After being away for about three weeks, my roommate finally returned to the apartment. He greeted me warmly, kissed me on the cheek, and, in his quickfire Spanish, asked about my well being. I replied as well as I could. I had hoped that he would see a marked improvement in my Spanish skills – I’d had three weeks of lessons in the interim, after all, but our conversation was still limited, brief, and very much in the present tense.
Even though he is back, I don’t see Nathan a whole lot. He is often out, and usually only gets back in the wee hours of the morning, or he doesn’t come back at all. I am quite happy with the set up. We are not in each others’ way, and we are both quite tidy. It’s almost as if he’d never returned, with the only difference being that I don’t walk around the apartment naked as often as I used to.
I’m content. I now have five students, which is enough to allow me to live comfortably, while also giving me time for leisure. I’ve gotten back into running, and now several times per week I take to the streets and see what sights the city has to offer. It wasn’t long until I discovered a running club in Santiago called the Hash House Harriers.
I’d never heard of them before, but apparently they are a group that has branches all over the world. The idea is that people get together every fortnight, go for a run, and then end up at a bar where they drink and socialise. I liked the idea of finding a running club, so I went to find them when they had their next meeting – about seven weeks ago. I was a bit late leaving the apartment, and I got a bit disoriented trying to find the place, so I was late getting there. When I got close to the meeting point (a bar called Black Rock Pub), I encountered a group of people walking purposefully towards me. I quickly heard that they were speaking English, and when I asked if they were the Hash House Harriers they said they were and invited me to fall in with the group. The fellow who appeared to be the leader asked me if I wanted to run or walk. He pointed to a man a few meters ahead and told me that he was a runner. I had gone there with the intention of running, but at that stage I felt that it was more important just to meet people. I decided to walk with the crowd.
The fellow in the lead asked me my name, and he introduced himself as “Sir Acting Seaman,” which was his Hash nickname. I forget his real name. Well, Sir Acting Seaman was a stout, stooped figure, who moved along at a slow shuffle. He’s from “California and Oregon”, and he’s been living in Chile for twenty years. He’s also been a part of the Hash House Harriers for a really long time. So I stuck with him during the walk, and his slow gait put us far behind the others. But it wasn’t just us two. We were joined by a tiny Chilean man who spoke flawless American English. He’d spent some time in California, so he and Sir Acting Seaman would often talk about that. Sir Acting Seaman used to be in the navy, and he seemed to know a lot about flora and fauna. He referred to things in nature by their specific names. We spoke about walking and hiking, and he’d tell stories of walks he did in Chile or in California, and how he’d encounter things like “berry root” and other such things instead of just saying “bushes” or “trees” or “undergrowth.” He seemed like a nice guy. He spoke at a patient, pleasant pace. He had interesting things to say, and he didn’t complain about anything. He mentioned an ex wife and a daughter who became a vegetarian after working at MacDonald’s. He mentioned the Vietnam war and being conscripted into the navy. As we progressed, his breathing grew louder, and at times I feared that he might collapse. He was shorter than me, but he was broad and compact. He outweighed me by a long way, so there was no way I’d be able to carry him if he passed out.
The walk was interesting. It was in a classy part of Santiago that had been nicknamed Sanhatten, because of the way it tried to emulate Manhattan. We had to keep a lookout for chalk markings on the sidewalk telling us where to go, or patches of flour indicated we were going the right way. The trail took us around the Costanera Center, which is the tallest building in Chile, through a park, into a suburban area and then back to the bar where we’d started. When we got back, there was table lined with beer-filled plastic cups. I quietly bought myself a coke and went and stood near Sir Acting Seaman, who was chatting to a young guy who introduced himself as “Sploogebob Stained Pants, But You Can Call Me Stained Pants.”
There was a woman seated nearby who looked as if she’d drunk herself into a coma. She was laid right back in her chair, and her face was contorted into a grotesque grimace. I looked at her and thought to myself: “Here is someone who has let themselves go. Perhaps she’s homeless.”
A few moments later, I spotted an empty seat which happened to be near the drunken woman, so I went to sit there while I replied to a text message. The drunken woman turned to me and began speaking. Right away, I realised that I’d badly misread the situation. The woman was disabled. At first I thought that maybe she’d suffered a severe stroke. But then I thought it was perhaps a palsy of some sort. The flesh on the right side of her face was pulled downward, and her speech was laboured and difficult to understand. Miraculously, I managed to understand the first thing she said. I say miraculously because her struggled, half-formed words were in Spanish, and I understood what they meant. She’d asked me my name. I introduced myself, and when she spoke again, I didn’t understand, and I asked her to repeat the question. I apologetically told her in Spanish that I didn’t speak the language, and then she switched to English and asked where I was from. I told her, and then she said that her name was Vanessa. At least, that’s what I believe she said. It was difficult to make out her words, and I didn’t want to ask her to repeat herself too often. It was what she said next that really surprised me. She lifted one poorly-coordinated arm and gestured to Sir Acting Seaman, who was sitting nearby, and said with much difficulty, “I’m his wife.”
I wondered about their relationship. Here was this woman who needed assistance in walking (as I later observed), and who fought to communicate, and required patience to be understood. And she was united with a man who fell behind when people walked, who struggled to lift his feet, and who couldn’t stand erect because his back evidently troubled him.
It made me sad to think about this. But the Hash House Harriers treated them both as equals, and I got the impression that Vanessa and Sir Acting Seaman both valued the presence of the Hash House Harriers, who accepted them as part of their family.
