If we were having a beer, you would announce that you had a question for me. I’d be curious of course but I’d know that you would get around to it in your own time and in your own way. Besides, we rarely talk much of substance before the bartender brings us our first round. As is often the case, that first request sets the stage for our conversation as you order a wine and “a beer for Ann and Abbey’s brother here.”
“Well, you been talking about advice all month, I thought maybe you might be related to those crazy ladies.”
“I think they’re dead. I think they died of old age. I’d be like 100.”
“OK, maybe you’re Abbey’s illegitimate son.”
“I think I like brother better. Anyway, I wasn’t giving advice, I was talking about good advice I had received.”
“Yeah, yeah. Anyway, what I want to know is, how on earth did you manage to flunk PhysEd?”
I would explain that the University of Georgia had rather archaic PE requirements. As a freshman, your choices were conditioning exercises, track or weight training, and you had to know how to swim. To pass these courses, you had to meet certain goals. Track, for example required that you run a 7-minute mile. Weight training required that you bench press your body weight or something like that. Regardless of what you took, you had to pass a swimming test. If you failed, your second PE course had to be swimming. I took conditioning exercises because you only had to show up, but it was awful.
“The instructor would line us up and walk the length of the class, yelling our names straight into our face.”
“ANTION” – “to which I could respond ‘here’ or ‘present’ – nothing else.”
“Sounds like the Marines.”
“I wouldn’t know, but he took roll again at the end of class.”
You could miss two classes. If you missed three, “you might as well miss ’em all ladies,” according to the instructor because you would fail.
That turned into a problem for me because I injured my leg and I ended up on crutches the week before Thanksgiving. I went to class on crutches, but he said that since I couldn’t exercise, I wasn’t there. I was standing in line when he yelled in my face: “ABSENT – that’s one!”
Then I missed a second class the day before Thanksgiving because I flew home to Pittsburgh early so I could register for the draft.
“What was your number?”
“123 but it didn’t matter, they didn’t call anyone from my year.”
“I was 353.” You’d added with a smirk. That was a good thing, because you’re a bit older than me.
“So, two absences burnt by Thanksgiving. Still, there couldn’t have been many classes left.”
There weren’t many, and I attended all of them, including the one I had been planning to skip. The last day of class in the semester and I had to stay for PE because of those absences. I was all packed and ready to fly home. Heading out to PE, I almost gagged at the smell of my “uniform” – I don’t think I ever washed it. I pulled on the shorts, but I took an Iowa State tee shirt out of my laundry bag to wear on top.
“My brother went there. The shirt had been a gift. Anyway, I got to class on time for roll. Lots of guys had skipped. He yelled my name and I replied. He worked us non-stop that class.“
You would stop me and flag down the bartender.
“Bring Abbey another beer, she’s getting all winded.”
I would explain that midway through class, the instructor had his son, a Marine, demonstrate the “real way” to do a chin-up. This guy grabbed the bar with his right hand and grabbed his right wrist with his left hand. Then, he became a chin-up machine. He offered to let anyone go if they could do five chin-ups like that.
After a few more mindless exercises and a few laps around the building, we were back in line for the final roll call of the semester, with me at the head of the line.
“Here.” He stood in front of me, staring at my shirt. Then he looked up and actually got closer to my face.
“I – oh – wah – state – U – nah – vers – sit – tea??? Antion, do you go to Iowa State University?”
“Yes, but I heard the PE was so much better in Georgia, so I commute.”
“ABSENT – That’s three – FAILED!”
I’d notice that your glass was empty and I’d ask the bartender to pour you another round. You’d tap my glass and take a drink.
“You’re OK Abbey. You have a big mouth, but you’re OK.”