Still Learning How to Fly ~ Chapter Four: "The Hairy Years" (Pt. 3)

Ken Painter By Ken Painter, 22nd Sep 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Biography & Autobiography

As I begin wrestling class in junior high school, I also start to notice how much I enjoy the physical contact with the other boys. Uh oh??!!

Contact Sport

Third quarter gym class saw us students engaging in the growing contact sport of collegiate wrestling. Evidently Mr. Clark was well-versed in this area from his own recent college years though we never heard his story, but in addition to being our teacher, he was also the high school’s wrestling coach, so we knew the man knew his stuff. We didn’t have a wrestling team in junior high, but Mr. Clark saw it as his mission to prepare us for high school, and in the process I suppose see what kind of talent he could find for his future junior varsity and varsity squads at the upper level.

Anybody over 180 lbs. automatically fell into the heavyweight class and fortunately there were two of us. The other guy, Bill, was a couple of inches shorter than me but just as heavy and certainly as ungainly. I was just happy to have anyone to spar with near my size, because it wouldn’t be good squashing someone considerably smaller than me.

Over that quarter Bill and I would spar, and each of us would win some and lose some, but we were learning moves. As it turned out, I was really enjoying myself; perhaps I’d finally found a sport I could engage in though it would take me years to finally understand why.

I was having full on contact with other boys, and I couldn’t escape the sensory awakenings that stirred within me. The touch, the smell all kept provoking thoughts which I kept carrying home with me each night. And it wasn’t even Bill so much. It was the entire arena of my classmates. Prior to wrestling only my eyesight had been involved and that from the showers and locker room. But now I found myself in a sort of sensory overload by adding a socially acceptable touch and smell into the mix, and it was almost more than I could handle for awhile.

These were the hairy years when from the shower I’d noticed that many of us were sprouting hair in all of those unmentionable places, some so much that at age 12 and 13 they already looked to be fathers of a couple of kids. One of the differences I’d noticed immediately upon coming to school in the lake country setting as opposed to the city-suburban one I was used to was the change in the locker room talk. Out here that talk was totally different. From my first day in the gym class locker room I began hearing talk about blow jobs and jacking off, and even screwing, whatever any of this meant I didn't know at first, but when I hit my head on the pavement all sense wasn't knocked completely out of me, and so it didn’t take me very long to figure it all out from the context of their figurative speech.

As a result one night after I went to bed my own right hand found its way down to my groin, and I too discovered what jacking off was all about. Once I discovered that bit of heaven on earth, at age 12 my whole world just kept on changing.

And so it was that I would come home from school with these visions of my classmates from gym class, and the smell of wrestling in my nostrils, and I sometimes masturbated myself to the point of having the hairiest of palms on the face of the earth. But I cared not, because if anyone cared to note, my internal anger had very noticeably dissipated. I was a much happier kid, and I didn’t even understand why.

Reading and Exercise: An Undelicate Balance

The biggest adjustment, of course, in moving to a new area is making new friends. I suddenly found myself ten miles away from where I used to live, so that nixed all prior relationships basically. Now, I found myself without Boy Scouts, and I didn’t feel up to locating another troop in the area mostly because I knew that there wouldn’t be anything as close as I’d been used to and thus convenient for my parents sake. I was trying not to rock the boat too hard. But slowly, over time I made friends in our new neighborhood on the lake and in school. It never hurts to be a smart kid and someone who can help others with their homework. Nobody can explain what it was that the teacher said (in other words reinforce the lesson already taught) to a student like another student. Peer reinforcement is a great thing, and I learned it firsthand from my own junior high school experience, and it was a tool I would carry with me into my own classroom many years later.

But for now I was developing friendships, but no real mates, and I guess I never really had any. It had proved to be a difficult task for me growing up. Mom had never allowed sleepovers of any kind for Sandi or me, and because of her misbehavior in general bringing other kids home to play was something which I always found uncomfortable. But one warm night during my 6th grade year we both stepped out on a limb, and she allowed my friend Jim from Boy Scouts to bring his tent over, we pitched it in in our backyard, and we had a sleepover out there. There wasn’t a lot for us to do, so we were basically bored. We asked if we could make some popcorn, but, of course, she wouldn’t allow us in her kitchen to do that, and so after she had made some for us, she brought it out. And we just talked and shared a lot all of which was good. Our only problem was that my mom then kept checking on us once every hour until she finally went to bed which we took to be bugging us like anyone was going to bother us in our fenced-in backyard. We’d been camping many times before, and this was not our idea of roughing it! Although in the middle of the night we both had to pee, and we took a leak on the apple tree near the tent hoping that my mom wasn’t watching from the kitchen window at 3 o’clock in the morning. I never heard about it.

It was pretty much a failed experiment, one which we never repeated, but at least we tried, and it didn’t rain. But having and maintaining friendships proved difficult for me I believe because I always had to worry about the boulder hanging over my head: Mom.

That continued in our new neighborhood. So as I successfully managed all of my academics at school, how did I fill my time? Well, one good thing about the junior high school I now attended was its location. It was situated just about a football field’s length away from a branch of the Jackson County Library. Up until this time in my life I’d been content to read books from my elementary school library, small adventure books and such, or I would order a few paperbacks from my allowance from the Scholastic Book Services when we were able to do so through our school. I hadn’t been at Hunt long enough to get started at their library, and the school library in my new school was just pitiful. Simply pitiful! It consisted of a five-shelf metal rack, one like you would purchase at a hardware store to put tools on in a home workshop, and this library which contained not over 100 books was housed in Mr. Riddle’s 8th grade English room. It was meager at best.

