Don’t Mess Around With Gym



     I was in Sr Mary Joseph’s fifth grade class when I first encountered an activity of which I had denied any previous ponder or anticipation. It was a blustery October morning when the lanky blond gentleman first introduced himself: “Hello, boys. I am your new Phys Ed instructor, Mr Loflin. Steve Loflin.” The nine of us looked at each other, some excited about the prospect of team sports, others (such as myself) terrified of the unknown. In my world, sports had always meant marbles, kickball, dodgeball, or racing. Of course, I knew better than to hinge my hopes on the familiar. It was indeed the very day that I was to begin my miserable failure in football, basketball, and baseball.
     Conceptually, I had always attempted to understand this triumvirate of television sports. Baseball made sense; I just couldn’t hit the ball. Basketball had too many rules for me to process. And football completely escaped my ten year old “need for reason” when it came to scoring, penalties, and strategies. I had always been a competitive, driven lad and, as Coach Loflin distributed our new grey jersey gym clothes, I suddenly realized that the nuances would be far-reaching.
     For the next two years, the nine of us changed into our uniforms, printed with a proud and somewhat daunting “St Pius X”. We twice weekly completed a regimen of calisthenics which was followed with whatever team sports that nine of us could realistically play. Because there were so few boys in my class, we had to all constantly play, never treated to a break on a sideline. We’d sweat, get filthy, and occasionally bleed. I also had always detested getting dirty so that “gym”actually pushed my limits into new territory.
     When I completed sixth grade, I was relieved to be soon attending a “less stern” public junior high school, although that was short-lived. I was still markedly lacking in the fundamentals of school athletics, except for the universal celebration of a clean, pristine, and fresh uniform. Class size was somewhere near 35 and comprised of strangers, most of whom were far less sheltered and behaved as we Catholic school refugees. We had to shower en masse, and I learned to swear, albeit only among my peers, and usually after some wicked “towel” prank.
     Seventh grade unfolded as you might have expected, my friends, especially if you witnessed firsthand my frequent agony. For five days a week, it was always the same. And for each nine week grading period, I received a B … the bane of my meager twelve year old existence and the taint of my otherwise unblemished report card.
     That summer passed quickly. I turned thirteen, and got braces. On the first day of classes, I could barely control my glee, except for Phys Ed. As we gathered, my heart sank as I realized I’d be interacting with yet an entirely new group of boys. I was already visualizing the taunts, the names, and the disapproving looks, when the door opened. In walked Coach Loflin. He introduced himself, distributed our blue and white uniforms, and lectured us on his expectations. I knew I was doomed for another year, just shy of straight A’s.
     The year went quickly, even eighth period with Coach Loflin. Although I hated Phys Ed, I wasn’t the worst in the class and, every once in a muddy track field, we’d engage in something fun: such as track, soccer, or that bizarre derivative “crab soccer”. Coach always referred to me as Mr Sieber, referring to my classmates with only their surnames. And when report cards were distributed, I finally received straight A’s, including my personal “Holy Grail” of eighth period. I was shocked but rushed home nonetheless. I found out the next day that my cronies had all gotten B’s and C’s, and that Mr Loflin was considered a tough grader.
     My luck continued throughout that year and into the next, as he was my ninth grade gym instructor as well. I never enjoyed physical education but I learned to overcome the dread, at least of gym. The following year, I’d be enrolled in an even larger school, with an entirely new set of issues and fears.
     Years passed, I finished my studies and went out into the real world, forging friendships with like-minded Bohemian types. When I was in my mid-twenties, my boyfriend and I were to join my”crazy”and exuberant friend Jackie and her husband whom I had never met. We had planned to go out for dinner, unsure of whether we’d make it to a dance club since the other couple was about fifteen years older. I answered my doorbell and laughed at the irony and unexpected sight. Yes, Jackie was married to Coach Loflin, although he now preferred “Steve”.
     We had a great time, enjoyed a few cocktails, and “laughed ourselves silly!” By the time we asked for our check, we were all spent and well-poised for a drive home. As we stood in the parking lot, rallying for a final moment’s banter, I found myself finally asking him about the grades when I was in junior high school. He stumbled at first but admitted that I was one of the few boys who always acknowledged the feats of others … or reassured them when they fell short. (That, and my uniform was always laundered!)
     I’ve since lost touch with Steve, Jackie, and even that nameless boyfriend. Sometimes when I smile I am visualizing the world as I viewed it back then, the erosion of pubescent fears, and how Coach Loflin brought a few pleasurable moments and laughs to Phys Ed.
     Don’t get me wrong. I would’ve much rather been in my Latin class with Mrs Foster, embracing the art of rapid declension.

(Image: “After School” by Catrin Welz-Stein.)















