Article on Hashing
from the Palm Beach Post

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What the Hash?

Monday, May 6, 2002

High school teacher Dorian Jamison, 32, (right) knows his students wouldn't understand what it takes to be a hasher. A couple times a week, the Hash House Harriers gather to drink beer, run, drink beer and run.

DELRAY BEACH -- Dorian Jamison is standing in a parking lot hundreds of miles from his home in DeLand. This is a very good thing.

By day, Jamison is a high school teacher. But this is the weekend, when Jamison likes to cut loose. All the miles traveled to do so? Consider them insurance, a little something to make sure his students aren't around to see him. Because if they were, what would they think?

"That my teacher's a freak," he says.

Jamison, you see, is wearing a fluffy, red Russian hat. A red feathered boa fit for a Paris runway.

And a red dress.

It's an exquisite ensemble, really. And required. Jamison is about to embark on something called The Red Dress Run, a bizarre annual ritual for a whimsical bunch called The Hash House Harriers.

If you've ever heard of them, no explanation is needed.

If you've never heard of them, no explanation is believable.

"A drinking club with a running problem" is the banner they proudly hoist, at least whenever they're not hoisting a cold one. A couple of times a week, they gather in various areas around the county to drink beer, run, drink more beer, run... and then, of course, replenish all those lost fluids by drinking beer.

Where they're running is a mystery. Someone goes out beforehand, marks a trail using plops of flour spread over several miles, then laughs hysterically when everyone gets lost.

Perhaps you've seen them: a bunch of 50-odd (emphasis on odd) runners blowing whistles, yelling things like "On-On!" and scouring sidewalks like Inspector Clouseau for flour. Rather than refer to each other by their names -- how boring would that be? -- they pin raunchy nicknames on one another that you won't find in a family newspaper, or many adult bookstores.

They do this come hell and high water. There isn't something called a "Hurricane Hash" for nothing. And once a year, they get formal with The Red Dress Run, which has traipsed through malls and aboard Tri-Rail trains. But just when you're thinking this all sounds so goofy, they throw curves in the trail.

For one, this isn't some fleeting, local cult. The Hash House Harriers boast 1,467 chapters in 159 countries. Hashers wouldn't dream of flying to Albania, Fiji, Argentina, the Czech Republic or Zimbabwe without first checking the Web site that links the world's hash groups. Secondly, when one member of the group is in need, the others are quick to chip in by putting together a "benefit" hash, such as next weekend's event for Puppies Under Protection, a dog shelter.

"It's an anonymous brotherhood," says Lake Worth's T.J. Delaney (hash name: unprintable). "You're family. It's kind of like the mob, except if you want to leave, they don't shoot you."

If you want to stay, be prepared. Just look at what happened in 1999, the day Hurricane Irene decided to hit South Florida on a hash day. The gall. The gale.

"You haven't lived until you've tried to find flour in the middle of a hurricane," says Paul Fulop, 32, a computer consultant from Boynton Beach (hash name: unprintable).

You can't stop the hash. You can only hope to contain your suds, which Fulop did, rain or no rain. Somewhere, the spirit of Albert Stephen Ignatius Gispert had to be smiling. He's the British gent considered the father of all hashing, dating back to 1938 in Malaysia, when he and his buddies would run around, then meet at a restaurant so bad they referred to it as the "Hash House." We don't know what Gispert's hash name was, but we're quite sure it's unprintable.

One Lake Worth man went to Malaysia for the granddaddy of all hashes. Considering it draws about 6,000 runners, that's not surprising. The man's excuse for going is: "I got married just before it so we could call it our honeymoon," says Dave Bell, a computer consultant.

Going down, down, down

At the end of each hash, runners form a circle for the "Down Down," which describes precisely what they do with their beer. Newcomers -- "virgins" -- are called into the middle to chug a beer. So is anyone wearing a T-shirt from a race, anyone who races on trail, and anyone doing anything the others consider offensive (the possibilities are endless). Wearing new running shoes draws a severe penalty: You have to drink from them. Conversely, it is with great relief we report that wearing old, grungy running shoes is acceptable.

