September 24, 2008

For Whom the Bell Tolls

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It has recently come to my attention that not everyone makes playlists according to what their middle school physical education teacher played while they did lunges on the blacktop during third period.
While en route to Montreal this weekend, my compatriots in Canadian tomfoolery appeared to be visibly shaken by the sheer volume of Phil Collins tracks on my “in-case-the-iTrip-fails-us” mixes. Phil Collins, Seal, Fine Young Cannibals and Toto rounded out the six-hour journey to Backwardsville, where they speak French instead of English and walk their cats instead of their dogs. (Seriously, I have pictures.)
But, you see, sixth grade was probably the peak of my life. I excelled academically; flirted with many of my numerous crushes after the influx of 200 more kids into our middle school due to district pooling; and slicked my hair back with Joico-brand rubber cement while listening to vaguely interesting banter on Z95.7. The beauty is that I was too young to realize that any of this could ever matter. I just did things, and absorbed things, and went about my ignorant ragamuffin ways. I knew I was awesome in some way, but had no intention of exploring why or how. It was truly the life.
Every day after first and second period CORE (what my school creatively named the combo English-history classes you had with the same teacher), my classmates and I would shuffle out to the blacktop for P.E. Later on, when I attended boarding school on the east coast (you ask: “Is this because her parents didn’t love her?” Answer: Ostensibly, no; but probably yes), I found out that P.E. is called “Phys. Ed.” in some places, “gym” in others, and it was also inside a lot of the time. I also found out that there existed such a thing as “lo mein,” and that people could be really sarcastic, impatient and mean. But, moving right along, we waited by the picnic tables at our class’s designated spot for our teacher, Mr. Bell, to meet us.
Even at the tender age of 11, I realized that Harry Bell was a unique figure in my life. Almost as unique as my alter ego, Uniqua, which is the person I claim to be when giving in my name at Jamba Juice and other such pick-up-your-order-by-name establishments. As my classmates and I chatted amongst each other about the merits of ’N Sync over the Backstreet Boys, he would stroll up with a rickety, probably 20-year old shopping cart from the portable classroom that stored the dusty Snapple vending machines and a festival feast of mini-carpets. Mr. Bell’s cart would be filled to the brim with said mini-carpets for the 25 of us, atop which there lay a boom box (probably from the year of our birth, back when CDs were still just a myth). “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins would likely be blaring as he walked over, liberally using the whistle in his mouth. “TIME FOR LUNGES!!!”
My P.E. teacher left a huge impact on my life, not only because the myth of his short shorts and lack of underwear during stretchy-time and lunges, but also because of he nurtured my freakish affection for factoids. Though the music included, for sure, some of the shittiest synth-tastic tunes from the late ’80s and early ’90s (a fact made especially apparent by their existence on grungy audio cassettes), Mr. Bell would ask us to name the song and the artist for a piece of candy each. (Ironic during P.E. And also mildly creepy, no?)
Long before I began to use my obsessive compulsive tendencies to create databases of pop music chart information in my spare time (seriously), I learned that the Fine Young Cannibals sing “She Drives Me Crazy” and “La Isla Bonita” is one of Madonna’s most overlooked tunes of the mid-’80s. Nevermind that physical fitness became secondary and even tertiary as a priority during physical education time, obviously knowing the titles of all of Phil Collins’ greatest hits became my life’s main endeavor, and for that, I have Harry Bell and his legendary hairy bells to thank.