Physical Teducation

by Kristen Bealer

"Lane Extends Track Team Winning Streak!" The headline leaped out at Ted when he plucked the Saturday morning paper out of the corn. The article below said something about the high school track team winning meets, but his attention was entirely absorbed by the photograph.

In the middle of the picture was a girl who looked very happy, surrounded by other people who were smiling, cheering, and above all looking at her. She wasn't invisible. She wasn't ignored. She was being noticed by her peers!

Ted brought the paper inside and sat down on the pinewood couch to look at it more carefully. From what he could gather from the article, the girl was involved in some kind of athletic competition in which her performance had exceeded that of the other participants. And for that she's become famous! Ted stared at the photograph again in awe.

That could be me, he realized with growing hope. Perhaps I could enroll in some kind of sport and get my name in the newspaper! And then everyone at school would notice me!

He set the paper aside for his parents to look at later. They always loved to start their day by exclaiming over the corruption and moral decay that filled every page, including the comics. He, on the other hand, had important work ahead of him.

Finding a sheet of 100% recycled paper and an eco-friendly pen, he began his list: "Athletic Activities with the Potential for Glory."

It's the perfect plan, he told himself as he started writing down possibilities. I can't think of any flaw that would prevent me from succeeding!

Ted put his plan into motion the following Monday before school. He'd concluded that it would be best not to tell his parents about his decision because, while he didn't recall them making any specific objections to sports, he knew from experience that they tended to oppose things that were fun.

"You can go in now," the receptionist told Ted, interrupting his fantasies of fame and adoration. He stood up and entered the principal's office, list in hand.

"May I help you?" Ms. Li asked him. She was cheerfully polishing the school's new track trophy.

"Good morning," Ted greeted her. "I was hoping to join one of the school's sports-related extracurricular activities."

"Excellent!" Ms. Li said, her smile widening even further. "Which one did you have in mind?"

Ted sat down and consulted his list. "Well, my first choice would be Medieval sword-fighting. Is there an opening on that team?"

The principal's smile didn't alter, but her brow furrowed very slightly. "Actually, we don't have a Medieval sword-fighting team here."

"Ah." He looked at his list again. "Then how about competitive virtual reality gaming?"

"No, I'm afraid we don't have that, either."

"Hmm. Perhaps roller jousting? I tried that at the fair not too long ago and--" He stopped, seeing Ms. Li shake her head. "Um...snooker?"


"Luge racing?"

"Not even close."



Ted peered at his list one last time. "I suppose there aren't any grip war tournaments at this school, either?"

"You suppose correctly." Ms. Li's smile was gone, and now she was looking at Ted with an expression somewhere in between curiosity and alarm.

Crumpling up his list, Ted stood up and sighed. "It seems I need to brainstorm some new ideas. I've been reading a lot about chariot racing, for example, and--"

Ms. Li opened a drawer and pulled out a sheet of paper. "Here is a list of the school's official sports teams." She held it out to him. "Please, please take a look at it."

Ted took the list and nodded. "Thanks! This will make my quest much easier!"

"Quest?" Ms. Li asked worriedly, but Ted was already out the door.

Ted's shoes squeaked on the gym floor as he shifted his weight, eager to participate in this new game. Volleyball, he mused. It's such a pleasant-sounding name.

A player on his side of the net tossed the ball up in the air and then slammed it forward, driving it over the net and into the opposite team's side.

I especially like the internal rhyme of it. It just rolls off your tongue!

Someone on the other team bumped the ball up in the air, and another player popped it up again, close to the net.

Out loud Ted began to murmur, "Volleyball. Volleyball. Volleyball. VolleyballVolleyballVolleyball."

On the other side of the net, a player spiked the ball hard over the net. Still chanting the word "volleyball," Ted happily watched as it sailed right by him, bouncing off the floor and rolling away.

"What the hell?" demanded one of his teammates. "Why didn't you return the ball?"

"Oh, I'm so sorry!" Ted exclaimed. He trotted over to the ball, picked it up, and carried it over to the teammate. "Here you are," he said, handing it over.

"I meant you need to move when the ball comes to you!" the teammate grumbled, swinging his arms around to illustrate the point.

"That's a very good idea! Thank you for the suggestion." Still smiling, Ted turned his attention back to the tryout game.

The ball flew back and forth over the net a few times before it hurtled toward Ted again. Happy to finally be able to put the advice into practice, he reached his arm out a few inches away from his body, missing the ball by at least a foot. The other players on his team glared at him.

"Was that right?" Ted asked them. "Next time should I try moving both arms, do you think?"

Ted eagerly flipped through the Lawndale Sun-Herald the next morning, but found nothing about his volleyball audition. Oddly, when he'd asked the team captain if he'd made the team, he had just stared at him for awhile and then laughed. Ted assumed that was a good sign--people laughed when they were happy, and that meant Ted's performance had made the team captain happy, right?

And yet no one had gotten in touch with him about joining the team and the newspaper hadn't published any articles about him.

Perhaps I should have researched the sport a little before I tried out, Ted wondered. Well, I won't make that mistake this time with--he checked the list Ms. Li had given him--wrestling!

It had taken several hours of study at the public library, but by the end of it Ted felt ready for his next attempt. The books and periodicals hadn't been of much help, but then he stumbled across some videos online and suddenly everything fell into place.

I think I'm really going to like wrestling, he thought as he walked into the gym after school. It's come an awfully long way from the days of Ancient Greece. Which is good, because I'd look pretty silly coming in here nude!

"What are you wearing?" demanded a boy wearing a simple blue and yellow wrestling singlet. The rest of the team either snickered or sneered at Ted.

