How to Clean Your Conscience Chapter 4: Babes on the Run

July 22nd, 2016. 6 PM

“C’mon Zack, miss it… miss it!”  Once again, Josh’s words would prove to be ineffective, relentless trash talk that had turned into pitiable mutters of desperation in the final round of the corn hole tournament.  Next to him was Gretch, her body clinched as if it were 20° below.  They watched with despair, drowning themselves in their own disgrace ever since their departure in the first round.  It was their only hope; it was all they had left.  “Miss it… please…”

And look, we actually had Josh and Gretch’s first match caught on camera!

I took a sip of beer and shuffled the bean bag around in my hand, looking for the perfect balanced of consistency.  The ritual hadn’t failed me yet; it wouldn’t fail me now.  Gretch’s boss, my opponent—my nemesis, hovered over me, fighting to destroy my dreams and fulfill Josh’s, as if his presence weren’t daunting enough.  “You got this, Zack,” hollered Bill from across the lawn.  I set my beer down and stepped into position, my left leg in front of the right.  Josh, Gretch, Bill—the entire world blotted from my mind, everything except for a tiny hole atop a slanted plank laying 15 feet in front of me, its presence my sole devotion.  I got this.

My hand swung like a pendulum, anticipation building with each half-revolution.  The feel of the swing was vital to success.  It’s a long-lost art that most competitors had taken for granted; an equation between speed and arc position to pinpoint the exact amount of propulsion necessary to send the beanbag across the field and precisely onto the board.  Back and forth it went, inching closer and closer to the moment where every force, every element was within my control; inching closer to the moment of…

Release.

An aggregate of deep breaths was pulled from the atmosphere during ascent.  Drop in air pressure.  Hadn’t accounted for that… Damnit.  Time slowed during descent, our bodies frozen in a moment of silence.  Only a steady blast of guitar power chords remained to remind us our status as finite beings in existence.

Touchdown.  The bag hit the board. My body contorted.  Maybe, just maybe, if I lean hard enough, I can control the slide… make it stop… stop—STOP!

Josh shriveled like a raisin.  Gretch’s body twisted; her mouth clinched, using everything in her power to prevent an outburst of obscenities.  The bag had come to a stop atop the board with hardly an inch to spare.  1 point.

“C’mon Chase you can do this!” yelled Gretch, a cheer that sounded much too forced.  Chase had the ability to score, and score big, having landed two bags on the board and one through the hole in the first round.  But could he close?  The wear and tear of old age seemed to best his team’s experience, as Bill and I, along with our resilience to alcohol, mounted a comeback to take the lead.  If they were to take back the game, now was the time. 

He stepped up to the plate, his prep similar to mine: a quick sip of beer, a shuffle of the bag, full concentration of the board in front of him.  He wound the pitch and let it rip.  His accuracy was his strength, consistently landing fast balls right down the middle of the plank.  His trajectory however suffered—much too shallow for a proper parabolic curve.  It would hit the board, but much too fast, the friction between the bag and board showcasing his lack of discipline.

Impact. The bag slid… and slid… and slid… right into the hole.  Perfect shot, 3 points… Damn, he’s good.

“Yessss,”said Gretch with a subtle fist pump, soft enough not to draw attention; loud enough for me to notice.

Shut up Gretch.  I didn’t say it. No room for weakness.  Bill jumped into position, angered, determined—our thoughts congruent.  This ends now.

Chase’s teammate set up to toss first, the score 15-18.  21, and only 21 points would win the game—no more, no less.  His first throw landed directly on the board, sending a large smile across Josh’s face.  “16 to 18,” yelled Gretch, as if we needed the reminder.  I looked across the lawn at Bill, and he at me.  He held a smile of his own, like Josh’s, only smugger. “They’re catching up you guys!”  I smiled back.  She’s going down.

I grabbed my beer while Bill prepped his throw.  It was imperative that ample time be utilized for an optimal toss; no need to rush things at this stage of the—what the? A rush of blood pumped through my heart.  Before I could finish my sip, the bag was already up in the air.

