Soliloquy 33

~How I Came To Be A Gym Major In My Senior Year Of High School~

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 net.

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 B.

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.

Bruce Bentzman

This is the thirty-fourth in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
For further reading, Mr Bentzman's book "The Short Stories of B.H.
Bentzman" is available from