Even though it’s a worldwide organisation, this branch of the Hash House Harriers seemed to value drinking far more than running. They were crude, and politically incorrect, and they poked fun at each other. But all the regulars seemed to enjoy it a lot. Someone led the ceremony by calling on some people to drink for various reasons (the trail was “poorly organised,” so the organisers had to drink. All the new people had to drink. Everyone who’d missed a meeting recently had to drink…). There were all sorts of crude songs and complex rituals and special rules. It felt like I was observing a totally different culture. I learned that at your fifth meeting you get given your nickname, and on this particular day a woman from California was given her nickname (Pussy911). The naming ritual involved her kneeling on the ground and having beer poured over her head. During the ceremony, a fit-looking, middle-aged man from San Diego, who was already drunk, came over and kept talking to me about the Hash House Harriers. His repeated mantra was basically “The Hash House Harriers are friendly to everyone. Some clubs are more focused on running; some are more focused on drinking.” He repeated those points over and over to me a lot while I was trying to listen to what the people in the middle of the circle were saying.
“In San Diego, where I’m from,” said the fit American, “they have Hash meetings on a daily basis.”
In the middle of the circle, someone was being called to drink because he’d pointed with his finger instead of his elbow.
“In fact,” continued the fit man, “there are several Hashes that you can go to in San Diego. It just depends what you’re looking for…”
The other people in the circle had begun to sing a crude rewording of “Amazing Grace.”
“Some Hashes are for families, some are for people who just like running, some are for people who just like drinking. There are even some for people who just wanna hook up, ya know?”
At that point, I wasn’t sure if the Hash House Harriers was something I’d want to get involved in. Most of the members seemed to be older than 40, and they took the drinking thing a little too seriously for my liking. But once the ceremonies were over and people could just talk and mingle, I wound up chatting to some people who were all really friendly. I spoke to the short Chilean man, whose name I didn’t get. I could also give my full attention to the fit American, whose name was Steven. I didn’t get a chance to ask him if it was Steven or Stephen, but since he’s from the States, I suspect it was Steven. I spoke to Pussy911 and her husband, whose name I also didn’t get. They’ve been living here for a year and a half, and when I left they expressed a desire to see me again at the next meeting. I also met Michelle, who is from Vermont, and Stephanie, who is from Boston. They were just travelling through, but they are part of the Hash House Harriers back home, so they joined this one for the day. Before I left I went to the bathroom, and as I was heading down the stairs Michelle came up behind me. I asked her where the bathroom was and she pointed the way. She was going there too, and she kind of overtook me as we walked. I had this idea that there was one unisex toilet, so when I saw the sign for the men’s room I remarked, “Oh there’s a guy’s toilet. Otherwise I was going to fight you for the bathroom.” She smiled and went into her toilet, and about three seconds later she pulled the door open and said to me, “You would have lost that fight!”
That made me laugh. Partly because it was a funny response, and partly because it had taken her a few seconds to think of it.
When I came back out, Michelle and I spoke for a bit longer. The incident at the toilet had been a real ice breaker, and so we spoke about more obscure silly things instead of the usual “Where are you from? How long have you been living here?” kind of questions.
So even though I was a bit skeptical of the Hash House Harriers at first, the afternoon ended well, and even as I was leaving I’d already resolved to attend the next one.
Fortunately, Ariana came with me to the next one. Having a friend there gave me more confidence, and since I’d been to a meeting before, I knew what to expect and was more at ease. Ariana and I took a slow run, and we were guided along by a Frenchman calling himself GB. GB seemed to have a sincere desire to bring more laughter and happiness into the world. During the run, he wore a clown’s nose, and he’d wave to passersby in an attempt to make them smile. He was always cheerful and talkative (despite his heavy lisp), and seemed to genuinely enjoy life. He was good company.
Just after the run, Steven, the fit American from San Diego, came over to talk to us. He was sober this time around, and I introduced him to Ariana.
“This your first Hash?” He asked. When he asked that, I knew with sudden certainty what he was going to say next.
“No, this is my first time,” said Ariana.
“In San Diego, where I’m from, said Steven, “they have Hash meetings on a daily basis.” It was happening. Drunk or not, Steven was going into his spiel.
“Over there they have a Hash every day. Sometime more than one a day. It all depends what you’re looking for, ya know. There are Hashes for people who want to run, or for people who want to drink, or for families, or for people who just want to hook up….” At this last comment, he looked pointedly at Ariana, who fought the urge to shudder. It occurred to me that I should probably intercede, so what I did was walk away to fetch more beer. I knew Ariana could look after herself.
There was another naming ceremony, during which GB got his Hash name (the name escapes me at the moment).
At one point Steven, the fit American, announced that he was going to put on a clean shirt, because he’d gotten sweaty from the run. He came back later, topless, with a fresh shirt draped over his shoulder. He remained that way for about twenty minutes before putting it on properly. The man was certainly body-proud.
Sadly, Steven wasn’t at the third run, which took place last weekend. That meeting was held in an expansive local park, where we had a barbecue and a cooler full of beer. By this point I was becoming accustomed to the Hash. I knew people there, and people greeted me by my name when I arrived. It’s not always the same people at every meeting, but there is always someone interesting to talk to.
It was a good meeting. I ran it properly for the first time, and afterwards we had a barbecue. Someone cooked a hot dog-type snack called churripan, and I ate copiously. I’m really glad to be a part of this little, loud, crude, drunk family. I look forward to many more Hash meetings in the future.