Mr. Steve / True Tales of an Inner CIty Public School Substitute Teacher
I was put in classrooms to substitute for many subjects. The longest assignment I had was in a middle school Physical Education class. At least it may have been a P.E. class at one time. The previous teacher had left for reasons unknown (they often left for reasons unknown) and I was asked to sub until the end of the school year. Here’s what the assignment was in reality: I was put in charge of the gymnasium, which was a place that other teachers could deposit their kids. As this was the end of the school year, many of the teachers had grades to calculate and file so Mr. Steve’s “gym class” became more of a Mr. Steve’s “holding pen.” During the last week of school I had wall to wall kids every hour. To make matters worse, kids who were cutting class would try and get into the gym so they could avoid hallway detection. I might say here that trying to keep attendance was impossible. I even had a few gentlemen who had 5 hours of gym each day! At any given time I might have 100+ students in the gymnasium, most of whom didn’t belong there. No big deal maybe to Mr. or Ms. suburban school gym teacher, but as in real estate, let us remember location, location, location. The gym was poorly lit, poorly ventilated, and the locker rooms were locked. They were locked because of inappropriate sexual behavior on the part of the students. I never asked what appropriate sexual behavior would have been.
A quick inventory of the gym equipment: 3 basketballs, 2 dodgeballs, a volleyball, a few slightly broken shuffleboard sticks, a plastic bat, a wooden bat, a “wiffle ball” and a badly knotted jump rope. Oh yes, and a small dolly with three of it’s four wheels.
The absolutes of Mr. Steve’s Gym class: Once students are in the gym, they then would do anything to get out. Someone always got hit in the face with something. Going outside to get fresh air on the spacious glass and condom littered athletic field was out of the question. Boys liked to play basketball, girls didn’t like to do anything. The boys would race in and grab the balls and pick teams. Any object that remotely resembled a ball became a basketball. In fact, on one occasion the dolly found it’s way up into the basketball net.
The girls would saunter over to the mats on the far side of the gym to sit, braid hair, eat junk food, and occasionally fight. Not squabble, FIGHT. As in “Say, isn’t that a tooth on the floor?” They were much worse than the boys. By Friday of any week the gym floor could look like Dodge City meets inner city with great tumbleweeds of black hair which had been ripped from its owner’s scalp.
The less athletic or less popular students formed their own cliques, and holed up in corners, or close to my desk, which was positioned at the door to try and discourage break-ins and break-outs. They seemed to sense that I didn’t belong in here any more then they did.
Let me tell you, I have smelled some things in my time on earth. When I was a sophomore in undergraduate school, I lived in a basement, or rather a cellar in an early 20th Century house in Indiana. Oh yeah, It was a fraternity house. The smells of the ancient sewer lines, the brothers’ dirty laundry, and whatever it was that dwelled behind the furnace were a fair trade for the privacy this room promised. Although I don’t remember dating much. But nothing in that room living or dead prepared me for “M.”
“M” was a student I had in the middle school P.E. class which, was also supposed be a health class. This might imply some instruction in hygienic management. Theoretically. The aroma that surrounded “M” before gym class was bad enough. I think he was served a steady diet of curry crispies with a side of pickled herring for breakfast. Instead of a head gear sort of thing that a young person might wear with braces, I envisioned a mouth piece filled with ripe cheese and garlic, which was then placed into the mouth before sleep. This is what came out of “M” before he began to heat up. After a good sweat in a poorly ventilated hot gymnasium, “M” smelled like he was a passenger on a transport boat taking french convicts to Devil’s Island. Given his adolescent condition he was probably in rut. He would leave a slick wherever he touched something. An unmistakable olfactory assaulting fingerprint that would linger long after “M” had headed off to math or science. His essence would find its way into my lunch, the bread from my sandwich soaking it up like a charcoal filter.