That was hardly any set up time!  How can he be so cocky, just lofting it up there like no big deal?  I mean, I turn my head for one second, and… and—what is he thinking?  This isn’t a game anymore!  Did he even look at the board?  Is he trying to lose?  The stakes are too way high for him to be pulling this crap!  And I refuse to lose in front of these… these monsters!  After being up 18-12?  They’d never let it down—oh God, don’t tell me you were paid off. I swear to God Bill, if you screw this up, I’m going to… going to…

Gretch threw her arms over her face as if she were about to pull her hair out and sunk into a standing fetal position.  Josh dropped to his knees, outstretched his arms and looked to the lord for answers. Bullseye.  Straight through the hole.  Once again, Bill did not disappoint.

“Good game Mr. Chase,” I said before shaking hands, both of us keeping an elevated level of composure, then turned to the middle of the field.  Bill met me halfway, our smiles radiating, hoping to burst at any second. Our bodies shook, ready to hold one another, ready to celebrate, ready too—

Mama mia we got the moolah!” I shouted.  We laughed, embraced each other, and jumped wildly in the middle of the field.

“Mama mia we got the money we’re rich!” he replied.

“I didn’t doubt you for a minute!”  I pulled him in close and puckered my lips, pretending to give him a wet smooch.

“Time to get paid—“ Bill turned his head ever so slightly; his smile disappeared.  “Ugh, c’mon Zack, knock it off!”

“What’s the big idea?  You weren’t like this in Pony—“

“God, you can be so immature sometimes.  Can’t you just—oh, hi Rebecca.”  Bill’s tone suddenly dropped an octave as Gretch’s coworker passed by, apparently a babe in Bill’s eyes.  “It’s good to see you again.”  Oh, give me a break.

“Eww.  You guys are weird,” she said with a look that bordered on confusion and repulsion.  She brushed back her long, black hair and walked away, not saying another word.

Bill threw up his hands. “Ya blew it!”

“What—”

What do you mean ‘what?’  …You know I love you buddy, but… ya blew it.”

“But… I uh, I got a little out of hand, but she’s a mom babe mom babe for cryin’ out loud!  Way out of your league.  Forget it!  …Bill?”

Bill scoffed and shook his head as he tried to come up with an answer.  “…It’s just… I loved her, alright…  Ya blew it.  Kapeesh?”

I guess this time, it was me…

Bill turned in pursuit of his damsel in distress.  What a shame, wasting a victory over a girl. Whatever.  Some people just need time to grow up I guess.  I brushed it off, turning my attention to more pressing matters.

“Oh, hey Josh, hey Gretch, good to see you again,” I said to the duo, both overcome with gloom.  “Boy, what a match, huh?  You guys were watching it, right?”

“Did you have to jump around and make a scene,” asked Gretch with an attitude.

“I don’t know.  Did you have to lose in the first round?  I mean, that had to be embarrassing, at least a little bit.”

“Dude, you got lucky, that’s all,” snapped Josh.  Great, here we go again.  And look, I’m almost out of beer.  Impeccable timing!  “There’s no other way.  We had to play Chase in the first round.  We got screwed!  Really, you should be thanking us for wearing him out…  Besides, Bill pulled all the weight for your team.  You didn’t do squat!  Couldn’t even make any shots on your own… and if it weren’t for all those shots you made in the second round, you would’ve lost, big time… Everyone you played—easy.  And you beat a grandma in the first round, c’mon!  How do you feel about yourself?”  Because surely you wouldn’t have beaten an old lady…  “They let you win.  Probably because Bill was on your team.  That’s the only way…  You’re lucky you didn’t have to play us, or you would’ve lost, big time.  I’m just sayin’.”

“Hey man, congratulations,” said an unfamiliar voice.  Josh and I turned our heads, looking for the source.  Could this be an angel, sent from heaven to put a cork in him?  Logan, a client and former competitor approached us, his shorts, t-shirt and flip-flop combination far from an angelic appearance. Well, that’ll do for now.

“Hey thanks man,” I replied with a hand shake.

“That was some good corn hole action, the best I’ve seen in a long time!”  Hmm, that was nice of him to say. “It’s like you guys were professionals!”  How flattering!  I didn’t even know there was a professional league!  “I wouldn’t even mind if you stopped by sometime to give the wife and I a few pointers…”  Ok, this is starting to get a little weird.  “…Since you know, you can’t bring the prize back with you on the plane.  After all, we did make a deal…”  Oh, right, the deal.  “You do remember, right?”  Huh?  Well gee, to think this whole time you were coming over out of the kindness of your heart just to compliment my corn hole skills…

Turns out, they actually do have a professional cornhole league…

“Yes, I remember. ‘If we win, you can have our prize,’ I said.”