May Jaunt, June Memories



Today is overcast and breezy, and I have yet to prioritize today’s missions, let alone muster the energy to commence. While Jon is at UNC’s Memorial Hospital for his quarterly “study group,” I sit in a large (what appears to be a Mitchell Gold) eggplant velvet chair. My trenta iced coffee teases me each time my glance returns to its cramped spot on a tiny side table. While I indulge myself with a few reflective and private hours at a Starbucks, my older and wiser half is getting prodded, poked, and what certainly must seem like drawn and quartered.
I’ve always been fond of my field trips to Chapel Hill. I was born here while my father was in law school. Since then this eclectic and picturesque village has been a home base. Its demeanor is comfortable with its many restaurants, coffee shops, and ordinances eschewing change. Of course, it is unreasonable to think that I could ever afford to live here among the ghosts and childhood elves. Instead, it will likely remain my favorite destination for either a field trip or escape … or, like today, both.
The nostalgic eateries of my childhood and college years are today gone and barely remembered: The quirky, yet speedy Porthole, pizzeria Zoom-Zoom, and the Ranch House, the once special occasion purveyor of all things Angus. The Rathskellar is still operating but no longer trades quality Italian fare for long lines of students and alumni. And the Carolina Coffee Shop, where I met the likes of Randall Jarrell, Harry Golden, and Charles Kuralt, is more restaurant than coffee shop and more yuppyish than beatnik. Nonetheless, I can still visualize Saturday mornings when I’d tag along with Hal and, afterwards, be treated to a new book from the Intimate Bookshop.
In fact, very little here has remained unchanged. In fifty years, the town has tripled in population as has the student body at UNC. Jon is likely right now lost in the labyrinth of buildings that I remember as a one structure hospital. The Arts & Crafts bungalow in which we lived on Ransom Street, however, still looks the same. I am certain the attic no longer has a cache of odd and forgotten finds that can delight a child. Yes, I want to drive over, quickly park, and scurry to the back yard to see if the ancient fishpond is still there.
The Catholic school I attended is still here. The “oh so hip” Sisters of Mercy that taught me kicked the “habit” and married in the late sixties. But I still remember where my friends lived: Damian, Mark, Jean, and the twins Gary and Jerry.
As I sit here, squirming and restless for a smoke, there is one aspect of Chapel Hill that immediately seems unchanged: this time of year there is a pungent mix of scents in the air: honeysuckle, cut grass, and brewed coffee.
Soon, I shall pack up the laptop and head over to campus to fetch my beloved. I’ll pass the storefronts that used to house Danziger’s Olde World, where I’d spend my allowance on marzipan … and the long gone Leo’s where I’d always get some Halvah treats after dinner.
I won’t be melancholy though. I can still taste the first few bites of both. And I still have what remains of my trenta iced coffee.
Such is an indulgent afternoon, a county or two away from the hinterlands of Marklewood.


(I apologize: I no longer remember the source of this image. If any of you know, please pass the information along to me.)


Moist Again: An Umbel for St Agobard



As April’s errant and way-laid rains moisten these last of May’s “lusty days,” Jon and I look to June as a new beginning.  Yes, we have escaped yet another month: trumping bill collectors and carefully doling antes from the pot, while clutching the most precious of chips to our hearts. If I were indeed a betting man, I’d now bet on the future, for to do so now is no longer a foolhardy risk or premature gamble. The humble House of Marklewood still stands proudly, cocked with neither bluff nor slam, although now well-concealed by Spring’s quick and magic deal. True, we may often play our hand thus, “seeing the other’s denial  and raising our justification!”
As months go, June has always been a favorite here in the hinterlands. The hydrangeas, gardenias, and the carefully selected potted annuals are in full splendor. The evenings are still breezy-cool, at once ideal for Jon to sway in his swing while chatting with his mother, the ever practical Jean, or one of his buddies who share in both his maladies and habits. The seasonal sun has yet to evoke such words as “heinous” and “swelter”; and the “lazy” dog days are still but “playful pups” with a gumption to frolic.
Of course, June holds dear many days … those of prideful boasts, paternal roasts, and the ever so academic vexillologist’s toasts. While many friends celebrate birthdays in this looming sixth month, it is a safe bet that many saints, or the de-canonized and thereby demoted and denoted “blessed”, call June days as their own as well. Saints Jarlath, Branwallader, Ceratius, Amantius, Rutilius, Cocca, Agobard, and Theodichildis are but a few of the Catholic holy persons who’d soon be honored with feasts and fêtes, were they indeed remembered. As a survivor of parochial school, I question the judgment of Sr Mary Joseph who steered me into opting for St Christopher who is now simply “Christopher the Blessed” (and the subject of millions of now obsolete medallions). Quirky lad that I was in fifth grade, I would have likely preferred Agobard as my confirmation name. Egads! I swear that I came by my issues honestly and without coaxing.
So another month has packed its triumphs and defeats and is soon headed to life’s “Green Room”. I can now slowly breathe in the sweet pollen-free air and sigh that oh-so familiar sigh. There will be no fanfare. I shall offer my beloved a tiny crimson rose, plucked from the garden out front. As he ponders the shrub’s metamorphosis from bearing antique pink to deep red blooms, I shall smile. We are bolstered for the days ahead no matter what tricks the Universe conceals up its mossy sleeve.

(Perhaps, just as I did in fifth grade, I selected a confirmation name in improper haste. St Agobard was, perhaps, a little too ecclesiastical even for my tastes. I did, however, sense a kindred affinity for odd sentence structure:
“Further, they believe the letters of their alphabet to have existed from everlasting, and before the beginning of the world to have received diverse offices, in virtue of which they should preside over created things.”)

(Image: “Mr. Charming” by Catrin Welz-Stein.)