Crap. This is precisely what came to mind when I received my second semester class schedule from the school registrar. I was sick to my stomach. How could this be? What was wrong with that registrar anyhow? Didn’t she know better than to do such a cruel and ridiculous thing? I remember fumbling with my binder, trying to shove the unwanted schedule into one of the vinyl pockets. I hate this, I thought. This has to be a mistake. Rest assured, the class assignment was no mistake. It was, however, the worst class schedule I’d ever gotten. By the time I’d tramped to the next class and thrown myself into my seat, I’d already made up my mind that I was not going to have PE for second period. No way, no how.
I was in tenth grade at the time. Having moved from out of state just a few months prior, I wasn’t taking to my new high school very well at all. If anyone—-anyone at all—- asked me about it, I would automatically rattle off every complaint I could conjure. I simply couldn’t stand the place. I still can’t. The campus was too large and too spread out. It took forever to walk to class, so half the time I barely beat the passing bell. Most of the teachers never knew what they were talking about. Their tenth grade curriculum was at least half a year behind that of the ninth grade curriculum at my previous school, so I was constantly having to learn things for the second time. Then the kids on my bus weren’t really kids at all, but were actually escaped zoo animals with backpacks and piss poor attitudes.
Speaking of kids, the school was far too cliquish, which made it virtually impossible for new kids to make friends easily. My old school had cliques, but everyone knew and (mostly) got along well with everyone else—one of the many benefits of a smaller school. The campus was old and shabby, much like the majority of the staff that worked there. Many of them genuinely needed to have retired back in 1980-something, but for some reason, they were intent on staying and making students miserable until the day they died. And just think—these are just a few of the things I disliked about my new high school. As you can imagine, I was already counting the days until graduation—or whenever the next earthquake would shake the antiquated old ruins down to the ground—whichever came first.
Having second period PE was just out of the question. Thanks to wonky (and undoubtedly inaccurate) class credit calculations from trimester to semester systems, the graduation gods demanded only two more semesters of PE from me before I could kiss stinky locker rooms and never-ending track laps goodbye. I was not about to spend my last semester of the school year being sweaty and gross in nearly all of my classes just because that old battleax registrar didn’t know that having second period PE was “stupid”. I had always been fortunate enough to have my prior PE classes late in the day, sometimes even last period. In light of me having a complex about always wanting to smell like a fresh cut rose sprinkled with dew, scheduling me for early morning PE was like sentencing me to death. And don’t even ask me why I couldn’t brave the school showers. No one used those. No one. This being said, I was dead set on having the registrar rearrange my schedule.
Ha! Yeah right. Someone should have told me I was barking up the wrong tree before I ever bothered turning in that schedule change request. That thing got denied so quick, the ink hadn’t dried. Apparently, juniors and seniors got priority scheduling, leaving tenth grade peasants like me out in the cold. I was stuck. I was going to be in second period PE with a teacher named Mr. K whether I liked it or not. I’d be right there in the class with all the other unfortunate goons who couldn’t change their schedules. We’d all spend the remainder of our school days smelling like barnyard animals…some worse than others. I honestly thought it was the end of the world until a friend from Biology started complaining about her schedule. After comparing our spring semester schedules, we discovered that we would have second period PE and third period Biology together. This pretty much made our day. As we saw it, our schedules still sucked and we’d still stink, but at least we could share body spray and complain together.
Want to know the weirdest part about all of this scheduling hullabaloo? I ended up loving second period PE. I made many friends in that class, one of which I still have today. We’ll talk more about her later though. What I want to talk about right now is Mr. K. Mr. K didn’t like PE class…or teaching. Heck, he didn’t even like kids. The only thing he liked was his cellphone and being on it 24/7. This is actually what made Mr. K’s class awesome. His PE classes were so enjoyable that when it came time to take my last semester of PE and I didn’t get him for a teacher, I was really disappointed (I ended up taking dance class instead). I honestly can’t remember what Mr. K looked like outside of his tracksuit, hat and cellphone. That’s because outside of him taking attendance and pretending to tell us what to do for the day, he never fussed with us. It was just him and his sweet, sweet cellphone.
