Cult Illustration #42, ball point pen on paper, 11" x 8.5"

     This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

High School Physical Education, co-ed, for Coach Debbie, in the gymnasium.
There seemed to be a fiasco materializing. Coach Debbie had a regular sub. A really good sub, the Teacher's Aide explained, who wasn’t afraid to give referrals (the code word for sending the student to the dean).

She was a tough regular sub! She even knew most of the kids’ names. Coach Debbie had been out for almost a week. It was Friday and she would be gone next week as well. The regular was contracted to do the whole thing but something went awry, and she reneged at the last minute, and there had been a different sub every day so far.  The entire two-week-sub-plans had disappeared in the fray. The aide said someone had taken them home. Sin of sins!

Ms. X was not concerned with the back story, she needed a plan. The aide assured her that there were clear instructions, of a permanent nature, on Coach Debbie's desk. With key in hand, she let Ms. X into the coach’s office, situated inside the dark uninhabited girls’ locker room. It was still very early in the morning.
“This will be a really easy day for you,” she said. Ms. X did not feel pleased. She hated those words, they never augured the truth. No one could predict a really easy day because such an event happened less than once a year, born out of a confluence of magical mystical mishaps . . .

The office should be left unlocked, the aide instructed, until Ms. X was ready to leave then she would have to close the door all the way and make sure it was secure.
Left alone Ms. X looked for a safe hiding place to stash her pink bag which was about the size of a small suitcase. It held her lunch, a thermos, some snacks, reading material, her wallet, a few toiletries, and an extra jacket. (a sub has no key, no office, no refrigerator, no locker, no place in a school to call her own). She put her bag on the floor under the coach's desk and looked for something to drape over it. A sweater was on the back of a chair. Ms. X picked it up. Almost as if awakened from the dead, an enormous palmetto bug (cockroach, really) dropped from the folds to the floor, and scurried under a pile of debris. Ms. X shuddered. It should have been a sign but she shrugged it off and turned to the desk where she planned to delve into the permanent instructions for this really easy day.

There were three binders, one holding a pile of study guides and the second holding a pile of flag football tests. The binder holding the attendance, a crucial component for all things education, had a series of steps describing how it should be done:

1. Have students sit in the bleachers.

2. Take attendance, place a check by their name if present, and an “A” if absent.   

3. Send to locker rooms to dress out.

(Dress out? as opposed to the northern expression, "get dressed" or “dress up” or maybe “dress into” or “change into”).
4. Have them sit again in the bleachers and take attendance again by writing “undressed” by their name or “medical”

(or as Ms. X hypothesized “disappeared” in which case there were no further instructions as for the course to pursue since this scenario would be unthinkable).

No one disappeared in the end, but many remained undressed, perhaps half the class. She passed out the test, only to hear an outcry. They had learned nothing concrete about the game in the past few days, they had no sources from which to study . . . it was unconscionable to expect them to take this test. Ms. X passed out the study guide, basically giving them the answer key.
“That’s not the way it’s done!” protested a student.
“Can we use it?” called out another.
“Yes,” Ms. X said sternly.
“What kind of a test is this?”
“A new kind,” she retorted.
Students rearranged themselves on the bleachers to be near friends and quickly began to fill in the answers. Ms. X knew it would not take them more than 6 minutes to complete the task.  It all seemed very absurd to her but she maintained an air of officialdom while the little voice in her head asked repeatedly, “what will they do after that? There’s at least an hour and fifteen minutes left, so what’s next? This was the pressing issue. As they finished they presented their papers to her, some like a gift, others thrust carelessly, but it didn’t matter how they did it, she always liked this role as the collector. It made her feel special.
“Thank you,” she said to all of them. A few responded with “your welcome.” 

Once all the papers were secured, Ms. X did what she normally did, canvassed for information on the way that things were normally done. For the most part she received honest answers, with a few zingers thrown in for a laugh. She liked this role too because she wanted to see if the ones who were vocal would be honest with her. She liked the attention.
“So what do you normally do?”
They thought for a moment and then they sang out discordantly,
“Free Friday! Free Friday!”
“Okay, what’s that?”
“We can do what ever we want!”
“Alright, Free Friday!” called out Ms. X as if it were a regular thing to her too. In the unfolding tumult, other terms popped up in her middle-aged mind, like “Freaky Friday” and “Hell Yes!” and “Fuck Yeah it’s Friday!” but she dare not utter these.
Two students produced a rolling cart with racks of basketballs, soccer balls, and footballs which the wild things commenced to bop around, criss-crossing the gym like boomerangs, flying erratically into the rafters, just missing the saucer shaped lamps, and descending like bombs nearly hitting the oblivious and ecstatic students below.
Ms. X was amused by the disorder, content that this was a class where such behavior was acceptable and all she had to do was make sure no one got hurt. (Later in the day, while observing a real P.E. class, she could see how badly she miscalculated - their organized play was a bit disconcerting to her sense of accomplishment).

