I suppose some might not consider this a “con” in the traditional sense. Nobody lost money; nobody really lost anything except me. I didn’t con people directly, just a system I didn’t want to conform to.
I had always hated gym class. It wasn’t that I hated physical activity, but I was a geek, I wasn’t good at sports, I hated the humiliation of being the last one picked for teams, I hated being called a “lily” by testosterone-poisoned gym teachers. And the closer I got to adolescence, the more intolerable it got.
Junior high school is a hard time for most teenagers; it certainly was for me. High School was like a breath of fresh air. There was a change of faces, so you had a new chance to make friends before they learned that you were unpopular and not to be associated with. And now there were enough kids who thought being arty, musical or even nerdy weren’t necessarily horrible things.
The only thing that got worse, was gym class. Our junior high gym teachers, for all their faults, were basically decent people, and when I think honestly about it, I have to admit that they did spend time encouraging me as well. It wasn’t their fault that I’d much rather be reading a book about Cambodian verb forms than playing tag football.
But high school… Kids frequently call teachers they don’t like “Nazis,” but this gym teacher came as close as any I’d had to truly earning the title. (Well, there was that physics teacher who knocked a black girl’s pencil off her desk, and when she stooped down to pick it up, lifted her dress with his crutch and made a comment about the only good n****r being a dead one. But he was fired.) This guy, on the other hand, was a museum piece, and one could only wonder what favors he had done for whom to avoid swift termination. He was unadulterated vileness, and we knew about him even in elementary school from the spray-painted swastikas that frequently appeared with his name on the outside wall of the gym. His “encouragement” to an overweight student who was doing his best in a 600-yard run was, “Move it, fatso.” He singled out a friend of mine for harassment in class because her older brother refused to join the football team. I had light gynaekomastia - i.e. breast development in adolescent boys - and it was bad enough getting comments from fellow students (how many times I prayed to be on the “shirts” team). From a teacher? No way.
And whereas in junior high, gym was three times a week, in high school I’d have to face this ass every day of the week.
A friend of mine, by the way, had faced the same situation in his high school, and I wish I could say I’d been as brave: He went straight to the counselor at the very beginning and said, flat-out, that he refused to go. When they told him, “you won’t graduate if you don’t,” he said “okay, then I won’t graduate, but I won’t put myself through that.” They eventually worked out a deal where he tutored students in math instead.
But I wasn’t nearly so self-possessed at that age, and I’d always been a person to take my own tack with a minimum of conflict, so my solution was simply to stop going. Not all at once – first I didn’t go for two weeks. When I went back, he asked where I’d been and I said I’d hurt my foot. Then I just stopped for good. For three years. I don’t know why there was never a call to my parents. The “I(ncomplete)” on my report card I explained away somehow, said it meant the class wasn’t graded or some such excuse. It was so easy that I never even worried about it.
Until a month before graduation, because I knew that Iowa state law dictated that to graduate, we had to have attended gym class every day for three years. So I went into my counselor’s office and told him the story. “You realize this is a serious situation, don’t you?” he said. Would I have been there if I didn’t know that? (To this day, I wonder if it would have even come up if I had just kept my mouth shut.)
So we went into our family doctor and explained the situation. He wrote a letter to the school basically saying that the psychological discomfort that came from the classes would outweigh any benefit I’d get from being in it. And told me that he wanted me to be able to ride my bike to West Branch and back with no problem. (I already did anyway.)
Was it a con in the true sense? Maybe not, but it was a good lesson in manipulating the system for the sake of self-preservation.