The Mystique of the Hash House Harriers
The Mystique of the Hash House Harriers
by, Stan Cherim
What is it about Hashing that casts its spell over us and feeds our addiction? Hashing is, after all, a weird aberration in the world of recreational running. I raise the question, rhetorically, because curious people ask about it. They don't understand what it is that makes mature adults participate in an activity where the down-sides and hazards seem so obvious. They wonder why we seem to abuse our bodies and risk our necks by running through inhospitable terrain. Thickets clogged with thorns poised to shred the skin of our legs. Venues burgeoning with poison ivy, ticks, bees, and whatever creepy- crawly thing that may be endemic to a particular corner of the world. Why do we choose to run up and down steep and often slippery trails filled with rocks and roots? What sadistic impulse drives the Hares to lay trails that make us climb over and through cyclone fences and barbed wire, slosh through streams and swampland rich in sneaker- sucking mud? What defects in our collective character allow us to trespass on farmland, private estates, golf courses, or cause security guards to get their undies in a bunch when we saunter through shopping malls? Why do we court disaster by feeling our way through dark, water-filled culverts and tootling along stretches of railroad tracks? People wonder how men and women---especially men--- can reconcile themselves to a degree of shame- lessness that allows them to participate in a huge slice of lunacy called a "Red Dress Run." Who were the warped minds that conjured up an event in which free spirits reign supreme and the masses, garishly decked out in red dresses, careen around crowded busi- ness districts in cities throughout the world while yelling inanities like, "On, on!" or just screeching like banshees. And if we're really lucky, all of this neat stuff might go on during a thunderstorm, a blizzard, or in the dark of night.
Our favored response is to tell these perplexed mortals, "We're a drinking club with a running problem!" It really is a pretty cute rejoinder that often elicits a broad smile and maybe a shout of approval...but it's also misleading and it doesn't always turn out to be the perfect little snappy remark we want it to be. To some onlookers it is a validation of their moral indignation. There's something scandalous about a bizarre behavior being displayed by a bunch of freaky people. People so deficient in basic "family values" that they let themselves get caught up in a wave of mob psychology which makes it OK to be seen as offensive or infantile. The misleading part is the inherent suggestion that Hashers are a bunch of boozers. Not so. Emphatically, not so! One of the wonderful things about Hashers is their unstated and unspoken resolve to never put pressure on anyone to use alcoholic beverages. It is clearly understood that some people prefer not to use alcohol. They don't like it, or health considerations rule it out. These Hashers are accorded total respect. We don't even joke about it. Sometimes our response to anal-retentive mentalities derives from the oft-stated conviction that says, "If you're talking to a Hasher, you don't need to explain your addiction. If it's not a Hasher, you can't explain it." I don't think so. We find easy comfort in this answer, but it's a little too trite. Too smug. It's a cop-out. I think we can give people answers that will make sense to them. Some of them may even decide to give Hashing a try.
Here then is one Hasher's attempt to gather some bits and pieces of what may eventually evolve into a definitive apologetic. There is no rationale for the order of the topics as presented. No progression from trivial to powerful---just a bunch of reasons supporting the Hash House Harrier mystique in a way that may help outsiders get a better notion of what it's all about. It's not enough to say that it's all about Fun and Fitness. A lot of running clubs feature that slogan and, in a sense, it says it all and it makes an important statement to the effect that our passion is not necessarily related to competition, winning, or ego inflation. Paradoxically, however, it says nothing at all until we get into some details to explain what we mean by "fun" and how do we experience a joie de vivre that you just can't get with treadmills and barbells. Oh, yes, the fitness gym has its place, but while the "no pain, no gain" mentality arguably "sucks", it does work and it requires no explanation. Hashing, by contrast, is an alternative to the world of grunting, stinking, sweating bodies holed up in a jungle of steel contraptions. Hashing leads to a different level of fitness that contributes to the soundness of body in a less aggressive way. We can replace the grimace with a smile as the Hashers way to fitness takes us into an environment filled with the sounds, sights, and smells of nature.
Men and women of all ages regularly savor the joy of a group activity that takes us bounding over trails through forests, along (and often into) ponds and rivers. over high meadows, and even over patches of asphalt. The variety of locales is wonderful, too. Hardly ever do we run old trails in familiar places. The noncompetitive aspect of Hashing is a joyful release from the oval track, stop watches, and finishing chutes of the good old 10 K roadrace. Of course we find fun and camaraderie at the roadraces, too. Lots of Hashers are avid roadracers and there is no reason for Hashing and roadracing to be an either/or choice. The roadrace has its rewards: another T-shirt (like you only have 250 and you need more), medals, trophies, adulation (if you're an "elite" runner), or just a huge sense of accomplishment if you've covered the whole 26 miles of a marathon.
The Hash rewards, however, include a higher level of camaraderie that can only exist among close friends. Mutually shared expressions of warmth and affection doled out with hugs and smiles that extend naturally beyond the Hash event. We enjoy getting together for non-running social events, too. Periodically, Hashers will gather for a trip to the seashore or the mountains, a dinner together at an exotic restaurant, an entertainment event like a ballgame or a concert, or maybe just meeting together for a Happy Hour at a local brewpub and celebrate someone's birthday. Our occasional T-shirt is usually an item we buy to celebrate a special Hash event like a Red Dress Run. The only tangible award we can offer is a mug of beer to the "winners" of a Hash. Toward that end, we bring a characteristically perverse humor by presenting our "awards" to the Hares who volunteered to host the Hash and lay the trail, short-cutters, front-runners, visitors, and new Hashers (referred to as "Cherries", "Virgins" or "New Boots"). The "Award Ceremony" is like nothing else. The eating and drinking climax to our physical exertions is called an "Apres" in which our designated "Religious Advisor" , striving for a high level of refreshing irreverence, leads us in the singing of appropriately raunchy tunes.
