I wake up as the plane touches down at San Francisco International. It’s after midnight. I feel like someone stuffed used pantyhose in my mouth. As I grab my bag from the overhead bin the stew looks at me knowingly. Her legs are bare. Some wakeup calls are worse than others. I’m used to it. I’m Flying Booger, Private Hasher.
San Francisco. The City by the Sea. Little cable cars. Fruits and nuts. Yeah, all that. Cold, that’s what I call Frisco. I’m standing out in front of the terminal, shivering, when I hear a whiny voice say “Excuse me.” I turn around and see a pudgy fishbelly who maybe the closest he ever came to honest labor was once when he sat behind a plumber in church. You know the kind. I feel inside my jacket for my heater. It’s there. Long, hard, and cold, like a San Francisco hash trail. But too much of a production to waste on the Fat Man. I stand aside and let him waddle by. I’ve been pissed off before and I’ll be pissed off again. So what.
Twenty minutes later I’m sorry I didn’t nail him right there on the sidewalk. I’m standing tenth in line at the counter while two clerks try to rent cars to people who don’t speak English. I’m not certain the clerks speak English either. One thing’s for sure. The customers and the clerks don’t share the same mother tongue. I’m just realizing I’m going to have to settle in for a long winter’s night when I hear a commotion at the door. It’s the Fat Man, who else, cutting to the front of the line with his Alamo Gold Card in his sweaty fingers. I reach for my rod, then figure if I shoot him I might be a hero to the other customers, but the only ride I’ll get tonight’ll be in the back of a black & white, so I keep my cool. I finally get wheels, an underpowered, too small something-or-other, and head for my client’s house.
Doctor Kimball. Maybe the name doesn’t mean much to you. I knew him as Midnite, back before he changed his moniker to Twisted Route. That was when his Ex found out he was hashing and started making trouble for him. Some dummy tipped her to his new alias. You guessed it. More trouble. The kind of trouble only a woman scorned can deliver. And did she ever. Now he’s on the lam with a new identity, courtesy of the Hash Witness Protection Program.
That’s where I come in. Kimball calls me last week to say he heard she’s turning up the heat, calling hashers around the country trying to get a line on his new location and hash name. I tell him nobody’s cracked the Hash Witness Protection Program yet. It’s the “yet” part he’s worried about, he tells me. Even the tightest security program can spring a leak. He begs me to come over to give him a little extra protection. I don’t exactly have customers knocking down the door at the time, so I agree to fly out and take his money.
I follow the directions he gave me, out the Bay Bridge to Treasure Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. I take the Yerba Buena exit and find his address at a hour when even the crack dealers are beddy-bye. I’m not feeling so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed myself. And I can still taste the pantyhose. The nameplate on the door says “Commander.” That can’t be right. I double check the address. Unless Kimball gave me a bum steer, this has to be it. I knock.
The guy who answers the door is a stranger, but only for a minute. I squint and stare him down. It’s Kimball, all right, with shorter hair and more wrinkles. Good disguise. It gets better. He’s wearing a uniform. “Doc,” I say, “you look like you’re in the Navy.”
“I yam what I yam,” he answers. “It’s part of the cover. I’m supposed to be boss of this island, but who gives a shit about that? Hope you brought your running clothes. I’m haring for the Fog City Hash tomorrow.”
I feel like I stepped off the edge of a roof in the dark, but I land on my feet. Hey, I’m a hasher. I’ve stepped off roofs before. When it comes to addictions, hashing is right up there with the white stuff. Obviously, Doc’s fallen off the wagon. When he entered the program he had to swear he’d give up hashing, but we all know promises like that are worth about as much as a back check and a pack arrow. What makes my blood run cold is his announcement that he’s haring. He’s in deep. Too deep. He was smart to call me. Question is, was I smart to take the case? Maybe not, but at least I was smart enough to call in my partner, Stimulate-Her.
Stimulate-Her. I first met this bird on a Tampa hash trail. He’s a stone hash addict himself, an honor dropout of Hashoholics Hanonymous. When I have a hash job I usually look him up. He knows where all the SCBs are buried. I called him as soon as I got the Kimball case. He’s due to show up in a couple of hours. Doc’s relapse will be news to him. Tough. Hack it or die, like he always tells me.
“You out of your mind?” I ask Doc. “You start haring, your name’s gonna start showing up in hash trashes, it’s just a matter of time before word gets back to your Ex.”
“No chance,” he says, “I’ll only do it until I need glasses.” Right, I think. That’s what they always say. But I’m beat and there’s no point in arguing now. He shows me my bedroom and I’m out like a light.
In the morning I wake up feeling like someone dumped used coffee grounds in my mouth. I hear voices outside my door. Doc and Stimulate-Her. Guess my partner made it okay. I stumble out to the kitchen, grab a cup of joe, and choke it down. Stimulate-Her and Kimball are gone. They leave me a note telling me they’re pre-laying trail. Great. You know you’ve hit bottom when you pre-lay . . . and rock bottom when you admit it. Now I’ve got two relapsed hashoholics to deal with. Who am I supposed to be, Betty Ford? This is going to be tougher than I thought. I find the phone and call Magic and Magic User, professional hash deprogrammers from LA. They’re busy working an outbreak of mass hash hysteria in La Jolla, but when I tell them the scope of my problem they agree to drop everything and drive up this afternoon. I just hope they get here before it’s too late.
I’m sliding back into bed when the doorbell rings. I crawl back out and stagger to the door. The redhead is hot. Too hot. “What’s your name?” I ask. “Open Wide,” she says. I do. “You know you got coffee grounds in your teeth?” she asks, as she brushes by me into the house. She looks like she knows her way around. Kimball’s newest hash twinkie, no doubt. He could always pick ‘em. I remember his last one, Gluteus Maximus. An ass to die for, but a total hash junkie.
By the time Doc and Stimulate-Her get back there’s eight more hash bimbos in the house, each one better-looking than the last. “Let’s go,” says our host, “it’s time to hash.” Takes all kinds, I guess. He’d rather run than party with the broads. I pull on my shorts and follow the women out the door. Walking behind all these shapely butts, I feel like the last page of a Playboy magazine.
We hash around Treasure Island, then scale the side of Yerba Buena, steep and covered in poison oak. Halfway up I find a note scratched into the dirt. “Hack it or die.” Suddenly we’re at the top of the island, where trail continues up an abandoned observation tower. We follow the stairs to the top. We’re looking down on the Bay Bridge, and farther out lies the City. Just as the last hasher gets up the stairs an airshow starts. It’s Fleet Week in San Francisco, and the Blue Angels are doing their stunts. Kimball’s civilian friends are stunned into silence. Me, I’ve seen fast jets before. Big deal. Besides, the view sucks. After the airshow we pick up trail again, and come On In at Doc’s house. There’s a keg of cold beer, so no one’s complaining. Okay, I think. You got away with it once, Doc, don’t press your luck. Magic and Magic User show up, and after sizing up the situation they take me aside. “You’ve got a real problem here,” they tell me. “Tell me something I don’t know,” I say. I go to bed bimbo-less but full of beer. I dream of redheads.
In the morning I wake up feeling like someone crammed used running shorts in my mouth. I try to go back to sleep, but Stimulate-Her shakes me awake. “You seen my shorts from yesterday?” he asks. I choke them up and crawl back under the covers. “You can’t stay in bed,” Stimulate-Her says, “Kimball’s waiting for you to drive us to the East Bay Hash in Berkeley.” I can’t believe he’s going to hang it out hashing another day. The Ex is going to find out eventually if he keeps this up, and no hash witness protection program is going to be able to deflect the heat he’ll catch then. I look for Magic and Magic User but they’re gone. Now what? Hack it or die, I guess. Shit. I can’t find my running shorts. There’s a lump in my throat. I cough once more, hard, and up they come. Hey, I’ve run in wet clothes before. I’m a hasher.
Berkeley. People’s Republic of. Old Volvos. AIDS posters. Neo-hippies. And hills €” even more than yesterday. More drop-dead women, so I can’t slow down on the up-ups like I want to. I’m hacking it, but barely. I’m following a hot little number named Slick ‘n’ Wet. So are the shorts I’m wearing. Slick ‘n’ wet, I mean.
Halfway up a hill my blood freezes. I can’t swear to it, but one of the hashers up ahead looks a lot like Magic. If my deprogrammers fall off the wagon, too, I’ve lost the battle. I try to catch up, but she’s too fast. Neither of them show up at Down-Downs, so maybe I’m seeing things.
Down-Downs are under a BART station in downtown Berkeley, and it’s cold. Nipple City. I’d like to enjoy the view, but it’s too frigid to concentrate. I don’t warm up until we’re in Barclay’s Pub afterward, pounding Anchor Steam and bullshitting about the trail. I put my best moves on Slick ‘n’ Wet. She drops me like a gut-shot deer. Stimulate-Her turns on the charm for a broad named Closet Queen. He quickly finds out how that particular hasher got his name. We both roll in on a vision in spandex named D-Cup, who’s got more than enough to spread around. Unfortunately, the only things she’s spreading around are scorn and derision. We seek solace in our beer mugs. Eventually, Kimball drives us home. I’m almost dead.
But not quite, as I discover when I wake up the next morning, feeling like the Blue Angels are doing an airshow inside my skull. Plus there’s a hamster in my mouth. I stay in bed until I’m absolutely sure Richard Gere isn’t going to walk in looking for his special friend. I get up, spit out a few hairs, comb my teeth, and go looking for my client.
