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Pentathlon

36 hours of debauched competition

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Some contests are designed to test skill. Others test endurance. Most are ways to connect with friends and have a good time together. Our pentathlon accomplishes all of these, and then some. So this fall, 14 or so guys whose ages range from 29 to 54 will continue a tradition that's gone on for 15 years. We will not be engaged in an issue-oriented "Renaissance" weekend, nor will we be involved in a church retreat or wellness seminar. For about 36 hours, we'll revert to an emotional age somewhere in the vicinity of 14 to 19, participating in some serious juvenile mischief on our annual pilgrimage to Pinocchio's Pleasure Island, aka Raleigh.

Raleigh Pentathlon participants caught in the act. Is the golf club being used as a sporting implement, a weapon or a cane?
  • Raleigh Pentathlon participants caught in the act. Is the golf club being used as a sporting implement, a weapon or a cane?

Our competitors over the years have been a diverse, steadfast group. My brethren on our little board of directors include a museum curator from Philadelphia, a hospital executive from Pittsburgh, a general contractor from Fayetteville and a gallery curator from North Carolina. The competitors this year and in past years have included fellow lawyers from Eastern North Carolina, a high school principal from Nashville, a medical professor from Birmingham, a restaurant owner from New Orleans, a newspaper journalist from Raleigh, a bartender from Chapel Hill, a stockbroker from Seattle, and a land surveyor from Hillsborough.

The pentathlon includes five competitive categories--poker, golf, pool, bowling and consumption. Two (now) teetotalers serve as designated drivers and have their own separate but equally challenging consumption category. I suspect that witnessing a dozen morons get hammered every fall probably validates their life decision about alcohol. Also, for some odd reason, they usually wind up doing rather well at poker on Friday night.

We used to hold everything on one day--Saturday--which was brutal. Now we meet at my house on Friday night for a barbecue before things officially start at 9:30 p.m. with poker and the beginning of consumption. Second, we now decree a 24-point ceiling on consumption (one point for a beer, two points for shots of Jagermeister, tequila or spiked Jell-O). The year that the top two competitors came through at 72 to 70 consumption points kind of sealed the deal on that breakthrough.

Sometimes we have a preliminary unofficial event on Friday evening--last year it was dodgeball (where it's critically important to get one of the two, relatively new, sub-30, work out every day guys on your team). Then, at 9:30 p.m. on Friday, we officially begin with the traditional Jell-O shots followed by the Roolmeister (my friend from Philadelphia) reading through any rule changes, announcing the breakdown on the poker tables and golf pairings and handing out our annual hall of fame award.

Poker runs until somewhere between 2 and 3 a.m. It is a beautiful thing. Music cranking, BS rolling, the stupidest videos on the planet being shown, and some great, great poker being played. The current strategy is to get as many of your 24 consumption points in on Friday night as you can, so 9:30 p.m. also starts a veritable Indy 500 of drinking.

Saturday morning starts way too early. Wake-up call comes, courtesy of the Roolmeister, with some AC/DC, at 6:30 a.m. As I struggle to consciousness with "Back in Black" blaring at an ungodly volume, I feel sure that one day I will have to kill the Roolmeister. Gun laws must be made stricter or I'll chart out and accomplish the whole thing in a matter of 20 minutes.

We slowly congregate at the coffee pots until we head downtown to Big Ed's for breakfast at about 7. It's a rough-looking crowd. Despite good reason, we have never been refused service or kicked out of Big Ed's. Brimming with caffeine and cholesterol, we then roll out, rejuvenated, to golf.

Our group includes several of the worst golfers on the planet, and we are definitely not a country club crowd. However, when each best ball twosome in our group heads out to the first tee at the Wil-Mar Golf Course, they do so with some professed strategy and the steely resolve of Tiger Woods on the back nine at Augusta. Their earnestness is not shaken by the ardent and sophomoric heckling and abuse they receive on the first tee from their fellow pentathletes. Listening to all of this, as well as witnessing huge beer coolers being loaded up on every other cart, the golf course starter begins to get a bit concerned. However, despite an occasional participant being chided for some wrongful behavior (one should not, for the benefit of the participants in the group behind him, circle the cup on the first green with goose feces, nor should anyone get caught consuming something they shouldn't lawfully be consuming), golf is always enjoyable and goes off without a hitch.

Next up is lunch at the bowling alley--Western Lanes on Hillsborough Street. It's one of those great, old alleys where you keep score yourself and, if you look hard enough, can find that ball you used 20 years ago to break 200. Theresa is waiting for us and has all of our Western Burger platters just about ready to go. She is wonderful--quick with a joke and able to masterfully slide a can of PBR, Schlitz or Miller (absolutely no flavored beers or micro-brews) down the entire length of the bar to your waiting hand. After a three-game set we are truly at the apex of rough, both in looks and smell. One of our participants (notorious for insisting on two breakfast meats and chili on his Western Burger) explodes upon us every year during the second bowling game with the regularity of Old Faithful.

Fortunately, the pool hall down the street is dimly lit and well air-conditioned. The three hours or so of pool are heaven-sent. We commandeer six or seven tables and proceed with a round-robin tournament that allows us to control the (excellent) jukebox and spend some quality time with everyone else in the competition. While the Roolmeister keeps close tabs on the myriad event results points, and standings, we always know at this point on Saturday that it comes down to two or three folks who have done well throughout.

By and large, though, we don't really care who finishes first or second--that is entirely beside the point. Of course, no one wants the infamous Horse's Ass Award, which is a trophy in the shape of a horse's rear end that goes to the person in last place. Nor does anyone want the Lupner Award, given to the participant who first calls or is called by his spouse or significant other during the competition (named for the late husband of Mrs. Lupner, a Gilda Radner character from Saturday Night Live, who purportedly was the man born without a spine). Immature and spirited camaraderie is the point.

After pool we head back to the house for the award ceremony dinner, some live entertainment, and a date with an air mattress at about 1 a.m. or so. Late Sunday morning, we head out to Finch's for breakfast and then back for some serious cleanup (my wife and kids never get back from the beach without at least a two-hour warning). The conversation at Finch's becomes somewhat less puerile and we talk a lot about our wives, kids, jobs, politics, etc.

I love my wife for letting me do this every year and I adore spending time with these guys, particularly in this setting. This week I received 11 e-mails, each of which appears to be increasingly callow, from some of my fellow pentathletes, so I am now truly cognizant that the season is upon us, and I need to get to Mort's to get the Horse's Ass trophy going.

Leonidas Mordecai is the pen name of a highly reputable Raleigh professional who'd rather his colleagues not know all of his many skills.

Wanna play?

Here are excerpts from the pentathlon's Registration, Release and Waiver Form:

"I understand that injuries may be sustained by me in the social and athletic competition, which I am entering under my own volition, and I recognize the inherent risks of participating in such an endurance event...

"No participant may be compelled to testify in a court of law against another participant for any matter arising out of or connected to the Pentathlon. No participant may be compelled to testify in any family court proceeding--including, but not limited to, any divorce, separation, or support proceedings--involving any Pentathlon participant... Any disputes will be governed exclusively by the law of the principality of Liechtenstein...

"I will not, at any point in time during the Pentathlon, discuss any of the following topics: vegetarian cuisine; feminine hygiene products of any nature; Jeremy Shockley; taebo; any Merchant-Ivory film; Justin Timberlake; Zima vs. Mike's Hard Lemonade; the floral arts; the merits of George W.'s economic policies; and the Bachelor, Bachelorette, or similar television production...."

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