Former 2:24 marathoner, now in my late 40s and hoping to maximally flatten the curve of my slide into senescence and mediocrity • Magazine writer, book editor and author, and commentator on the sport of distance running since 1999 • Adviser and confidant of other perambulators • Paradoxical hater of exercise fanatics • Chihuahua whisperer Sentence-fragment impresario

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The best of heckling

Anyone who's been a regular runner for even a few years, let alone several decades, is inclined to ponder the most unusual episode of heckling he or she has ever endured -- especially former itinerants like me who have tarried in some version of every conceivable U.S. subculture. I draw the line here short of actual physical confrontations, which merit their own category, and focus instead on exchanges that end, if not entirely benignly, with no one beaten up or jailed or finding a brand-new, brick-shaped hole in the rear windshield of his pickup truck.

While I could name countless instances of aggression and stupidity that pissed me off, most of these were prosaic, usually involving nothing more than sullen primates operating vehicles under the lash of generations of pernicious inbreeding having their say en route to a gun show. Instead, I'll focus on two that stand out as 1) extremely strange, and 2) extremely funny (but also strange).

In the first, which took place in Hanover, N.H. in the cold-as-grampas's-nutsack winter of 1995-1996, I was doing a de-stressing, post-final-physiology-exam run after dark on, I want to say, Etna Road. I don't have to tell you a thing you don't already know about that road. I note this not because I think you're familiar with it; I'm just emphasizing that I don't have to tell you about it, or, for that matter, anything else. Anyway, I guess it was still technically fall since that term's exams ended shortly before the 21st or 22nd of December. The salient point about the time of year is that it was extremely cold, and windy too, and I had started the run like an idiot, launching right into what might have been six-minute pace in a sleep-deprived state rather than easing into the task. That ruined the run, which was already going to be unpleasant given the conditions.

I was about halfway through an eight-mile loop when a car approaching from the other direction crested a hill maybe 100 yards ahead of me. I was running on a pretty narrow shoulder, facing traffic like I was supposed to, and wearing a rather dark -- or at least drab -- sweatshirt, like I wasn't supposed to. Ordinarily, I would have assumed that no one driving well after sundown on a street with few overhead lights could see me well, if at all, and edged a few feet off the shoulder to allow him to pass. In this instance, though, I was, well, sort of in dickhead mode, and elected to try to occupy the approximately eight-inch-wide strip between the white line and the frozen dirt without breaking stride at all. The driver zipped past, but then I heard his engine wind down and back up again and saw his headlights illuminating the tree line in front of me: he'd turned around.

Great, now comes some stupid shit, I thought. There were no other cars within sight, and only a couple of houses within a tenth of a mile or so either way.

But what happened was not threatening but comical in an uncomfortable sort of way. The driver slowed his Taurus-like vehicle to my pace on the other side of Etna Road, unrolled his window, and bellowed, "I can barely see ya, ya fuckin' asshole! Ya need to have somethin' shiny!"

Except that his voice wasn't a bellow. It was the most nasal falsetto shriek I have ever heard from an adult male in my life. The guy sounded like Emo Phillips on helium and meth. I was absolutely certain the driver was a classmate or member of the Dartmouth track and cross-country team who was hamming it up, and I was actually prepared to offer an apology. But from what I could see from 20 feet away, it was a stranger, some guy who looked almost exactly like Ed Helms, or, more accurately, looked like what Ed Helms would look like a decade later in The Office.

Had I been feeling less churlish, I probably would have either offered him a token wave acknowledging fault or just ignored him. Instead, I countered, without breaking stride, "Well, you can fuckin' see me, cancha?" Yes, signs that this was not going to be the best example of clever repartee existed in abundance.

The guy accelerated, but then stopped to turn around again to head back in his original direction. Either out of courtesy or convenience, I chose this interlude to switch my mobile misanthropy unit to the other side of the road until he'd gotten clear of the area. When he passed by for the second time, having left his window unrolled, he continued his screechy tirade concerning the need for me to indulge in favorable applications of electromagnetics and optics.

"Wear somethin' reflective, ya fucker! Asshole!"

He seemed to be growing angrier by the moment even though I was doing nothing more to add to his burden of ire, as if his mind were operating about 15 seconds in arrears of the rest of the world. Then, with a final, furious cry of "Ya gonna get KILLED!" he was gone.

As I read over that now, the time-worn "You had to be there" comes to mind, because this really was a pretty funny episode, even if I can't portray it as such, not without telling you that I'm watching porn with one eye and committing self-abuse as I type this. The guy had acted like someone had bet him $100,000 to do a passable impersonation of Gilbert Gottfried on angel dust, and he'd gotten 80 oercent of it right but flunked the rest for lack of basic comic talent.

The second of these two unusually funny-strange heckling events remains my favorite, by a couple of noses, mainly because the differences between the situations were all favorable to the one that occurred about two and a half years after Be Reflective, Ya Fucker. This bit of hijinks unfolded in my hometown of Concord during rush hour on a summer day on North State Street, one of the busiest roads in the city then and now. I was running north along a sidewalk on the west side of the road, next to Blossom Hill Cemetery (which I certainly don't have to describe to you, ya fuckin' assholes). About a mile from my girlfriend's apartment, above the considerable din of the traffic, I heard a classic roar from my right:


I turned, expecting to see someone in a 1913 Dodge Ram and missing a few chompers. Instead, on the other side of the street and therefore also headed north, I saw a gleaming late-model SUV: maybe a Pathfinder, maybe a Faggotfinder, I'm not good with cars. The salient point is that a man in a plain white shirt and dark tie of perhaps 30 to 35 was all but hanging out the driver's window as his car eased forward in bumper-to-bumper traffic that was doing maybe 15 miles an hour, looking right at me instead of the road, albeit behind old Tom Cruise-style RayBans of GayBans or something similar, I'm bad with eyewear. He was grinning from ear to ear, proud of having created a more urbane runner-hectoring presentation. He kind of looked like Vince Vaughn would look years later, in Holy Shit - This Movie Sucks! 