Being in Mr. K’s class was like looking through a Where’s Waldo? book. Instead of looking for a funny looking man with a hat and a striped sweater, students had to be on the lookout for a funny looking man with a hat and a cellphone attached to his head. You never knew where you’d find him, but you could bet that it would be anywhere his students weren’t. I don’t think I ever spoke a single word to him the entire semester I spent in his class. I’m not sure much of anyone else did either! However, for whatever Mr. K lacked in communication (and presence), he made up for it with perfect directness. He never fussed with having a complicated litany of class rules like my other teachers. In fact, he kept things fairly simple and straightforward:
1.) Show Up (the school administration hated truancy—this was a given)
2.) Dress Out (if we looked like he was teaching, people would assume he was)
3.) Shut Up (to better hear whoever he was going to call that day)
If you did these three things, you’d get an easy A. If you somehow managed to get less than that, well, that was just foolishness on your part.
The best thing about Mr. K’s PE class were the girls I met and befriended. All of my second period friends and I had something in common: We hated PE. All we wanted to do was sit, look cute, gossip and leave. The worst thing about PE class happened to be dressing out. You’d think that getting dressed would be something that teenage girls would excel at and be excited about, liking fashion and all. However, this couldn’t have been further from the truth. No one wanted to dress out. I don’t care who you were. Drop trou in front of a bunch of complete strangers in a dingy, smelly locker room? Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll keep my clothes right on my body where they belong, if you don’t mind terribly.
My friends and I started off properly changing into our gym clothes…at first. Slowly, but surely we converted the girl’s locker room into a gossip headquarters. Instead of properly changing, we’d throw PE attire on over our normal school clothes and spend the remaining time talking. And since we knew we never did anything in PE to get sweaty, we only appeared to be dressed for the grade. Lord knows that Mr. K never looked at any of us that closely. We weren’t phones…why would he? I mean, never mind that odd bulge under our hoodies. That’s always been there.
Participation wasn’t really our gig either, so it’s a good thing Mr. K didn’t expect much of it. My friends and I cared very little for balls, running, jumping or throwing…how boring! When it was time to play tennis, we sat in the bleachers—chatting. When it was time to play volleyball, we stood on the court—chatting. When it was time to sit in lines on the asphalt so that Mr. K could take a half-assed attendance, we still chatted. Mr. K couldn’t care less. Anytime you actually remembered that he existed and looked up to find him, he’d be waaaay across the field or waaaay at the top of the bleachers—talking on his phone. We never found out who he was talking to (not that we cared), but now I’m curious. Was it his mistress? His loan shark? The psychic hotline? Whoever it was, Mr. K surely spent his entire “teaching” salary paying cellphone bills.
Even though we very rarely lifted a finger in the class, to say my friends and I never participated would be a lie. We did participate …once. It was at the very beginning of the semester before any of us knew each other very well. I remember it like it was yesterday. The first sport that Mr. K had us play was touch football. After distractedly leading us through seated stretches and having some of the boys of the class collect the netted bags of equipment, Mr. K ushered us down to the grassy field at the back end of the campus. When we reached the field, we filed into the bleachers, awaiting further instruction. That’s when Mr. K picked four students at random, making them team captains. One was a girl I’d recently met in class. Let’s call her Nikki (you’ll surely hear about her in future story times). I remember being glad when he chose her as a captain because I knew she would choose me and some of the other girls I’d befriended to be on her team. If we had to play football for two weeks, I at least wanted to play with people I really liked.
