The Day of The Too-Cool Sub. PE Teacher
Please be my Guest
and relax with a cup of fresh, black coffee and prepare yourself to hear a true tale that happened to me and my great pal, "Oz," aka/Dwight Ausborn, Hamilton, Al. Why don't I just shut up and let you read the narrative? Deal? Thanks. Kenneth.
It was a tale best left alone. I tried hard, but now it has to be made public. A clean conscience and heart are vital in getting a good night’s sleep. In 1971, my junior high class and I were in a silent upheaval—our thinking, although mixed-up and warped, not due to drugs, was headed dangerously to a dark place where an old sign hung beside an Oak tree reading . . .”Beware! Bad Attitudes Are Buried Up Ahead.” I never thought much about that advice since I was mostly iffy about my view of the Vietnam Conflict, long hair, Rock Music, and being shut-out and shunned due to me being raised in a household where my parents both held down jobs. To give you a Reader’s Digest view: there was this Idol with Clay Feet named Riches that the old Hamilton men had helped to make that sleepy little town theirs. It still is today. You cannot make it, young man, unless The Old Money Folks in Hamilton give you a nod. Pretty much like a farm mule does when it gets hungry.
Truth is never misunderstood.
One of our most, boring, unwanted, but classes we “had” to take in order to graduate was PE. I want you with Phds to explain why anyone has to take PE. I might have let that class slide and do my best, but when the school tacked on that “have to take” preface, I had problems with that. It was more like the school was ordering us, the mindless guinea pigs only used for Social Experiments, to take this class to be quiet puppets taught by an older student who was going to ROTC in a few months.
Nothing, by way of PE, in my high school, today, for I had someone check it, NEVER changed—same stupid push-ups, sit-ups, Jumping Jacks, same crap that my few friends and I were forced to do or face an angry dad for coming home with an F. That just stood for “Failure.” I knew going in that “I” was already a failure, so what good did it do for me to burn 50 minutes out of my school day?
There were a few perks during that 50-minutes of forced sweating. Gorgeous cheerleaders (in uniform) would sometimes go to the gym, where we worked out, to talk to one of the football coaches or a girlfriend who cut class—it didn’t matter. If you were a pretty blond or brunette and wore the “HHS” insignia, it was the same as wearing a Marine Corps globe and eagle. These gals had power.
Each time I would be in place doing stupid Jumping Jacks and a pretty cheerleader would walk outside the perimeter of the gym floor, I would start heaving for breath, clutching my side, and eventually for that brief bit of drama, drop to the floor so our senior instructor, Jimmy Gregg, who was in charge, and able to ascertain if I had died. Gregg was able to make snap judgments. Gregg would be our PE instructor on days when our PE teacher, Coach LC. Fowler who was really lazy and loved to sit in his office and look important. We even sneaked up on him dozing one day, but when we surprised him, he yelled, hey, you dumb heads! Can’t you see that I’m working? Now get! *the real word Fowler used was “git,” a very rural term—obviously he had let power go to his head and he didn’t have to speak correctly.
One boring PE class after the other gets old. But the day, that shining day came when Jimmy was sick, or wanted to take off to be with his parents because both of them were Social Giants in Hamilton, Ala., our hometown and Coach Fowler had to attend a Coach’s Conference somewhere near Jasper, Ala., (Home of George “Goober Pyle” Lindsey), and that left our PE class to be put in the capable hands of Mr. Walter Voce—who was not a coach or a teacher, but a good friend of someone with the Marion County School Board and if you knew someone in power, they can do things for you—and on this day it was Voce’s day to shine, because he was our Substitute PE Instructor. Friends who are reading this commentary, do not be fooled. “Instructor” was only a flashy title, probably an easy way to get a bigger “piece of the pie.”
To give Voce credit, he was mild-mannered, clean-cut, but did not resemble Clark Kent. He was middle-aged, had a slight swagger about his walk, smiled a halfway smile that I thought was a tad mischievous, he might have been a Swinger and a Rounder in his hey day, but today, he was in charge, but his name was Walter, not Charles of Scott Baio’s “Charles in Charge.”