“So… do we still have a deal?”  Well, he did manage to shut Josh up for a second. I suppose that’s worth something.

“Sure.  You can have our corn hole game set.”

“Ah, thanks man!”

“No problem.  By the way, you weren’t so bad yourself out there.”

“Really?”  Why sure Mr. Logan.  Sincerity works in both directions…

I leaned it and stuck my thumb towards Josh.  “I mean, you did better than this guy.”

Dude,” said Josh, acting as though he’d been stabbed in the heart.  He leaned into Logan and whispered.  “I would’ve done better, but Gretch was on my team.”

Well, he does have a valid point.  Regardless, he still ain’t getting off scott free.  “You know what they say… excuses are like butts.  Everyone has one, and they all stink!”  Logan and I shared a chuckle.  Josh wasn’t amused.

“Oh yea?  Bring it, Zack.  I’ll play you, right here, right now!”

“Ok, set it up—on second thought, I shouldn’t.”  I took a deep breath, let out a heavy sigh, and peered into the distance.  “It’d just be a waste of my time.”

“Whatever.  You just don’t want to lose to me, that’s all.”

“So, this is about competition, is it?  I got a better idea.  How about we go head to head on the Greenbelt tomorrow?  I got these new running shoes I’ve been dying to try out, and I know you wouldn’t turn down a challenge, seeing how much you fancy exercise.”

Dude… Toobapalooza’s tomorrow!”

“Toobapalooza? What the Hell is that?  I ain’t going on some grade school field trip!”

“Tubin’ down the river, racin’, drinkin’ beer—Totally Awesome!  Already signed us up,” said Josh, once again, spreading his arms and lifting his chin as the anointed one, a gesture that provoked a subconscious facepalm reaction.  

“Sorry.  Not going.”

“Dude, everyone will be there.  Bill, Gretch, Megan Mills, pretty much everybody in Boise.”

“Too bad.  Still not going.”

“That’s because you’re a looooser.”  Wait a minute?  Did Josh just do a terrible Donald Trump impression?  “Have you seen this guy Zack,” he continued as if he were talking to a large crowd.  “He’s terrible folks, he really is.  A real loser, that guy.”  Ah Hell no!

Josh knew far too well my stance on Donald Trump and the Republican primaries.  It had been a long recovery process, but bringing him back up was the catalyst for a ticking time bomb. Perhaps that was his intention?  I wouldn’t put it past the man, anything he could do to get under my skin and cause a scene.  And if I were being honest, I’d say it was a fool-proof strategy going after my weaknesses, and on any normal day, it would’ve gotten the best of me.  One thing he didn’t account for: Ted Cruz and his infamous “vote your conscience” speech at the Republican National Convention just days prior.  It had sparked new life, and if anybody had anything to say about it, I was ready to throw down.  In fact, I welcomed it.

“Logan, grab me another beer.”  Though tempered, my demand was calm and collected.  “I’m about to put the smack down on this kid, Ted Cruz style.”

“What do you mean Ted Cruz?” asked Logan, attracting what was becoming a sizeable and offended crowd.

“Pff.  Zack’s a fanboy.  Obsessed.”  Don’t push it Josh.  “News flash Zack.  Ted Cruz sucks.”  Ted Cruz… Sucks?  If there were ever a trigger warning, Josh had found it, and there he was, dancing alongside danger, foolishly adding gasoline to the fire.  I’m warning you.

“Are you talking about the Ted Cruz who just lost to Trump?” added Logan, the smile on his face revealing he had no idea who I was, or the Hell he was about to unleash.

