Miss Manzetti and the Swamp Thing


Miss Manzetti had been wearing the neckbrace as long as we knew her.

She was our high school gym teacher, and rumor 'round the locker room was, she sported that thing because she was the plaintiff in a big personal injury lawsuit.

We were 15 or 16, at the time-- just old enough to be jaded, and just young enough not to be deterred by a complete and utter lack of facts. So the story went that the injury itself had healed a long time ago-- but Miss Manzetti just never knew when the defense investigators would be checking her out.

The neckbrace, we suspected, was for show.

This, of course, meant that we kids spent a lot of time in gym class:

  1. Looking for mysterious people who might be private detectives lurking around the sports areas and...
  2. Trying to get Miss Manzetti to turn her head. Making loud noises, startling movements, things like that.

By junior year, though, we were not quite as rigorous in those two particular points as we had been.

Probably because Miss Manzetti seemed to have nerves of steel. And also there were other things to focus on in gym class. Like actually getting to choose our own activities.

Yes, gone were the days of mandatory group fun like square-dancing, gymnastics and the Jane Fonda workout. So with freedom of choice came a newfound love of exercise. Double-dutch, basketball, floor hockey and volleyball entertained us in the winter. And then, as the spring buds popped and the Canada Geese returned to poop on the marching band field-- there was football, and tennis, archery and the eternal favorite, canoeing around on the swampy pond out behind the tennis courts.

And so, I joined with a rag-tag team (because what story is fun if the team is neither rag, nor tag?) of classmates, all of us unusually low in the gym class pecking order. The little group consisted of myself, my friends Raoul and Josette, Jan McNeely of my old Gin Rummy days, and three kids I knew from my lunchtable.

The lunchtable kids were kind to include me at their table. But the overall dining atmosphere most days was not exactly candlelight and roses. They knew each other well-- too well, maybe. So a whole lunch hour could examine the philosophical aspects of who-did-what-to-whom-when, and how much more stupider this one was than that one, and who stunk more.

Usually this last honor was laid at the feet of a girl dubbed, "Smelly Kelly."

So, in lunch and in gym, it was a lot like hanging out with a trio of bickering fishwives. Or possibly the Three Stooges if all of them were Moe. Or if Tweedledee and -Dum had had a long-lost sister, -Duh--- to add into the mix.

Slapping and kicking were used liberally in between verbal assaults.

You may see now why we were not exactly welcomed with opened arms to join teams.

So, tennis was the sport of choice for us one particular semester. And we discovered fairly quickly that, unlike the games of John McEnroe or Chris Everett at the time, tennis need not necessarily be a fast-paced sport.

You see, there was that pond.

Since none of us were actually any good at tennis, a typical set would go...

Volley, volley, volley...

Bang! Hit too hard. Up and over the fence and...

Sploink! Into the swampy pond.

Then after a thorough filleting of the person who hit the ball out, that person would be made to leave the courts, and arrange for whatever kid who was rowing around in Canoeing, to go and fetch the ball.

See, we all knew that was the whole unspoken purpose of Canoeing, anyway-- to recover all of the archery arrows and tennis balls and other equipment and Jimmy Hoffa, that inevitably ended up in the pond.

Then our player would amble back to the court, and we'd begin the process all over again. One set could easily take a full gym period.

Well, this went on day after day. And the inner rage of the lunchtable kids was building. I don't know precisely what the controversy was anymore. I never really wanted to know. I'd had to proclaim myself Switzerland on more than one occasion. It was not mine to fix.

But "Smelly Kelly" was getting very tired of being -Duh in this family of Tweedles. And after a particularly heated back-and-forth between herself and -Dee and -Dum, Kelly finally... inevitably... exploded.

The ball bounced to her. And snatching it from the air in this middle of this argument, she flung it up, swung her racquet and with the shrieking scream of a Valkyrie... Kelly hit that thing using the power of a hundred-thousand men.

The sound of it echoed over the cement courts sending a chill down our collective spines. It sounded like an eagle screeching, going in for the kill.

Other teams stopped what they were doing to see this ball, this poor defenseless yellow-green sphere, vault skyward with blaring, breath-taking speed---

And go whizzing right over Miss Manzetti's head!

Miss Manzetti, who mostly occupied herself with the contents of a clipboard eight hours a day, saw the shadow of doom pass over her.

Perhaps she thought it was meteor coming in to crash. Or a low-flying secret jet. Or The Greatest American Hero. Or nuclear bombs. But it was loud and it was fast and perhaps it was through fear and reflex alone that... well...

She jumped and turned her head upward.

Students gasped and nudged each other. Kelly gaped and dropped her racquet.

Well, from then on, Miss Manzetti's credibility was lost, the reign of her phys ed monarchy over. If she suffered undue pain because of wrenching her neck from Kelly's rocket? Well, we didn't want to know about it. Because Kelly had made her turn her head...

And that was good enough for us.

The Tweedles didn't even make Kelly go and get the ball, so happy were we all with this minor triumph of Kiddom. They volunteered themselves, directing the current canoe-driver to the far, far back of the swamp. And returning with a ball coated with murk and moss and goo, a slick and slimy trophy for Kelly's efforts. We weren't winners, oh no... but still we had won.