While I would work my way through many of the editions on Mr. Riddle’s shelves, I was able to augment my reading by visiting this branch library near my school. I obtained my own library card independent of anyone, a responsibility I took very seriously. I never paid an overdue fine in the six years I would borrow from them. Much of my interest though remained unchanged for years with my focus on the adventure type stories I’d grown up being interested in or the occasional western.

The time came though when I needed something meatier, my soul was searching, and I felt it was time to grow a little. This all came about during the summer after my sophomore year in high school if you’ll permit me to jump ahead just a bit. That prior semester I had checked out from my high school library and read what has undoubtedly remained my favorite book of all time, Harper Lee'sTo Kill a Mockingbird. I grew up a little with that book, and I have each time I’ve read it since. It never fails to leave a deep impression upon my soul. Well, late that spring of 1967, I’d kept hearing about another book on the best-seller list by William Styron, The Confessions of Nat Turner about a slave rebellion in pre-Civil War Virginia. Loving history the way I do, and having stretched my soul the way I just had with Harper Lee, I felt the urgency to do more that summer during the school break. The book was over 400 pages long. I’d never attempted one of such length, but I wouldn’t let that deter me, and so I checked it out for the 3-week time period. Okay, so I had to renew it for a second 3-week period, but I finished it this time about half way through that time. There was a lot of history in there that kept forcing me to read related stuff in the Collier’s, and there was a lot of new vocabulary for me, so my dictionary was always handy. It took me awhile. But I loved it! I loved it so much that my dad was heard to remark years later that I used to check out my books from the library based upon how much they weighed rather than their content. Yup, the thicker they were the better!

After, Nat Turner, I threw caution to the wind, and I began my binge on James Michener novels beginning with Hawaii. That one was about a thousand pages and it took me a full six weeks, but I was hooked, hooked on books, and especially historical fiction, a love affair which continues to this day. This presented only one problem. Time management. I was laying around on the sofa or in my bed reading constantly and not getting enough exercise. During this period books became for me like video games are for kids today, a means for escape. It would be during this period that I gradually ballooned upward to 285 lbs. and a 46-inch waistline by the time I graduated high school.

It’s not that I didn’t get any extra-curricular exercise during these years, it’s just that I didn’t get enough. A couple of good things happened from moving to the lake. Lake activities were good. Fishing and swimming in the summer, although fishing provided no exercise whatsoever, and the swimming was no good in front of our house, so we had to take the boat over to one of the two beaches on the other side of the lake. Fun but not convenient, so it wasn’t an everyday thing necessarily.

In the winter though when the lake was frozen over we could skate. This was a good thing, however, like everything else with klutzy me I never got good enough to play hockey with the neighborhood boys. I was doing good enough to figure skate at a socially acceptable level, frontwards only. But that I could do. And just like during the summer where I wasn’t able to develop the art of water skiing there was a level beyond which I could not progress.

But there was one thing at which I could excel in the neighborhood. Sandlot baseball. And we had a sandlot in an undeveloped field across the paved road which Pine Drive dumped into about 500 feet from our neighborhood, and nobody ever told us we couldn’t use it in all the years we did. We had no hardware like a backstop or real bags for the bases, just two or three wooden bats which a couple of us owned and our baseball mitts and not all of us had those. We were an equal opportunity sandlot allowing boys and girls of any age and from not only our neighborhood but from the ones on either side of it to join in. We were the ones who always got a game going though. And we played hardball, no softball for us. Whether the pitch was to be underhand or overhand was left strictly up to the pitcher. We had our own rules.

If it was one thing I could do it was swing a baseball bat. I’d never been a good fielder, okay as a catcher because of my size (made me a good backstop), but in the field I was too slow. But on the sandlot it didn’t matter. Nothing was regulation sized, and we never had more than five players on each side anyway. It was all fun, and something to while away the time during summer break.

I found out, though, that I had a decent eye and a level swing . . . from both sides of the plate. If there was anything good that came from my mom making me into a right-hander it was that I became a switch-hitter if only in sandlot baseball. And I could hit with power from both sides of our make-believe plate. Although I hit more home runs from the right, I was still known to knock them to straight away center field from the left side. I just couldn’t pull the ball from that side of the plate. Nevertheless, this was to be the vast bulk of the exercise I would get during these years when I wasn’t to be found reading.

In his embarrassment of me when out in public, my dad had even taken to introducing me to his friends as his baby elephant. I guess he thought he could shame me into losing weight, but he never understood how the human mind worked. If he did he would have understood that he was only making the problem worse.

(In the next installment, it's off to high school where my growth and confusion continues.)

Link to next installment . . .

Link to last installment . . .

Link to beginning of book . . .


Autobiography, Child Abuse, Child Development, Childhood, Childhood Memories, Memoir, Memoirs, Memories, Memories From Childhood, Memories From My Young Days, Non Fiction, Non-Fiction, Nonfiction, Serial, Series, True Experiences, True Stories, True Story

Meet the author

author avatar Ken Painter
Retired Chicago public school teacher. Singer, songwriter, musician, author, & opinionated old curmudgeon. Married to my husband & living in Colorado, USA. Also a father & grandfather.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
22nd Sep 2013 (#)

Hi Ken. Haven't commented on the last two installments, but have followed and read. Go Ken, Go.......~Marilyn

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author avatar Ken Painter
22nd Sep 2013 (#)

Thanks Marilyn! Though you haven't commented, I knew you were out there. And I really appreciate it!! :-)

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author avatar Al fracker
23rd Sep 2013 (#)

Ken, I just read this I need to backtrack! Quite interesting...

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author avatar Al fracker
23rd Sep 2013 (#)

Ken, we left one fob and flew to the next in between classes. Had some time between setting up the class and teaching, so I read earlier installments - excellent!!

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