As balls flew rocket like here and there, Ms. X was kept on alert and moment by moment corralled the endangered of the herd. Two students, a black male and a white female, were lying on their bellies in the middle of the gym where the jump ball circle is marked on the floor. The thick red ribbon encircled their bodies which were head to head. Their necks stretched their faces towards each other, their lips pursed and neared in slow motion, like two porcelain kissing dolls that had yet to consummate the act.

Ms. X moved in quickly but she had trouble forming the words fast enough and so she waved her hands in front of her like a panicked conductor, hushing the brass. They paused, tilting their heads up at her as she forced out the words, “Too many things wrong! Too many things wrong!” her hands still brushing the air. The two snickered, rolled over and jumped up quickly like Chinese acrobats and ran to blend into the multitude.  Laughing teenagers ran past her calling and joking.

“Hey Pres,” the brown young men addressed each other now instead of “Bro . . . ”

A glancing thought of the new president, the first black man ever to reach the office, flashed through her consciousness. The gymnasium was a festive scene and Ms. X, in her disjointed way, felt part of the celebration too. Fire had spread over water and it was, indeed, an audacious experience.
She turned and confronted something that slightly shocked her, spying two girls with their sweat pants pulled down half way on their buttocks with the saving grace of their nylon gym shorts veiling the exposed area. Just two days before she had felt relieved that at least the girls hadn’t adopted the practice, chic as it was with the guys. These things, invariably, took Ms. X back in her consciousness to the days when she too would have breached such barriers. She was sympathetic yet concerned and maybe even insecure. The celebration was in full throttle as she approached the two, knowing how hopeless it was to demand their submission. The pants would always slide or be positioned back down minutes later. The only recourse was a brazen threat with the code word “referral” and Ms. X preferred to win them over, get them to see how stupid it looked, rather than force them to comply. It seemed a far more powerful argument yet elusive for an anonymous person like a sub, but she would try.
She had been tip-toeing around the subject rather cautiously over the months as it appeared to be a predominantly “black thang” at first. Without a clear understanding of what kind of words would offend, she kept quiet, observing. The skin shades of those exhibiting the behavior became lighter and so too, her willingness to confront it, finding a comfortable student to question now and then. Here, at this hour, it had crossed the gender line and Ms. X felt free at last to spout her objections. Whereas it had impinged on her motherhood in the past, it now impinged on her sisterhood and this was the opening used to slither into their realm.
“Girls! Now you? Pull up your pants. Now!”
It was no use. Pants never stayed up for long, or shirts were pulled down to disguise it. Amidst the soaring balls and dodging kids Ms. X observed a student camera crew enter the gym. Students were responsible for the short clips that were shown during morning announcements or at other times in the school day via the TV sets mounted in one corner of every classroom so she knew what they were about. There were three boys, one carrying an expensive looking video camera and another with a professional looking microphone and the third, appearing to be the leader, carried sheets of paper. He was a tall vivacious black student with a mop of unruly locks, attractive, with a nice smile, a born anchor man. As he swiveled, taking stock of his environment, his slacks were sliding conspicuously off his ass, exposing black nylon boxers. He approached Ms. X and explained that he was there to produce a piece about drug abuse. He needed a few students. Their faces would be blurred and their voices distorted.

It was the usual tired topic, mused Ms. X, but it was creativity all the same, so she motioned him to the bleachers where a multitude lounged about laughing and joking. It was an image of insubordination but what the hell, “Free Friday!” she thought and now there will be some constructive work for the TV crew who have seized upon a concrete opportunity in their hapless education. The anchor man called out for volunteers.
Soon the camera crew was setting up on the sidelines, normally a safe place but in the middle of Free Friday they were lurching to escape errant balls, screaming back at the unknown perpetrators who seemed to be targeting them. Ms. X could not contain herself, inside, she felt the magma of her being pulsing and surging forth, teaming for a place to escape. She was in front of the camera now, addressing the operator.
“Why don’t you do a show about the pants hanging off the ass?”
The camera man’s expression lit up with what Ms. X interpreted as epiphany and she was pleased.
“Hey, yeah,” he said turning to the anchor man who was, for a second, embarrassed before the distraction of a sailing bullet ball whizzed past his head. That gave him a chance to shout at the offender and avoid the topic.
“No, really what does it mean?” asked Ms. X emphatically chopping the air with her taut hands, as if they were hatchets cutting through the silence.
“Ah, the jail --”
“Shhhhh,” said the anchor man.  
“I know about the jail thing,” Ms. X interjected and she did know something about it, though garbled as usual. Months back she had asked a student who truthfully informed her that it had to do with male prisoners and sex, rape really, between thugs and their bitches. He had been reluctant to go into the details, perhaps because he did not know the details, but she graciously let that part of the conversion fade. As a result, Ms. X was not at all clear about the mechanics of it, who, why, or when one would wear their pants down, so she bluffed.
“How do you move, if you want to run or jump?” asked Ms. X.
“Just pull ‘em up.” Said someone.
“Your crotch hangs so low, you look like a cartoon character with tiny little legs and big old feet sticking out . . . (laughter). . . the girls do not find it attractive."