For that day, that was just enough.

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19 comments:

Jaffer said...

What a thriller ! I couldn't wait to speed-read it to the end !

Yep ! You won ! Just enough to turn Ms. Manzetti's head - and just enough not to send Ms. Manzetti to Valhalla !

Jenn Thorson said...

Jaffer- I know Miss Manzetti lived out through our Junior and Senior years, and probably long after we had left the high school. Only to be picked on unmercifully by a whole new generation of kids! :)

JD said...

so my claim to rag tag school group fame comes in that i was crabbed by none other than William "The Fridge" Perry of the '85 chicago bears world championship team. He would grab unsuspecting victims by the neck and bend them unnaturally over his back thus 'crabbing' them. ouch.

Jenn Thorson said...

JD- So it sounds like YOU and half your school might have been candidates for neckbraces! What a charmer!

Tell me, was it a little hard to root for him in the championship playoffs?

Jaffer said...

We used to make fun of a teacher in great 7, who was addicted to tobacco - smoking and chewing. You wouldn't want to see him smile (he never did anyway). He'd even hold the chalk between his index and middle fingers.

He was an airhead which gave us some advantage and at the same time made us wonder how he became an English teacher.

But we were devastated the day we found out that he died of heart-attack behind the wheel that morning.
We somehow felt responsible !

That didn't stop us from making fun of more teachers in the upcoming years - and even send one to the mental asylum but we'll leave those stories for later.

Jenn Thorson said...

Jaffer- Ah, yes. We had one teacher die, who was one who, in life, we made fun of in a very special way (I think I'll leave that for a future story). Kids are cruel sometimes. But then, we also tended to have a weird sense of fairness and justice about who we made fun of. The teachers who knew how to relate to us got much, much less of it.

Mental Asylum, eh? Wow. Who'd you have-- the Joker? :)

unfinishedrambler said...

As usual, as always with you, loved the story, but what kind of school do you go to that they had all these activities? I think we had kickball, softball, basketball and flag football, dodgeball, of course. That was about it. Was this a special prep school or something? I feel so left out: canoeing? Wow.

Jenn Thorson said...

Unfinished-- Oh no, gosh, it was just a regular ol' public school. Canoing was pretty much one or two canoes on a murky goopy pond. So, no, not glamorous in any way. But a nice variation on our normal kickball, dodgeball, etc.

Da Old Man said...

Your school had a lot of really great ways to pretend to be in gym class. All we had was the weight room, which was the only way to avoid crab soccer.

Jenn Thorson said...

Da Old Man- I believe there might have been weight training, though I didn't get involved in that-- the boys may have done that while we girls did the Jane Fonda Workout. "Take your knee, and wrap it around your head! Now smile!" :)

Matt said...

Square dancing gymnastics sounds great.

We had to do line dancing to the Milli Vanilli.

Jenn Thorson said...

Matt- Oh boy... my belated sympathies to you. MilliVanilli-- tragic.

And now I have "Blame it on the Rain" running through my head... HELP!!

Melanie said...

Jaffer, way cool sending a teacher to the insane asylum! We did too. Thank goodness we got to him before he got to us. He was supposed to be teaching the gifted program and we all came out of his class saying eewwwww!!!! He was a weird one!

Jenn, loved the story as usual!

Tiggy said...

It's those little victories against teachers that made going to school bearable!

AngieSS said...

I wonder why it's always the gym teacher that feels the wrath of all that teenage angst? Oh well, it does seem like there is some unspoken rule that every school must have their very own crazy, strange, weird, or neurotic gym teacher. I'm glad you and your fellow students kept our winning streak alive.

Kids of the world 2,456,782,000,001
Gym teachers 0

Babs (Beetle) said...

Oh poor Miss Manzetti! Ha ha! There is always one teacher that is the butt of all the kids slanderous stories :O)

Come to think of it, it was most of the teachers in out school!

Jenn Thorson said...

Melanie- Yup, there is this strange war that goes on between kids and particular teachers. It sure isn't an easy profession.

Tiggy- It's true, it really did liven up things quite a bit.

Angie- I think because of the different classes, Gym is just not an equalizer. In no other class do you have to have someone who gets picked last. It's just set up as an Us Versus Them. :)

Babs- We had a few too. I had a couple of really wonderful teachers-- my bio teacher, a couple of English teachers. But they don't make for such fun stories.

Sujatha said...

I wish I had a real story to post about my teachers, but had nothing much to live by except scandalous whispers about Sr. Mary Serena who might have run away from the convent or Sr.Angelina who was seen talking for too long with the milkman, usually generated by the fertile imagination of the boarding school girls. Maybe there's a cautionary fodder for a blog post there.

BTW, you're tagged
and since that's a serious question aimed at a humor blog, I suspect you could jazz it up by attempting the whole post in LOLcatese or LOLrusese or somethin';)

Jenn Thorson said...

Sujatha- Heh, I may be able to do something with that. It's certainly not a topic I've tackled before, but I can think of a few ways to do it, and am always looking for something new to write about. :)