Thursday, June 16, 2011

GYM AND POOL: The Naked Truth

            What I'm about to tell you is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I say that because friends and family to whom I have told these tales have stated more than once that they couldn't possibly be true. But true they are, for public education was very different in 1961 than it is today.
            This is the story of Bobby and Billy Brabender, muscular twins who taught phys-ed and were wrestling coaches in the city schools. Bobby was at Vincent, and Billy was at East.
            Bobby used the paddle in that gym class more than it was used by all other teachers in all classes of Strong Vincent. If, for example, you were playing basketball that day in gym class, and your team lost, everyone on the losing team had to lineup, bend over and get whacked with the paddle. Whatever the competition, losers got whacked. We neither complained about, nor questioned this practice. It was just the way it was, and we assumed that it had always been that way.     
            Like a Marine drill sergeant, Bobby loved to do or say things that would humiliate you. If I recall correctly, the Class of ‘61 had two state wrestling champions, Gaylord McGoon and Terry Haise. Terry was in the 112 pound class. One day in gym class Bobby thought it would be entertaining to have me, at 160 pounds, wrestle Terry. The big guy against the little guy. Terry was all over me with his wrestling moves, although I was too much of a load for him to pin. A few minutes later Bobby ended the match, declaring Terry the winner, then repeatedly asking how I could let such a little guy beat me.
            We had Gym Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays we had Pool. Like homeroom, these were gender segregated classes.  And, as unbelievable as it sounds, we wore no swim suits. That's right, we swam butt naked. As with gym class, we just accepted it as the way things were and the way things had always been.
            Now during wrestling season you could get out of swimming by joining Bobby’s Palm Beach Club.  You did this by buying a ticket to that night’s wrestling match. Instead of swimming, Palm Beach Club members sat in the bleachers overlooking the pool and talked, did homework or just relaxed. Those who didn't buy tickets had to swim laps nonstop for half an hour. As you swam, Bobby would be walking back and forth with a bamboo pole in his hands, poking in the ribs anybody who was lagging behind to get them moving faster.
            Being hard-core, I hardly ever bought a ticket. On one of those occasions, I deliberately lagged behind the other swimmers. As I slowly swam, I kept my eye on Bobby. When he reached out to poke me in the ribs with that bamboo pole, I grabbed it in a vain attempt to pull him into the water. Big mistake there! For that transgression I had to get out of the pool, stand butt naked at the edge of the pool, bend over in preparation for a dive, then, heeding Bobby's orders to "grab your jewels," await the whack of the paddle before diving into the pool in a manner that would not get Bobby wet.
            But that would have been too easy. If I had wanted the easy route, I would have joined the Palm Beach Club. So, instead of diving, I cannonballed into the water creating a splash big enough to reach Bobby. Needless to say, he wasn't very happy. I had to repeat the process of lining up for another dive. My buttocks already bore the welt from the first whack.  So there I stood, manhood in hand, and, after receiving the whack of all whacks, I dove as smoothly and as splashlessly as possible into the water.
            As unbelievable as this all sounds today, it actually happened. We lived through it and were none the worse for wear. For me, the memories were worth every whack as I have spread this story far and wide.

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