I didn’t have any friends in junior high school. I remember, at lunchtime, I used to eat my lunch with these kids who tolerated me (i.e. didn’t kick me away from the table) (probably because they were dorks like me) (but we weren’t friends, really) (because I didn’t have any friends in junior high school) and then after I finished eating my lunch I would walk in the quad from Point A to Point B as if I had someplace that I had to be, and then when I got to Point B I would walk back to Point A with this look on my face, like, “I guess that’s not where I was supposed to be, I need to go back to Point A.”
I’m sure no one bought my act. I’m sure kids knew me as that weird kid who spent the lunch period walking with a purpose. I’m just telling you this story to illustrate how sucky my junior high school experience was. It was really sucky.
And the no friends thing was just the tip of the iceberg. I think PE was probably the worst. There wasn’t anything really unique about my junior high school PE experience, just your run of the mill always-picked-last, always-taunted-because-I-sucked-at-every-sport, terrible, awful junior high school dork experience.
So when I was offered the assignment to sub for a PE class at a junior high school, I have to admit that my stomach balled up into a bunch of knots. I mean, fucking junior high school PE???? Are you kidding me? Who wants to go through that again, even as a teacher? I was working on a script with Jessica yesterday and I noticed a typo—there was this line of dialogue that was supposed to read something like “you’re going to hell for this” and instead it said “you’re going to the hell for this” and that made me laugh and made me think of there being, like, lots of hells, but only one hell that was truly “the” hell to watch out for, and if that were true I would say it’s gotta resemble junior high school PE.
When I get to my office, I find out that we’re going to be playing basketball today. (I was on a basketball team in fifth grade. My step-dad was the coach. I made two baskets the entire season. Both baskets I made were for the other team. I just kept forgetting that we switched sides after each quarter or at halftime or whenever they switch sides in basketball. I actually have one of these baskets on videotape. You see them throwing the ball to me and then I start dribbling it down the court. I am so excited because the hoop is totally open and no one is stopping me. Then you start to hear the people in the stands yell, “No! Erik! Wrong way!” But I’m in “the zone.” I’m feeling it, I’m gonna make this basket. I shoot, I score! And then I look to the rest of my team for some validation. And that’s when I hear someone say “that was the wrong basket.” And then I look out into the stands, towards the camera, and I shrug. Oh, well. It’s really a sad and pathetic and humiliated and wonderfully funny video. You should see it.) This kid named Daniel tells me that he’s my assistant. Daniel can’t be much more than three feet tall. Okay, maybe four feet tall (maybe) but he’s really super short, regardless. I don’t think Daniel is really the teacher’s assistant. I think he’s just trying to pull one over on me. While we’re doing warm-up stretches, Daniel doesn’t do any because, he tells me, the assistant doesn’t do the warm-up stretches. The other kids get mad and tell me that Daniel’s supposed to do the warm-up stretches. I understand why Daniel would want to get out of doing anything and everything in junior high school PE, so I let it slide. The rest of first period goes pretty smoothly. No one gives me trouble. Everyone plays basketball.
We do our warm-up exercises, the kids start playing basketball, and that’s when I meet Leonard. He’s late. He doesn’t suit out. He tells me he doesn’t want to play basketball. I tell him to sit on his number. He does. At some point—and I’m not exactly sure when this happened—there are SEVENTY kids in each PE class, mind you—Leonard gets off his number and starts playing in one of the basketball games. I see the ball hit him. It’s an accident. It hits him in the shoulder. Not hard, but it surprises him. He doesn’t see it coming. And he thinks that someone threw it AT him (which isn’t the case) rather than throwing it to him (which is the case). And that’s when Leonard starts to freak out. He attacks one of the other kids. (I’m not even sure if it’s the kid who threw the ball to him—it might have just been the first kid he saw.) They both go down to the ground. I run over to them. I try to split them up, but they’re rolling over each other, wrestling, pummeling. Kids start running over to us, chanting “fight! fight! fight!” I finally break Leonard and the other kid apart, Leonard is fuming, breathing through his nose, clenching his fists. His face is read, he can’t talk, he won’t calm down. HE IS FREAKING OUT.
I just keep telling him “it’s okay, it’s okay…calm down.”
The other kids are still standing around us, trying to taunt Leonard. I tell them to go back to their games. No one is listening. Leonard will not calm down. He will not talk to me. HE IS FREAKING OUT.
Finally, I get him to unclench his fists. He’s still breathing through his nose like a bull, but he’s relaxed slightly. The other kids realize there isn’t going to be another fight. They finally go back to their basketball games. One of the kids comes up to me and tells me that when Leonard gets like this, he usually goes to the office. The kid offers to take Leonard to the office. I let him, and they go.
One of the other PE teachers comes up to me.
TEACHER: “I can’t believe you broke up that fight.”
ME: “Yeah, it was intense.” TEACHER: “That was Leonard, wasn’t it?”
ME: “I guess so, yeah.” TEACHER: “I can’t believe he didn’t hit you.”
ME: “Um, yeah.”
TEACHER: “Didn’t they warn you in the sub plan?”
ME: “About what?”
TEACHER: “He has Asberger’s Syndrome.”
Which explains everything.
