Retired in Rome Journal: Hash House Harriers running club a great $#@*&! way to spend a Sunday

The Rome Hash House Harriers.
The Rome Hash House Harriers. (I’m second from left.)
Me and Roma soccer hero Francesco Totti in San Giovanni, his home neighborhood.
Me and Roma soccer hero Francesco Totti in San Giovanni, his home neighborhood.

I saw some old friends yesterday. There was Cums in Quarts and Orgasmic and Weather Goddess. I also made some new friends, like Masticater, Swollen Boner and Menage a Twat.

No, I did not go to the Vatican.

I rejoined an old running club that has taken me to nearly every corner of Rome. I’ve run through St. Peter’s Square, past the Colosseum at night and stopped along the green forested hill of Monte Mario, gazing down at the best view of the city.

I’ve also stood in a circle with a dozen other people pretending to masturbate in front of dozens of horrified locals.

The Hash House Harriers bills itself as “A Drinking Club with a Running Problem.” They meet every Sunday for what’s a combination run/scavenger hunt through parts of the city you’ll never find in “Lonely Planet.” Everyone has punted their Christian names long ago. They are given “hash names,” all based on embarrassing pratfalls, obvious physical abnormalities and just plain dumb luck. That’s why I wasn’t startled when a French woman in the group approached me, held out her hand and said, “Hello. Eatamypussy.”

I was going to respond in kind but I know how these hash names work. I did not want my new handle to become “Suckamydick.” After all, I want this blog to get some legitimate exposure and not be limited to my, now suddenly, obscene website.

We all met in the southern Rome neighborhood of San Giovanni at the statue of St. Francis of Assisi, his black shroud and solemn face reflecting the lifetime he spent helping the poor as a man void of possessions. Then again, he very well could be showing his disgust at the 14 people below him who would later sing songs that would embarrass the Chelsea Ultras.

Such as …

He’s the meanest
He sucks the horse’s penis
He’s the meanest
He’s a horse’s ass
Ever since he found it
All he does is pound it
He’s the meanest
He’s a horse’s ass
Drink it down down down down …

At “down, down …” the chosen victim in the middle of the circle must drink a mug of the cheapest Italian beer the hare, or trail designer, can find that day. He must prove he drank it all by tipping the empty cup upside his head.

Then there are songs for just the hares.

And the hares, and the hares
And the hairs of her dicky-di-doo
Hung down to her knees
One black one, one white one,
One with a bit of shite on,
And one with a fairy light on to show us the way.
Drink it down, down, down …

And my favorite, the whimsically titled “A Short Hymm.”

Fuck him!
Drink it down, down, down …

The Rome Hash House Harriers.
The Rome Hash House Harriers. (I’m gar left.)
Me and Roma soccer hero Francesco Totti in San Giovanni, his home neighborhood.
Me and Roma soccer hero Francesco Totti in San Giovanni, his home neighborhood.

I knew three of the people: Peter (Cums in Quarts) Bloom (“It’s because I sweat a lot,” he says. “Honest!”), his wife Gretchen the Weather Goddess and Tanya, a voluptuous Serbian goddess whose over-the-top, Harry-Met-Sally, full-throttle screams at any mention of the word “come” in a song made her “Orgasmic” — and half the male hashers book the next flights to Belgrade.

The others included Tom, the hilarious helicopter pilot whom I was too embarrassed to ask why he’s called “The Big Liquor,” and his girlfriend Sabrina, also known as Gellatio. If there was a couple meant for each other, it was these two and I’ll let you figure out why.

There was Vatican’t, an Aussie who has since moved to Singapore where you can hash seven times a week. Yes, hash is used as a verb. It’s also used as an adjective (“That’s so hashy!”). A young vacationer from Charlottesville, Va., who goes by Mustang Sally. (“It’s what I almost did to a girl,” he said with a wane smile. “It’s … embarrassing.”)

