The Right Guy
He is Herschel, nicknamed so after the gridiron legend. Stocky, cocky, and a free spirit in the best sense of the words. Suitcases rather than bags of talent. At the inaugural Rugby World Cup, in 1987, he cements his star status in the national team. Electric against Tonga and Ireland, the same against Wales until cynically sucker punched by his opposite early in the second half. Revenge comes six years later, on a miserable, wet Cardiff evening when he captains Canada to a historic 26-24 victory.
The tougher the conditions, the better. Herschel supremely confident, your own confidence soaring in turn.
He is my halfback partner for a few seasons. He makes the hard yards, never shovels out crap ball. And sees the funny side in everything, too. In a game against Japan, having smashed several unsuspecting opponents out of the way, he pops me a lovely pass as I cross in the corner for an easy try.
“Bloody great” he cackles, as we make our way back to halfway. “Just didn’t expect to see it live and in slow motion at the same time!!”
Good value on the field, he is even better value off it. He makes it such fun to be on a team. At gin rummy, crib, hearts, euchre, he loves to relieve you of hard-earned dosh. Though I never really mind losing to him such is the quality of the sledging and table talk.
And everyone is fair game, nothing is sacred. Laces missing from your boots, deep heating rub in your underwear, vaseline on the toilet seat, a garden snake in your shoe. A call over the hotel intercom insisting you report immediately to reception for an important message.
Pie in the face stuff. Except, when you are the victim, you never see it coming. With Herschel, innocent as a new-born babe, protesting “oh puh-leeze, get the right guy”.
Move forward to the late 1980s. A short-lived series between two Buenos Aires club teams, some Kiwi provincial wannabes and Rugby Canada is in its death throes. In similarly ropy condition is the Argentinian economy. Inflation spirals upwards faster than a well-struck punt. Stocks plummet. And, when not enjoying coffee or ice cream at one of the crowded plazas, everyone is apparently on strike.
The president surveys the scene. He convenes his cabinet. Nothing to be done he decides but declare an immediate state of emergency. He then nips off to his villa for gin and an extended siesta.
Luis, our liaison man, is apologetic. The banks will be closed. For four long days.
Trust Herschel to find a solution. He has come across Ricardo. He informs us Ricardo is a local who knows a guy who has an uncle who naturally has loads of pesos to exchange for American and Canadian dollars. We are to get six times the bank rate on the black-market.
I am suspicious. Ricardo looks shifty. He doesn’t so much walk as ooze around the corner. He then heads for an alley nearby. Herschel follows, wearing little more than a jaunty swagger. And pretty much all of our dough.
What happens is this. Shifty and Herschel huddle. Numbers are negotiated. Herschel shows his bundle of dollars. Shifty flashes his thick wad of 50-peso notes in return. Wads change hands, interrupted at transaction time for just a heartbeat by a ragged group of urchins who bolt noisily from a nearby doorway.
Like a latter-day Caesar, minutes later Herschel returns triumphantly. We gather round. The beers, he says, are on him.
He produces his new bundle, removes the thick elastic band with a flourish. Ruffles the notes, fans them out extravagantly, a veritable peacock’s plume of pesos. But, with the exception of a solitary 50, all are singles. 1-peso notes!!
Shouts of dismay. Looks of resignation as reality sets in. Our money gone adios, for notes not worth the paper they are printed on. Herschel slumps down in his chair, stunned. Then the light dawns, a World Cup hero distracted for a fatal second by Shifty’s street gang. Victim of a Latin scam.
I cannot keep the grin off my face. He just never saw it coming.
Finally, the right guy!