My old high school in California
looking exactly as I remember it
Was he one of your coaches? she wanted to know.
I remembered Wilkerson. Incredibly, however, I couldn't recall if he was ever one of my coaches. I hated P.E. so thoroughly that I did my best to expunge the details from my memory. I might have been in Wilkerson's P.E. class during my sophomore year - but it's all a myopic blur (vanity prevented me from wearing my glasses).
I know for certain that Jim Beales was my P.E. coach during my junior year. And then I had Holden as a senior. Both of them were unnervingly memorable, for totally different reasons.
Coach Beales was a rough, gruff, macho-type man's man (ironic phrasing, huh?). He was also a staunch homophobe. He persistently lectured us boys about the evils of homosexuality and the disgrace and destruction that would be instantly hurled upon us if homoerotic thoughts ever dared to cross our minds.
Let me interject by saying that when I was in high school I was not only the biggest nerd in the entire school district, I was as pure and unblemished as the Hope Diamond. I didn't remotely know a thing about heterosexuality - let alone homosexuality. I was a combination of Mother Theresa and Pope Innocent.
Ironically, only a few years later I was a slutty ruffian on the streets of Hollywood. But that's beside the point.
Coach Beales would gather us boys together and tell harrowing tales about all the absolutely miserable and desperately unhappy homosexuals he had known. Only he called them Queers, fags, and fairies.
I recall one particularly nerve-shattering story about a guy, or a gay, that Beales knew in the Army.
"That queer was the most unhappy person I've ever known," Beales told us. "He lived in constant fear that his perversion would be discovered and he was miserable with remorse. One night he took a rope, sneaked outside after everyone was asleep, and......
Beales eyes flashed gleefully as he said this - - and he looked directly at me.
Holy Crap! It was as if he was peering into the depths of my soul and seeing visions of what was to come.
Years later - when I had a much better perspective of reality, I wondered why the hell Coach Beales had known so many homosexuals. Was it mere coincidence, or - - - was he a closet queen?
Coach Richard Holden, in my senior year, wasn't a genuine coach at all. He was a math teacher who had unwittingly been given the task of being a P.E. coach during a lean time of an understaffed faculty.
Holden hated P.E. class as much as I did and he had sympathy for my plight. He would occasionally allow me to do work in his office instead of forcing me to "suit up" and play football or baseball outside.
In retrospect, I have no doubt that Holden also recruited me as his chosen one because I was the most naive and innocent kid in P.E. class. And probably in California.
He began sending me on secret missions to retrieve things from his car in the parking lot. No one was allowed in the school parking lot while class was in session - so I was engaging in risky business.
The "items" that Holden wanted were most often large bottles of soft drinks that were stashed under the seat of the car.
After completing several of these perplexing excursions, curiosity got the better of me. I might have been innocent but I was no fool. I unscrewed the cap on one of the bottles and took a whiff.
Whiskey! Nearly straight whiskey, diluted with a little soda. I took a swig. Nice! Warm, but nice.
Now I knew why Holden so desperately wanted those bottles from the car - - and why he was so admirably able to tolerate his unwanted stint as a coach.
A few months later, Holden showed up rip-roaring drunk for his math class and was subsequently dismissed. I don't know if they ever let him teach again at our school.
I had a few misgivings about aiding and abetting an alcoholic.
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