Thursday, August 27, 2015


 My old high school in California
looking exactly as I remember it

Got an email the other day from my dear friend Linda in California, whom I've known since high school. She sent me an article about Coach Wilkerson, who was one of the P.E. (physical education) coaches when we were in school.

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......

.....hanged himself!!" 
 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.



  1. Oh, that's a panic about Coach Holden's 'pop' bottles!
    Ya, it sure sounds as if Coach Beales protest-eth too much. (Do you ever wonder what drives certain individuals to become instructors of Physical Education?)

    Just BTW,... my own years taking PE were some of the worst experiences of my life. Because I'm naturally UNcoordinated and slow afoot, those teachers barely regarded me. (If at all.) What a shame they even remain in my consciousness, huh?

  2. I was extremely near-sighted, hopelessly non-athletic, and nearly two years younger than most of the kids in my class. I didn't have a chance.

    I think some of those "macho" P.E. coaches enjoyed watching the boys in the showers.

  3. Such pleasant memories you evoke. No, really. I hadn't thought of my mother's retirement work as a substitute teacher for years. She had been a language instructor for her full-time career but continued as a general sub. from age 62 'til well into her 70s. One time I called to see how her day went and she said she'd been assigned a PE class, took roll and had the kids run around the playing field. I asked how it went. She said, "Oh fine, they ran away and never came back." I sure miss her

  4. Your Mother's comment is priceless. She must have been an extraordinary woman - - and now I know why you have such an admirable (and enviable) command of language.

  5. Hated PE, endured it. Looking back, there were some pretty sights to be seen.

    1. Unfortunately I was too myopic to enjoy the showers.

  6. Our little country school didn't have showers. In fact we didn't even have a gym. Bet the coaches hated working there.

    1. I think you were fortunate to be in a little country school.

  7. Funny how an old friend's inquiry about one coach got you to thinking about a couple others. If you DID have Wilkerson as a sophomore, he must not have made much of an impression on you, but considering why the other two DID leave an impression on you, that could be a good thing.

  8. I never thought I get to an age when my memory is hazy. Wilkerson was bland. Homophobic Beales and alcoholic Holden were indeed much more colorful.

  9. gym in high school sucked; I ain't a jock, and the bitch P.E. teacher was a butch macho married str8. FUCK ALL P.E. TEACHERS!

    1. Gym should be banned. Too many crappy memories.

  10. I think you're right about Coach Beales, don't you? It has got me looking back on the stuff that teachers didn't want us to know about when I was in boarding school... interesting....of course kids always notice.

    1. Yes, Coach Beales definitely "protested" too much.

  11. As always you have a fascinating history Jon. Thanks for sharing.


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