I can still hear Mr. D's booming voice
in Barringer High gym class. We were all sitting Indian style on
our floor spots as he came out of the locker room holding a baseball
"fungo" bat at arm's length, on the end of which was a
rather dirty, smelly, and badly discolored gym t-shirt.
"How many times do I have to tell you guys to take your gym
stuff home and wash it?"
"I had to hit this thing three times to kill it. It was running
around the floor all by itself. And one of the lockers had a pair
of sweatpants in it that was standing up all by itself!"
"From now on, I want every man to take his clothes and strap
home every week for a good washing. This is how rashes get started."
"And I want every man showering after gym class. If you don't
have a wet towel when you leave you are going right back into the
showers, and then dry yourself off with your t-shirt; and you will
wear that wet t-shirt for the rest of the day!"
"Do you hear me?"
"Yes Mr. D. (all one voice)"
"Good. Now give me 20 laps around the gym, and no slacking.
Track men out front to set the pace."
And so it went in gym class, the time honored tradition of male
intimidation. Heaven help you if you "wussied-up". The
rules were simple. Don't be prissy about it, because if you did
and you messed it up for everyone, the law of the locker room prevailed.
Most guys seldom needed a second lesson.
Everyone had an assigned spot on the floor. There were numbers
on one wall and letters on the other, and your rump had better be
on the designated grid coordinates assigned to you when Mr. D. blew
the assembly whistle.
We played lots of physical games like basketball, tumbling, pyramid
building, volleyball, and some touch football. Of course there were
the inevitable tests like the 60-yard dash, the softball throw,
and the dreaded 600-yard dash. Why they called it a dash, I will
never know. It was more like the 600-yard death march.
Ugh! That was the worst. We would run it in the park, starting
near Park Avenue, all the way down to the famous bust statue in
the park, and back again. The trick was do it under 2 minutes. I
never did learn that trick.
I was just fine with the softball toss. You play center field
on a sandlot baseball diamond and you learn to make that peg to
the catcher real quick.
In the 60-yard dash, I was respectable, not a speed merchant,
but nimble enough.
Now the gym apparatus, there was a challenge. I stunk on the rings,
but don't mess with me on the horse and parallel bars. I wouldn't
try either one today, but in my more pliable years, I gave a good
accounting of myself.
But what you see those Olympians today do on those is something
else to behold--and forget the floor exercises. Holy cow! Nobody
I grew up with could do anything near the quality of those champions….
not even with the Newark Police chasing them.
In my neighborhood we had our own form of "apparatus",
and athletic events. I remember seeing one notorious neighborhood
guy run up a brick wall once in an attempt to elude the friendly,
They were waiting for him on the other side…..
"Step right his way sweetheart, into the nice pretty police
He got the usual Nicky Newark drill, a long slow ride through
Branch Brook Park with a sergeant sitting in the back seat with
him. He didn't run so good for about two weeks after that. He got
the male intimidation cram refresher course.
Back to Barringer gym class…….
About as close to formal floor exercises that we ever did was
tumbling, which was lots of fun, especially when done in rapid succession.
Some guys could somersault in place, but not while running first
and leaping like those athletes on TV.
Our gym was generally partitioned down the middle length-wise.
Guys were on one side and girls on the other. Every now and then
one of the guys would try and peek through the partition. I saw
one guy take a straight right hand jab smack on the kisser as he
was peering through. That girl's arm came through the partition
like a rocket. The guy's head just snapped back like a doll.
"Hey Mr. D.! She hit me, man."
"Who hit you?"
"One of them girls."
"Were you peeking through the partition?"
"I was just checking to make sure no one had hurt themselves
over on the other side."
"Aw, poor baby. Give me ten laps."
"But Mr. D. You know me. I am basically just a lover. I was
the victim of aggression."
"If you don't give me ten laps, me and Mr. Fungo are going
to give you some real old fashioned aggression."
"I'm moving Mr. D. No need for the bat."
Some guys did not like to get all sweaty or muss up those coiffures
and DA's they were sporting. Shower water can wreak havoc on lacquered
hair. These guys would try and sneak back into the locker room and
not get dirty. They would wet their towels and make believe they
took a shower……...
"Hello ladies!" as Mr. D. and Mr. Fungo suddenly appeared.
"Is that a cigarette I smell? Can it be that someone is smoking
in my locker room?!"
Very soon thereafter, the screaming began………….
"No Mr. D., not the hair! I got a date tonight."
"Right now you got a date with me gorgeous!"
Guys were flung into the showers. DA's were messed all to hell
and back. Mr. Fungo seemed to be everywhere, smacking knees and
elbows with lightning fast ferocity.
"Hey you, Mr. Cool. Would you like to eat that cigarette?"
"No Mr. D. Look I put it out. No, no,…..not the bat!"
"Tap…..tap….whack…. smack" (Mr. Fungo)
"Ouch….oooh…..my knee…..agghhh!!! I'm crippled
"No smart-ass, just until 7th period or so, then you will
be fine again."
The sound of bodies hitting lockers stopped all the action outside
in the gym as we waited for the inevitable. The door leading into
the gym from the locker room would blow open, vomiting desperate
men seeking safety. A roaring good laugh greeted their arrival.
"It's wet t-shirts for you bums!"
"And what are you laughing boneheads looking at! I don't
smell no sweat yet. Let's work off that baby fat!"
In just a few minutes the gym was back to normal. Basketballs
were bouncing. Guys were hitting the floor with regularity. Sneaker
skid sounds were everywhere, and the usual arguments over whether
somebody fouled someone else were heard once more.
Mr. D. and Mr. Fungo had established order. They stood there surveying
their dominion. A slight smile could be seen. The pecking order
had been re-affirmed.
All was good again in 4th period gym class.
Today, they would call it inappropriate to do such things, and
the poor teachers would be up on charges. Many of us fondly remember
our gym teachers. How many were there when a guy really had trouble
and no one to talk to? How many times did your principal or one
of your teachers ask a gym teacher to have a serious talk with a
guy who just couldn't get it together? Ask a team sport player what
he thought about his high school coach. Those teachers cared enough
to discipline us and you know what……it worked a whole
lot better than what I have seen today.
So…..thanks coach…….for caring enough to give
us a well-needed boot in the butt!