"Yes they do!" called out one of the boys, "they do like it!"

Do you think it looks attractive?" Ms. X asked a girl who had stopped to listen in. She simply answered by shaking her head no. The boys looked peeved with this revelation.

"I mean, you are not looking like a good provider," stressed Ms. X

"Oh, we're not thinking about that yet," objected one of the boys

"Okay, fine, I get that, but what I really want to know is why YOU do it? What does it mean to you?”
Silence, a bit of shuffling, no answer.
“I’ll tell you what it means,” and all eyes were on her now, the three boys and others who had gathered there in the eye of the storm.
“It means you wear your underwear on your head.”
Silence. Heads shifting, looking down, moving away from each other, distracted by the echoing voices in the gym and the constant motion that swirled around them. Ms. X had hit a chord and she too had to think about the image of what she had just said, now that their impressions, their feelings, reflected back on her. She saw it very clearly for the first time. This statement said to them that their head was actually their ass. She had picked up the saying from a paperback she found while subbing for a social studies teacher. It was written by a black professor, for his people, pondering the things he found offensive. He had said it first. Ms. X had remembered it as an important point, not fully comprehending the image until that very moment when she said it out loud to her audience.

Ms. X found herself trailing down a young black woman, her navy jeans strapped tightly around the middle of her butt with a neon yellow belt. Her girlfriends mingled, admiringly, around her.
“What about the pants?” asked Ms. X.
“What about ‘em?”
“Okay, I don’t believe you wear them like that at home, in front of your mother.”
“Uh – huh, yes I do.”
Her girlfriends snickered and waited.
“What does it mean?” asked Ms. X chopping the air.
“It’s the jail . . . “
“Your not in jail!” Ms. X cut her off, waiting.
“Yea,” said the girl, “that don’t apply to me.”
“But you're applying it to yourself!”
“ No I’m not . . .”
“Yes you are. Everything YOU do, you apply to YOURSELF. . .”
Enter two men, the leader a short stocky man about 55 years old, with a formidable air conveying the message that he was not to be trifled with. He and his helper began surveying the gym pointing at things. They opened a hidden closet in the wall and began some work. The leader set up a microphone on a table and Ms. X deduced quickly that he was affiliated with the sports department and maybe the media. They were setting up the audio system for the girl’s basketball game that was to be held that evening. His voice boomed over the intercom as the commotion of Free Friday continued, unabated.
Soon he was in front of Ms. X, about half a foot shorter than her, the skin of his face red and reptile like, a sign of alcoholism or high blood pressure, she thought, but for sure a health issue. His energy was imposing but his manner deferential.
“I’m not trying to encroach on your teaching style, but what is going on here?”
“What do you mean?” asked Ms. X, absentmindedly.
“Why are all these balls flying around?”
“Oh,” she said, “it’s Free Friday,” implying the obvious. For her it was so simple, so self explanatory but he seemed unable to grasp her point. Now, Ms. X could see that he was a fighting man who learned long ago how to manage his anger but the present circumstances were testing him. She was, however, open to his presence in her life, open to the glory of the day and the freeness of it. Without malice, he implored her,
“I’m just afraid a light will get broken, and that camera over there,” he said pointing to the TV crew, “it will get broken. I suggest you collect all the balls and give them just two or three to use on the hoops, in teams.”
“Okay,” snapped Ms. X as if answering a general and she began to call out in her bird like voice that twanged a little and then got lost in the jangle. With his gruff, over sized baritone, the red leather skinned man commanded the kids to bring the balls in and sit in the bleachers. Ms. X moved among them, like a wispy little shepherdess, guiding them in. Within minutes the kids, somewhat spent from their inebriation with freedom, were calm and collected and ready for something more productive. All were quiet as Ms. X spoke.
“Now, its time for an organized game . . . ”


  Cult Illustration #14,

ball point pen on paper, 11" x 8.5"


© 2017 Lea Atiq, all rights reserved