The roosters were still crowing on the outskirts of town and the old men in overalls were just finishing their coffee and starting on tobacco when Dr. Timothy Nomann, President and CEO of Big ASS Endurance, kicked open the door of his chambers in the Old Opera House in downtown Lehrton, MS. He walked out this Saturday morning while the air was still cool and the regular crowd was starting to mingle in once more, waiting, wondering when it would all end. The Trial of the Century, the disciplinary hearing of distance swimmer Randy Beets, it appeared, was at long last about to be over. The fat lady was starting to sing.
If Nomann has a game face, he was wearing it as he made his way to the bench, sat down, and took a quick swig of coffee. He called the session into order and sternly warned the crowd against emotional outbursts of any kind. In attendance were a number of locals, some of whom had been there all day all week. Robin Bond, who had capably represented Beets the previous five days, was on hand dolled up in a red dress cut low in the front, high heel sandals, and black stockings. Did she think that would help? Zane Hodge sat in his usual spot in the second row of what looked like old church pews which provide the seating for spectators. As normal, he drank coffee and ate mysteriously and vigorously from a brown paper bag.
Reading from a prepared statement, Nomann cleared his throat and began:
For as much as no organization is stronger than its weakest link, and for as much as Big ASS Endurance has embraced and benefited from Mr. Beets, his personality, and his rivalry with Zane Hodge, it is incumbent upon me that justice is done by this court and the results here speak clearly, unambiguously, and forcefully to all who have followed this trial or will study it in the future. In light of the testimony and findings of this court, I sentence Randy Beets to forfeiture of one can of potted meat from next year's salary, loss of expense refunds for Swim the Suck Ten Miler for the year 2014, and suspension from competition for 37 days beginning today, Saturday April 12th. During these 37 days of suspension, Mr. Beets may compete but is ineligible to win or place in the official rankings of Big ASS or any of its sub organizations. To members of the popular Facebook group Vicarious Butt Beets, you may continue to beat his hinder parts during this suspension. Our long ASS nightmare is over. I pronounce these proceedings closed, and under Big ASS bylaws no appeal is permitted.
And just like that it was done.
The crowd's reaction was surprisingly subdued. Nomann just slapped his gavel, got up and walked out. I looked around for someone to interview, and I saw Bond Robin sitting with legs crossed on the front row. I tried to snap a photograph but she saw my devices and stood, ruining my view. When I walked towards her hoping for at least a comment, she just stomped out and beat it to the parking lot where she got in her big white Dodge truck and drove away, tires squealing on the city street.
Then I turned back inside and saw Zane Hodge.
"What do you think?" I asked. He seemed amazingly nonchalant.
"I think I need another chicken gizzard," he said reaching back into his paper bag.
"I meant. . ."
"I know what you meant," he snapped. "I can't believe this. I actually feel sorry for that sorry son of a Sasquatch. Dude, a can of potted meat! That Nomann really knows how to hurt a guy."
"What about the suspension?" I asked.
"That's nothing," he said reaching into his bag and pulling out another gizzard. "I mean not much is going on this time of year. Our big race is in October. And late May. I have to sit down so I can get my ketchup out."
He sat down and tore a piece of his paper bag and placed it like a plate on the pew. After pouring two packs of Heinz ketchup on the paper, he dragged another gizzard through it and ate like he was tasting truffles. Then he got his phone out and I could see he was looking at his calendar.
"The next thing up is Pensacola Bay Bridge Swim. That will be the first Big ASS 5K World Championship. Hey, he said 37 days. I bet that ends the day before Pensacola," he said while chomping on a gizzard.
I could see him mouthing the numbers as his index finger traced the days from April 12 until May 16. He stopped chewing and his eyes got big Real big. He counted again then he exploded.
"OH MY GOD!!"
"OH MY GOD!!"
"OH MY GOD!!" he yelled and began pacing.
"Beets suspension ends the day AFTER Pensacola. OH. MY. GOD!!!" he shouted with little pieces of chicken gizzard flying out of his mouth.
"What's the big deal? He can still swim. You can still beat him."
"But it's not the same. He can swim, but he can't officially compete. If I can't beat Beets for the World Championship, I'm not going."
"Really. I'm not going. Pensacola is off. I can't believe Nomann did that to me. Instead of punishing Beets, he punished ME!"
Then Hodge picked up his gizzards and left. I followed him outside but didn't know what to say, to ask. He walked rapidly to his truck and climbed inside his black 2005 Nissan. I watched him tear off another piece of his sack and place it on his dashboard. He popped two Heinz ketchup packets onto the paper. I saw him dip another gizzard and then he drove off chewing rapidly like he was mad at that gizzard. When his truck hit the city street, like Bond, his tires squealed and he ran the stop sign leading out of town.