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Authors: Chris Crutcher

Ironman

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Chris Crutcher

Ironman

In memory of my mom—
1922–1994

Contents

Chapter 1

Dear Larry,

Chapter 2

Dear Larry,

Chapter 3

Dear Lar,

Chapter 4

Lion pushes through the side door to the Industrial Arts…

Chapter 5

As he snaps his bicycle lock onto the bike rack…

Chapter 6

Ian Wyrack shouts across the parking lot outside Doc's Drive-Inn,…

Chapter 7

Bo gently pumps the brakes as his mother's Blazer approaches…

Chapter 8

“Stotan: a cross between a Stoic and a Spartan,” Bo…

Chapter 9

“God, sometimes I just hate my dad,” Bo says. He…

Chapter 10

Dear Larry,

Chapter 11

“Mom, would you tell me something?” Bo sits on the…

Chapter 12

Dear Larry,

Chapter 13

“I'm telling you, Shelly, these guys don't know they're sled…

Chapter 14

“I think I got us a project,” Shuja says to…

Chapter 15

Bo packs his gear carefully into the back of the…

Chapter 16

Bo pedals into the riverside park area serving as the…

Epilogue

Dear Larry,

 

TO:
Larry King

RE:
Exclusive rights to an hour-long interview immediately prior to publication of the soon-to-be highly-sought-after memoirs of our country's future premier Ironman, Beauregard Brewster, in the year of his quest to conquer the field in Yukon Jack's Eastern Washington Invitational Scabland Triathlon.

OCTOBER 10

Dear Larry,

At 4:30 each morning I awaken to your voice. I lie transfixed until five—when I haul my aching body out
of the sack for another in a series of infinite workouts—listening to the wise men and loons of yesterday's airways deliver opinions on everything from the hole in the ozone layer (it covers an area larger than the United States) to antidepressants (Dick Cavett and Patty Duke swear by them; Scientologists swear at them) to racism (you smell out racial prejudice like my father smells out Democrats) to the most effective methods to forever rid oneself of fat globules and cellulite (there aren't any) to the whereabouts of Elvis (Jeffrey Dahmer ate him). What I like about you is, you listen. You interview politicians and movie stars and musicians and every kind of hero and villain. And authors. When you are finally accorded the privilege of reaching across the mike to shake my sweaty hand, I'll be one of those. It's gonna be a career-making interview, Larry, and to give you full opportunity for the preparation it deserves, I've decided to leak the memoirs to you as they happen.

I am aware from your numerous comments that you have not long been such a prudent caretaker of your physical self (your heart attack set you in the right direction) and may not know that a triathlete (AKA Ironman) is a swimming, bicycling, running lunatic, willing and able to cover great distances at high speeds while enduring extreme physical pain. That's me, Lar, and you shall be privy to the circumstances surrounding my voyage beyond human
physical limits in my crusade to finish Yukon Jack's E. W. Invitational Scabland extravaganza alive, and well ahead of all competitors under voting age. You should know that Yukon Jack's is not your run of the mill, rapid-stroll-through-hell event. Distances in a normal, Olympic-length triathlon are such that participants spend approximately twice as much time cycling as they do running or swimming, giving a definite edge to the good bikers. But Yukon Jack, AKA Jack McCoy, is a two-time English Channel swimmer and a three-time finisher of the Western States 100-mile ultra-marathon, and he's the first person to tell you he thinks most cyclists are more interested in displaying their tight, multicolored costumes than they are in “gettin' down to some real physical exercise,” so he shaved their edge off this particular event by doubling the swimming distance and halving the biking distance. All that works to my advantage because I love to train swimming and running, but whenever I ride a bike more than three blocks, I feel the need for major surgery to remove that skinny little seat.

Unfortunately, to reach the physical, spiritual, and emotional heights required to conquer this event, I must also endure my regular life and the mortals who would stand in my way. One of those mortals, not the greatest nor the least, would be Keith Redmond, my English teacher
and the head football coach at Clark Fork High School. Redmond has not forgiven my cardinal sin of walking out on the football team on the second day of two-a-days this year because I took issue—quite vocally, I have to admit—with his practice of public humiliation as a motivator. I'm a bit on the skinny side, though I like to call it wiry, so you wouldn't think by looking at me that any football coach would spend more than fifteen seconds grieving my departure, but I've got some sticky fingers when it comes to hauling in the old pigskin, and Redmond was expecting league-leading numbers out of me this season. So when I took my eyes off a ball I should have caught, because I was burrowing into the grass to avoid crippling whiplash at the hands of Kyle Gifford—who mounts on his bedroom wall pictures of
teammates
whose seasons he has ended—Redmond stormed into my face, battering at my chest as if his index finger were a woodpecker, and demanded at maximum decibels for me to declare my gender. It was our third confrontation of the day, so I told him I was a sissy and he was an asshole, and I threw down my helmet and headed for the showers.

