It is Sunday,
actually 4:30 Monday morning here in New Jersey; I am
working the graveyard shift at AT&T, the General
Electric Network Management Center. General Electric,
my sole customer, owns the NBC television network,
and NBC has bought the exclusive rights for airing in
the U.S. the 2000 Summer Olympics. It is 7:30 p.m. in
Sydney, Australia, where the nations of the world are
in their tenth day of sublimating their warring
instincts. On an
adjacent desk, a speakerphone allows me to monitor an
NBC conference call with their people in Australia.
The line is kept constantly opened in case a
transmission problem should arise and NBC needs to
call out for immediate help. Meanwhile, I am rapidly
approaching the deadline for composing my next
Soliloquy to appear in Snakeskin. I've been asked to
write about sports.
Desperation! What do I know about sports? I know next
to nothing about sports. I am not one to abandon my
spouse on a Sunday, planting myself before the
television with beer and pretzels to watch American
football. I'd rather go to a museum, or even sit at
home and read.
This isn't to say I went entirely without exercise
while growing up. A special treat for the residents
of Levittown, Pennsylvania, were the five
Olympic-sized pools Mr Levitt built in dispersed
locations throughout the community. In childhood, any
summer day it didn't rain, my friends and I played
like otters in the local pool. Those days were
followed by sleepless nights, my eyes stinging from
the chlorine. It is forty years later and all but one
of the pools have been filled in. I don't miss them.
As an adult, I have grown more perturbed by the
contemplation of their urine content.
As a young adult, having graduated high school, I
played a little tennis with friends, but those
friends moved away. I still have my wooden racket.
For a brief spell I played baseball. It was a great
time, though we usually lost, but we refused to ban
women from our team and I daresay we had the most
fun. For a while I was running six miles a day, but
the impacts blurred my vision and made the Levittown
scenery even more monotonous. When I was a bachelor,
with time on my hands, living in New York City, I'd
start my day with one hundred push-ups and eighty
sit-ups, doing those sit-ups from a chair and leaning
back until my head touched the floor. At night it was
handstands against the wall. What happened? Somehow
the free time evaporated from my life. For a long
while, I was a weekly regular for volleyball in
Fairmount Park, right on the shore of the Schuylkill,
with a magnificent view across the river to the
Philadelphia Museum of Art atop a hill. But my
employer kept transferring me to offices further and
further away, until the commute through rush hour had
me arriving at night, when they were taking down the
And yet, dear reader, would you believe this
thoughtful recumbent was a gym major in his senior
year at high school? I was no athlete and most of
those who occupied the same class were not running on
the academic track - although one of my classmates is
now the local District Justice.
When I was a senior in high school, the first day of
class, the gym teacher, Mr C, told me and another
student to get out. He didn't like the length of our
hair. It was 1968 and my hair started to climb over
the tops of my ears and in the back touch my collar.
Instead of just using water in the morning, I could
have slicked down my wavy hair with a gel and no one
would have noticed its length, but I didn't. I also
had sideburns, which, following school restrictions,
did not extend below my earlobes. I was regarded as a
hippie. I didn't quite see myself that way, but
simply liked the appearance and wanted to portray
myself as a thoughtful nonconformist, like millions
of other kids throughout the country.
My fellow exile from gym class took off to places
unknown, rather pleased with his liberation. I took
myself to the head office and explained to my
Guidance Counselor, Mr B, about the unexpected issue
that arose with Mr C, that he would not have me in
his class. As my Guidance Counselor, I expected Mr B
to help me find an alternative class.
"Nonsense," said Mr B, "there is no
alternative 'gym' class in this time slot." Then
Mr B added, "except as a major, which means
classes five days a week," and for which I was
regarded entirely unqualified. He went further to
point out that gym was a requirement and put to rest
my hope of taking a class in an entirely different
subject. I reasserted that Mr C did not like me and
would not have me. "Ridiculous," replied Mr
Determined to prove me wrong and resolve the issue,
Mr. B walked me back to gym class. This occurred
during the class period. The locker-lined hallways
were deserted, yet Mr C just happened to be coming
from the opposite direction as we approached the gym.
Before Mr C could pass us, Mr B called for his
attention. He did not get out another word. Mr C spun
towards us, pointed at me, and with seething ardour
avowed, "You keep that fucking bastard out of my
classroom." I was surprised, too na´ve to have
guessed the depth of Mr C's disapproval of me. What I
know now is that Mr C regarded the length of my hair
as an ensign of ungodly behaviour, that I was into
the depravity of "free love" and that I was
an enemy of the State. He was wrong on both counts.
It was the only time ever during my enrollment in
grade school that I heard a teacher use the
"f" word. Mr C marched on. Mr B needed a
moment to collect himself and then led me back to his
office without another word, not even able to look me
in the eyes.
So I became a gym major in my senior year.