I led a highly compartmentalized existence in high school. At the Downtown Nashville YMCA I was a lifeguard, swam and wrestled competitively, did gymnastics, ran the track, lifted weights, and played pickup basketball. At Donelson High School, I was a dweeby little nerd, or, since those terms were not in use, a brain. Brains were considered to be non-athletic, and I fulfilled that stereotype to the extent that I just didn’t care much for competitive team sports, especially spectator team sports. So I didn’t go out for varsity teams (which would have meant after school practice that would have interfered with my trips to the Y), didn’t attend football/baseball/basketball games or the pep rallies associated with them. In gym class, while I wasn’t the last guy chosen, I wasn’t the first either, and I didn’t really care all that much.
Nevertheless, I did play the games, to the best of my abilities, which may have been why I slipped on the gravel when running to first. Later, there were some jokes about how it’s not correct play to slide into first, but at the time I think that the sight of blood temporarily suppressed the jokes.
And there was blood. We were all dressed in the standard gym attire: tennis shoes, gym shorts and t-shirt. I’d made a three-point landing, both knees and an elbow and they were bad scrapes. The blood began to trickle down my legs pretty much as soon as I stood up. Coach Ellis cocked his head in the direction of the school and said, “Come with me.”
We went to the School Nurse’s office, but she wasn’t there. So I dabbed away the blood, whereupon Coach Ellis took a bottle of iodine and proceeded to pour it directly onto the raw injuries.
I don’t remember if I whined, yelped, said “Oww” or what, but Coach looked at me directly and said, “You’re not real good at handling pain, are you, Pete?” (Note: I was “Pete” until I left Nashville to go to RPI).
I developed some impressive scabs, and I had to curtail swimming for a couple of weeks, but the scrapes healed up without scars, so all turned out okay.
Some twenty-odd years later, I attended my twenty year high school reunion. Not everybody I wanted to see was there, so I made a point of going out to visit Jim and Betty in LaVerne. Jim had been on the football team, so he knew the coaching staff better than I. At one point, he mentioned that he’d seen Coach Ellis a few months back and they’d gone out to have a few beers after work.
“Yeah,” said Jim. “He gave up coaching and went to work for a bank. It’s a lot more money than coaching high school, and he told me that he really enjoys his work.”
“So what does he do there?” I asked.
“He’s the loan foreclosure officer.”
“Oh,” I said, because there really wasn’t anything else to say.