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Advice from the Ox
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"The filthy two-percenters spoil it for everybody, as the Ox used to say," my brother wrote in an e-mail.

We had been discussing that virus some anonymous louse inflicted on us here at Casa Maywrite. The "Ox" my brother reminded me about was the gym teacher we both endured during Junior High. The nickname derived from the teacher's habit of bellowing at miscreants, "You stupid ox!"

The Ox was a former military beast, a squat, powerful looking guy with the demeanor of a marine drill sergeant. You could qualify as a miscreant by something as simple as falling out of synch during the jumping jacks and other vintage WW II exercises he ran us through, or by getting out of step while we marched around and around the gym, or by only moving your lips when he ordered us to "Sound off! One, two. One, two, three, four." Catchy that.

I once incurred his wrath by leaving my spot and darting under the basket among the larger and more athletic kids stationed there during the Ox's famous safety conscious "Zone Base Basketball."

"Waddaya doing there? A stupid long drink of water like you? You wanna get killed?"

Even the Ox couldn't really envision me as an ox.

His bluster didn't bother me as much during gym class as it normally would have. It was nothing compared to the mortification of having to wear shorts and a t-shirt displaying my stick-like appendages to be mocked by all the world. And even that humiliation was nothing compared to having to take off my pants in the locker room.

The early teens are an awkward age. It didn't help that Health Education was taught by the Ox. To introduce the facts of life he brought to class a copy of the tabloid Midnight with the huge headline:

"Boy Gives Birth to Frog."

Then he explained why that was impossible.

Mercifully, perhaps, I do not remember his explanation. What I most recall is him exhorting us to wear our jockstraps.

"God played a dirty trick on us men," he'd growl. "They rock and they roll."

I guess I didn't appreciate the Ox at the time. But then I considered the school gymnaseum during Phys Ed one of the inner circles of Hell. I would have hated the Dali Lama if he had been my gym instructer.

My misapprehensions about gym class were not groundless either. I ended up breaking a leg while wrestling when I turned, but my sneaker, rooted firmly to the mat, didn't.

Broken leg notwithstanding, I realize in retrospect that the Ox gave me the best advice I've ever ignored. We used to run in gym class and that was one thing I didn't embarrass myself at. Having no weight to carry, I was fairly fast.

On several occasions the Ox pulled me aside and barked into my face. "Mayer! Go out for the track team!"

All I could do was stare in terror and muumble incoherently.

Go out for the track team? Me? The misfit? Me, the bookworm, participating in a sport? Me, the loner, joining a team? That wasn't me! Was the Ox nuts? Maybe next he'd suggest I run for prom queen or ask her for a date.

Years later, in my forties, shaken out of my self-image, I took up running and loved it. I loved the physical sensation of crusing along mile after mile, of feeling tireless. To my amazement I participated in organized road races, then got involved in orienteering. These were exciting new experiences. I found myself at ease with others who shared my running and orienteering enthusiasms. Feeling at ease with others was another thing I had rarely experienced.

My balky back put an end to my "sports career" much too soon. If only I had started when I was younger. What a difference it might have made in my school years, and in my life, if I had taken the Ox's gruff advice.

But I'll be damned if I'm going to wear a jockstrap.

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