Hell Hath No Fury Like the Irish Warp Spasm: Why Hard Luck, Pork Bellies and Bad Food are Grist for The Mill
February 20, 2006
A Tale of Three Bellies, Dominguez Hills, CA (2/19/06).
We can accept the synergism between a belly and pack sprinting: a rolling bowling ball carries more force than a rolling donut hole. But how did Belly Brothers Walsh-Out and Wiko successfully launch, drive and manhandle their respective breaks? Is it because Fat is lighter than muscle, ergo, the fatter you are the faster you go? And has the donut replaced the potato as the Irish sustenance of choice?
"The Irish are the niggers of Europe, lads. An' Dubliners are the niggers o' Ireland. An' the northside Dubliners are the niggers o' Dublin. Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud.'
- Jimmy Rabbitte (in the movie, "The Commitments")
I don't profess to be an expert on Irish culture. I know over a million Irish starved to death when a fungus wiped out the potato crops in the mid-1800s. I know about a million fled, many coming to America. I know that many Irish immigrants came through Ellis Island and festered in slums in the Bronx, where they suffered from a rash of ugly diseases born of squalor, raw sewage and alcoholism.
The history of Ireland is rife with tales of woe, bad luck, bad teeth, jihad, oppression and grit. MKA wonders whether the Irish cultivate misery so they can thrive or just feel better when the chips are down. They don't seem to mind degradation as much as the non-Irish do. They certainly don't seem to spend much time in front of the mirror. I am not pritty, they seem to say, I am gritty. They may want peace in an abstract sense, but what they need is an outlet for their pent up rage.
Which makes the Irish formidable in a sport which tends to attract the pritty but reward the gritty. When the gun goes off, all bets are off, meaning, the rules of civility are temporarily suspended, as the blood lust percolates. In Celtic lore, there was a warrior - let's call him Wyko -- who carried a spear which was reputed to sing for the blood of its enemies. In the heat of battle, Wyko was overcome by the fearsome "Warp-Spasm:"
"It seemed each hair was hammered into his head, so sharply they shot upright. You would swear a fire-speck tipped each hair. He squeezed one eye narrower than the eye of a needle; he opened the other wider than the mouth of a goblet. He bared his jaws to the ear; he peeled back his lips to the eye-teeth till his gullet showed. The hero-halo rose up from the crown of his head." *
The Warp-Spasm converts the soft skin into a plate of armor. The soft underbelly suddenly hardens into an impregnable steel hull. The pudgy legs of a porker magically change into the muscled and chiseled shanks of a centaur. He is consumed with an urge to attack, indiscriminately, and devour - with a particular thirst for the high-glucose blood of the skinnies, the self-obsessed narcissists who shamefully sneak their snack cakes in the dark.
When you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose.
Consider the life of Terry McCann. Terry's a wiry 71 year old man racked with malignant mesothelioma. He gets up early every morning to lift weights and work the rowing machine. He goes until one, he throws up because of the chemotherapy. Or, two, he nearly passes out, on account his tumor is squeezing his lung like a vice. Nonetheless, he gets up every day to do he same thing. "As long as I'm here, I'm going to work out. It's what I am. It's what I do."
Terry grew up on the North side of Chicago, one of several children. His Dad operated an elevator, a job that matched the skill set of a fall down drunk. Terry had a little brother who swallowed drano and died before his 2nd birthday. Mommy, too, got lost in the drink. Terry got himself out of Chicago through sports. He landed a scholarship at the University of Iowa in wrestling. He made the 1956 Olympic team but balked because he already had two babies of his own and didn't want to jeopardize his scholarship. He lived in Iowa City while his lovely young wife Lucille raised the kids in Chicago.
McMann won three straight NCAA titles. He didn't lose a match in three years. He took a job in Tulsa to work at a refinery so he could support his family, now up to five children, and train for the Rome Olympics. The Russians had just launched Sputnik and suddenly it was a national imperative for the Americans to beat the Russians in everything: science, technology, aerospace, nuclear weapons -- even wrestling. The Russians hosted the Americans in a dual meet just before the 1960 Olympic games.