Walter. That was a noble name. Walter Brennan, “Real McCoys,” leaped to my mind. Walter Mitty--The name Walter Mitty and the derivative word "Mittyesque" has now entered the English language, denoting an ineffectual person who spends more time in heroic daydreams than paying attention to the real world. That was Mr. Voce, alright. And Walter reminds me a once powerful company, Jim Walter Company, who made billions in the 1960s through the 1990s for building homes for the American consumer who took land as a bargaining chip to get the house put on a mortgage. My own sister and husband once owned one of these homes and after a nasty divorce 38 years later, sold it. Jim Walter never promised in any of their colorful brochures that “Happiness is Guaranteed with Jim Walter.”
Usually, our PE class started with Roll Call at 10 am, and with whomever is in charge, tells us the exercises we are to to, then a rowdy game of Three on Three Basketball or some of us chose to work-out on weights—can you guess which one I chose? Weights: The Wave of 70s Males, trim, slim, and in shape. Truth is, we all went down to our high school Weight Room which was a basement and the coaches, including Jimmy Gregg or Coach Fowler never darkened the Weight Room door so . . .those of us who did go through the motions—just in case one of them did drop by, just sat, talked, and some brave guys slept off that beer or whiskey they had drank at a wild party the school night before.
We had it made. For about half a hour. It was Dwight “Oz” Ausborn; Donnie Avery, and me, just us three high school juniors to sit around for most of an hour and slack off--yakking about girls, money, and cars. I forgot Hustler, the magazines that we bought on the High School Black Market for half price. I am not at liberty to reveal where we scored those great mags.
I had just opened up a discussion about our future after high school when the door slowly opened, and “Oz,” had just let a curse word fly, we all looked at the door to see Mr. Voce with that halfway evil smile and swagger looking now like the late James Coburn “Sedgwick, Manufacturer,” in The Great Escape, 1963. Voce would have made a great Con Artist or Poker Player for he had “that” rocky face and didn’t smile like a hungry dog going after a piece of meat. Voce just happened to check the Weight Room, we were never told why, and sat down and began to talk—something the coaches or a Regular Substitute would never do. They just wanted to finish the day and go home.
“just checking on you guys, not to catch you or anything, just noticed you three walking to the Weight Room,” Voce explained, really a bit too much for our good.
“Yes, sir. We were going to start doing a few sets of pull-ups on this new weight equipment to see if “I” could get in shape,” I replied taking the position of the Leader of us the Three of us.
“Well, keep up the work, guys. I have to run up there and call the basketball game the other guys are playing—see you later,” Voce said as he walked to open the door to leave.
And why on God’s green earth did I have to open my mouth? Why? We, for two times in the same day, had it made. I just let my mouth fly open and say, “Mr. Voce, may I ask you something?”
“Oz” and Donnie both glared at me in unison. I cannot blame them. What I did was very ignorant. For all Mr. Voce knew, we could have blazed up with a few joints and had a great time talking and letting the world fly by—and on the other hand, we three had a perfect escape plan: we could have just walked out the back door of the school building, but we faced one obvious problem: the high school had us to buy PE uniforms with school colors and numbers for $5.00 a piece. If we did cut school, we would have been caught instantly—for the grown ups in Hamilton were all suspicious.
“Yes, and what was your question?” Voce said, still standing up.
“Why are we having to wear these uniforms? Can you explain that to me?” I said sounding very intellectual.
“Well, Lenn, I can tell you . . .”
(I had to correct him. I did not want to go through life named Lenn.)
“Kenneth, I am sorry. The reason that the students are wearing uniforms are not to form you into mindless robots, but to learn a measure of discipline and that way, you three can live with more character. Do you understand?” Voce said with a twinkle in his eyes.
“But, Mr. Voce, to me, this sounds like we are all Made to Dress alike and before we know it, we will be talking alike, and Mr. Voce, that scares me for one day, we might all live alike. Does that make sense?” I said mixing it with this adult.
“You do make a good argument, but Kenneth, all I can tell you is that you are expected to wear those uniforms and that way, the school officers will look upon you as good students,” Voce said and then the end of our PE Class ended with the bell.
Mr. Voce patted us all on the back, not butts, thank God. And walked out of the Weight Room.
“Anyone understand what Mr. Voce said to us?” I asked my friends, “Oz” and Donnie.
Both of them just grinned and kept walking. So did I. I must have wanted to be a follower, not a leader. But what amazed me was Mr. Voce answered all of my questions and gave the answers all without sounding like a man in authority.
At least he didn’t catch us doing anything. You will have to think about the previous statement.