Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Walking man

And the walking man walks. Doesn't know nothing at all.Any other man stops
and talks but the walking man walks on by, walk on by.
--James Taylor, Walking Man

I am a walking man. I am not a running man. I do not enjoy jogging. I do not think it is a physical limitation. I will walk on a tread mill or elliptical machine for an hour, but I can never bring myself to run. I do not like to run. The only reason I have ever embraced for running is if someone is chasing me.

I may have liked to run when I was a kid. I remember dashing around the playground. But when I hit 7th grade I learned to hate running. It was Mr. Ackley and 7th grade P.E. that was the straw that broke this running camel’s back.

Mr. Ackley had been a mediocre jock in college. And like most mediocre jocks with miniscule brains, he majored in physical education. When he realized he was never going to turn pro, he took his jock degree and became a junior high P.E. teacher. And because he was bitter about his own failure, he took it out on the 12 and 13 year old puberty bound boys in his P.E. classes.

P.E. was traumatic to me on more than one level. The first challenge for me was that you were required to take gang showers in the locker room. I was a shy kid who grew up in a family where nudity was a private thing. Stripping down in front of 20 or 30 kids was humiliating to me, especially at age 12.

The other challenge was P.E. itself. I have never been a natural athlete. I would always try hard at sports, but I just didn’t have that raw talent that some boys had for hitting balls, throwing footballs or making jump shots. I even sucked at tether ball. Mr. Ackley looked at boys like me with the ultimate disdain.

Mr. Ackley had this rule: the last kid out of the locker room to get to the gym for role call had to run two cross country laps once we went outside. A cross country was once around the play field and then a lap around the school’s outside track. Every one in class had to run one cross country. I dreaded them. I developed a phobia about running cross country laps. I thought I would be coughing up blood by the end of them. And I was usually dead last in finishing them. I’d get berated by Ackley or his assistant every time.

It got to be mini phobia of mine that I would be last out of the locker room and have to run double laps. I started wearing sweater vests so I could unbutton my shirt in the class before PE and strip quickly. It didn’t help that I had this English class right before PE with a teacher who wouldn’t let us leave until she dismissed us regardless of whether the bell had rang or not.

I was never the last person out of the locker room, but sometimes Ackley would punish the whole class for some infraction and we’d all have to run double laps. Instead of enjoying running as exercise, I learned to hate it as humiliating punishment. Thanks Mr. Ackley. You were a great role model.

So that's why I am a walking man.
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