Feb 23, 2023, 06:28AM

Learning the Ropes

Reveries on the gym teacher.

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Where are the hollow-chested, pigeon-toed carrion of the unfit? Where are their bones, in the thickets and trees or as thickets in which predators lie? Or do they walk (barely) among us, with the gait of the wounded or with wounds to their hands and feet? Where are the others like me, with memories aplenty but no muscle memories? Where are the men with boyhood memories of the rope climb and the climbing wall, of their failure to ascend one or both, from the age of mandatory gym class?

Where, too, are the misfits with mustaches—the men in the company of handsome women—with their clipboards and rape whistles?

Where are the sadists of the stockroom and the stock boys in charge of boys?

Where are the gym teachers of yore, in their off-brand tracksuits, wearing their religion on their inseams while swearing on the job?

Inside the schoolhouse, amidst the smell of bleach and burnt pizza, olfactory bulbs process the past in a millisecond.

What ensues is a rush of alcohol and tobacco, in addition to the smell—that carnal smell—of buyer’s remorse; for no man should have to pay for it, especially on a gym teacher’s salary.

Worst is the scent of desperation, followed by the jangle of metal, of car keys in the wrong tune, where the owner of one horse stumbles before the combined horsepower of a string of ponies.

Picture the man with the equine key ring, for the iceman cometh (on all other nights) with his neighbor’s wife, while we sit back and watch.

Picture the gym teacher crashing this key party, after blocking the driveway with his Javelin and braving The Ice Storm.

Perhaps he comes in daylight, when the driveway is empty and diamond dust fills the air.

Perhaps he leaves before the effect ends and the Tyndall effect takes hold, before he sees headlight beams and a blue boat of a car on Laurel Road, or after he hears the approach of a Buick Riviera on Soundview Lane.

Perhaps he goes east of New Canaan, Connecticut, past the Glass House on Elm Street and the castle on Lapham Road, and misses the sign for the “Next Station to Heaven.”

Wherever he goes that night, the decline of fall precedes him; the misery of Black Friday pre-deceases him, because the colors of fall—the oranges, reds, and yellows of peak foliage—are no more; the season looks like a time for one purpose, a time to die.

The gym teacher survives, as he must, because life isn’t a movie; and his life isn’t material for anything except a home movie, a sex tape, in which the film jams, the frame melts, and an angel says, “Escape for your life!”

Or maybe the gym teacher escapes the Gold Coast, the Sound receding mile by mile, only for the farce to continue along the North Shore of Chicago.

Maybe every Saturday is March 24, 1984, and every Wednesday is June 5, 1985, in the world of The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

The gym teacher plays no part in the first, but looks the part in the second.

Behind the wheel of a Harley, behind the wheel of Shermer High School’s Harley-Davidson golf cart, the gym teacher is no Spartan in green and gold.

He has the boys run laps, yelling at them—telling them to get the “piano” off that back—as they struggle in the heat.

Better for the boys to overturn the cart.

Better for them to do nothing, leaving the gym teacher where he is—alone—on the longest day in the school year.

Best for them to forget about him.


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