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Skeleton in Our Closet

From the guestbook of the Oakville (Ontario) HHH web page:

Name: Disappointed
Email: _____________________
City: _____________________
Country: _____________________
Date: 8/12/99
Time: 2:13:02 PM

Comments: I read the “History” section of your web site. The original idea for this kind of club seems fun, and fitness oriented. I’m very disappointed to see what it has come to. “A drinking club with a running problem?” Hello? Don’t you people have anything better to do? I’ve seen what being involved in this club can do to people. It is one of the things that has destroyed the integrity of my father. At this very moment, my family is falling apart, and this club is one of the things that has contributed to it. I’m very disappointed in what this club has come to. I doubt if the original founders ever intended it to come to this. Your web site is one that I am ashamed to have gone to. It is filled with stories of disgusting people with very low morals. I hope that someday, you all can see the lasting effect your participation in this club will have, not only on yourselves, but your families and your children as well.

It’d be easy to poke fun at this letter, to laugh it off, but I found it disturbing. Some people think hashing is silly and some think it’s crazy, but until now I’d never heard from anyone who thinks hashing is bad, disgusting, and shameful. Whoa, is this person writing about the same hash we know?

Sure, drinking is part of our image, but the operative word is “part.” Drinking, for most of us, is part of hashing, not by any means all of it or even most of it. For many hashers, drinking isn’t part of hashing at all . . . they don’t drink, period. I imagine most outsiders, if they’ve heard of hashing at all, think of it in the same way they think of rugby . . . some sort of insane athletic activity with a lot of fellowship and some beer-drinking after the game. That’s how I think of hashing, at any rate. Drinking is secondary, maybe even tertiary. I agree with the writer’s comments on the original HHH group . . . it was far from being a “drinking club.” Sure, there are a few hashes today (mainly in the States but not all) that come close to being drinking clubs, but even these groups still hash, and no matter how coy we are about using the “R” word, hashing demands a degree of fitness and physical effort.

How important should hashers take hashing’s public image? I’ve been interviewed several times about hashing by reporters from the mainstream press, as have several of you. I dare say we were all careful to stress that the trail and the camaraderie came first, making certain the reporter understood that the drinking was moderate, with plenty of food, soda, and water available as well. On the whole, the mainstream press has reported the hash this way, projecting a generally positive image of hashing to the public.

Still, to hear some hashers talk (especially on the hash list!) you’d think hashing is only about drinking, and drinking to the point of vomiting, stupefaction, and alcohol poisoning at that. Some hashers are their own worst enemies when it comes to publicizing the hash, and unfortunately, some of these hashers have web pages that anyone can see. I think this writer, even though he has a good point and plenty of personal reasons for holding it, is over-reacting to a silly slogan. “A drinking club with a running problem.” We say that as a joke, right? Right?

The real problem this writer points out, and it’s one we all should be aware of, is that some people cannot or will not drink responsibly. There are people who come to the hash specifically to drink. There are alcoholics who come to the hash because alcohol is there. To people like this, hashing can be poison, and I’m sincerely sorry if the writer’s father falls into that category.

Is it our job to combat other people’s alcohol problems? To keep these people away from the hash, or to keep them from drinking too much while they’re there? Are we our brothers’ keepers? To some degree I believe we must be, if only to protect our favorite form of recreation.

When I ask hashers about excessive drinking at down-downs and on-afters, they invariably assure me that in their hash they have a firm policy of always taking care of their heavy drinkers, either by getting a designated driver to take them home or by calling a cab. But in over ten years of hashing in the USA and other countries I can count the times I’ve actually seen this happen on the fingers of one hand. Why the gap between what we wish we could do and what we actually do? Well, have you ever tried to talk the car keys away from a big drunk who’s absolutely convinced he can drive? Get real! It’s damn hard to do and often impossible.

Based on my own experience and a few things I’ve heard here and there, I think there have been (and continue to be) significant numbers of hashers arrested for drunken driving on their way home from hash events. This is a skeleton (maybe the skeleton) in our closet. Hashers don’t like to talk about the Dark Side; we talk about other things instead. The problem is that as hashing becomes more widely known to the non-hashing public, so also will our propensity to do things the non-hashing public disapproves of . . . things like disturbing the peace, trespassing, and drinking . . . and it won’t be long before society makes the connection between hashing and drunken driving.

If you’re part of the “adult leadership” of your hash, which I define as anyone who contributes to his or her hash out of a sense of responsibility and a love of hashing, there are a few things you can do. Find out who’s not drinking, and get them to agree to taking a couple of folks home afterwards. Then work on convincing the heavy drinkers to leave their cars at the start and accept rides. This works a lot better if you do this right after the keg is tapped, when people are still open to reason. If you’re on the outskirts of the circle, keep an eye out for cops and be prepared to meet them, talk to them, and head them off. If you’re the person leading the circle and you see someone on the outskirts of the circle trying to head off the cops, for heaven’s sake don’t compete with that person for the cops’ attention! GMs & RAs: Don’t let the mob intimidate you into forcing multiple down-downs on one or two individuals, no matter how badly they fucked up, and don’t let down-downs go on to the point where the keg, not you, becomes the center of attention. Encourage everyone to go to on-afters, and try to get everyone to eat.

But all this is just common sense and self-protection. After all, if a hasher does get stopped and cited for drunken driving after a hash, who do you think the authorities will want to talk to next? The adult leadership, that’s who . . . and if you’re still reading this, that’s probably you!

The larger issue here is protecting hashing, and that’s where we should be concerned with our public image. If the public gets the impression we’re nothing but a Delta House full of slobbering, ambulatory drunkards, that’s the impression law enforcement agencies will share, and before we know it they’ll be monitoring our web pages and telephone hotlines and putting up sobriety roadblocks near hash locations.

In the end, of course, it’s up to us. Like it or not, the hash is more and more in the public eye. The image we project can help us or hurt us, depending on what aspect of hashing we choose to emphasize.

The guys who started the hash had the right idea, and the image they projected is the one I think we should still project today. It’s spelled out in the charter of the Kuala Lumpur Hash House Harriers, and it goes like this:

  • To promote physical fitness among our members
  • To get rid of weekend hangovers
  • To acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer
  • To persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel

Drink? Sure we drink, but this puts it in perspective. “A drinking club with a running problem” is clever and attention-getting, but does it really reflect what hashing’s all about? Not the hash I know. Maybe it’s time to find a new slogan.

- Flying Booger

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