Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Mandatory gym class

I was talking to Tom yesterday about something – I think how my body is physically falling apart as I reach the 40 year mark, and I somehow started thinking about how I was forced to take a gym class in my freshman year of high school to meet some bogus Indiana PE requirement.  I obviously was not the jock type in high school, didn’t play sports, and begrudgingly took this gym class and suffered through it.  I mean, I had to also take physical education periods in all of K-6, but you don’t shower in those, and they are unisex, and instead of doing hardcore calisthenics, you play four-square or play some stupid game with a kickball on a giant surplus parachute that everyone holds and flips up and down.  (Note to people born after 1990: four-square was a game you played on a playground with a 2×2 grid drawn on a pavement and an inflatable rubber ball, long before it was a stupid web site where you reported to your friends list every location in the city where you stopped to take a dump or buy a bottle of water.)

The demographics of my PE class in 9th grade also made the situation difficult.  There was me, Jia, and these other two geeky guys.  Then the rest of the class was evenly divided between multi-letter varsity sport athletes, and every drug-fueled shop class major that would soon be a convicted felon.  My worst fear on any given day was that we’d do some activity where we’d get divided into teams, because I was one of the absolute last people that would get picked in any situation like this.  It wasn’t just that I was unpopular; I mean, in 1985 I was pretty much my current height but weighed something like 120 pounds, and I know I could not bench even half of that back then.  And I had absolutely no hand-eye coordination, couldn’t swim, hated running, and forget anything that involved hitting a ball, like tennis or baseball.  My best hope was that we’d play something like soccer, where I could just sort of stand off to the side of the field and run back and forth with the pack and not do anything.

One saving grace: our gym teacher was also the basketball coach.  And at that time, Shawn Kemp was a sophomore, but he was a starting varsity player and was scoring an average of about 96 points a game and appearing in Sports Illustrated every other week.  So for months on end, Coach Hahn would need to spend his days reviewing scouting footage or conducting press conferences with ESPN or finding Kemp a college program that would pay him well under the table but not require him to know how to read.  And on those days, he’d dump us all in the gym with a bunch of basketballs and have us divide up and play unsupervised.  This was good, because nine times out of ten, I could get on a lopsided team with one of my computer buddies and talk about the Apple II on the sidelines while the rest of our team practiced for their future college athletic and/or department of correction basketball careers.

Anyway, the reason I remember all of this is the Presidential fitness test, or whatever the hell it was called.  It was some neo-fascist Reagan Youth attempt at getting the country into shape, and I think Ahnold had something to do with it, and I’m sure it was a stepping stone toward reinstating the draft and having a huge mass of young recruits ready to run obstacle courses at top speed.  The challenge consisted of a dozen or two different exercises, and to get an A on the semester, you had to do a certain number of repetitions, or do exercises in a certain amount of time.  And of course, if you at least tried to do these things, you’d get a C, but giving a competition based on how fast you can do a shuttle run to all of the type A personality disorder jocks in the class made this probably the worst possible outcome, short of having everyone line up the cars their parents gave them and hand out grades based on which ones were newest or cost the most.

When they came up with this test, they basically said, “let’s find thirty things Jon Konrath can’t do, and then invent some ridiculous numbers for each one and hope he gets publicly humiliated thirty times in a row.”  For example, there was the aforementioned shuttle run; I don’t remember how fast you had to run it, but I would get shin splints from running any more than thirty feet, and had the aerobic capability of a high-level World of Warcraft junkie that typically needed a Rascal wheelchair to get from their SUV to the grocery store for another case of ring-dings, so it took me roughly double the required time.  Chin-ups?  I think I did one.  Push-ups in a minute?  I’m sure I could do at least a couple, but it probably required 30 or 60 or something well outside of the reach of someone who could only do curls if you took all of the weights off the bar first.

Probably the worst one was the rope climb.  I don’t remember how high the rope was, and I’m sure if I saw it now, it would be shorter than the ceiling in our apartment, and I’m also sure some crazed helicopter parents got the thing removed years ago because they were afraid their precious spawn would fall.  But we had to climb the damn thing, and do it in a certain speed to meet the challenge.  And two things went through my head as I sat on the ringworm-infested wrestling mats and looked up at this thing tethered to the ceiling.  One, there’s no way I can pull my weight up this damn thing if I can barely achieve a single chin-up.  And two, if I did manage to climb up to the top, how the hell do you get back down?  I had vivid visions of sailing thirty feet down, balls-first against this coarse rope that had splinters of whatever the hell ropes were made of back then scraping against my sac.  So I managed to get maybe two arm-grasps up the thing, froze, and dropped back to earth.

And of course I got endless shit from all of the jocks in the class, along the lines of “yeah, your fuckin’ computer’s not going to help you now.”  And all I could think of, which was little consolation at the time, was that in twenty years, all of these fuckers would be stuck on an assembly line, five minutes away from where they were born and where they would die, their good looks faded, their physique gone, their trophy cheerleader wives worn and uglied by a half-dozen kids, and I would be long gone, riding whatever technology I could find or invent to riches and happiness.  Okay, I’m not rich, and the jury is still out on whether or not I’m happy, but from the looks of the reunion pictures, I was right on all other counts.  But that didn’t comfort me much when I was sixteen and had to shower with these fuckers after failing their stupid tests repeatedly.

But here’s the one thing I did good at: sit-ups.  We had to do something like 56 full sit-ups in a minute, and I thought there’s no fucking way I’ll do 30, given my progress on the rest of this nightmare.  But I slugged it out, and ended up doing seventy-two.  I have no idea how I did this; maybe it’s something about weighing next to nothing, and having absolutely no gut at the time.  But I did that.  And now, I don’t know if I could do ten sit-ups without throwing out my back, so it’s a good metric about how far from being in shape I am now that I close out my fourth decade here.

The other thing about that stupid class was that by the end of the year, I had played so much damn basketball, I was pretty much an idiot savant for shooting from anywhere within the three point range.  I mean, I couldn’t defend, or do lay-ups or any of that shit.  But if you wanted to play Horse or something, I would completely kick your ass.  All of this quickly faded after I got this stupid requirement out of the way and never thought of basketball again in my life, but for a brief period in the spring of 1986, you could give me a ball and place me on any random point, and I knew the exact physics and the exact angle to get it from here to there.

By the way, I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: I will be in Vegas this year for my 40th.  If you have the means and you’re free the weekend of the 20th, drop a line.