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The sweat of my brow

At the end of my workout on my treadmill last night, I had recorded some substantial achievements: I had burned 600 calories, and I had done so while working up to a “running” pace exceeding that of an agitated newt.

About five minutes before I finished, I noticed sweat running down my face and into my eyebrows. From there it trickled onto my eyelashes, and from there it dripped onto the treadmill. I do not recall perspiration taking that particular route before. It probably has something to do with the sweat flowing unimpeded by hundreds, if not thousands, of follicles that now lie fallow forever.

The sweat swept me back in memory to high school gym class—specifically, the clothes we were required to wear: sneakers, white socks, T-shirt, gym trunks, and an athletic supporter. (No one ever referred to that latter garment as an athletic supporter, though. Back then, it was a jock strap.)

The first thing we would do in the gym class locker room was get our gym clothes, which were stored in wire baskets in a walled-off area. George, the attendant, would give us our baskets, we’d change, take the class, change out of our gym clothes, put them back in the basket, and drop the basket off with George on our way into the shower.

Every couple of weeks or so, we’d take our gym clothes home so our moms could wash them. This lasted about a month. Then some of us stopped taking our clothes home. It was too much of a hassle. We only had gym class a couple-three times a week, so there was plenty of time for our uniforms to dry between classes.

Eventually, though, having soaked up all of that sweat, our gym clothes began to take on ungarment-like characteristics—particular the socks and the jock strap. Obviously, they began to stink, exuding a sour, pungent aroma. In fact, they stunk so badly that George would gumbeat us as he handed the baskets to us, calling us animals—or worse as the semester progressed. I think we pushed him almost to the point of wearing welding gloves to protect his hands against the mutant bacteria evolving in those baskets.

As if the stench weren’t enough, the clothes began to metamorphose from cloth into a mineral-infused substance that resembled cloth in appearance only. Eventually, the socks became stiff and rigid, with a texture best likened to coarse sandpaper. The shirts and trunks? Not so much. The jock strap? Same as the socks.

My fondest memory of gym class is one of my friend Joe, one of the anti-laundry rebels in the class, holding up his socks and then beating them like a blackjack on the backless wooden benches in front of the lockers. While the other guys were getting changed, we had to shock some softness into our garments so we could put them on. Even then, they were about as comfortable as starched burlap.

I couldn’t help but laugh last night as I took off my sweat-dampened socks—and dropped them in a laundry basket so I could wash them later. George probably wouldn’t have believed it—and no doubt he would have had a wisecrack about finally growing up.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 4th, 2011 06:45 pm (UTC)
"beating them like a blackjack"--made me laugh out loud :-)
Jan. 4th, 2011 06:47 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Cmac. Any day I can make somebody laugh is a good day.
Jan. 4th, 2011 11:23 pm (UTC)
Excellent post. I felt the same way about my gym clothes. I hated to bring them home, so it often took a few weeks before I washed them.

Fortunately, we always had to wear our shirt and tie after class without a shower to bridge the gap, a large incentive not to sweat too hard.
Jan. 5th, 2011 12:00 am (UTC)
I might have been able to do that no-shower thing in high school, but not now. Ewww.
Jan. 4th, 2011 11:49 pm (UTC)
Very good! I can add that we never washed our school uniforms either. I was the third person to wear the same wool uniform (pleated skirt, blazer, beret - for church, it had a button on the side to attach it to your uniform skirt. God was deeply offended in those days by female hair I guess.)

I think back on just how gross we all were... thanks for the laugh.
Jan. 5th, 2011 12:03 am (UTC)
Glad you got a laugh out of it. Berets, huh? What was the school: a preparatory academy for the French Foreign Legion?
Jan. 5th, 2011 12:35 am (UTC)
I'm no longer at liberty to discuss it since the incident a few years back...
Jan. 5th, 2011 12:44 am (UTC)
I'll have to wait for it to surface on WikiLeaks, then.
Jan. 5th, 2011 12:54 am (UTC)
"Getting Wiki-ed" is a new form of speech now. :)
Jan. 5th, 2011 02:06 pm (UTC)
Poor George
I have a vague (very vague) memory of one-piece jumpsuit-type things, but as shorts instead of long pants - a navy blue garment that snapped up the front. We must've looked like some kind of POW work camp flunkies.

I'm sure we must've had some stink goin' too, but everybody knows boys are smellier than girls. Everybody.

A friend was talking about (and others confirmed) that when he was in school they had swimming in gym, and they boys all swam naked. NAKED! I'm sure that solved the stink problem, but still...
Jan. 5th, 2011 02:23 pm (UTC)
Re: Poor George
Naked swimming? Who taught the class, Tarzan?
Jan. 6th, 2011 11:37 pm (UTC)
Re: Poor George
Or a Boy Scout Troop Leader in training. Yeah, I said it.
Jan. 9th, 2011 07:27 pm (UTC)
I always wondered what that stench was that permeated the hallway outside the boys' locker room in my high school...mutant bacteria about covers it. Thanks for the many laughs with this great piece.
Jan. 9th, 2011 07:34 pm (UTC)
Sara, any day I can make someone laugh is a good day. Thanks for reading!
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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