The Los Angeles Times
August 30, 1998

And They're Off (Way Off)


And They're Off (Way Off)

By SUSAN KARLIN, Special to The Times
Los Angeles Times

Sunday August 30, 1998

Home Edition

Life & Style, Page 1

It's a quiet summer evening in this Long Beach neighborhood, families sitting on stoops and children playing on the sidewalks, when the crowd of more than 100 lingerie-clad men and women rounds the corner and runs down the street. Two men stop in mid-sentence, "What the . . . ?" Children giggle and run after the pack, like a warped version of the Pied Piper. A bunch of young guys playing basketball whistles.

"Hey, Patrick," one of the runners yells to a hefty man in a crew cut and flowing pink nightgown, "I think that was for you!"

Patrick blows a kiss. The basketball players look horrified.

Welcome to the mad world of the Hash House Harriers--"a drinking club with a running problem"--that has amassed a worldwide network of roughly 2,000 chapters (known as "kennels") in nearly every country and Antarctica, and who stay in touch via the Internet. (See http://www.hash.org for Southern California hashes.)

This hash, sponsored by the Long Beach Harriers, is the annual Lingerie Run. The Long Beach club runs every Thursday night, Sunday mornings after daylight saving time ends. The Los Angeles chapter runs Monday nights in summer, Saturday afternoons after daylight saving time. Orange County runs alternate Friday nights and Saturday mornings. There are the Full Moon Run and the PMS Run, every 28th day of the month, among others. Then there are special events, like the Red Dress Run in San Diego during Labor Day weekend; the Betty Ford Run in Palm Springs in March, when hashers dash past the famous substance abuse center carrying beers; and the Limo and Stripper run in Long Beach in October.

"It's about being politically incorrect," says Bruce Gulde, sporting a lovely black-lace camisole and a single blue feather earring. A six-year hashing veteran, Gulde is the head ("grandmaster" in hash-speak) of the Long Beach harriers. "I had to be dragged to my first hash. But when I showed up and saw people drinking beer before they ran, I figured these were my kind of people."

Hashing is based on an old English game called Hounds and Hares. Two people (the hares) set out ahead of the pack (the hounds) and mark a trail with handfuls of flour and chalk arrows, sometimes marking false trails for an additional challenge. If hounds catch up and tag the hares (called a "hare snare") they write both their real and hash names on the ground with chalk at the point of impact.

Hash name? That's another tradition. After six runs, people earn nicknames that reflect their profession, real name or something really stupid they've done on a hash. Gulde's wife, Tami, is Blow Up Doll, because her license plate bears the letters TNT. Dwight Des Lauriers earned the name Stick Bite after feigning a rattlesnake bite on one run, while Don Markowitz, who works in a microbiology lab, is called Fungus Amungus.

"You never call people by their real names--it's not cool," says Gulde. "And never, ever say the word 'competition' in a hash." Being a front runner is frowned on as it connotes an unseemly competitiveness.

The first harriers were 18th century British hunting dogs, with the human version following in the next century. In 1938, the modern organization sprang from a British Royal Navy unit in Kuala Lumpur as a way of curing boredom. "Hash House" was the nickname of the Royal Selangor Club, the country's expatriate social center. The tradition spread around the world as members of the unit transferred to other bases. This year the Hash House Harriers will celebrate its 60th anniversary on Oct. 1 in Kuala Lumpur, where some 6,000 hashers are expected.

Hashing comes with its own language, and each kennel has its own approach. Aruba hashers mark trails with paper flags, because flour markers tend to be eaten by goats. And hash folklore abounds. Like the time the Secret Service detained hashers who tried to cross a presidential motorcade in Arkansas. Or the times in Dallas and Pasadena when hazardous materials units were called out to identify the mounds of flour marking trails. Then there was the guy who climbed to the top of the Great Pyramid in Giza, Egypt, at Interhash '96. The local institution is Fungus Amungus, a 12-year veteran who's hashed in 50 countries and had a hash wedding.

This recent evening's four-mile trek leads to a public parking lot where the hashers spend the next two hours guzzling beer and singing drinking songs with colorfully unprintable lyrics. Chronic talkers are punished by being forced to sit--sans pants--on a block of ice. It's all quite frightening when you learn what these people do for a living. Gulde is a telecommunications engineer. Blow Up Doll is an insurance agent, and Stick Bite--redefining fashion on this occasion in a matching red corset, garters, stockings and flowered underpants--works for the Department of Defense.

Even hashers have limits. Not everyone drinks alcohol, and don't expect a run to mark the anniversary Monday of Princess Diana's death.

"We're known for bad taste, but there are some things even we won't do," says a man who is resplendent in a black-lace teddy and fright wig reminiscent of Cher's days with Gregg Allman (perhaps explaining the hasher's reluctance to release his name). "But we're gonna have fun with Clinton. We're already planning a Monica Lewinsky Run. Everyone has to wear a blue dress with a stain."

Copyright, The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times, 1998.

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