so I anticipate that my romance with the trail will grant me clarity.
Next, McTick draws a numeral three—no, boobs—on the sidewalk: “Boob check. If you’re a man, you must wait for a woman to reach you to find the trail. Men are not allowed to advance until this happens.”
“Sexist!” a British accent hollers.
McTick counters this playful accusation by drawing a penis: “Dick check. Same rules apply.”
Standing straight and dusting his hands of chalk, McTick tells us all “that’s it.” The Hashers are not happy. They boo and mock cry. At this, he bends down one last time and marks “BN”—“Beer Near”—onto the sidewalk, at which the Hashers uncoil with a roar of delight. The ambiguous rules finally announced, everybody shouts out their “name” in turn, Horn-E blows his horn, cries of “On! On!” (definition: “This way!” “Let’s go!”) are sent up and we’re off.
“Crap,” I mutter to myself when we reach the first checkpoint: split arrows. Hashers are running east and hashers are running west. I choose neither. Instead, I stand at the corner where some others wait as well. Full Term, a thirty-something particle physicist, explains that we’re waiting for word on which arrow points toward the trail set by Hare McTick. Full Term partied hard last night because his friends, including fellow hashers, threw him a going-away party for his upcoming return to England. As he stares off hungover, a whistle rips through the Chicago smog and “On-ons!” jolt the small group of us. Time to shake a leg.
Jogging at different comfortable paces, we move in a loose group and are led off the pavement, up a slippery mud hill. Now we’re getting dirty (never, ever wear new shoes to a Hash) and finding hidden spots in the city. At the top of the hill, we meet a broken fence that leans and bends before a deserted railroad track that stretches out of sight. Lining the track are trees and shrubs. The shrubs slap against our pants as we pound rocks and broken glass and slip on the matted leaves on the ground. We dodge tree branches from which yellow leaves hang lazily, dampened by the first snow of the fall last night. It’s beautiful and serene and I’m huffing through it.
Now Rotten Whore’s fiery red head is bopping next to me. This sweet Peg Bundy look-alike got her wretched name because she owns a Rottweiler and because she’s a lawyer. She’s been hashing since June 2002 and she believes “[Hashing] makes sense. I like to run and I like to drink and my husband doesn’t.”
The HHH provides her an outlet. However, the trail we’ve been following for a good 15 minutes doesn’t. In front of us stands a fence, which brings us all to a halt. To pass it, we must step around the side of the fence where we are only inches away from a 20-foot drop. I figure hey, if I fall, I can sue.
One by one, we slip around the fence like participants in a Survivor episode and continue our run until moments later when we are faced with a dead end. We turn around and put our noses to the ground in search of arrows that will lead us into a bear’s mouth or something. Startlingly, someone screams; another says she’s terrified. I look to see hashers standing at the bottom of a small hill facing a nine-foot leap, and others, already having made the jump, standing with arms open for flying hashers. Okay, I guess we have to jump. I hate heights. I throw myself onto Bushwacker below without a thought, to squelch my fear. He catches me on his belly and brings me safely to the pavement.
Now “fucks” are flying through the air. Menage Twat, a blond 53-year-old, is pissed. She is recovering from a stress fracture in her femur and jumping off a nine-foot drop is just not smart. The gentlemen-in-waiting try to coax her down while she flips this way and that, trying to figure out a way to climb down to safety. Rotten Whore hangs a leg over the edge, then pulls it back. While these two cluck and cringe, other hashers are slipping down the wall like eggs out of their shells. Then, like two crows sweeping in after a kill, the two virgins besides me, both dressed in all black, finally reach the hill and sigh, “This is an experience.”
When everyone has made it down, we take off again, winding through an alley and under a viaduct. I look over to see Virgin Banger giving me the eye. We soon hit another checkpoint on Ashland. Hashers dash across the street to look for arrows, paying no mind to the oncoming traffic. Next thing you know, our voices are echoing off the walls of a tunnel and our legs are taking us up stairs to a train platform. And here we find the boobs.
69-Cent Man is hollering at everyone, waving back all the men who ignored the boobs. He blows his whistle and chases after people to come back. Oddly, pretty much everyone trampled over the boobs, probably propelled by the thought of beer hiding somewhere along this trail. Take Bloody Thighs, a grade school teacher, for example. She got her name after one day in the woods—she was attacked by a tree during a Hash.
“I needed stitches but I had to get to the beer instead,” she says. “Some things you just have to forgo.”
Especially if you’re Horn-E. This 62-year-old, pony-tailed handyman (“I only fix what widows can’t fix themselves.”) started hashing in 1985 and hasn’t stopped since—even now his lower back burns from a bad wrench he first suffered in India a month before, during the World Wide Inter-Hash. In his hand, he holds his powder horn. I ask him if he wants me to hold it for him (as if the 10-ounce weight of the horn is just too much for his back).
“Oh no, I balance with this,” he says, smiling, and gives it a toot. I can’t help it, so I reach out to touch his horn, to take the horn out of his hand, and to my surprise, his grip fastens tight on it. Virgin blunder.