Looking back it was probably an overreaction, but I don't do well with degradation, and that isn't likely to change. I could have saved myself a lot of grief if I'd transferred out of Coach's Senior English class because
he makes no secret about what he thinks of quitters, but I thought I owed it to him to hang around and torment him a little. It was a bad idea.

 

This morning Mr. Serbousek stepped into the hall between second and third periods, motioning me into his classroom. He said, “Congratulations, Brewster, you're over the top. You have my unofficial county record.”

Damn
. “Redmond got me suspended.” It was not a question.

“Looks that way.”

“How long?”

Mr. S said, “Indefinitely.”

“That's a long time.”

“You want the exit speech?”

“About holding my temper?”

He nodded.

“About accountability? About being seventeen years old and an infinitesimal quarter-step from adulthood?” I squinted, indicating an infinitesimal quarter-step between my thumb and forefinger. “About being held responsible for my own actions? Managing my impulses?”

Mr. S smiled. “If anyone asks, tell them
I
said those things.”

“Affirmative, sir. You certainly have your work cut out
for you.”

“Meaning?”

“I've got you beat for
number
of suspensions in the county within recorded history, but you're still ahead on total days. If I'm out more than nine, I'm the undisputed county champ. You'd lose esteem.”

“Records were made to be broken,” he said. “I'm mature now, my challenges lie in different arenas. That one stood more than eight years, a record in itself. Don't count on me this time, buddy. My act is wearing thin around here as far as you're concerned. Be prepared to kiss some unsavory butts to get out of this one.”

I said, “The law says they owe me an education.”

“But it doesn't say what kind. That education could consist of home tutoring two hours a day with Mrs. Conroy.”

A sobering thought for me, Larry. Conroy's been voted Female Teacher Most Likely to Take a Life three years running. The woman can't teach a lick; they'd be killing two birds with one stone. Better polish my pucker.

“Bo,” Mr. Serbousek said as I reached the door.

“Yeah?”

“Did you really use the A-word again?”

I was unrepentant, Mr. King. “Yes sir, I did.”

He shook his head slowly. “Why?”

“Short and to the point, sir, like you teach us in
Journalism. You know, ‘Why use a rambling phrase when a simple one-word description will do?' As true for spoken language as it is for the written word.”

At my locker, I stuffed my backpack with enough textbooks to keep me busy “indefinitely” and headed for the bike rack to collect my mountain bike. I probably should have just split, but I couldn't resist circling the main building three times, no hands, turning sideways on the seat and spreading my arms wide—crucifixion-style—as I passed the windows of Redmond's classroom. Then I coasted out onto the neighborhood street and headed toward the two-lane.

My ouster came at an opportune time, actually. I was due at work at my janitorial job at the Clark Fork Free Press by six and had been juggling time like crazy to squeeze in a workout. So I reset the chronograph on my watch, snapped the plastic clasp of my backpack tight around my waist, and leaned onto the handlebars, knowing I could ride hard for a good hour and a half, stop up at the university weight room for an hour, and still take a leisurely whirlpool before picking up my little brother at the day care and depositing him at home. Life was good, Larry.

When Mom and Dad find out about the suspension, life will become bad.

I focused my thoughts on this morning's confrontation
with Redmond and pedaled hard into the long incline just past the city limits on the south side of town. Clark Fork, a town of less than ten thousand if you don't count the university population, sits near the southwest border of Spokane County, about seventeen miles outside the “big city.” If not for Clark Fork University, it would probably be just another conservative eastern Washington wheat town believing in the universal sanctity of bearing arms, but the staff of the university carries equal weight with the NRA lobby, and according to
Spokane
magazine it's probably one of the most politically and environmentally well-balanced spots in the state.

