|20.20|21|22|22.2|22.22|22.222|23|24|25|Those Extra Four…|1|2|3|4|Back Cover|
Coach Sends An Email
Declaration Of Irritation
He gets off his hands and knees and sits at the desk, staring at the computer screen through the reading glasses he dropped a moment ago. He’s gone over the email at least seven times now and it’s been perfect each and every time; not perfect in the inanely strict sense of typographically flawless, but perfect in the sense of going where it needs to go; he’s only human, after all. There was a lot Running needed to get off his hairless chest, a lot that’s gone on over the past few years that somebody needs to be made aware of. Having put his qualms about the coaching staff at Hoffman Regional High School into many, many words, he’s ready to hit the send button so they may be read by the principal.
After, of course, he goes over the text one last time.
Subject: HRHS Cross Country 2020
Dear Mister PrinciPal,
I’m sorry for bothering you while you’re in the hospital, but I feel as though you’re the only one at Hoffman without ears that would be deaf to what I have to say. After receiving a number of complaints from my runners regarding Leonard Thenure this week, I felt it appropriate to let you know that I will decidedly not be returning as a Cross Country coach next school year. If you couldn’t already tell, this is going to be a long email.
It pains me to write this because I truly have a passion for coaching, and especially for running – my parents were both prolific marathon runners, as were their parents and their parents before them. Hell, my family has been running ever since we were chased off our reservations by powdered wig toting white-skinned British colonists. Despite my undying love for the craft, my experience working with Leonard Thenure has been so… I can’t even think of a flowery word, it’s really just been an awful experience. This past season, 2019, I mysteriously had the partial coaching stipend that I received in 2018 taken away. Nobody so much as acknowledged it, let alone explained to me why I wouldn’t be paid for doing my share of the work until after the decision was already made internally at a meeting that I was not privy to. The only heads up I got was a poorly worded email from Lonny Ghost AD asking if I wanted to come back as a volunteer. I was confused, and in major need of the money, but I still came back as a volunteer because I genuinely care about the kids on the team.
Although I never attended class at Hoffman because my parents preferred to home school me and keep me out of America’s public youth internment program, I did run Cross Country here, and Coach Thenure was my coach. He had a very specific way of doing things: Cross Country summer training started in July and ran until August when the official practices started. Mondays and Wednesdays are captain’s practices, aptly held by the captains, and Tuesdays and Thursdays are coach’s practices, aptly held by the coach. When I ran for the school, Len always made it to his coach’s practices, and occasionally visited the captain’s practices as well to encourage us to work hard. This past season though, Leonard, being the head coach of the team, the one who’s put all his blood, sweat, and tears into the program over the years that he’s spent at its helm, did not show up to a single summer training session until the mandatory practices started. I went to every single summer training session, even Fridays and Saturdays, because that’s what the team needed. I timed every one of their runs, I ran the more difficult speed and hill workouts with the,, I even had them doing push-ups and meditating; I worked as hard, if not harder than the student athletes themselves, to make it a fun and productive summer. And I succeeded.
At the beginning of the summer, I had one of the new freshmen run a mile to get a feel for his abilities. He clocked in at just under 555 seconds. By the beginning of the season, after he had been training with me for weeks, he ran a 1,234 5K. I say this because I vaguely remember your stepdaughter also partakes in competitive running, so you can appreciate the impact I made in this freshman’s athletic life and extrapolate it to the rest of the athletes I had the pleasure of working with.
Unfortunately, as the summer training ended, so too did my direct involvement with the team. From the moment Leonard showed up, it was his show – it didn’t matter what I did all summer, he showed up and I got roasted on the back burner, and none of the kids were prepared for what he had for them. I should have prepared them better, I know, but how is one supposed to prepare a team for something that one does not know is coming? The only times I heard from Leonard during the summer was when he would, with about 222 seconds warning, cancel practice, and without consulting with me first. I know he didn’t have to consult with me about canceling practice, but although chivalry is dead, common courtesy isn’t. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. My point is that when Leonard decided to start doing his job, he inserted himself as a wedge between me and the kids; he created a divide where there wasn’t one before.
