This story is my response to my fourth assignment for my creative writing class. The assignment was to write a monologue. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
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When I went to school, life could be complicated.
Sure, youth was a good time in my life. When I was young I chased bullfrogs. I caught a lot of them. When I was a little older I chased girls. I didn’t catch as many. However, I have to say that throughout my youth I was mostly happy and well adjusted.
But the one thing that did totally complicate my life was gym class.
For many others, physical education was all about the spiritual connection between sport and fitness. For me it was more biblical in nature. Sort of like the bible story where the Romans fed the Christians to the lions.
The class would usually begin with the entire class running laps around the perimeter of the gym while the gym teacher, Mr. Shawshank, sat in his office. As we passed by his office we could see what he was doing. He would be smoking, talking on the telephone or eating potato chips. Sometimes we would spot him chatting up the young female gym teacher.
If the weather was good Mr. Shawshank would order us to run around the perimeter of the soccer field while he stood on the sidelines and angrily blew his whistle. That was always fun.
On other occasions Mr. Shawshank seemed lazy and he simple told us to go outside and run to the park and back, a four-mile round trip. There was a group of jocks that would bolt off down the street like a pack of obedient dogs. They were fast and they would be halfway back from the park before most of us regular people were even halfway there. Once the jocks had passed us on their return trip we would just turn around and head back ourselves. I still don’t know what that park looks like.
Once the prerequisite running was complete, the sporting competition would begin. Like gladiators we would be asked to square off on the field of combat, or so the gym sometimes seemed.
“Combat” was often in the form of dodge ball. This was truly a situation where the powerful were pitted against the weak. Red rubber balls were whipped across the gym, usually targeting some poor, slow, geeky looking kid in the head, legs, stomach or back. Occasionally the weak would manage to catch the ball, and have the chance to target the attackers. Usually though, the throw would be feeble and useless and would elicit a round of laughter. Later in the locker room the weak would be towel snapped mercilessly just for suggesting that they might have claimed a little retribution.
Sometimes there was the promise of learning something new. I recall one day where Mr. Shawshank told us we were going to learn to wrestle. I was excited to think that we would learn fantastic moves like the pile driver, the sleeper hold and “the claw”, made famous by Baron Von Raschke of the All-Star Wrestling League. I was quickly disappointed to discover that we were learning Olympic style wrestling, which, in case you didn’t know, each round starts out with one of the most sexually suggestive positions that two young men could ever find themselves in.
I wasn’t very good at wrestling. I got pummeled daily on that wrestling mat.
Wrestling was pretty embarrassing, but it was nothing compared to the rope.
The rope hung from the rafters in the middle of the gym. The point of the rope was simple. You had to climb the rope or be ridiculed.
I can recall the day that Mr. Shawshank introduced us to the rope. He told us that the rope was made from hemp. Several of the kids in the back, the ones with the bloodshot eyes, giggled a lot about that.
Traditionally, a gym mat was placed directly beneath the rope. Unfortunately, if you fell off the rope, that 2-inch thick mat wasn’t actually sufficient to break your fall. The mat was simply used to drag your lifeless body into the nurses’ office.
Someone had to anchor the rope. This consisted of going low to the floor and holding on the bottom of the rope. I have to say, I was pretty good at that part of the affair.
Then the climbing would begin. Some guys just went up that damn rope like there was pie and ice cream at the top. Myself, I would just muckle on to the bottom of the rope and “attempt” to climb. However, I would only manage to grunt and sweat and basically wind up going nowhere. After a minute or so, I would fall to the mat in a dizzy heap.
I can clearly recall Mr. Shawshank yelling, “If you can’t climb the rope, you’re a failure!”
It was thoroughly embarrassing. What was so important about climbing that damn rope? Was I a failure? Did my future really depend on being able to climb a hunk of hemp? If I can’t climb the rope will I never land a good job? Will I have to marry my cousin, and will my kids grow up to be deformed and stupid?
Today, of course, it all sounds so silly. But, back then it was a major crisis.
I never did climb that rope. Looking back, the only thing I really suffered from was a temporary bout of embarrassment.
I have to say though, I recall that some of the jocks would climb that rope with just a little too much vim and vigor. Later in my life, I was watching the movie Wayne’s World, and I heard the character Garth comment, “She makes me feel kinda funny, like when we used to climb the rope in gym class.” It was then that I put two and two together.
No wonder the jocks were so eager to get their legs wrapped around that thick piece if hemp. They probably felt “funny” too!
If only I had known. I might have tried a little bit harder.