The News & Advance
February 12, 1997

Red Herrings in Red Dresses

Red herrings in red dresses

The News & Advance
Wednesday, February 12, 1997
By Darrell Laurant

Even as long as I've been in this business, I still encounter something new nearly every week.

Until last Sunday afternoon, for instance, I'd never interviewed a man who was wearing a hoop skirt and running shoes.

"Running in this won't be easy," said Frank McPhatter as he stood in the parking lot behind Frametome. "But it looks good, don't you think?"

McPhatter was competing in the annual Valentine's Day Red Dress Run sponsored by the Seven Hills Hash House Harriers, and he had borrowed the hoop from his wife's wedding dress to do it. All around him were others who had made their own compromises between fashion and ease of movement.

We ran a photo of this event on our front page last year and received a few phone calls from people who misinterpreted the purpose (or lack of purpose) of the Red Dress Run. If I get any calls after this column, I'm going to refer them all to Richard Morrison, one of the "hares" for this year's event.

Morrison used to be a defensive lineman for Notre Dame. One Sunday, he was wearing a long blonde wig that made him look like a cross between Darryl Hannah and Rick Flair.

Or, I could refer them to Ed Howell, a Marine stationed at Quantico who met his wife at a hash and then married her at a hash.

"We were the hares, and the other people in the wedding reception had to chase us," said his wife Lynda, who looked a lot better in her red dress than Ed.

According to Paul Stark, a.k.a. Pink Panther, hashing originated among some Brits stationed in Malaysia during the colonial era.

"This one guy used to go out and run off his hangovers every morning," Panther said. "Some of his friends were laughing at him, and he said, 'I'll bet you can't catch me." So he laid out this trail."

From those humble, hangover beginnings have emerged more than 1,200 hash groups in 150 countries.

But there's more to it than just following a four or five mile spoor.

Experienced hares learn to lay down false trails that tend to penalize the faster runners.

"What usually happens," Morrison said, "is that everybody winds up at the finish line about the same time." Except for those that get lost.

"Usually, that's the people who try to take a short cut," Lynda Howell said.

I asked her what her "hash name" was and she told me. I can't put that in the newspaper ," I said. She just grinned.

A lot of hash names are like that, because it's traditional for hashers to be named by he other members after completing a five-hash virgin period. Many of those names turn out to be rude, lewd and unprintable.

Hashers also sing a lot. "Mostly rugby songs" said Pink Panther.

In an age when people tend to take themselves (and everything around them) so seriously, it was refreshing to see an activity built around frivolity, foolishness and the tearing down of egos. You have to be pretty secure to run down Old Forest Toad in a red dress - and I'm not even talking about the men.

"We got a lot of looks," said Susan Walton, one of Sunday's hashers, "and at least one 'Faggot'!"

Meanwhile, Richard Morrison and Pink Panther had a little mishap.

"I bent over to lay down a marker," said Panther, "and Richard ran over me, I guess he didn't see me. The problem was, I lost me wig, which was really embarrassing."

After the run, the 55 hashers gathered at Morrison's house, where they drank beer, handed out awards and abuse each other. The title of "Best Dressed" came down to Frank McPhatter, in his hoop skirt, and Gopher, who drove down from Fort Eustis in a short wine-red cocktail dress set off with a gold necklace and matching hoop earrings. And a mustache.

"Interesting," said one of the bystanders. "A choice between the traditional and the tacky."

Gopher, who got his dress off the rack at a Salvation Army store and his size-13 women's shoes from PayLess, got the nod. But the loser took it well.

"Can someone just help me get out of this thing?" he asked plaintively.

Laurant is a local columnist for The News & Advance.

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