How this disgusting collection of athletic deviants could meet in such a holy place is one of the charms of the Hash House Harriers which sports a No. 1 rule, “There are no rules.” St. Francis of Assisi’s statue is across the street from San Giovanni in Laterano, one of the seven churches belonging to the Vatican. It’s dedicated to San Giovanni, author of the Book of Revelations and one of Jesus’ traveling buddies.

It’s a good neighborhood for a jog, and Sunday is the only day to do it. Rome pretty much shuts down on Sundays. Not many go to church. The Vatican has more effect on Manila than Rome. But most businesses close on Sunday which is usually dedicated to a family feast. It was disconcerting to see more businesses open this Sunday than 11 years ago. It’s a sign of Rome’s dismal economic times when businesses must be open a seventh day to make ends meet. So much for a day of rest.

It only made us dodge more people than I remember ever doing. The runs aren’t much of a run. It’s more stop-go. The hare designs a course and lays clues in the form of flour. He’ll lay them on sidewalks, fences, even pieces of dogshit which, in Rome, provides a pretty steady trail. He’ll put in misdirection and dead ends. Every time someone sees a spot of flour, they yell “On one!” A second one is “One Two!” and a third one means you’re going in the right direction: “On three!” What you wind up doing is a dozen people going to a street corner and scratching their heads like lost tourists in Centro Storico. They all split up, stop, return and head in another direction. If you’re looking for a workout, the Hash House Harriers is no club to join. It’s like going to a McDonald’s for a gourmet food club.

But it’s always scenic. The San Giovanni neighborhood is mostly residential. We ran past old apartment houses likely built in the 19th century. We went past cement block elementary schools and the gargantuan Ospedale San Giovanni. This is the neighborhood of Francesco Totti, Rome’s greatest soccer hero who was born and raised in these streets. We ran past one cafe totally decked out in Roma colors and logs. Two nearly life-sized poster boards of Totti great you at the door.

We curved south and found ourselves cutting left just before the Catacombs which the persecuted Christians had built in the 2nd century A.D. so they’d have somewhere to be buried. We cut across a huge field where a major city gave way to a jogging path winding through tuft grass and what looked like the remains of a 2nd century B.C. farmhouse. A broken-down stone wall enclosed what could’ve been some farm animals with the wall reaching up to a second story where shelters could have been. Who knows? Two thousand year-old structures are peppered around Rome like caffes.

With cattle curiously grazing not far from us, we took a limoncello break on a bridge before running back. This was when I realized the hare was Tom, an Iraqi War vet. The course was 7.84 kilometers (4.7 miles) and the last 2.5 were straight “on in” with no breaks. It was cold — 40 degrees with a wicked wind — and running fast meant needed warmth as much as needed beer.

We drank Tuborg, munched chips and popcorn and, um re-hashed a lot of history. The Hash has a long one. It started in 1938 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where some British planters would run on Sundays and drink beer at a planter’s club called the Selangor Club. A planter’s club was also known as a hash club. Thus, the name. The Rome Hash began in 1986 and is now one of more than 3,000 cities with active hashers.

I asked Tom if I could get a copy of the map we ran.

“Sure,” he said. “I think we followed some of it.”

We then finished the day with the International Hash Hymm, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.” (Accompanying hand signals in parentheses.)

Swing low (hands held low), Sweet Chariot (hands holding reins)
Cumming (hand motioning over shorts, Orgasmic warming up) 4 (four fingers) 2 (two fingers) carry me home.
Swing low, Sweet Chariot.
Cumming (moving hand up and down groin area, Orgasmic’s voice rising) 4 2 carry me home.

I looked over Jordan (Shooting a basketball) and what did I see (hand over eyes),
Cumming (motioning faster over said groin area, Orgasmic rolling her eyes in the back of her head) 4 2 carry me home
A band of angels (flapping wings), cumming (furiously jackhammering over dick, Orgasmic screeching away large storks) after me,
Cumming (changing hands, Orgasmic screaming to the heavens) 4 2 carry me home.

I’d write the last two choruses but I have to buy a plane ticket.