And I wish that was the biggest complaint, I really do. As you know, this year was the first year that Coach Scoompa took over the girls’ half of the school’s Cross Country team; he too noticed not only Leonard’s absence, but also all the effort I was putting in. Near the end of the summer, before Leonard had shown up to a practice, both Coach Scoompa and I approached Lonny Ghost AD to tell him that Thenure hadn’t yet shown up once. Lonny Ghost AD angrily told us that he had, in fact, seen Thenure there all summer, and that we shouldn’t be talking about it. I don’t know when Lonny Ghost AD saw Thenure over the summer, because I was there for 3,690-10,987 seconds every day and I didn’t see him once. And neither did any of the runners.
As the season progressed, Leonard seemed to grow more resentful towards me seemingly for just showing up. He would never contact me about anything regarding XC unless he needed me to do something for him right that second – I felt constantly out of the loop and there was nothing I could even do about it. If I had a dime for every time I had to say “I don’t know, nobody’s told me” to the athletes who asked me what time they were running at a meet, who they were racing against, what was on the agenda for practice, who was running in the Varsity race, et cetera, I probably wouldn’t be complaining about mysteriously losing my pay. Whenever I would ask Leonard about anything he would be very short with me, offering one word or a grunt in response to questions that needed more than a single noise to be answered. He frequently did little stuff like this, he was always very openly backhanded, disrespectful, and passive aggressive towards me in a team setting, and it made it very difficult for both me and the athletes to get anything done.
There are other incidents I could type about, but one specific instance really takes the cake, it really explains why I don’t even entertain the idea of returning to Hoffman to coach with Leonard. It started with the Twelve Flags Invitational meet; I had brought a drone for the kids to get a sneak peek at the course a couple hours before their race started. Upon seeing it, Leonard threatened to cut it in half with a knife.
A little tangent here, his threat reminded me of when I was a freshman runner at Hoffman, his first year of coaching, and I brought a flying disk so we had something to do while we waited for him to show up late to practice. When he arrived, he snatched the flying disk out of an upper classman’s hand, whipped out a folding pocketknife, and went about cutting my property in half in front of an audience. He only stopped cutting when I started crying. That’s another story though, I don’t know if you were working at Hoffman when that happened, but regardless, it’s under the bridge now. I just thought it a good display of Leonard’s character when there are only students watching him.
Shortly after he noticed my drone at Twelve Flags, it seemed to have disappeared. I figured one of the kids had grabbed it and that I would get it back when we returned to the school later that night. Well, about 2 weeks later, one of the runners mentioned to me that he saw my drone hidden in the back of Leonard’s truck. And it was definitely my drone; I don’t know that there’s another human in Existence who turned a toe shoe into an unmanned aerial vehicle.
What the student was doing in the back of Leonard’s truck, I do not know. Regardless, when I brought it up to Leonard, he told me to “fuck off you scraggly-haired faggot” and that I should never have brought it in the first place. I simply said “ok” and started walking back to stretch with the team, not wanting to be dragged down into an argument. Then, he called me back over and gave me his keys, mocking me for being so “up tighty-whitie” and telling me it was somewhere in the back of his truck.
I’m not even Caucasian, I feel like he said this just to get on my nerves.
When I told him I already knew where it was, he proceeded to raise his voice to a yell and call me a “fucking red-skinned asshole who should have been buried along the Trail of Tears like the rest of his putrid, savage kind.” In front of a janitor, another coach (I think she was a soccer coach, but I’m not 100% sure, as the rest of the coaching faculty at this fine establishment had always avoided me like the English settlers avoided my ancestors after they gave them small pox-infested blankets), and a bunch of student athletes. I simply walked away and went to find my property inside his truck – it was tucked underneath the driver’s seat, clearly hidden from view, meaning the student had to have his head shoved under the seat to notice it.
When I came back and told Len that I didn’t appreciate being talked to in such a derogatory manner for no reason, he started yelling again and called me a “filthy fucking savage waste of human sperm and egg cells” and “an abomination, the very example of why there is no God.” Again, with an audience.
It made me very emotional at the time, because I bent over backwards for 3 years helping him coach his team, and what did I get for my efforts? Well I got publicly humiliated by a miserable old man who’s clearly held a grudge against me since I started helping him three years ago. He didn’t stop yelling at me until my eyes welled up with tears – he literally sat there and yelled at me until I started crying.