Not surprisingly for an Irish lad, disaster struck. Just before the dual meet, Terry tore a ligament and had surgery. He hobbled onto the plane and headed to Moscow anyway. Somehow - decades before the internet and the 24 hour news cycle - the Russian coach found out about Terry's infirmity. The brash Russian Coach half-joked in a press conference that he hoped his boy, who won Gold in the 1956 Olympic games, didn't "cripple" the poor Yankee.
Terry McCann manhandling small Asian type creature Back in the Day. 1959.
Terry heard about the slur, which roughly translated as: "You are small. You are weak. You don't belong." Did Terry beat his chest? Did he jump up and down? Did he retaliate with thunderous threats of vengeance? No. In fact, when I asked him these questions, he cocked his head and looked at me like I was nuts. "Why would I do that? Look, I had a job to do. My job was to beat the Russian."
Terry also had something embedded in his DNA that all Irishman can count on: the capacity for the irrepressible "Warp Spasm."
Fast forward to match day. The Russians were slaughtering the Americans. Last up was the 125 pound weight class. Terry strode out to center mat, his arms splayed out, his chin up, his chest out, his eyes fixed - the Chili Palmer "I own you" fix. The referee blew his whistle. The Warp Spasm ripped through Terry's 125 pound frame. Terry picked up the World Champion Russian like a sack of potatoes and with violent precision pinned his sorry red ass.. It took all of 18 seconds, which today remains an international wrestling record.
Terry came home, certainly not as a hero, but as a father who had to get back to the refinery so he could earn his a paycheck and feed his babies. It was at this refinery that Terry inhaled the asbestos fibers. A year later, in 1960 Terry won the Olympic Gold Medal in Rome, beating the same Russian, who afterwards was retired to a Siberian gulag. About 45 years later, the asbestos fibers, embedded in his lung linings like tiny ticking time bombs, exploded into a massive, diffuse, unrelenting and incurable tumor.
The lungs may be failing, but the Warp Spasm remains strong. This tough little Irishman doesn't look for a fight. He'd rather be hitting the surf at the crack of dawn, or sitting in his backyard aside his koi pond, singing with his macaws and cockatoos, or playing with his grandkids. But he's got this big ugly tumor attacking him. What's he gonna do? Rely on chemotherapy? Christ, bad voodoo can only be crushed with evan badder mojo. An Irish cop from Brooklyn with mesothelioma once said to the defense lawyers: "You come at me once, I come at you twice. You know what I'd like to do? Take a syringe, jab into my tumor, pull some out, and stick it into every one your sorry asses. That's right, eye for an eye."
Now, that's some heavy stuff for a silly bike racing column. But MKA has an eye for parallels. What isn't plain to the naked eye, he makes up. MKA's not sure where to classify this story, but here goes.
John Walsh-Out is another gritty Irishman. He had a bad crash on the boards a few years ago, breaking his hip. He hobbled around a few years before he finally succumbed to the knife. He replaced his beat up hip joint with a spanking new titanium jobbie and in a few months he was back on the bike, building strength. At the USCF national elite championships last season, he took fifth in the points race and made the podium in the Madison. Not bad for a 42 year old cross-eyed crazy bastard with a fake hip whose day job is cleaning pools.
Things were going well. He got his call up from Labor. Then just before the 2006 season started, he blew out his nutsack and again had to get fixed up. No, it wasn't a workers comp injury involving a MILF in Malibu, hot tub, and a lavender sequined thong). Therafter, the belly bloated as the phitness faded, compounded by a miserable break up with his new wife, a low point which he readily confessed brought him to the brink of the bottle. If you know anything about the Irish, you know that they are reputed to have a genetic weakness for rotgut that rivals that of the native American Indian.
In short, Walsh-Out had become the ghost of one his ancestors, evicted from his hovel, deprived of his precious potatoes, wandering forlornly about the country side, surviving on discarded half-eaten Big Macs, staring longingly in the window of the local 24 Hour Fitness at all those untouchable, unspeakably soft and supple babes… And yet, he was confident - stoned, immaculate. Like he knew something we didn't.
All of which brings us up to the CBR Race in Dominguez Hills.