TEACHER: “Where did he go?”
ME: “Oh, one of the other students took him to the office.”
TEACHER: “You let one of the students take him to the office?”
ME: “Um, yeah.”
TEACHER: “Oh they are so at 7-11 by now.”
The teacher laughs and looks at me, like, novice.
In my sub plan, the teacher has warned me that “third period is not capable of playing basketball with a substitute teacher. Third period is barely capable of playing basketball with the regular teacher. Just have them run around the track for the entire period.”
After I take attendance, I tell the kids that we’re not playing basketball today.
“Then what are we doing, Mr. Substitute?”
“We’re running the track.”
“What the fuck?”
Seriously, that’s what one of the kids says.
“Um, yeah. So—let’s get to it.”
I tell them to go to the track. All seventy of the students get up from their numbers…
And then they scatter.
They just scatter. About ten kids walk towards the track, while the other kids walk everywhere. Like, everywhere. Some of them walk over to the bleachers, some of them walk over to the soccer field, some of them walk towards the parking lot, some of them walk towards the bathrooms, some of them walk over to the basketball courts. And I’m standing there, like, what the hell am I supposed to do now?
I go over to the kids on the bleachers.
“Come on, let’s go walk the track.”
“We’re not in your class.”
“Um, yeah you are.”
“No we’re not.”
“Then why were you in my class during roll?”
(And here’s the thing: there are so many kids in this class and I only had them sitting on their numbers during roll for about a minute and I didn’t really get that good a look at their faces and I don’t recognize any of these kids, so I guess some of them could be telling the truth, but some of them are definitely in my class.) (I just don’t know which ones might be in my class and which ones might not be.) (Help.)
I tell the kids they don’t have to run, they don’t even have to jog. “Just walk. Please. Walk around the track and talk,” I plead. “Just walk.”
This girl, Brenda, is like, “why should we walk if, like, you don’t have to, you know?”
“You want me to walk?” I ask her.
“Yeah, Mr. Substitute.”
“Okay, I’ll make you a deal—I’ll walk the track with you if you agree to walk.”
As unlikely as it seems, they pretty much al take the deal. (All of them except for a couple of them.) I walk with Brenda. She spends the rest of the period telling me how uncool I am for making them walk.
This is my conference period. No PE for an hour. Heaven.
I decide to eat lunch in the teachers’ lounge. It’s freaking weird to eat lunch in the teacher’s lounge because it’s filled with teachers. I still don’t consider myself an adult, I still feel like an interloper. But the teachers apparently think I look like one of them and no one kicks me out.
As soon as I sit down, I notice a woman entering the teachers’ lounge. I know her.
She looks at me, like, how do you know my name? She doesn’t recognize me, which is to be expected. After all, we haven’t seen each other in fifteen years (since I was 13) and I look quite different after all of these years while she looks remarkably exactly the same.
“Do I know you?” she asks.
“I’m Erik Patterson. You played my mom in On Golden Pond.”
True story. This woman played my mom in this production of On Golden Pond at this tiny little theater fifteen years ago. (For people who know my poop in a cup story—Angela Kang, I know you know the poop in a cup story—the poop in a cup story happened during On Golden Pond.)
As soon as I tell her who I am, she instantly beams and remarks how old I am now and then she corrects, for anyone within earshot, “I played your step-mom. Not your biological mother.” (Because she obviously didn't want people to think she would ever have been old enough to have played my birth mother.) (Because I look much older for my age and she doesn't look like she's aged much at all in the last fifteen years and we really do look like we might be brother and sister rather than mother and son.)
Jill invites me to sit with her and we spend the lunch period gossiping about our students with three other teachers.
(Every single teacher at the table had a trouble student named Cody. Apparently Codys are bad seeds.)
Ten of my seventy students show up. At first I think that the students have learned that there’s a sub and there’s been a mass ditching effort, but then I find out that this is my one period of 6th graders (all of my other classes have been 7th and 8th graders) and most of the 6th graders are on a field trip today. Save for these ten students, apparently.
They are the nicest kids in the world.
We pay hand-ball.
I am exhausted by now. I’m not used to wearing shoes AND being on my feet (in said shoes) for such a long time. If I ever get on The Amazing Race, I’m going to have to do a lot of physical training. The kids will not stop kicking their basketballs. They keep kicking them over the fence, into this construction area.
One of the kids asks if he can climb over the fence and get the balls. I tell him it’s okay. I mean, he’s a kid and kids climb fences. That’s what kids do. Unfortunately, the Vice Principal chooses this moment to walk by my class.
“Don’t climb that fence young man!!!”
“You’re getting detention!!!” she yells.
I tell her that I gave the kid permission to climb the fence and get the balls.
“You did what?”
“Um, I gave the kid permission to climb the fence and get the balls.”
“He could get seriously hurt, or die. Are you crazy?”
Apparently, I am.
Class ends, I’m done with my day of PE. I kinda feel like I can do anything now. I mean, I survived hundreds of junior high school kids in PE. What could be fucking harder than that?
New Thing #82: I subbed for a junior high school PE class.
New Thing #83: I broke up a fight.
New Thing #84: I ate lunch in a teachers’ lounge!