I don’t say that for pity, I say that to make a point. I’m a grown man, and thanks to a childhood spent escaping many strangulation attempts by my alcoholic father and mother, it takes a lot to push me to the edge of crying in general, let alone in public. But let me tell you, he pushed me past that point and just kept pushing.
Also, whenever I would set foot into the school, I would be accosted, talked down to, and harassed by the faculty and members of the administration. A few months ago, just this past winter for example, Coach Scoompa asked me to come to the school to run with the distance kids on the track team, to test me out and see if I was capable of coaching track because, as I’m sure you know, the school was looking for a new boy’s track distance coach. I was more than happy to take time out of my day and run with the kids again, so I put on sweatpants and a sweatshirt, braved the 10-degree weather, and drove through a snowstorm all the way from my home in Nested Mills Ford. While I was waiting outside the gym for the runners to get changed, one of your teachers, a woman (I assume) named Mrs. Logem, even though she was more than aware that I’ve been working at the school for the past 3 years, had an armed security guard, hand on his gun, escort me to the Main Office just so I could be told that there was no issue and that I did not need to go to the office in the first place.
This same guard – or possibly his twin brother, I’m really not sure – accosted me on Monday morning. He had no idea that I was an employee. He also slipped into a PTSD flashback and almost shot me in the head, but I don’t want to get into that. I’m sure if you check the school’s surveillance class’s textbooks you will find at least one account of the incident.
The long and short of it is, from the get-go, coaching at Hoffman has been an entirely quagmireish experience for me at best. I was verbally & physically assaulted, accused of being a school shooter, used, neglected, left out of the loop, and treated like I was nothing more than a nuisance to the program even though I was the only reason the program was still breathing. Leonard had never had a runner make it past the State Sectionals part of the championship during his coaching career until I showed up and started doing the job right. And that freshman I mentioned earlier, Prief Stevontaine? As the season progressed and Thenure took over with the training, Prief’s times stagnated to the point where he was running a 2,468 5K, not even coming close to reaching his potential. At the end of the optional summer practices, one of the captains, Jack Monta, approached me and thanked me for coming every day and running with them, because if I hadn’t, they wouldn’t have trained at all.
I could go on, but I believe my point’s been made a couple times now: I did nothing but bring my A game and get results, and for that, I was resented and treated like trash by the man who was supposed to be my Co-Head Coach.
And I didn’t even mention all of the nonsense that I had to wade through during my first two years of coaching, or the constantly moldy Hatorade cooler that Thenure never once cleaned, or the blatant favoritism he displayed towards the 2 varsity runners, or how he would unsettlingly peek through the two-way mirror in his office and watch the runners as they changed, or how he would mock the runners in applied classes for not being intelligent, or the one comment he made to me about how attractive he found the boyfriend of one of the runners who is no longer on the girls’ half of the team, or this, or that, or the other thing.
Honestly, I thought it would all blow over eventually, so I never said anything. But now I’m the thing that’s been blown over, and contrary to popular belief, when a tree falls in the forest, it does make a sound.
Allow me to be clear: none of this is your fault, Mister PrinciPal. I actually quite enjoyed the interactions I’ve have had with you, even though the majority of them stemmed from the Barret Goadinger incident that, since I’m speaking openly anyway, was clearly an manifestation of Mrs. Goadinger being entirely unimpressed with Thenure’s coaching style, or lack thereof. For what it’s worth, as far as my perception goes, you’re one of the few at that school who takes his position seriously. I have nothing but respect for you and, regrettably, that’s why you’re getting this email. Saying all of this to Leonard or Lonny Ghost AD would be entirely pointless, I’m afraid, as I hope you understand now.
I know I’m not going to be taken back as a coach at Hoffman High after airing out this closet, but I couldn’t keep it all to myself anymore. Somebody had to know what I went through when I was trying to work with Leonard Thenure and Lonny Ghost AD, and that somebody is you today. So thank you for listening. Er, reading.
I wish Hoffman Regional nothing but the best and success in academics, athletics, and everything else that goes on at the School. I hope there are no hard feelings. Let’s go Harbingers!
Coach runs his fingers through his knotty hair, pulling at least four of the twiney black strands from his head and not feeling a single thing. All of this nonsense has caused him so much stress over the past three years, shaved so many years off his life, birthed so much unnecessary turmoil with a man he once looked up to and respected; a man who his parents invited over their house and served dinner, a man who laid the framework for the job Coach finds himself not being paid to work anymore.
