Similarly, as a twelve-year-old boy playing football outdoors in my seventh grade gym class, cold November temperatures chased us inside then, too. Suddenly huddled into a tiny room, its air devoid of humidity – made hot by a long row of forced air heaters below the locked windows – our class started a new unit of study. The air was also tinged with a smell, something almost sickly semisweet, but like rubber, too. What was it?
Ah, what the life of a twelve-year old boy is like.
“Am b-e-r-g, you’re up!” Mr. Geinger said. “Sparacino, too. Go git ‘em, men.”
Fortunately, being in the slight seventy-five to eighty pound weight class, this Sparacino kid and I were mirror images of each other, neither able to pin a ghost down. My real enemy wasn’t Sparacino, but the large, foam rubber wrestling mat. This old, wrinkled, grayish-yellow rug I stood on looked like it’d absorbed every wrestler’s body fluids for the past thirty years. Sooner or later, I’d have to roll all over its decades of germs, not to mention scuffle with Sparacino and whatever viruses he carried around.
“All matches are three minutes, men. Are you ready?” When Sparacino and I nodded to Mr. Geinger, our rotund gym teacher who I feared might not be able to get up if he took to the mat, I knew there was no turning back.
Round and round my thoughts went, repeating the phrases, “Keep moving. Don’t go down. If Sparacino can’t catch you, he can’t get you down there.”
“C’mon, Amberg. Git in there!” Mr. Geinger cried out.
“He’s stalling, Mr. Geinger, he’s stalling,” a student said.
“Be a man, Amberg. Git in there. You can’t avoid your opponent!”
Like Muhammad Ali doing his rope-a-dope dance, I circled the mat. It wasn’t exactly bona fide wrestling technique, but I didn’t care. Disqualification was far better than germs, even the humiliation of being pinned.
“Wadda ‘ya doin’ in there, Amberg? Git goin’. You can’t avoid your opponents in life.”
More circling, hopping and bobbing.
Eventually winded from my third rotation of no contact wrestling, I was caught by Sparacino and brought down like a branded steer. With my nose far too close to Sparacino’s armpit, not to mention the rest of my body pressed into the disgusting, soiled, scatter rug of contagious bugs, I was pinned in seconds.
“Am b-e-r-g …. Where were all the moves I taught ‘ya, the steps, the placement?”
Out of breath, my chest on fire, all I could muster was “… I was supposed to be where now, doing what – when?”
A few months earlier, as I’d ventured into my new middle school surroundings, I’d dreamed of so many things coming true – having longer hair to flaunt, creating a cool bedroom to hang out in, and becoming more popular with the guys. Now I just wanted to come in from the cold and hide. Disappearing into in the wings, merely observing boys, was a safe place of compromise that put me somewhere between being popular and beaten up.
Photo image taken by Paul Kane.