My parents moved our family from Maryland to Central Florida in the summer after I completed sixth grade. That fall, after a few traumatic weeks finding my way around my new school, it was becoming clear to me that none of the friends I had at Old Post Road Elementary in Abingdon, Maryland had been promoted to the seventh grade; or if they had been, clearly none had been assigned to Glenridge Junior High in Orlando. Every living being in the school was a complete stranger to me; and if there were dead beings there, they were even stranger, although perhaps less complete.
The campus was sprawling, covering several acres, and just a single story high, as are most Florida schools. That way, if a building or two is swallowed by a sinkhole, or lost in a hurricane, it’s just a single story loss. For some reason I had chosen Band as my seventh period elective, although I had two relevant problems; I couldn’t play an instrument, and I couldn’t read music. Even today the smell of a clarinet reed strikes me with terror. You would be terrified too if you were expected to play selections from Scheherazade with the aforementioned handicaps. The Persian bride Scheherazade faced beheading if the king decided he wanted to hear no more from her. I experienced a similar dread every time the teacher asked me to play. I grew to hate Rimsky; and truth be told, I wasn’t that fond of Korsakov.
The alternative courses available during seventh period must have been really horrid---“Sinkhole Filling for Newcomers,” or “Sandspur Picking, 101.” Sandspurs, for the uninitiated, are sharp spiny things, like three-dimensional asterisks, about the size of pencil erasers, and they’re as common in Florida as moss on trees. They stick to your socks, find a way to your skin and can’t be removed without drawing blood from your fingers. Their primary function, it seems, is to keep Floridians from overdosing on Vitamins C and D by releasing a healthy bit of their blood each day. Their secondary function is to make Phys. Ed class in the heat and humidity even more unpleasant than it would otherwise be, and make no mistake, it would otherwise be unpleasant enough.
The worst thing about PE, of course, was showering with a slew of other boys, some of whom had so perfected the art of snapping a towel against an unsuspecting posterior that it would leave a welt. The other worst thing (yes, there were two worst things about PE) was when, once every eight or ten days, presumably because the coach was in a foul mood, the dreaded words began to filter through the school from the earlier periods, “Happy Hour Today.” Happy Hour was the name coined by the Marquis de Sade for an entire PE period devoted to jumping jacks, sit-ups, pull-ups, and laps around the track. I believe he called it "l’heure joyeux." Some of the kids blamed Happy Hour on the fitness initiative of President Kennedy (whose French wife, it was rumored, was related to the Marquis). But I have come into possession of an old reel-to-reel tape recording from a closed-door session in Tallahassee. The following is an exact transcript, with expletives deleted: