Days of Moderate Glory
1973; the tiny gym at my grade school is the biggest room in the whole world. I was still moderately well-behaved at the time, and the classroom hours passed uneventfully, with a low undercurrent of hyper tension pervading the effort of book-learning. Studies simply marked time until one was finally freed, springing from our desks to gym class or recess, a flurry of dodgeballs in the gym after the lunch tables had been folded away, and performing just adequately enough during annual evaluations to get another National Physical Fitness Award, which was notable for the signature of President Nixon. It was just a facsimilie, and he had yet to so precipitously fall from grace, but to a third-grader it was most impressive.
But gym class, for all its enjoyment, was the mandatory, official portion of our physical release. Nirvana was recess, thousands of games of kickball, its stars including long-limbed Steve and squat, flame-haired Josh. But most prominent was John Gappa, tall, blond and always a captain, who knew me via a friend of mine who lived in his neighborhood. John lived in the richest part of town, high on a hill in a house the size and shape of a Hudson River ferry boat with an Olympic-sized pool in the basement. The fact that the pool leaked down the hillside into my friend's yard made no matter to those of us who regarded the Gappas with quiet awe. By virtue of my tenuous connection to him, John always picked me for his team--even though I doubt if he consistently remembered my name; my face must have been just familiar enough--and though I kicked far at the bottom of the order, this daily honor validated the existence of a small, skinny eight-year-old.