Cold EthylWhen I was a young girl, there were two words certain to send me into a dizzying spiral of despair: Gym class. Didn’t matter if I was enjoying a Thursday night sit-com or a fun-filled day at the park, if someone (or some thing) whispered, moaned, or even insinuated those words in my presence, all good feelings, embarrassed for having even tried to make an appearance, would sheepishly trudge back into the room where good feelings go to die and bad feelings are born. Gym class. O, thy smell is acrid, thou art evil and cruel and totally not cool.
I was not the most athletic kid. My shyness prevented team spirit, and my thick octagonal wire-rimmed glasses hampered any attempts at running fast enough, carefree -- those hideous abominations weighed approximately fourteen pounds, and nine-year-old children should never, ever be forced to run with fourteen pounds of glass attached to their faces. Oh, but this child was, and this child suffered mightily. And the patch, sweet Jesus, I would be remiss in not telling you about the patch of shame, the plastic clip-on beige wafer meant to correct my lazy eye. You might not believe me when I say that whenever I attached that patch to the left lens of my thick octagonal glasses, bright pink neon words magically appeared on that patch, like those of a Magic Eight Ball, all foggy at first, then nice and clear and hypnotic if I stood still long enough. Those words? Please shoot spitballs at me. Thank you for your time. The other children, transfixed by my magical patch, could not, unfortunately, resist its lure.
Despicable as gym class was to me as a child, what with its forty mile an hour winds whipping past my ear from overzealously thrown dodge balls, the outrageous and completely unacceptable square dancing, I hated gym class even more as a teenager. Gone were the thick octagonal glasses and magical patch, but in their place came a painful realization that I was not, in fact, slim enough or big-busted enough to endure an hour in the high school swimming pool. Many girls, as they begin to go through puberty, enter a special place, a whole other realm of torment that defies anything a young man might go through; it is a place reserved solely for girls between the ages of eleven and sixteen, and it makes the bowels of hell look like Disneyland in comparison.
What kind of jackboot-wearing turd invented the notion that a young woman should appear in a swim suit, in the middle of winter (ostensibly to put pasty, goosepinpled flesh on display), before the whole of her class, boys included, when she can’t even bear the thought of disrobing in the girls’ locker room? A sadistic turd, of course. A man or woman who wore a perpetual crew cut and baggy shorts, a semi-talented jock who never could let go of his or her high school hey day as captain of the volleyball team or quarterback for the Blue Devils, and who tried to recapture those feelings for the rest of his or her miserable life by being a gym teacher.
A sadistic hasbeen turd who secretly got off on watching you, yes you, going in and out of the showers. Which is another topic I’d like to explore, but not at this time. I’ll just leave off by saying that public showering should be optional, and that all gym teachers be forbidden from sitting in their perverted "sentry" chairs, checklist in hand, fiddling obscenely with their big shiny whistles. and lasciviously eyeing every child as they enter the shower room.
I can’t even believe this is legal.
Anyway, I skipped my entire year of ninth grade gym class. Which leads me to the point of this blog entry.
See, my oldest daughter is a student at the high school that I attended during my sophomore year. Let me say first that this school is the only school in my high school career (I attended three different schools) where I sort of, kind of enjoyed myself. I made my best grades there, and I even made some friends. But I also had to make up for skipping ninth grade gym, and was required to take gym every day of the week.
Once more for emphasis: I had to take gym every day of the week.
My gym teacher, true to form, was a sadistic turd with a crew cut and big shiny whistle. She was a cold, hard Ethyl, a mean, ugly, spiteful whore of Satan who took great pleasure in my apparent misery. She made what could have been a delightful and long-overdue year of joy into a so-so high school experience for me.
Oh, I can hear you saying, "Jeepers, how bad could she possibly have been?"
Two more words sure to put a shiver down any woman‘s spine: gym suit.
One day, when I'd "forgotten" my gym shorts, she bullied me into wearing an army green gym suit, a garment dripping with early twentieth century attitude, all poufy bloomers attached to cap-sleeved, equally poufy blouson top, both glamorous parts connected at the waist by a large strap of white elastic. The expression on that gym teacher's face when she handed that rag to me and said, spittle flying, "Put it on, Howe. NOW!" was absolutely one of the most frightening things I'd witnessed in all my fourteen years on earth. I hated her, and I'm not afraid to say that I hate her still.
Yesterday, while commiserating with my girl about the horrors of gym class, I found out that this monster not only still lives among us, but is, appallingly, my daughter's gym teacher. To say that I fear for my daughter's sanity is an understatement.
This is definite proof that, at the end of time, after the bombs have fallen and the stars tumble from the sky, the only creatures left standing on our barren earth will be cockroaches and gym teachers.
After the initial shock and awe wore off, I gently instructed my girl to bury her usual strong, opinionated personality and fierce sense of justice, and become mouse-like. I told her to always be prepared for gym class, no matter how tired or ill she may feel. I implored her to not look that evil woman in the eye and to always do as she is asked, within reason. If she picks on you, I said, pretend that her words are not hot pokers slicing through your very soul, but words of encouragement and wisdom. And do not, I said, DO NOT, under any circumstance, refer to that woman as "Cold Ethyl" within earshot.
And I also said this: If she ever, God forbid, brings out the gym suit, you have my permission to run screaming from the locker room, run screaming on home to Mama, even if you are threatened with detention. I've got twenty-odd years of pure, unadulterated hatred built up in me, honey, and it's about to blow. Give me a reason to stick my foot up Cold Ethyl's ass, give me one little reason. So don't you worry -- Mama's got your back.