“Yea Zack, Ted Cruz couldn’t even beat Donald Trump.  That’s just sad.  I hope you aren’t talking about—“

“Damn straight I’m talkin’ bout Ted Cruz!”  I grabbed Logan’s beer from his hand, pounded it, and slammed it on the ground, adding a quick stomp and grind as if I were putting out a cigarette butt.  “And yes, that would be the ‘God Bless the great state of Texas’ Ted Cruz!  The ‘I just slapped the entire Republican Party right in the face’ Ted Cruz!  Whoopish!”I made the sound effect in synchronization to the twist of my pelvis and the whip of my open hand swinging across my body while a series of jaws dropped.  “The ‘vote your conscience’ Ted Cruz. Whoopish whoopish!  Sorry bub, you won’t see me jumping on the Trump bandwagon.  Whoopish! Ah, what’s the matter Josh? You part of the pom-pom boys now? The Rockettes?  Not me!  Whoopish whoopish whoopish!”  I turned my attention to the crowd.  “Hey, everybody in the front row, vote your conscience baby, whoopish!”  I ran across the lawn as if I were on stage giving the entire front row a slap in the face“Pish pish pish pish pish pish pish pish!  Hey, what’s up Donald?  So glad you could come for my speech, Bidaba bidaba bidaba bidaba bidaba…”  I waved my hand out in front of me like I was slapping an imaginary face over and over again.  “Bidaba bidaba bidaba bidaba bidaba.  Hey Bernie, this is how a real man takes care of business on our side!”  I jumped in front of Josh and resumed the gesture.  “Bidaba bidaba bidaba bidaba bidaba!”

“Um… Zack,” I heard, a voice I could only assume to be Josh’s.

“What’s that Josh? I can’t quite hear you, Bidaba bidaba bidaba bidaba bidaba!”

“Zack—“

I jumped back and busted into a raspy voice and air guitar, Bob Segar style.

“Still votin’ for a Ted Cruz… (badum badummm)
Cause the country just has too much to lose!
I’m votin’ for a Ted Cruz…”

“ZACK!”  The singing came to an abrupt stop.   A scream rang out, so startling and so harsh that a rush of pee nearly entered my pants. I turned slowly, delaying the inevitable horror that I was to be confronted with.  First there was Bill, reemerging to save a friend from destroying himself.  Judging by the results, he had failed miserably.  I couldn’t fully see his facial expression, as his hand had covered a large portion of his mouth, as was the case with the rest of the crowd. Then Josh, who sat in terror.  Not even he had the gall to make the slightest of smirks.  I took a hard swallow before I met my demise.  There she stood, her face pulsating as if it held the mark of the beast. “…Hey Gretch.  Uhh, how’s it going, heheh?”

“You.  Here.  Now!”  I obeyed and approached with caution.

“Gretch, what seems to be the matter?”

“Don’t you ‘what’s the matter’ me.  You’re out of control!”

“What do you mean out of control?”

“You’re jumping around like a fool, you’re drinking all the beer…”

 “I’ve barely had a few.”

“You call 10 a few?”

“Well, considering the circumstances, I’ve been on good behavior.”

“You brought up Ted Cruz.”

“Wasn’t my fault. Josh was asking for it the whole time!”

“You’re spreading rumors.”

“That’s a complete lie!”

“You told my boss we were going to do coke tonight!”

“…Ok ok, that one was an accident.  It just slipped out—”

“YOU’RE ACTING LIKE AN ANIMAL!”  Both of us stood for a moment, trembling.  “I swear to God, if you embarrass me one more time—”  

“Ok, listen, maybe we can work this thing out.”

“No more booze!”

“Gotcha.  No more booze, got it.  Comprende mamacita.”

“No more obnoxious behavior.”

“Not making any guarantees but I’ll do my best.”

“No more goofs.”

“Gretch, you can’t expect—“

“NO GOOFS!” I lowered my head, only having the ability to give short nods in the vertical direction.  “And you can start by telling Logan over there that he’s not getting the corn hole set.  That game belongs to me and Megan.”

“…Wait, are you talking about Megan Mills?”

“Of course I’m talking about Megan Mills!  What other Megan is there?”  I had no response but to keep my head lowered.  “Now go over there and tell him.  Now!”  She waited, looking down upon me like a mother who had just been disobeyed, refusing to budge until I was set into motion.  I turned and began the walk of shame, my head hung low to avoid any acknowledgment from the crowd, all witnesses to the humiliation.