The hardest choices really do require the strongest wills, don’t they? Before pressing send, Coach alters the address in the To box and adds one more paragraph to his declaration of irritation:
I don’t hate you, old man. I know there’s been quite a bit of tension between us, but I’ve had enough of it. I was going to send this email as far up the ladder as it could go, but I thought I should at least have the decency to send it to you first. Maybe we can work something out instead of being foolish apes that act on emotion rather than logic.
Let me know.
A heavy sigh escapes the confines of Coach’s iron lungs as a massive weight lifts from his shoulders. He checks the time – 2:34. Practice starts in exactly fifteen hundred and sixty-seven seconds, plenty of time.
The drive to Hoffman Regional is a quick one – with all of the Treering residents held up in the low-cost housing units in Jaskell, nobody’s around to clog up the roads, and Coach’s vehicle zipped freely down the asphalt that wraps around the Wanapo Valley, the same valley where Coach’s family once roamed before the land was snatched by everybody’s favorite star-spangled-stocking-wearing Gruncle Fred.
With the majority of the senior class having left the school at noon because their parents prefer for them to have a low-paying job rather than a full educational experience in these, the golden years of their lives they will never get back, Coach quickly finds a parking spot to occupy in the desolate lot. He checks his phone, one of the last remaining flip phones on the planet, and sees a text message from a number that he doesn’t recognize at first. Upon reading it though, he knows exactly who sent it.
R U FKNG KDNG ME?1 MY OFCFE NOW!!1!
Coach checks the time – still seven hundred and eighty-nine seconds before practice. More than enough time for a meeting with Thenure.
From the hedges growing around the parking lot of the school, a small pack of rats poke their head out and sniff the air. All seems to be clear; the scouts promptly return to the cover of the bushes and report back to Squeakers IV, the successor of the brave and beloved Squeakers III, the one rat who managed to escape the confines of the rodent gulag inside Hoffman High School. He fell into a pack of wild rats and immediately mated with their queen, and, out of the goodness of his heart, adopted her children as his own. One of them, the eldest, was so appreciative of this kind survivor’s spirit that, following the untimely death of Squeakers III by osprey attack, he took up the mantle of his dearly departed Stepdad. The rat pack, after chasing the osprey out of the forest surrounding the high school, has been plotting to break in and free the other rats ever since. Today is their day.
Or it was their day, until they were all squashed into a state of roadkill by the souped-up go-kart the school’s constantly pissed off athletic trainer uses to carry all her supplies, interns, and deep-seated psychological baggage between the various soccer and baseball fields that aren’t up on the Hoffman Athletics Plateau. There’s an entire trainer’s booth up there, it holds so many supplies that Coach L considers it to be a second office; the thing even has a garage, it’s incredible. Built between a grandstand and the snack stand, it’s conveniently located right next to the footb– well, right next to that rubber ring that encircles the football field for whatever reason.
Now when I say encircles, I don’t actually mean in the shape of a circle, I mean in the shape of an oval. A circle would be closer to the shape of the path that Coach L drives around Running Coach in her L-mobile, the roar of the massive engine giving the tornado of exhaust fumes a rumbling voice that shakes the splattered remains of the rats to their still-departing souls as they get swept up in the twister.
Coach L hops off the go-kart and it ghost rides as she stands off in the middle of the maelstrom with this homeless guy who keeps showing up at the high school. She brandishes two crutches and, balancing herself upon them via her armpits, begins swinging back and forth, building momentum while Coach watches apathetically, wishing these monkeys would just learn who he is already.
“I’ve literally walked my injured runners to your office Loretta,” he shouts over the wind, “I know you know who I am. Just, yo! Listen! Why don’t you stop swinging so we can both get on with our lives, do our freaking jobs, and get home?!”
It’s no use, Coach’s words are drowned out by the rage that’s been building inside of Coach L ever since she tried out for the swimming team and got denied because the high school had not yet installed a pool on the roof. Loretta leaps, lunging legs-first through the air, and comes about two feet closer to Coach before she’s swept up in the whirlwind. Said whirlwind twirls Loretta through the air like old man MacDonal’s cows on that fateful day when Jack Monta had the lovely Isabelle Portman over his house, except unlike the cows, Loretta’s not a clone so she doesn’t splatter upon impact.