40 Plus Crit: Toons takes off with Walsh-Out and a few other early E-Jax. The cross-eyed crazy paddywack had no business off the front with the whippets, certainly not this early in the race, certainly not this early in come back. At his best, Walsh-out is good for about 200 meters and a pile of twisted metal and broken bodies. Nonetheless, Labor set up its skirmish line at the front of the peloton and dutifully thwarted all bridge attempts.
Half an hour later, Toons and Walshy have dumped the dingleberries, including Tricky Stricky, who decided to teach the squatters a lesson by escorting them back to the field, allowing Toons and Walsh to glide away unburdened by no-account chiselers, grifters and heavy-breathing mountebanks.
Now, this looked surprisingly good. Toons is like one of those lean Alaskan sled dogs who don't eat but can run forever. The question was whether Walsh-Out could hold on. With about ten minutes to go, Perturbo finally broke out with G=Spot and Vampire in tow. The bridge stayed about 25 seconds ahead of the snarling field, but about 15 seconds behind the leaders, who by this time had merged into one. On the short downhill, Walsh would take the front and sort of freefall off the ledge, letting gravity do the rest. Everywhere else, Toons' mission, nay, his supreme joy, was to pick up the slack and motor like there's no tomorrow..
In the end, Walsh Out, with the hernia stitches still bleeding and the belly still bouncing, grabbed the Vee, prompting the local intelligentsia to suspect Walsh had been supplementing with something a wee bit stronger than potato gin. True, but you can't buy off the shelve what Walsh-Out, Wyko, Gibby, Whitehead and the rest of the Irish PaddyWhacks got. These pudwhacks were bred for bike racing. While the rest of us slave away with out strict training and diet regimens, the paddywhacks are in lock down in a kind of permanent hell hole, feeding the Warp Spasm what it hungers for: misery, despair, poverty and a really cheap all-you-can-eat buffet.
40 Plus Leader Board (All the Usual Suspects; big, fast, stooped, but really cool, etc.)
1. John Walsh-Out, Labor Power, Still Crazy
2. Greg Toons Leibert, Big Orange, Voted Most Coveted Breakway Partner
3. G Spot, Helens, The Helen Keller of Pelaton Divination
4. Turbo Rogers, Hoffy's Heroes, A Loss for Turbo is a Win for Humanity
5. Vampire Walker, Labor, Reprimanded for dropping water bottle like grenade.
6. Evandelico BRBs Teske, Labor, Heavy Equipment Operator
7. Gibby Hatton, F-Bomber, Elite Aerobic Endurance Athlete
Cannon Ball Catcher?
For fun Evander "BRBs" Teske bounces balls shot out of a cannon off of his rock hard keg-pack, just like in the Guiness Book of World Records. Swarthy but oddly shy, Labor's Big Round Ball refused to pose with fellow Belly Boyz, concerned it may insult his lovely wife and chef, who purportedly serves only deep cold water fish and tofu.
1. Karl "Viking" Bordine, Labor Power. Savage Hybridization of Eric the Red, Leif the Lucky, and Alan Page. Leading the Labor Power CBR series.
2. Perturbo Rogers, Hoffy's Heroes, Will he ever crack?
3. John "Psycho" Wiko, Labor Power. Mired in pack until MKA offered a maple bar prime. Rest is glory, guts and bad cholesterol.
4. Bill Harris
5. Stricky or Caro or Good Lord Why Bother?
Five Labor Posers and One ex-Labor Imposer.
That's Stricky Dicky in the back with the beak, getting one last laugh in before returning to the funereal gloom of the Hoffy Heroes base camp. The Viking (upper right) all smiles after consuming 24 pounds of walrus blubber in 3 hours. And that's big Larry Shannon, formerly known as "Rat fink," whose knack for polluting, pounding and pipsqueaking have earned him Labor's love and hatred from the rest of the idiots who don't matter anway. And finally, can you find Wiko? Hint: the camera has never been kind to the lower regions of Wyko's chin, thus, the overt evasionary tactics.
*Thomas Kinsela, The Táin, (Dolmen 1969 and Oxford 1970).