Fall here is my favorite time of year. Rolling wheat fields stretch to a golden infinity, and a cool wind pressed against my face as my knobby tires hummed over the smooth blacktop. I won't ride the mountain bike in Yukon Jack's—I have a racer for that—but it's great for training; for one thing, the seat is wider and softer and does not extend three feet into my large intestine.

As the incline steepened, I increased my rhythm, welcoming the burning in my thighs. I'm able to endure these monster workouts because I welcome physical pain when struggles at school or home heat up. I understand physical pain; I can control it.

Sometimes I think the Redmonds of the world were put
here for no reason other than to test me. I mean, I never see that guy coming. Here he is this morning, fingering through the stack of Senior Comp papers
most
of us just turned in. He gazes at us over his reading glasses. “Miss Clairborne,” he says, “your paper seems to be missing.”

“I gave it to you yesterday, remember?” Annie Clairborne says. “I didn't know if I'd be here today, and I wanted to be sure you didn't mark it late.”

“Indeed you did, young lady,” Redmond says back, like some kindly grandpa with a short-term memory deficit. “Indeed you did. My apologies.” He stacks the papers neatly on the corner of the desk and stands. Redmond is one immense dude, all of six feet four and about two-thirty-five, with muscles stacked on his arms like an ancient pile of cannonballs. The material of his suit coat stretches tight as a trampoline across the back of those massive shoulders, and his thighs constantly threaten to split the legs of his slacks.

So he sits on the edge of his desk, Larry, running those thick fingers over his balding dome, adjusting his tie, and I still don't know he's coming after me. Then he gazes above our heads, out the bank of windows at the back of the room. “Mr. Brewster,” he says quietly, and I finally hear the whistle of the oncoming train.

“Yes sir?”

“Apart from Miss Clairborne, you appear to be the only class member who failed to deposit a paper on my desk this morning.
You
didn't give me a paper yesterday that I've also forgotten, did you, Mr. Brewster? I mean, I'm not losing my mind here, am I, son?”

I've speculated aloud on the whereabouts of Redmond's mind in the past, to great consequence. “No sir,” I say. “I think your mind is right where it's supposed to be.”

He ignores my insolence. “Then where is your assignment?”

I say, “I'm not finished with it. I wasn't here the day it was assigned and—”

“Of course you got the assignment from someone who was here.”

“Uh, actually, I sort of spaced it. I—”

“So you don't know exactly what the assignment
was
.”

I say, “Not exactly,” and Larry, I'm feeling the monster within me stir a bit. “But—”

“So,” Redmond says, “your saying ‘I'm not finished' is something of a smoke screen, don't you agree? In point of fact, you haven't even begun.”

“Well…” The monster growls. Enduring public humiliation is not my strong suit.

“Mr. Brewster—your full name is Beauregard, isn't that correct? Do you mind if I call you Beauregard?”

He knows my name is Beauregard, Larry. I played football for him for three years. When this is over, I think, I need to remember this moment as the point of no return. I say, “Actually, only my friends call me that.”

“Well, I'm considering myself a friend, even if you don't,” Redmond says. “I'm going to be enough of a friend,
Beau-re-gard
, to remind you that if you continue in the direction you're headed, and have been headed for some time—probably since you walked out on the football team—your life will come to little consequence. Is it not true,
Beau-re-gard
, that on the day you missed this assignment, you were in fact skipping school, and that you put your mother in the position of writing us a deceptive note to get you back in?”

Man, how does he find this shit out? “Are you calling my mother a liar?” Weak try, Brewster.

“I'm calling your mother unfortunate,” Redmond says right back at me. “Unfortunate because she's placed in the position of having to put her need to have her son
Beau-re-gard
in school over her integrity. By the way, does your mother call you
Beau-re-gard
? Is your mother your friend?”

The monster speaks. “Does your wife call you
asshole
?” were my last words in English class for the day, and probably for some time.

I don't get it. It's October 10 for chrissakes, and this is
my third suspension. I'm a nice guy, Larry. I don't do drugs, don't usually cut class—though Redmond was right about my cutting the day he gave the comp assignment—rarely fight, and usually turn in my homework, or at least somebody's homework with my name on it. But when my back is against the wall, my mouth is a machine gun. Don't think it's easy to explain to the principal, or your parents, why you called your English teacher an asshole. I mean, I'm literally clutching at the word to stuff it back down my throat as it sprays between my lips on the one hand, and celebrating a direct hit on the other. I need to remember I'm lobbing road apples and Redmond's lobbing A-bombs.

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