When I was a senior in high school, my decision to forgo the P.E. requirement for graduation caught up with me. You couldn't graduate from my school without enduring a semester of kickball, bandminton, and watching the overweight kids try to touch their toes every day during warm-ups. Normally students take the class their sophomore year, but during my sophomore year, I was too busy creating a cerebellum full of memories of my first real girlfriend that I would spend at least the subsequent decade and a half trying to forget, to bother with P.E.
Fortunately, my best friend Thomas also put off taking P.E. until his senior year too (kind of like he put off learning where Ohio and Arkansas are on a map), so we enrolled in a class full of sophomores together. If there were two of us, we reasoned, they wouldn't be able to beat us up and make us cry as easily.
Our teacher was Coach Knudsen. He was the varsity football coach. He was short, slender, and bespectacled; to the untrained eye, it may have appeared as if one well-timed boxing of his ears would send him scurrying home to his mommy. But, were you to try to box his ears, Knudsen would freeze you with his icy stare, calmly step up to your quaking body, rip out your thyroid gland, and eat it with barbeque sauce, never changing his expression.
In spite of Coach Knudsen's near-mythical appetite for body parts, our football team sucked. Maybe it's because none of the football players had thyroid glands. I don't know for sure, I'm just throwing out ideas.
One of Knuden's requirements for his P.E. students was that they report to class each day sporting an appropriate "uniform": a white athletic shirt and shorts. Thomas was more of an athlete than me; he starved himself all winter long each year -- er, I mean, he was on the wrestling team each year. Although he excelled at rolling around in spandex on a mat with other guys, he wasn't so good at other sports, like swimming, golf, or horseshoes.
I was even worse. The extent of my athleticism was playing church basketball, where the coach preferred that I didn't shoot, pass, or dribble. Basically, coach figured I had five free fouls to give, and there was no real loss to the team if I fouled out. So whenever a guy on the other team started to get in a groove, coach would put me in and tell me to foul him real hard, then he'd pull me out again. I didn't mind. I was a team player.
The point of this sidebar: Thomas and I didn't really have athletic shirts. But we figured that by "white athletic shirt" Knudsen meant "any white shirt," so Thomas's P.E. uniform consisted of a pair of green Umbro soccer shorts and a white shirt with a picture of a blob of whipped cream wearing shades on the front, framed by the words: "It's Cool Whip time, baby." I wore a pair of blue and gray checkered Mossimo shorts (this was back when they sold Mossimo stuff at trendy stores in the mall where they played the Offspring real loud and you could see the salesclerk's underwear above the spiky belt "holding up" his oversized black jean shorts, and not at Target, where you thankfully can't see the salesclerks' underwear) and a white "Living the Legacy" t-shirt I'd picked up for free the summer before at EFY camp.
Coach Knudsen rarely paid much attention to Thomas and I -- we didn't play football and we got good grades: we had no redeemable qualities -- until one day during roll call, several weeks into the semester. "Leavitt," Knudsen called, just like every other day.
"Here," I responded, just like every other day. But, unexpectedly, Knudsen broke from his usual routine and glanced up from his clipboard. He studied my threads.
"Leavitt, is that an athletic shirt?" It was an accusation more than it was a question. I fumbled for a response. My hand instinctively hovered protectively in front of my thyroid gland. "Uh, no," I began, before suddenly seizing upon a brilliant diversionary tactic: "But Stagg isn't wearing an athletic shirt either!" I pointed unabashedly at Thomas. He froze, a deer in the headlights of the oncoming Knudsen Amtrak Express.
Coach Knudsen narrowed his eyes as he surveyed Thomas's shirt. He nodded and jotted a note on his clipboard. "Leavitt. Stagg. Tomorrow I want you to report for roll call with athletic shirts."
We may not have been the best athletes, but we had at least a wit or two between us, so after school that day we agreed upon a scheme to put Knudsen in his place and show him what we could do when we put two heads and two thyroid glands together. We each fetched an unsullied Fruit-of-the-Loom white t-shirt and a black permanent marker and went to work.
On mine, I drew a stick figure with a helmet going out for a pass. A text bubble above his head read "Hit me! I'm going long!" Above the picture I wrote "Adidas," and below it the slogan "Just do it."
Thomas opted for a simpler approach: he drew a football framed by the words "Athletic shirt."
The next day we donned our new tops and jogged out to our places in the roll call line. When Coach Knudsen reached my name, he lifted his eyes from the clipboard and rested them upon my crude shirt. He silently studied it, expressionless, then shifted his gaze to Thomas's top. After absorbing our artwork for a few seconds, he barked: "Leavitt! Stagg! Are those athletic shirts?"
"Yes, sir!" we chirped.
Knudsen glanced back and forth between the two of us for a few more seconds, then allowed the faintest hint of a smile to cross his lips. I exhaled. My thyroid was safe for another day. He carried on with roll call, and he never bothered us about our athletic shirts again. We wore them every day for the rest of the semester. I think Knudsen secretly hoped we'd try out for the football team after that, because he probably figured a couple of brains would serve the team well. And he would've been right. We could at least have read the scoreboard out loud to the rest of the team so they would know who they were playing, what the score was, and what C-O-K-E spells.
But we broke Coach Knudsen's heart and shunned football. But we did end up on the dance team, which will fortunately be another story for another dark and stormy night.