Coach L lands neatly in the passenger’s seat of her go-kart, the excess weight of her right sandal smashing the break and bringing the contraption to a grinding halt, the skid marks leaving a rubbery black circle for Coach to walk over as he doesn’t wave goodbye.
‘Why is that guy so rude, I just wanted to talk to him,’ thinks Coach L as she drives away, needle and thread in hand, to manually stitch together the torn ACL of Chad Lambert. He’s having a solid number seven day, it’s not looking good.
Not wanting to trigger Officer Dinkelbop, Coach equips his school-issued ID keycard (that he’s kept in his car since it was originally issued to him, by the school no less, just last year) and unlocks the pair of metal-bound plastic doors closest to the stairwell that’s closest to the hallway that leads to the hallway that contains Coach Thenure’s office. After navigating the maze that he never learned his way through during his home-schooled high school years, Coach finally finds his way and knocks not once, not twice, but ninenteen times on the door.
Coach tries the doorknob and surprisingly enough it’s open, leading the textbook image of a runner to enter the office of the textbook image of a donut; he’s sweet and shiny on the outside, glistening from the glaze of sweat that’s constantly pouring from behind his floppy ears, yet empty on the inside, all of his happiness scooped out and baked into the many orbs of fried dough he used to consume on a daily basis from Funkin’ Donuts.
The inside of this man’s office is a cacophony of paperwork. On every available table, desk, and island surface stands a leaning tower of worksheets depicting maps that yet to have been colored in, ungraded tests, lost homework packets. There’s even an entire pile of Ancient Document Analysisassignments written by students who are currently working as historians out in the real world, drowning in the bureaucracy of trying to get the various governing bodies of foreign countries to give up their massive collections of historical documents from the dead government of the once United and now Untied States of America that must be properly stored in a museum before they dry rot and become another victim to the passage of time.
In the back of the office, through two windows burned into the walls of paperwork, Coach spots the walk-in closet containing the school’s supply of chemical compounds to be used in science labs. Acids, bases, solvents, caustics,flammables, all that good stuff. It brings him back to a time when Thenure would complain that the science teacher he had to share the office with, Mister Banger, would play harmless little pranks on him, like burning windows in his walls of paperwork and sprinkling non-lethal doses of aluminum powder in his ice cream sandwiches. Leonard’s words always fell on deaf ears though; Coach refused to get involved in the drama that spawns between the various cliques of the different members of the teaching staff employed at this establishment. It was a rule that he’s followed ever since he was hired here, a rule he shan’t be breaking any time soon.
Maybe that’s why everybody who works with him is so soul-crushingly agitated around Coach – maybe they all see that he just comes here, does his job, and leaves instead of falling into the crony dollaristic trend of believing one’s co-workers, and more pertinently one’s workplace superiors, are family. Coach never found himself falling for that classic blunder of mental manipulation because he has strong ties to his own family, despite the rampant alcoholism; such happens when one is raised on a Native American reservation. At least, that’s what his parents always told him; he had the luxury of growing up in Nested Mills Ford, dodging the heroin epidemic similarly to how he dodged the ferociously famished mountain lions that would always seem to sniff him out while he was off on his runs through the forests.
Yes, dodging predators of all shapes and sizes has always been a vital segment of Coach’s character, a segment that he toughened and weathered through many’a night spent wandering alone across the mountaintops of Nested Mills Ford. He’s been hunted by human and feline cougars, bears, bobcats, foxes, an entire pack and a half of coyotes once; at this stage in the game, Coach is very capable of watching his back with nothing but his ears. This fact, and this fact alone, is why it’s so surprising when the hulking globule of a man named Leonard Thenure sneaks up on Coach from behind, not even making a sound as he walked through the door.
Because he didn’t walk through the door, he emerged from beneath the stack of papers that forms a wall between his own desk and the rest of the office like Cthulu from the abyssal depths of the Mariana Trench. Technically that’s a false start, but we’ll let the old dog have his day; it’ll be nighttime soon anyway. Hey, that’s thema–
“COACH! Are YOU fucking KiDdInG me with that EMAIL?!”
“THENURE!” Coach returns; you see, making oneself appear verbally big whilst in the presence of a raging bear is a surprisingly effective defense tactic. “Are YOU fucking kIdDiNg me with your yelling?! I’m right in front of you, calm down!”
