Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Chicot and the man

An homage …
To understand Zane Hodge, you need to know the Zane Hodge Index.

Of course, if that's all you know about the man, consider yourself poor.

Zane didn't create the index. He inspired it, through the force of life that bursts through his writing and presence on the Internet.

Others marveled at his feats, and the eponymous Index was begat.

The Index is a multiplier that compares your swim to Zane's, to determine how difficult your swim really is.

Every so often an epic swim on the facebook®™ page "Did you swim today?" is calibrated on the Index.

My swims always fall short.

Probably always will.

As Zane regularly swims in warm ponds teeming with roiling, hammering, jostling, spiny, whiskered catfish — more catfish than water, from the tone of it, so stultifying that Zane wears pink duct tape to seal his nostrils — chances are you have no shot of approaching a 1 on the Zane Hodge Index.

It's the degree of difficulty that'll get you every time.

Degree of difficulty.

That says Zane Hodge in so many ways.

Mind you, I have not met the man, but I feel like I've sat with him on his porch in the Mississippi Delta, or stood at a safe distance from the hand-hewn weight-lifting machine he has devised in his back yard.

I have been with him in the sanctuary of small, cool, white clapboard churches that he has visited in search of a home where he might preach, and along levee roads lush and spooky. I have ridden in a rattling bucket of a truck down a dirt road apiece to the store, and waded with him across a slough in the damp dark night, doing something I oughtn't.

I have deeply regretted not meeting his dad, who died unexpectedly three years ago. Zane wrote a vivid memorial to him, composed while he was running. His dad taught him to run, in a time and place when few people considered long-distance running respectable.

Zane writes about running a lot — often with a laboratory skeleton named Buddy Bones — and swimming, and weightlifting, and ways to be healthy, for his blog Endangered Swimmer, which I found through his regular facebook™®© posts.

In between his training summaries, he lays open his life, eloquently walking his talk as a college English instructor. He is big-hearted and humble and complicated, and his life is fascinating to read.

He's funny and poignant and alarming, sometimes all at once, such as the series of detailed confessions about how he and his friend Poot schemed to burn down abandoned houses when they were teenagers.

If that sounds like a tale befitting of Twain, others hearken to American Tall Tales, the kind with absurd heroes like Pecos Bill and Mike Fink.

Or Randy Beets.

Zane has a running feud — make that a swimming feud — with Beets. They battle one another at an event called Swim the Suck, a fall 10-mile swim of the Tennessee River Gorge, and at smaller events here and there in between.

The feuding goes on all year, but builds to high heat just before Swim the Suck, and include a steady barrage of photos of Zane's colleagues and students wielding the same sign: "It's gunna be a beetsdown!"

It's unrelenting. Randy Beets rarely fires back on social media against Zane's coordinated torrent of taunting.

Other people have joined this battle against Beets, and take it seriously. At least, I think they're taking it seriously. I can never be too sure in the world Zane describes for readers.

Zane even has a facebook®™ page dedicated to this cause, called "Vicarious Butt Beets," (I'm not entirely sure why it's called that), itself a spinoff of another "Did you swim today?" page.

Lately Zane has taken to YouTube®™ and at press time has come up with videos listing 16 reasons he hates Randy Beets (he even says the Bible tells him so), such as being too tall, having big feet, and using a cooking thermometer to measure water temperature.

Zane and Randy Beets annually embarrass each other and themselves at the Big ASS Awards Banquet (the celebration of an amalgamation of several groups, the Association of Sports Swimmers, the Association of Sports Shufflers, and the Association of Sports Syclists — I'd say it's fictional, but I may draw ire), where accusations have been thrown as frequently as inquiries and lawsuits.

It's all there in Zane's blog.

A writer named Jay Unver (there's a joke in that name somewhere, but I'm too dense to get it) regularly interviews Zane, giving him many chances to crow about his ongoing battle and frequent triumphs over Randy Beets.

Beets is big and impressive, but pales compared to Zane's biggest degree of difficulty, against his biggest enemy.

Zane hates diabetes even more.

This weekend he swims the Chicot Challenge, an epic swim he devised for himself to raise money for the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi. Chicot Lake is in Arkansas, an ancient bend of the Mississippi River, sealed off west of the current river course to form a long, narrow, C-shaped lake.

Zane has swum ever longer distances of that lake in his three years of this challenge. Marking his fourth challenge, this weekend Zane plans to ply 19 miles of the lake.

He frets and second-guesses about it from time to time, questioning whether his training will enable him to meet his challenge. It's all in his blog, the measure of a mindful man.

He'll make it. I keep telling him.

It's his birthday today. He's asking folks to give to his cause here instead of birthday gestures. If you hate diabetes or admire a life well lived, or just love good storytelling, throw some money to his challenge.

Happy birthday, Zane.

And let me know: What am I gonna do with all this pink duct tape?

1 comment:

  1. Shawn, I almost missed this post. If I hadn't seen those new little numbers Facebook puts on the profile pictures of your friends and tried to figure out what that meant, I may never have seen this. My news feed has been overwhelmed today with the kind of post I asked people to avoid. Sigh. Thank you.