Jamison, who teaches 11th-grade English and geometry, explains exactly what leads him to such behavior: "You're dealing with people ranging from professionals to the working class, people who just like to socialize, have a good time and pretty much let their hair down. It's basically a group of people who live vicariously in unique and unusual ways. It's kind of like a fraternity without the B.S. It's the biggest paradox I've ever seen."

Don't try to figure them out

Paradox is as good a word as any. Once, in Louisiana, guards at a mall surrounded the hashers and forced them to sweep up all their flour. Local police once swooped down upon West Palm Beach's Heidi Fleisher, quizzically shining their helicopter searchlight on her. In 1951, hashers stumbled upon snoozing robbers in Kuala Lumpur, summoned police, and were handsomely rewarded (they used the money to throw a party, of course). The White House Harriers once had a stare-down with the Secret Service that ended with the hashers giving an agent a hash T-shirt to hang on the office wall, just to let all the other agents know this is one crazy bunch, but they're not that crazy.

In Tasmania, a group of hashers wading through water found themselves trapped in a rip current. Luckily, a teenager watching their antics was trained in the art of rescuing. In Pennsylvania and North Carolina, hashers have had to explain those plops of flour to authorities fearing it was anthrax. Locally, you'll still find people such as Fulop walking around with "Hurricane Hash" T-shirts, ready to reconvene anytime a tropical storm comes within 100 miles of the area. See what you started, Irene?

"Everyone was running with their hands cupped over their ears to keep the water from flowing into their eardrums," Fulop says. "The wind would come from the side and blow you maybe 10 feet into the roadway. Fortunately there were no cars on the road. No one was stupid enough to be out there.

"The eye of the hurricane passed over us while we were at a bar. They wouldn't let us in, so we were standing outside while they brought us out a couple of pitchers.

"That was probably one of the best times I've had in my life."

There's a serious side

All good paradoxes have a flip side. This is no different. A few years ago, a founding member of the Corned Beef Hash contracted cancer. The runners turned the annual Gilligan's Island Hash into a benefit, drawing hashers from as far away as Broward County who dressed as the Skipper, Gilligan & Co.

"It was a great hash, a great party, a great trail," Delaney says. "We killed a couple of kegs and everybody had a great time."

The next day, the man died.

"What a way to go," Delaney says, not sounding the least bit flippant. "All your friends get together, throw you a fund-raiser, hand you a fistful of cash at the end of the night, and then you go to sleep. No hospital, no tubes, no machines.

"People got up at his service and talked about his personal life, his work. I had no idea what his personal life was. I didn't even know his real name (Bob) until 2 1/2 years after I met him. It's part of the anonymity of the hash. You can do what you want to do, be who you want to be, and leave your real identity at home. Nobody cares."

Area hashers cared when another one of their own, Dave Pickwick, lost everything in an apartment fire.

"He's a divorced dad with a couple of kids and child support," Delaney says. "People started donating clothes and furniture and cash. Some people put him up for a couple of nights to help him get back on his feet. If he were out on his own... "

Regardless of the reason, a hash always means happy trails for Lake Worth's Brent Wacker, 38, the Hash's "Grand Master" who on Red Dress night was stuck with carrying a toilet plunger loaded down with trinkets. Why?

"If you do something stupid, they give it to you," says Wacker, a sales rep for the Florida Lottery. "Sometimes several people do something stupid. Then we have nominations and a run-off."

Mark Warshauer, 45, a computer analyst from Boynton Beach, was loving it.

"I like to have excitement, be outdoors and be juvenile," Warshauer says. "I can do all those things at the hash. I'll tell you, you break even. You drink some beer, you run.

"You do something good for you, something bad. Whatever."

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