Mine is the only car in the University High School parking lot. I"m slumped low in the driver"s seat, hopeful that no one wanders by as I struggle to climb into a pair of pajama bottoms. My heart is racing. I don"t want to have to explain what I"m doing, because there"s no way in hell anybody would buy it.
"Officially, we are a drinking club with a running problem." -Blown Ranger
I"ve been trying to catch up with the IndyScent Hash House Harriers for some time now, and with the exception of a few rogue e-mails, I"m not having much luck. A decidedly eccentric running clique, the hashers have an aversion to punctuality that borders on absenteeism. Today, we are going to run through the wilds of Hamilton County in our pajamas, drinking beer along the way, except that everybody"s late. Everybody. I"m on the verge of packing it in when a car finally rolls into the lot. The young man who emerges ambles over and offers his hand by way of introduction. "Smell This," he says. Old shoes, some songs, a lot of beer Loosely based on the British children"s game Hares and Hounds, hashing is a bastard"s mix of hedonism, trail running, lusty singing, spirited drinking and orienteering that by most accounts owes its existence to a group of ex-pat Limeys killing time in what is now Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Over the last 60-plus years, the rules have changed little. Competitive behavior is frowned upon, as are new shoes, color coordination, technology or really any mannerisms bearing a semblance of decorum or sensibility. On the other hand, beer drinking and song singing, sporadically during the run and with gusto after it, are relished. Using your "mother-given name," I learn, is a faux pas of grand magnitude with hashers. "It," as the well-heeled hasher may tell you, "is just not done." Stick around long enough and you"re re-christened with a "hash name," usually after your sixth event. Each name is individually significant, by which, of course, I mean uncouth, inelegant or unrefined. Hashers wear their names with pride, like wrestlers with cauliflower ears. Actually, the Indy group wears theirs like necklaces. Lettered tiles drape around each member"s neck like a name tag. Because, you know, after meeting someone named Areola Show or Live Long and Pork Me, you might need a reminder. "No, don"t tell me," you might fumble. "It"s Areola something, right? Pork Sandwich?" "Officially, we are a drinking club with a running problem," says Blown Ranger, a 30-year-old systems administrator who"s the elected leader of this gaggle. "In the hash, no one judges you on what you do for a living or how much money you have. You"re truly an equal. You are welcome with open arms. You don"t even need to be a runner." Which makes it my kind of running club. Blown Ranger has been hashing with the IndyScent group for a little over a year. "Most people will tell you that they love to hash because it"s a way for them to step outside of themselves and let it all hang out. I"m a little different. I really am this immature." And as he"s addressing me in earnest while wearing a T-shirt with a cartoon character emblazoned across the front, I find no reason to doubt him. The game itself is simple. Two runners, called hares, are given a 10-minute head start to mark a trail using flour, toilet paper and chalk. Using deception and "shiggy" - natural obstacles, the messier, viler and more dangerous the better - the hares will try to keep the pack off their tail. Every so often, the pack will come upon a checkpoint, indicated by a circle with an "X" through it, and the trail will split off in several directions. Only one is the true trail. The more fit, front runners - front running bastards or FRBs in hash parlance - will often run twice as far as the more pedestrian members as they chase down the false trails at check points. Meanwhile, back at the parking lot Entirely at their leisure, about 20 hashers eventually congregate in the parking lot. Sporting interpretations of sleepwear that are most easily categorized as stolen from Goodwill, lumberjack chic or "Hey, sailor, you looking for a good time?" few of them seem even remotely aware that we"re already a half-hour off schedule. None seem inclined to care. "Hash time," explains Smell This, who turns out to be a 24-year-old stock analyst from Chicago. He"s on his way to spend the weekend with his parents in Evansville and, although he"s never met anyone with the Indy group, decided to squeeze in a hash while en route. "That"s actually one of the great things about hashing," says 3 1/2 Inch Floppy, a graduate student in computer science, whose frustrated attempts to have his name enlarged to 5 1/4 Inch Floppy haven"t kept him from coming back. "Wherever you go, you can look up the local group and have a waiting group of friends to meet." Apparently satisfied that procrastination has received due diligence, Blown Ranger gives the word and the co-hares, Tits 4 Tots, who will play hostess at the post-run festivities, and Hot N Juicy, grand master of the Blooming Fools chapter in Bloomington, are off, flour sacks in hand. A generous 10 minutes later, whooping and hollering, the pack heads north, looking for all the world like a fire drill at dress rehearsal for a production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo"s Nest. It doesn"t take long for the group to stratify. After about 20 minutes we"ve covered about a mile. The FRBs are out front, where they belong, tackling the heavy lifting, chasing down false trails and marking the correct path with chalk. Not so far back, the main group stays close on the heels of the FRBs, but not so close as to have to actually run down any false trails. Conservation of energy is well-appreciated by hashers. Bringing up the rear is a group of walkers. "Are you?" we shout to the FRBs at each check, asking if they are on the true trail yet. "Checking," comes back the reply. "Checking." And then the shout of discovery, "On, on!" We"re off again, the trail re-found. Crossing a country road, the group parts to allow a car through, but instead of passing on, the driver, an elderly woman with two small children in the back seat, stops and rolls down her window. "You know, in California you"d get a ticket for this," she