The team captains took turns picking their teammates. While waiting to be called, I took the opportunity to sit back and admire the beautiful morning. Most mornings were quite nice though…it was California after all. Every once in awhile, a bird would fly by overhead, squawking as it did. I remember the sun blazing hot in the sky. Even before noon, the metal bleachers were scorching hot. The heat was going right through my nylon gym pants, so I was looking forward to standing up again. I distracted myself by watching another PE class that was running around at the far end of the field. They already had their games underway, yet here we were still trying to pick teams. Meanwhile, Mr. K… Where was that guy anyway? Ah. There he was pacing back and forth several yards away—-on his phone. He had already wandered so far from us that it looked as though he were teaching the other class! Nothing new there.
One by one, kids would stand up as their names were called, clonking down the bleachers onto the field. What was taking Nikki so long to call my name? I wasn’t particularly eager to throw the old pigskin around, but I sure was growing tired of toasting my buns on that bleacher! She eventually looked in my direction and we made brief eye contact. When she acknowledged me with a small wave, I braced myself to stand up. Finally! It was my turn—or so I thought. Would you believe she looked right at me and picked someone else?
“Ashley! Come on down,” Nikki called.
Oh well, I thought. Maybe she’ll pick me next.
She calls out the same girl’s name again. “Ashley! Let’s go!”
All the while, I’m thinking the same exact thing. Yes, Ashley. Let’s get on down there so she can pick someone else—someone like me, for instance.
Well, Ashley was apparently a little hard of hearing because she never got up. Students still seated in the bleachers began to murmur and look around for our unresponsive classmate. I looked around as well, but no one was making their way down to the field. Where and who was this girl? Had she fallen asleep? Was she absent? Tardy? Abducted? Nikki began to get frustrated, and rightfully so. It is rather rude to have someone ignore you when you’ve selected them for your team. However, it didn’t stop her from continuing to call Ashley down.
“Oh my God, Ashley. What are you doing? Come on! I’ve been calling you for forever!”
I was getting ready to yell down to Nikki and tell her to just move on to someone else, but I never got the chance. She was looking at me yet again, so I knew she was finally getting ready to call me down. So much for Ashley! That’s when Nikki approached my section of the bleachers.
Now standing only a few feet away from me, Nikki shouts, “ASHLEY! What the heck are you doing?”
That’s when I realized: she was talking to me. Me. Bewildered and embarrassed, I frowned at her.
“Stop calling me that. I’m not Ashley.”
Nikki looked at me like I was crazy. “What are you talking about? Yes you are. Now, come on already!”
“No, what are you talking about? I think I’d know my own name and it isn’t Ashley!”
Some of the other students began sniggering. What kind of nonsense was this anyhow? I’d been hanging out with this girl for at least a week by that time. Did she really think my name was Ashley? Surely she was playing a joke on me…right? Apparently not. She was dead serious about my name being Ashley. In fact, she thought I was the one playing a joke on her.
“You’re kidding, right? Your name really is Ashley, isn’t it?”
“No, it’s not.”
We instantly started cracking up at the ridiculousness of it all. It turns out that I didn’t know Nikki’s name either! Here we had been “friends” yet neither of us knew each other from Tom, Dick, Harry or Ashley. Well, I ended up leaving the bleachers and joining the rest of the students on Nikki’s team. We went on with the game and that was the beginning of a very comical friendship.
As for how the game went, I’m sure our touch football skills were pretty horrible. For that matter, I’m sure our touch football skills are horrible till this very day. Nikki and I have been laughing at ourselves (and others) for the last fifteen years. I reckon she knows my name by now (hopefully). So, I guess I have to thank the otherwise incompetent school registrar’s office for at least one thing. They couldn’t give your girl a good schedule for crap, but I did get a lifelong friend out of the deal. I didn’t even have to stink either!
I wonder whatever happened to Mr. K. I doubt he’s still teaching—-not there, anyway. Very few teachers from my time still teach there. He’s probably really old by now. I mean, he seemed kind of old back then too. I can just imagine him in the nursing home clutching onto his phone for dear life.
He probably Postmates prune juice and takes Ubers to his doctor’s appointments.