Unfortunately, sometimes this just makes the bear angrier. It charges, roaring, “NO! I CAN’T CALM DOWN! NOT WITH YOU LEAVING NEXT YEAR!”
A common intimidation tactic of the black bear (and presumably other types of bears, Coach isn’t one hundred percent sure about this as he didn’t grow up sharing a forest with grizzlies, polars, pandas, nor spectacleds, but he feels fairly confident that the trend can be extrapolated) is called the false charge. In an attempt to scare the buhjeesus out of its foe, a bear will charge at full force, reaching speeds of up to twenty-ish miles per hour only to stop on a woodchip mere inches in front of its target, not knowing what’ll happen.
Often the target, fearing for its fucking life, will turn and head for the hills. This usually only encourages the charging bear to keep charging until it catches up with, knocks down, and violently maims its foe, which it now identifies as weak and a meal. However, if the target is a human equipped with the all too uncommon combination of common sense and understanding of things bigger than it, then said human will realize it must just stand its ground and the bear will stop charging.
Alternatively, the human could also hold a stick at a forty-five-degree angle with the ground and watch as the bear impales itself, but we don’t need to go that far.
“I DIDN’T SEN– wait, what’d you say?”
Thenure, plopped back into his chair because he tired himself out with all the yelling, says, “I skimmed through the first paragraph and saw that you weren’t coming back this fall. Did you already send it to PrinciPal? He’s still in the hospital, we can sneak into his office and hack the computers.”
‘He didn’t even read the whole thing.’ “You didn’t even read the whole thing? Dude, that took me like two hours… okay, that’s fine, this is okay. No, Len, I don’t plan on coming back next year.”
“Then who will I pass the reigns off to?” Coach Thenure asks, looking up at Running Coach like a puppy looks to its owner when there’s the smell of a treat in the air.
“You were planning on passing the reigns off to me?”
Well this is certainly an interesting development, let’s see how this plays out.
“Of course, why else would I have been showing you the ropes over the past three years? I do things my way so you can see the right way things should be done, and then you’ll do things the right way when it’s your turn to do things.”
“That’s… that’s not what’s been going on here, Len. At all.”
“YES, it IS!” Leonard asserts. “That’s how things were done up until the point that I got hired, and that’s how things are always going to be done! If things aren’t done exactly how I want them to be done, I get very, uncomfortable.”
Coach Thenure pauses to catch his breath, then, “How are you supposed to never forget a method if you’re not psychologically broken during the learning process?? I got you this job, I snuck you into this school. You ungrateful little snot, if you think you’re just going to come in here like you own the place and do things your own way, then I, then I, I–”
“Then what? You’re going to get me fired?” Coach says in an unconcerned voice. “Listen man, I have offers from like five other schools, including Wasson High School. You know, the one that’s five minutes down the road from my house? C’mon old man, tell me. If I want to do things in my own way, then what?”
Of course, regarding the common black bear, the false charge technique isn’t always the best course of action. Sure, it may just want to scare the human away, it may even be hungry; but, it never thinks about how hungry the human that it’s charging is. The bear may have the intelligence to stop short of impaling itself on the human’s spear, but what’s stopping the human from throwing its spear and ganking the bear from afar?
The answer: not much. Just like the contents of Coach Thenure’s answer to Coach’s rhetorical question.
“Listen here, you white devil,” Coach begins, feeling a wave a riding with it. “You’re an embodiment of gluttony, pride, and all other five of the seven deadly sins you forced upon my kind; how ironic you find yourself consumed by them now. All things come full circle, including your decision to subvert all the channels of the organization that pays you year after year to sit here for nine months out of the year and take your aggressions out on children. You may have brought me into this world, but my leaving is in my own hands. Either you back the fuck off and let me do things the right way – not my way, but the right way – or I’ll just move on and share my talents elsewhere.”
With that, the little alarm on Thenure’s desk that’s set to go off at two minutes before three o’clock dings and dongs, bringing a close to the meeting.
“There’s one twenty-three before practice starts; I’ve said what needs to be said,” Coach says. Then, with a slight bow, “Lenny.” Coach turns from the gaping maw of Coach Thenure and opens the door, letting the airless vacuum he just left in the office pull it back shut.