admonishes. And, even though none of us are sure what exactly it is she"d like to see us ticketed for, she, at least, is satisfied that she"s done her bit to put a stop to these shenanigans and heads off. Her reaction is greeted with a thunderous round of disinterested shrugs, but it isn"t entirely out of place. We"re encountering craned necks and looks of disbelief around each new corner. But things get downright surreal as we turn into the Village of West Clay. It"s deathly still but perfectly manicured, as if the whole town had spontaneously dropped dead, but not before summoning the landscape crew one last time. "Did he make a good-looking corpse?" they"ll ask at the funeral. "I don"t know," comes the reply. "I couldn"t take my eyes off the hedges." We"re three blocks into the subdivision before we catch our first sign of non-botanical life. A mother and father, their young child protectively huddled behind them, take a few tentative steps out onto their porch to warily ask if we are looking for a lost child. "Nope," yells Hey Wanna Get an A, a 29-year-old teacher. "We"re looking for some friends of ours. Dressed a lot like us?" Inquisitively, with a straight face. He"s clearly enjoying their angst. Mud, brambles, darkness On the opposite side of West Clay, we find a check that indicates the hares have hidden a bag o" beer nearby. Some poking around in tall grass produces the booty and we quickly introduce ass to ground to catch our breath and knock a few back. The pack reassembles around the beer as the slower members catch up and then grab a cold one. We"ve got to finish the beer before we can continue. Seriously. It"s a rule. "I"d so much rather be out searching for my beer around strange neighborhoods than sitting on my butt in a smoky bar, you know?" Jump On Jump Off, 24, is a computer programmer with a taste for active, rugged activities. She also plays with the Indianapolis women"s rugby team. "The people are part of why I come back, but it"s also the crazy adventures of running through the woods and streams and over railroad trusses and highways. It"s fun to bring new people out and see them experience it for the first time." Beer consumed and breath caught, we"re back to the task at hand, but soon find ourselves hopelessly derailed in a cornfield. The trail is nowhere to be found and all the trudging through the farmer"s yard has sent the dogs into a foaming-mouthed tizzy. I make a mental note to send a thank you card to the inventors of invisible fencing. Eventually, someone stumbles onto the trail again, which, predictably, has been right under our noses the whole time. The trek though the muck of the cornfield is messy and slow. Worse yet, the sun is setting, which isn"t going to make tracking the flour any easier. Heading south now, we are clearly on the home stretch. We"ve put the cornfields and some soccer pitches behind us and are now negotiating our way over a barbed wire fence. I"m gassed, so I"m taking the opportunity to hold the fence down as the others scamper over. A hasher from the Blooming Fools group, Just Misha (the "Just" designation is used by anyone who hasn"t earned a hash name yet), leads us into a field thick with brambles. She"s wearing a black negligee from Victoria"s Secret that clearly was never meant to be a trail-running uniform. Just Misha is on her sixth run, so maybe the excitement of getting her hash name tonight is spurring her on, but her legs look to have kissed every bramble in the field. She"s bleeding - stoically, but profusely. Somewhere along the line we dash, waist deep, through a stream and then, finally, through a muddy field so wet that it sucks the shoes off my feet twice. I am a mess. I"m exhausted and I"ve never been so happy to see a parking lot in my entire life. We"ve covered less than 5 miles and it"s taken us two hours. It"s pitch dark. Down-downs at the on-after A short drive later, we"ve reconvened at the home of Tits 4 Tots, Tots to her friends. Most of us have changed clothes; everyone else is taking turns hosing themselves off out front. A keg is being fetched, and Blown Ranger is setting up the traditional post-hash rituals, where we will all gather in a circle for down-downs, the drinking of beers for offenses real or imagined, mostly imagined; the singing of songs, ribald, lusty-throated songs of the sort that make pirates blush; and a naming ceremony for Just Misha. "I always thought the expression "falling out of" was just an expression," Tots says, recounting the origins of her own hash name. "One time I had an unfortunate experience ... I was leading, so the rest of the pack didn"t see the one that jumped free, but the two 12-year-old boys riding their motor scooter did ..." Experience-wise, Tots is an elder of the IndyScent group. She"s been hashing for a couple of years, and has pursued the flour as far as Denmark, Sweden and Norway. "Hash etiquette is something best learned over time," she tells me. "It"s about being non-competitive and being respectful to other hashers, while still pushing the limits. While a lot of the hash songs and traditions involve some profanity or even nudity, that does not necessarily mean the other hashers are going to appreciate tons of random lewd behavior. Some wild fun goes on periodically, but it"s still predominately a family and friends atmosphere." Blown Ranger has finally collected the family and friends into a circle in the front yard and, at his urging, the down-downs start in earnest. Hares? Down a beer. From another hash group? Down a beer. First timer? Down a beer. I am accused of chivalrous behavior for helping people over the fence and quickly sentenced to down a beer. Every beer goes down with a serenade. "Why are we waiting? We could be fornicating. Drink it down, down, down, down, down, down, down, down, down ..." Then: the naming. After much discussion, some argument, a beer break and then some more discussion, Just Misha is pegged Follow the Bleeder. Hoopla, much cheering and the splashing of beer. Soon thereafter, I"m calling it a night - just as the hashers seem to be hitting their stride. As I walk back to my car, I can still hear Follow the Bleeder being honored with the singing of the traditional birthday tune: "Happy hash day, fuck you. Happy hash day, fuck you."