The variety of personalities that constitute a regional Hash are quite amazing. And it's not only the individual Hashers---the Hash, as an entity, is likely to have a personality. Some Hash units are more party oriented rather than being gung-ho for running. In a light-hearted way, they display their mock disdain for hard running by using the word "Run" as though it were an obscenity. They're also quick to jokingly ridicule any Hashers daring to wear T-shirts from roadraces. Such blasphemy will surely earn them a beer "Down-down" at the Apres. Other Hash units are composed of many serious runners who thirst after physically daunting trails. They may even manage to create some kind of competitive twist to the event. Apparently, the primal forces of our "human nature" will cause the competitive fire to burn in contradiction of the Hash mentality. Some Hashers love to sing. The raunchier the lyrics, the better. And many Hash units embrace the whole spectrum of motivations.
But back to the individuals because here is where we have something special in the social interaction of all kinds of men and women. What is wonderful about it, and what is something of a unique Hash phenomenon, is the total, unquestioning acceptance that hashers have for each other. People do not come to a Hash with agendas that include a need to impress others with how important, or rich, or how smart they are. Nobody cares if you're a plumber, stockbroker, big shot executive, tax collector (well, that might create some negative disposition), lawyer (with a high tolerance for nasty jokes), salesperson, Chemistry prof (they?re the worst kind), or whatever. Criteria for acceptance into Hash events are simply a few bucks to pay for food and drink, a love of adventure running on the trails, and a zest for partying that is likely to be on the "R-rated" side.
With regard to attitudes and philosophies, the Hash is typically a land of diversity: Conservatives and liberals, religious types, irreverent characters, party animals as well as quiet loners, and some people that drift in who are ?right off the wall." But these unique personalities are fully accepted and we don't call them "weird." We prefer to say that they are just "different", and the encompassing arms of the Hash will be long enough and strong enough to encompass "different" people within our circle. One of the really delightful things about Hashing is the chance it affords us to react to the smothering effect of political and social "correctness." To be a rebel. To leave, temporarily, our sheltered structures and directed work-a-day worlds that are so filled with expectations and responsibilities. There are no Rules in the Hash universe. The Hash is the time and place for behavior based on a mock disrespect for genteel conventions and "family" values. But it's all done in a spirit of fun, and that's why it works and exists as a major part of the Hash Mystique. There's a lot of tongue-in-cheek insulting that goes on. A kind of crude banter that elicits smiles rather than hurt feelings. It is clearly understood that teasing is just a light-hearted bit of fluff among people who have profound respect and genuine affection for each other. It's the Hash style to kid people about mismanaging events, laying ugly trails, or botching up whatever it is that somebody with a brain would do correctly. Another unique characteristic of the world-wide Hash movement is the special nickname that assembled Hashers hang on a newly inducted member. The age, gender, or lifestyle of the newcomer is irrelevant. The scatological approach is basic to any flimsy pretext for selecting a raunchy name for the victim. Resisting an inclination to give some examples, it will be simply noted here that this singular event allows the Hash to cross the line separating decency from the realm of poor taste and cruelty toward wildlife (i.e., Hashers).
Of course, the world of the Hash has its share of human imperfection. Most of us will occasionally have that kind of day where we feel a little grouchy and behave in a way that rubs somebody's fur the wrong way. Where you draw the line between good-natured taunting and overly crude insults, varies with people. Some folks can handle an unrestricted litany of jokes and songs and always find the humor. But when you get into jokes involving sexual orientation, toilet functions, race, ethnicity, blondes, and lawyers, some people will feel deeply offended. What distinguishes "humor" from poor taste and gross insensitivity will always be perceived differently by different people. Personality conflicts are another inevitability, but that?s something we?ll always have to live with. What is great about the Hash is the degree of harmony that seems to have become one of the major characteristics of our remarkably inclusive society.
It is largely because of this spirit, this attitude, that the Hash movement has evolved into an unstructured, but nevertheless, international affiliation. For example, it is absolutely fantastic how a Hasher from one part of the world can get on the Internet and hit on the web pages of Hashes thousands of miles away. Then, choosing among the e-mail addresses displayed, contact an officer of any foreign Hash. Introduce yourself and announce that you plan to be there on such and such a date, and you'd love to find a Hasher who has enough room for you to crash for a day or two so that you can be there to Hash with them. Look for a positive response. There is a real sense of fraternity among Hashers throughout the world that opens doors and multiplies friendships. ON ON !!
About the author
A few words in case anybody is wondering about this Stan Cherim who crawled out of the woodwork to write this stuff. Well, I'm a member of the Hockessin Hash House Harriers in the state of Delaware, USA. At age 72, I'm the fossil of our Hash. Old enough to know better, but I Hash anyway. I?m married to Solveig (Yeah, Scandinavian. So do me something), got a son and four grandkids rampaging around Holland. I'm an author who's not holding his breath waiting for a Pulitzer Prize. I used to write Chemistry textbooks before I retired, now I've honed my writing skill to the point where I can crank out Hash Trash. A loyal alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania (Yay! Rah,Rah! Let's hear it for the Penn Quakers!), I spend my time Hashing, writing, traveling, messing up D.I.Y. projects around the house, and being an embarrassment to my family and friends. I handle guilt pretty well---like the time I dragged my little brother into a Hash that he experienced as a near-death event. My other brother has more sense than to let me mess with his mind or physical well-being.
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