Logan sat on a cement ledge, leaning in like a puppy dog expecting a treat.  God, it’ll break his heart! Clandestinely, I snuck a peak behind me. I’ll just pretend to say something.  She’ll never know—

Arms… folded. Head… tipped.  Face—Oh, that face…  Stern. She hadn’t moved a muscle.  She stood in place, her stare still terrifying and full of clarity.  Dear God…

“Hey man, what’s up with Gretch?  Is everything good?”

“…So, about that corn hole game…”  His face immediately sunk.  The phrase was all too familiar, a curse from his adolescence set upon him by a long string of crushes.

“We still get the corn hole game… right?”

“…I… I want to say yes, I really do.”

“Then do it, it’s yours!”

“Sure it is, but I…”

“But what?”  I took another look behind me, just to make sure—GRETCH!

“Sorry man.  I can’t give you the game.”

“But… but you promised!”

“I know I did… it’s just… I never consulted my teammate, and with all that liquor running through me, it came out prematurely, and…”

“But… you shook my hand… Scouts honor!”

“Sorry Logan, I screwed the pooch on this one.  What do you want me to say?”

“…You know, my wife was so excited when I told her we were going to bring home a corn hole set. I mean, you should’ve seen the look on her face!  I hadn’t seen her this excited since our wedding day… now what am I going to tell her?  She’ll… she’ll be devastated.”

“Look man, I’m sure you can just go to Wal-Mart and get one for 35 bucks.”

“That’s easy for you to say, but not for a guy with a mortgage and a family.  35 dollars is a lot more than you think it is.  But that’s ok.  I’m sure whoever’s gets it will need it more than us.”

“Logan, I’m sorry—“

“No, it’s cool. I’m sure it’ll be in good hands… I guess I’ll see you around…” Logan turned and walked away, vowing not speak to me ever again.

I took a seat on the ledge, my elbows on my knees and my head in my hands, for not even the greatest of corn hole champions could overcome the guilt that laid over me.  A minute later Josh came by.  I could tell by the shadow… and the stench.

“Hey Zack, check it out.”

“Josh, I’m not really in the mood right now—“

“No look, it’s a running babe, just for you.”  The word babe sparked a reaction.  It always does, no matter the mood, how hard I resist, or who it comes from.  I took a peak.  Meh.

“Yea, I suppose she’s sort of cute.”  Really, you bugged me just for that?

“I dare you to talk to her,” said Josh, adding a stupid chuckle at the end.

“No, I’m good. I’ve already caused enough trouble for one day.”

“C’mon, don’t be a wimp Zack.  Go over there while she’s still stretching.”

“You know Josh, you don’t have to talk to every babe that walks by.  Maybe she’s just trying to mind her own business and doesn’t want some hunk bugging her, especially when she’s out on a run.”

“Dude, just go over there and talk to her for a little bit,” added Logan.  Gee, how quickly we forget our disappointments.

“You see, Logan agrees with me.”  Well, hot diggity damn Josh, looks like you just stole my new best friend.  Shucks!

“Dude, not talking to her,” I said.  “Period.”

“Oh, sorry guys, it looks like Zack’s wussing out.”

“Who?” asked a blonde girl, attracting a new crowd of clients along with her.

“Zack.  He won’t talk to that girl over there.”

“Hey, isn’t that the Ted Cruz guy?” she asked.

“Seriously Josh, shut up,” I said through my gritted teeth.

“Why don’t you just go and talk to her?” asked another.

“Because I don’t even know this person!”

“Sounds like somebody’s a little scared!”  Alright Josh, now you’re starting to piss me off!

“Um, that’s a little weird, going over to a girl when she’s on a run,” the blonde girl commented.

“That’s exactly what I—“

“That’s just the way Zack is… always creepin’ on girls.  You should’ve seen him in college!”  Just keep talkin’ Josh!  You’re on your way to getting a free knuckle sandwich, with an extra pound of flesh!  “You know, by not going over there, you’re just making it worse on yourself.”

“Yea Zack, that babe totally likes you.  You’re blowing it,” said Logan.

“I didn’t know she like’s you…  Go on, talk to her,” added the blonde girl, continuing with her unwanted commentary.

“That’s it Josh. I’m going to sock you, right in the face if you don’t shut your mouth—“

“Zack won’t talk to her. He’s just a coward, and always will be.”

