As my elementary school years came to a close, I viewed the upcoming entry into junior high school with a great deal of anguish and concern. Two rumors had been floating around for most of that final year and something very disturbing seemed to be going on over there.
One, it was reported (by those in the know) that, in Physical Education, students had to change clothes in the open. In full view of other students. Not only that, but they had to shower in an open room under the noses of other students and inspecting coaches. No bathrobes or beach towels to wrap one’s body with.. not allowed. Strict enforcement too. Also, they make you wear this thing.. they call it a “jock strap”.
“What is that?” And after they told me what it was in great detail, I was perplexed.
“What’s it for?”
“To protect you.”
“From.. what?” There was not much there and I wasn’t even sure how to wear it.
“In case, a ball hits you in that place.” I could probably have accepted the use of this elastic contraption, twisting and binding and rubbing in all the wrong places. Also, one time- and I vividly recall this- at one of my brother’s baseball games, Roy Crankshaft, who was the catcher, was hit by a curve ball in “that place” He was rolling around on the dusty ground, screaming at the top of his lungs in front of all the mothers and fathers and kids, “OH GOD, MY BALLS!! MY BALLS!” So, I could rationalize the protection bit, although I was skeptical about how this flimsy thing would ever be up to the task.
But this nudity deal was completely foreign to me.
In my home, privacy, or at least, flagrant nudity was a matter of personal choice and definitely discouraged by all members. There was the odd flash of extra skin in the bathroom, of course. Especially from my father, who was, after all, born on a farm in Arkansas. Other than that, the idea of being “forced” to disrobe was alarming, mysterious and confusing. Why? What is the purpose of mandatory nudity in PE class? It appeared to have something to do with masculinity and being an adult- all that malarkey- and yet, as far as I could determine, adults did NOT do such things in a public setting, whereas babies often walked about carelessly in their “birthday suits.” Masculinity, on the other hand, was just strange enough to make this kind of brotherly nakedness very plausible. I had hoped to make a lot of new and interesting friends in junior high but I just didn't expect to have to be naked as a jay bird while doing it.
In the end, none of it made any sense. What exactly was this nudity in the gym class all about? Whose perverted idea was this? I still don't know the answer. (In fact, that part turned out slightly worse than I had even imagined. )
The other rumor was also too incredible to be believed. A student of junior high school had to cut open a kitten for biology class. (This rumor had many variations, a baby pig, a rat and few other mammals were candidates as well.) After a spontaneous shudder and rejection, I began to be curious about the details.
“You HAVE to.”
“And what if you say,’no?’”
“They won’t let you graduate junior high.”
A sudden image passed before my eyes of a 30-year-old man with a scruffy beard in a very tight shirt, sitting in the back of a class filled with teenagers, his hairy arms folded, sadly shaking his head and mouthing the words, “I won’t.”
These rumors suggested elements of Satanism, that I had not been aware of till this late date. Why hadn’t my parents stepped in and put an end to this decidedly abhorrent system? My mother always seemed to take a great deal of interest in PTA meetings and school lunch menus. How on earth did Satanic animal sacrifices and imposed nudity escape her notice? Did all that devotion and attention suddenly end after elementary school?
After a summer of worrying about the welfare of all those nameless kittens, I found the facts to be rather disappointing. No cats, pigs or hippos were to be dissected at all, only a smelly, rubbery liver-colored frog, pickled for years in formaldehyde, its muscular legs fully extended and laying on its back like some drowned porno star.
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