9. Rock Tuff, P.I.: Washing Dirty Laundry In Private

As a phys ed teacher, I was a very square peg in the roundest of holes. John introduced me to the class, announced that I would teach them how to shoot a lay-up, and tossed a basketball to me — or rather at me. I threw up my hands to protect my face and the ball bounced away. A kindly student returned it.

"Watch carefully," I said and tried to dribble the elusive ball towards the basket. I shot. I missed.

Quickly I asked: "What did I do wrong?" A forest of hands waved. I picked one. "You were too far under the basket."


I repeated the demonstration. I missed again. "What did I do wrongly that time?"

"You banked the ball too hard off the backboard."

I showed them two more ways of missing, then gave them a ball and let them play a game, but with fourteen players on each side, it was more like a riot at a peace rally. Each time someone missed a shot, as happened frequently, I felt a twinge of pride: my teaching had had an effect. No one called fouls or kept score, but I think the game ended 6-6.

Afterwards, in John's office, I said: "I think I should have taught an English class."

"No one's stealing gym clothes in English classes."

"Good point."

A man entered the office. "Elmer, this is Terry Ferguson. He replaced Hank as head caretaker when Hank retired. Terry, this is Elmer Petty." We shook hands.

"I've heard of you, Mr. Petty." That remark always makes me uncomfortable. What exactly had he heard? But he seemed to be a likable fellow.

I noticed that, despite repeated warnings, some clothes and towels had been left on the benches. In the teachers' cafeteria at lunch hour, I saw a few former colleagues who I remembered and Mrs. Wilkins, who ran the cafeteria.

"I heard you were coming back, Mr. Petty, so I made your favourite dish."

I don't know where she got the idea I liked her specialty because I don't, but I didn't want to hurt her feelings, so I tried to look delighted by the lima bean and chopped rutabaga salad with mustard.

The student cafeteria looked less crowded than it used to. John explained: "To promote healthy eating, the Board banned poutine, fries, candy, and pop from the school cafeterias, but all they've really done is to increase business at Sloppy Josey's." This was a restaurant only a block from the school and every student who could afford to dined there on forbidden food.

One thing had not changed, however: the tables and the trays on them were littered with scraps of sandwiches, apple cores, cellophane wrappers, and crumpled serviettes. Cafeteria duty, a.k.a. pigsty patrol to cynics, was a good assignment for a teacher who wanted to lose weight because it certainly killed one's appetite.

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Gary E. Miller spent 29 years trying to teach English at several high schools in Ontario. In 1995, he made his greatest contribution to education by retiring. He now spends his time in rural Richmond, reading voraciously and eclectically, and occasionally writing stories and poems which do nothing to elevate the level of Canadian literature.
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