I find Doc watching Mystery Science Theater reruns while fourteen Barbi Benton look-alikes feed him peeled grapes and Evian water. Women are saps for guys in uniform. “You up for one more hash?” he asks. You gotta be kiddin’ me €” by now the jungle tom-toms are beating from coast to coast, and it’s just a matter of time till the Ex hears the distant rhythm and comes looking for his scalp, about the only thing he walked out of the marriage with. “How am I supposed to protect you if you keep on hashing?” I ask. “Just one more,” he pleads, “she’ll never look for me here.” I call for Magic and Magic User. No answer. I check their room, where I find a note. “See you at the hash.” I know when I’m beat. I give up and decide to go with the flow.
So here we are driving up the hills to the Hard Rock Cafe on Van Ness Street, looking for the San Francisco Hash. The hamster under the hood must have spent the night in someone’s mouth. Halfway up the hill he quits hacking it. And dies. We walk the rest of the way. Hashers are milling around in front of the Hard Rock, Magic and Magic User in the middle of the crowd. Someone cries “On On,” and we’re off. We run from one end of the City to the other. I thought I saw hills yesterday. I was wrong. These are hills. If I was an flea climbing D-Cup’s peaks it couldn’t be any steeper. We run to Coit Tower. We run up Lombard Street. We run through the Fillmore, dodging bullets and bricks. I quit hacking it and die. Closet Queen gives me CPR and revives me. He leaves his tongue in my mouth so long I have to start running again just to get away from him. Gotta remind myself to get tested for HIV when I get back. Beer check on top of the highest hill in town, then On In to an empty lot near the Hard Rock. I figure I’ve already died once tonight, I might as well drink a beer or three. After Down-Downs we go to a barbecue place and pound some more brews. Stimulate-Her and I sing the Music Man to an appreciative audience. They sing us a song of their own. We do an encore of Yogi. Everyone laughs till we get to the verse where the bear dies of AIDS. This is definitely a San Francisco crowd.
Suddenly I notice Doc’s missing. So’s Stimulate-Her, Magic, and Magic User. I sneak out the front door between verses of Bestiality’s Best and find a trail of powder leading up Fillmore Street. This is my fourth hash in three days, but this time it’s for real stakes €” my friends have a hell of a monkey riding on their backs, and it’s up to me to get them away from the hash. I follow their trail up Geary, down Union, and finally back up California until I’m deep in the Tenderloin. Look, even criminals don’t like to be in this neighborhood. It’s definitely bad for your health. Trail’s getting harder and harder to follow. There’s Stimulate-Her’s trademark back checks every other block. Magic’s true trail arrows lead off to nowhere. Magic User never learned to write, so he’s no help at all. I’m following Doc’s powder, realizing that he’s the only one laying good trail, like he’s making a cry for help. Suddenly I’m in front of the Mission Adult Cineplex and trail stops.
I look at the marquee. It says “Roses are Red and Violets are Blue. We Got the Lube for the Old Kazoo.” I hear a commotion inside. I push past the bouncer and into the lobby. It’s the most pathetic thing I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot. Four naked adults writhing on the floor, covered in kazoo lube, blowing each others’ whistles and singing S & M Man. The theater’s emptied out. Everyone’s in the lobby watching my friends perform. I pass out a few sawbucks, and with the help of the raincoat brigade I get them wrapped in blankets and stuffed in the back of a passing cab. “Treasure Island, and make it quick,” I tell the driver.
They giggle and mumble incoherently all the way home, and twice we have to stop for me to chase Doc when he leaps from the cab and starts running naked down the road, shouting “On On.” I manage to catch him both times, but only because he’s still covered in kazoo lube and can’t get any traction. Finally I get them home and into bed, still raving about hashing tomorrow, the next day, the day after that. Hash DTs. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I don’t care if I ever do again. It’s cold turkey time for these bozos.
I rip out the phone so they can’t call the hareline. I lock them inside and hide the keys. I throw away all the chalk, flour, and whistles I can find. I burn their running clothes and throw their shoes in San Francisco Bay. I leave a note on the door telling the local bimbos to stay away for a week or two, until the worst of the withdrawal symptoms are over. I’ve done all I can do. Some cases you crack, some you lose. It’s time to go home to sanity. I take a cab back into the city, find my dead rental car, kick-start the hamster, and head for the airport.
As I pull into Alamo this car tries to cut in front of me. It’s the Fat Man. What did I tell you? I said I’d been pissed off before and I’d be pissed off again. I’m pissed off again. I pull out my heater and introduce him to my friends Smith and Wesson. This time his gold card comes in second. I’m feeling magnanimous. I spare him to piss someone else off another day. If he was a hasher, it might be a different story.
I wake up as the plane lands at Honolulu International. I feel like someone put a pair of ASICS in my mouth. As I follow the crowd up the aisle to the door I notice I’m barefooted. I gotta quit living like this.
When I get back to the office I find a note on the floor. It’s a letter from Kimball’s Ex’s attorney. I open the lower left desk drawer and pull out the bottle of Black Label, the only friend I have left. I drink until I pass out. When I wake up I feel like someone stuffed Doc’s Ex in my mouth, shoes, shorts, pet hamster, and all. I look at the floor. The note’s still there.