“Oh, that’s it!”  I rose, primed to deliver a right hook right on the kisser.  I cocked back, stepped, and… Crap, Gretch.  Not worth it. I lowered myself.

“Yea… that’s what I thought.”  Oh, he’s going to get it—calm down…  Not going to make a scene.  Not going to make a scene… not on customer appreciation day. “Look, she’s getting away!”

“Oh, ain’t that a shame.”

“Go after her!  I bet she’ll be impressed if you pass her now.”

Dude, I’m not chasing a girl!”

“I thought you said you liked to run?” asked Logan.

“Not like this…”  Ok, this isn’t working.  Maybe a new approach.  “…Besides, I don’t even have my new running shoes.  By the time I put them on, she’ll be long gone.”

“Why don’t you just run in those?”

“Because Zack doesn’t want to mess up his ‘Gucci’ shoes,” said Josh.

“Wait, you’ve been walking around in Gucci shoes this whole time, and you can’t even give away a corn hole game?”  Oh, please Josh, give me another reason to smack you, I’m begging you.  Right here, right now!

“Typical Zack for ya. And there she goes, the girl of his dreams, up and out of his life.”

“Knock it off Josh!”

“There’s still time, hurry!”

“Seriously Josh, you’re driving me crazy!”

“Go Zack!” hollered a random client.

“Yea, do it Zack!” said another.

“Zack… Zack… Zack.” Logan and Josh started to chant. Others joined, but I was having none of it, each word driving me closer to the edge of insanity, closer to the moment Josh received a giant slug in the mouth.  Something’s got to give.

“There she goes… gone forever.”

“Shut up Josh!”

“Please!”

“I’ll pop you right in the face this time!  Go on, one more word!”

“Go get her Zack!” I can’t take it anymore!

“Yea Zack, go for it!”

“Zack… Zack… Zack!”  AHHHHHHH!!!

I took off in a sprint, my legs propelled by a mind I no longer controlled; off on a journey to catch the running babe… my babe.  This ought to shut them up, at least for a minute. Just keep running, then after 20 seconds—no, can’t do that.  I’d never hear the end about my cardio.  Gotta put in a little effort, keep going—great, I’m actually catching up now. Well, she does look kind of cute, now that I’m sort of close and all.  And what the hey?  I made it this far, might as well go a little further, just to see if she really is as hot as Josh says.  I crept up a little farther, drafting behind like a NASCAR driver ready to make a pass. Ok, here we go—HUUUURGH… uh oh.

A throng of aches shot through my legs and my stomach bubbled like a cauldron.  It yearned for an epic discharge, my body screaming furiously to stop.  Give up.  It’s over.  Yet, against the cramps, the abundance of beer sloshing about my stomach, and the incessant pestering from Josh, something pushed me forward.  I had to know.  Who was this babe?  Where is she running to… or better yet, what is she running away from?  Risking a violent reaction of oral projectiles, I kicked it into high gear until we were running abreast along the grassy knolls of the park, into the setting sun.

Alright, this is it.  Nice and easy.  Don’t make it too obvious.  Take it slow.  All you need is a peak.  And look, she doesn’t even suspect a thing!  A few more seconds, that’s it, and… and there—Wait, what the Hell? Oh God, she’s like 50 years old!

I took a hard left and came to a dead stop, my stomach screaming for a release.  I forbade it and took my time to catch my breath, letting the contents settle before the long and grueling quarter-mile journey back.

“Dude, you just stopped for no reason,” yelled Josh between laughs.  “Ya blew it!”

“She was an old lady. A dusty old bird!”  I knelt over, panting heavily between phrases.  “I’m never chasing anybody ever again.  You hear me? Never… again…”

My voice settle into silence.  The entire clientele base stared; Logan, his wife, the blonde—all of them, the latest of escapades garnishing their full attention.  Among them was Rebecca, her face oozing with disgust.  Bill stood next to her trying to impress, but unable to conceal his smile, no matter how hard he tried.  Then, there was Chase, mortified, looking as though he had just watched his entire business flush down the toilet.  So, this is what Kevin McCalister must’ve felt like when Uncle Frank said, “Look what you did you little jerk!”

“Gretch, my office. First thing Monday morning… Gretch?”

Gretch stood at the edge, repeatedly banging her head against a wooden awning post.  “Why me, God?  Why?”

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