Me and the 440


Men who took physical education (PE) in high school know what I’m talking about. If you ladies didn’t take PE and noticed an oval track around the football practice field, that was the 440, 440 yards long, or 1,320 feet, or a quarter of a mile.

Our PE teachers at WEHS were football coaches. Naturally they thought everybody could bench press 500 or 1,000 pounds or whatever exceeded the limits of human beings.

And that we should be fast. Like 9.1 in the hundred yard dash.

The 9.1 didn’t come until about ten years later. The fastest man in NFL football at that time was a receiver for the Dallas Cowboys named Bob Hayes. Bullet Bob Hayes if you want to know his nickname which denoted his speed. 9.2 in the hundred yard dash one year, and 9.1 the next. The defensive backs strained for 9.9 or 9.8 in the 100.

Even when a defensive back saw Bob coming, and was absolutely ready, Bob blew past him like the Silver Streak in full locomotion heading down to New Orleans, and passing a freight train that considered itself going fast.

There we were in our gym shorts and tee shirts, limbering up on our way out of the gym, walking toward the track. We were a motley crew, not the football team, and any similarity between the two was purely a problem caused by the fact somebody forgot to put on their glasses.

Had there been any girls in the hallway, looking out at us, they would have been rolling on the floor with laughter, and would have surely been put on detention, if any teachers seeing them were not laughing so hard themselves they couldn’t steady themselves to write the girls’ names down..

A quarter of a mile at my tender age was an astronomical distance. I had a friend at our school who was the state champion in the two-mile cross country, and I asked him for advice. He looked at me in my gym shorts and tee shirt, and said if I could find out before hand when they planned to run the 440, perhaps I could be sick on that day.

This was also the time that Charles Atlas advertised in every imaginable magazine that he could turn a 98 pound weakling into a Charles Atlas lookalike. I sent my money in, and a picture of me. Charles returned my money, and said he burned my picture. He did attach a nice note saying he had never failed, but there was always the first time. I weighed more than 98 pounds at that time, and was almost insulted.

The coaches and I disagreed about exactly what the 440 should be. Had they asked my opinion, I would have preferred a concession stand at every turn, which considering there were four turns in the track would have been four concession stands. At the halfway mark, there should have been a rest area, with the rest period like lasting maybe three days. Also there should have been a good looking girl stationed at the end of the 440, who was willing to kiss the first finisher on that day.

Not that I would have won, but she would have been the inspiration for me to cover that first 25 yards. I thought about pulling up lame with a ham string, but I didn’t think the coaches would believe it.

The winner came in like at one minute and forty-five seconds. And then there was me. I was at about the half-way point, running, an amazing for me, ten minutes and thirty seconds.

Everybody had crossed the finish line, some of them sucking wind like it would be their last breath. The coaches called for everyone to haul a__ up to the gym—except me.

When I was resting up for my dash for the last 220, a coach came over, slapped me on the back, and told me I was on the honor system to finish, and that my school clothes would be by the locked gym door, because the coaches and the rest of the students would be back in their regular classes.

At twenty minutes and some odd seconds I finished, sat down for a few minutes, and semi-jogged up to the gym. I tugged on the door. It was locked. I looked around for my school clothes. They weren’t there.

The snicker meter registered 185 out of a possible 100 when I entered the school, looking for one of the coaches. They were nowhere to be found, and I had to finish out the school day, shall we say, in clothes of undesirable circumstances.

You must understand what gym shorts looked like. For the girls they looked like they were going to a tent revival and their shorts were the tent, and for the boys if they entered the bank dressed in their shorts and tee shirt while a robbery was in progress, the robber would have dropped his gun, and pleaded for the police to put him in jail, that he had never seen such an awful site.

The coaches must have psyched me. The next 440 we ran, I was middle of the pack. I think they call that doing something that is impossible for you to do.

The next 440, I’m going for the kiss from that good-looking girl at the finish line. I may drop dead afterwards, but what a way to go.

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