Jogging along Armitage, it’s been a little over an hour now and night has swept the sky. Hashers stop to window-shop. 69-Cent Man trots up to me out of nowhere and proclaims: “This is a game where there are no winners, only survivors.” Then he disappears ahead of me. As I catch up with the two window-shoppers—Canned Pussy and Bloody Thighs—a voice in the distance yells, “Beer Near!” I wonder aloud if I heard right and Bloody Thighs clarifies, “Well, they said it, but you can’t always believe a Hasher. You can only believe it when the beer meets your lips.” Then she lowers her voice, and with a dreamy look in her eye, she breathes, “But it just gets you salivating. It’s like ringing the bell for the dog.”
“Beer Near” materialized into a mid-run beer stop. Holding a beer in one hand, a hot buttered rum in the other and standing inches away from the pristine Chicago River, I admire the situation. Hare McTick and his girlfriend had this outdoor bar set up while we ran. Everyone is talking, laughing and enjoying the break. Someone throws a pretzel into the water for hungry ducks and everyone is happy. I’ve seen more secret parts of the city today than I have in any one day in the past five years of living here. Although I couldn’t tell you where in the hell we are, I know that I’m feeling good—endorphin high, liquor buzz, fresh air, fellow quirky folk. I’d like to call it a Hash Haze.
After everybody crushes their empty cans and cups into the garbage, we run a few more miles. Our total running distance is somewhere between five and six miles, apparently a much longer run than usual, according to the moaning Hashers. As for me, I would be fine, but the beer and rum put a little lead in my shoes. This running and drinking thing is definitely an acquired skill. Finally we reach our destination—Lottie’s (1925 W. Cortland)—where it’s about to get serious.
Hashers form a large circle, taking up a big section of the bar, and the Religious Advisor—Virtually Hung, of course—stands in the middle and leads the ceremony. First he asks for any announcements. 69-Cent Man rattles off an announcement about a Turkey Testicle Festival and others yell out news in between gulps of beer.
Virtually Hung then asks whom they haven’t seen for a while. Bushwacker and Soar Balls step into the circle. Suddenly the place bursts into song:
He’s the lamest, he sucks the horse’s anus.
He’s the lamest, he’s a horse’s ass.
Ever since he found it, all he does is pound it.
He’s the lamest, he’s a horse’s ass.
Drink it down, down, down, down…
“Down, down, down” is repeated until the offenders chug their beers to the last drop and flip the cup upside-down over their heads to prove they haven’t cheated.
Now they yell for the virgins. Before joining the other virgins in the circle, I make sure to pour myself a full glass of beer. As I walk in, I hear shouts of “Anne Slanders!” After grilling the other two virgins, Virtually Hung turns to me.
“Who are ya?!” he demands.
I say my name, almost inaudible to myself, and go to take a sip of my beer whereupon Horn-E grabs my arm and tells me that would be an offense of premature drinking. He also takes my hat off, another offense in the circle.
“Who made you come today?!” again, he demands.
I decide to bust out the editor of the Tap, who is trying to look inconspicuous outside the circle. I point at him and all the Hashers turn their heads to look at him hiding behind their sacred circle. They coax him into the circle, sing him a juicy one, and he chugs his beer like a champ and retreats.
And now it’s the virgins’ turn:
Here’s to the virgin
She’s true blue
She’s a hasher through and through
She’s a pisspot, so they say
She tried to go to heaven but she went the other way.
Drink it down, down, down…
And while I sip my full beer down, a lovely lady yells, “No one told her not to bring a full one!” I silently bless her as beer drips down my chin and my throat burns.
“Welcome to the Chicago Hash,” Virtually Hung says. “You’ll never have to do a ‘down, down’ again.” But, of course, that’s a lie. As long as you’re a Hasher, you will do “down, downs.” I’m on to you, Virtually Hung.
The circle of yelling, shouting and singing continues while my “down, down” buzz moves me to sing “Imagine” out loud. Mudsucker, the president of the CHHH, gets an earload of my voice and advises me to not become a singer. Mudsucker is a kind, round fellow with black hair and a moustache to match. He believes in the power of the HHH to bring people together. People of all different trades, races and general interests come together to delight in a life away from life.
“People are real here,” he says. I agree to what a beautiful thing that is, but what’s with the names? “All the names have double innuendos,” he says. And then brightly, “You’re potentially a Dear Flabby.” Oh, that’s nice. After smoothing out the sides of my sweatshirt and clenching my butt cheeks I ask:
“Mr. President, do you have any final words?”
He gives me a jolly smile and says, “Come back.”
I did go back—for a Christmas run. I got lost downtown and I kept running until I found the Hashers back at Mother Hubbard’s. I got some gifts from the Hash grab bag (an alien pen, a Turkey Testicle Festival cup and a hand-held M&M dispenser) and a few more gifts in a pint glass.
For those of you who wish to join the HHH for an afternoon or evening for the first time, don’t panic if you don’t have a clue as to what’s going on. And don’t be discouraged if you haven’t run since ‘82. Hashers are friendly and can be just as lazy and hungover as you. It’s not a competition. You’ll find your own enjoyment in Hashing, or not. If you think you’re too uptight, maybe you should try a Hash—loosen your ass up. Or tighten it, depending on how you want to look at it.
To learn more about
the Chicago Hash House Harriers:
Hash Line: 312.409.BEER