But the best part was the guy's two young...children? Hostages? Props? who were gazing solemnly out the rear driver's side window, heads together, eyes wide and, well, childlike, committing the important details of the faggot to memory: shirtless, sweaty, and impossibly debonair, although that last aspect was probably lost on them. They both looked like girls, I remember.

"LOOKING GOOD, FAG!" he yelled once more.

And like that -- poof -- he and his car were gone.

I decided not long after this excellent event occurred that the person driving the SUV could not have been a stranger. He was probably someone I'd gone to high school with and not seen in the ten years since we'd both graduated, and between the surprise factor, the sunglasses, the brevity of the exchange, and the 30 or so feet between us, I was unable to place him. I have a hard time believing that someone I had never met, who looked like he was driving home from his job as assistant to the headmaster at the local prep school or maybe as a Bank of New Hampshire loan officer, would call me a vulgar name with his two youngsters in the back seat, and in a way that was noticeable to a significant number of other pedestrians and motorists.

But I can still hope it was true.


  1. I didn't blog it but looked through my old online log and found the details.

    18 degrees.
    8 miles (Haverhill) 58:37.

    "Haverhill roads w/ DD, the brothers Quintal, and the Whirlaway Mahoney. I got hit in the shoulder with a full cup of coke from McDonalds during a drive-by. "

    The more detailed explanation was that I was tucked into a nice pack w/ Dunham, the Quintals, and Chris Mahoney...opposite side of the road in a 'quieter' part of Haverhill / Ward Hill area when a car came by about 90 mph from behind us and hurled a full XL cup of ice and coke that hit me square in the right shoulder. The ice exploded over my head and for a second I thought I had gotten hit with just a huge snowball or iceball...but then the cup soon followed all the ice, and a shower of black soda that made me feel for a split second like I had won some big sporting event and my players were showering me with championship awesomeness. But alas, it was just running at about 7 minute pace while also getting hit with a super-sized coke from obvious Obama voters. It was pretty shocking but I was proud of the way I handled it. I only cried AFTER I got back to my car.

    1. The most surreal part about that story is that the brothers Quintal were both capable of running 7:00 pace for an hour at the same time, in the same place. These days, the Brothers Grimm or the Pointer Sisters would be a better bet to pull that off.

      I'm surprised Dave didn't pick the cup up and throw it right back. He doesn't stand for any baloney. He really won't, you know.

    2. Nice Weird Science reference. I see what you did right there....

    3. Let's keep that between us. I wouldn't want to lose my teaching job.

    4. ...those hills have eyes...

      What school in hell gave you a teaching job?

  2. Hey Beck I remember You talking about the second heckling a while back in your long history of writing somewhere and I thought it was a rather interesting heckling occurrence so I remembered it. It sounds so crazy which makes it extremely funny. I have deduced that he is a New Hampshire Republican who came from a very redneck family and was the first in his family to go to college and get a degree and a well paying job. Got married to a rather smarter woman and wound up with a couple girls. Problem is everyone in the house disagrees with him on all his views. Daughters probably call him names like dummie head from the back seat. Probably jealous of you because you were enjoying the freedom of a good run. His Daughters went right to their Mom shortly after and preceded to report this incident. He was immediately reprimanded and felt weakened and frustrated. All his energy gone and this possible former runner's dreams of starting a running program the following weekend turned into just dreams. Tired and hurt from his Wife reprimanding him about his always delusional concepts and losing his manhood he copes by immediately planning his weekend which will include beer and going somewhere way in the woods to self loathe and shoot at rabbits. As he is coming out off the trail to his SUV traffic slows to see the one rabbit he got and his rifle. And for a minute to him it seems all worth it. But unless You are way up in Alaska and living there is no such thing as hunting. Fishing still exists in New England. True hunting doesn't. When I run along the trails along the Quabbin most of the time I have to slow down on sprints to let the deer pass by. It would be a lot more ethical for hunters to leave their guns at home and go in the woods instead of using these crazy tech guns and pick out the deer they want and have a vet from an animal clinic shoot at the deer from a tower with a tranquilizer. The State could still earn revenue by selling photos and even T-Shirts from Aerial imaging that shows the proud hunter with a nice photo of him/her standing next to the deer before it is tranquilized.

  3. laughing out loud in a library... that's what I'm doing gdamit

  4. “Which way to Munich!”
    Yelled out on Painter Hill circa 1977.
    Someone in a Vending truck.

  5. Hey Beck hope your running is going great! Unfortunately bad news though as the 1988 NH State Indoor Track Meet and it's results have been disqualified by The Southern Poverty Running Law Center. Please call up Chris Basha and please let him know as that would be the nice thing to do. If he gives you a hard time tell him to shush and that the meet never happened. Thanks!

  6. Hey Beck! What's going on here? At the 2018 Amherst 10 Miler in Amherst MA, place number 22 is Cat Beck winner. When you were at Bryant did you perhaps run in the woods of Smithfield and get attacked by a female mountain lion? You said you were drinking pretty heavy back then so anything is possible man. Hope your alright man.