Ted defensively put a hand to his outfit and frowned. "I worked very hard on this!" he protested. And he had indeed made every piece of his costume: from the bright orange lucha mask down to the spiked knee-length boots, not to mention the metal-studded leather gloves and neon green wrestling trunks. He'd even torn apart one of his pillows to make the feather boa, which was currently the only thing covering his bare chest.

He'd stayed up almost all night putting it together, but the other boys just stared at him with contempt.

"For my nickname I was thinking I might go by 'Professor Aggressor,'" Ted continued, then looked around with concern. "Or is that one already taken? Because I was also thinking maybe--"

"Look, if you're not going to take this seriously...." one of the boys muttered.

"I'm taking it very seriously!" Ted insisted. "I researched this subject extensively, in fact!" He thought about it. "Oh, I see what you mean. I should also have created a colorful persona to make the competition more entertaining, right?"

"This is real high school wrestling, not WWE!" another boy yelled. "Get the hell out!"

The others were nodding in agreement, so Ted shrugged and walked away. I didn't even get a chance to hit anyone with a chair, he thought sadly.

This time Ted decided not to wait to see if he was mentioned in the newspaper but instead went straight to the office of the Lawndale Lowdown, the school newspaper. Maybe I need to start small and work my way up to Sports Illustrated.

A very frazzled Jodie Landon had her back to him, flipping frantically through several pages of articles when he came in.

"Good afternoon, Jodie!" Ted greeted her. "I would like to place an order for a front-page article about my athletic exploits at Lawndale High. Above the fold would be preferable, but anything with an eye-catching headline will be fine."

"That's really not how the newspaper works, Ted," Jodie said in that extra-patient voice she always seemed to get when she talked to him.

"Do you mean I should write the article myself? I hadn't thought of that, but you make a good point. Should I go for a human interest angle or more of a sports hero type of thing?"

Jodie finally turned around. "Ted, I'm sorry but--what are you wearing?"

Ted looked down at himself and wondered if maybe he should have changed out of his wrestling costume first. "Er...when I'm dressed like this I believe you're supposed to call me Professor Aggressor."

Having failed to achieve fame with his first two attempts, Ted quickly moved on to the next item on the list. "Oh!" he said in delight. "I do have some familiarity with this sport, so I should have no trouble at all joining this team!"

Ted moved with grace and confidence, pleased that for once his background seemed to be an asset rather than a liability. It was a struggle carrying the phonograph all the way here, but it was definitely worth it!

Keeping his focus on the viola da gamba music as it played, Ted continued to dance the minuet with an imaginary partner. When he was finished, he turned to the Lawndale High Dance Club and grinned. "How was that? I also know the waltz and the foxtrot."

The others stared at him in disbelief. Finally one of the group spoke up. "You buggin'? That ain't even close to the kind of moves we bust in this crib."

"Really?" Ted asked after taking a moment to interpret what he'd just said. "So are you thinking more of a Latin style? My rumba is a bit shaky but I could do a passable cha-cha if you'd like."

"You down with hip-hop, dawg?" another student asked.

Ted smiled and tilted his head curiously. "Hip-hop! What a fun phrase. HipHopHipHopHip--"

"Hey, you dissin' us?" someone interrupted.

"" Ted replied, judging by the tone and expression that 'dissin'" was something bad. "I'm just trying to understand this 'hip-hop' phraseology. I assume it involves hip movements and hopping up and down, though!"

"Breakin'?" one of the club members asked. "Poppin'? Lockin'?"

Ted looked at him in bemusement. "You all know a great deal of...interesting...words," he said slowly, "but I really don't have the first idea what any of them mean."

"Check this." A few of the kids stood up and began moving their bodies in abrupt maneuvers that were startlingly quick but also rhythmic. "That's hip-hop," one of them told Ted after they'd finished.

"I see!" Ted replied, grateful for the demonstration. He looked toward his phonograph and added, "I'm not sure I have any music that will fit that style of dance, though. Perhaps one of the harpsichord selections, if I alter the playing speed on the phonograph--"

"This ain't gonna fly," one of the club members said, shutting him down. "Best step off, shorty."

"Are you trying to tell me I can't join your dance troupe?" Ted asked. Everyone nodded. "Well, thank you for the opportunity!"

"Fo shizzle. Good luck with that whole...being weird thing you got goin' on, yo."

Ted grinned. "Likewise!"

After trying and failing with newspapers, Ted decided to try selling his story to a magazine instead. He got a response much sooner than expected: "Musings regrets that your material is unsuitable." He turned the letter over to look at the back, then turned it around again and peered at the single line.

"Hmm. Well, it's still more of a response than I got from either Waif or Val," he comforted himself. "I wonder if I should have read any of the issues before submitting my story?"

Thinking it over, he shook his head. "No. Better to move on to the next possibility." He consulted his list once again. "Oooh, basketball!"

"All right," Ted muttered to himself as he methodically dribbled the ball in preparation to making his shot. "First calculate the trajectory of the throw you're about to make...then determine the force required to reach the desired velocity...adjust for the horizontal and vertical movement of the ball to properly calibrate the arc...and go!"

Ted crouched slightly, tensing his arm muscles before springing up and pushing up with his hands to send the ball flying.

Except there was no ball.

Glancing around, Ted realized that while he'd been computing all of the necessary figures, someone had taken advantage of his distraction to steal the ball.

"Now, that hardly seems sportsmanlike!" Ted protested. "It was clearly my turn to throw the ball at the hoop!"

"That's not how basketball works," replied the player who had taken the ball from him. "Stealing the ball is allowed in this game."

"If I can't hold onto the ball indefinitely," Ted argued, "then I can't properly prepare my throw and I run the risk of missing!"

"Go call someone who gives a crap," the player snorted.

Ted considered this for a minute. "I think I see what you're saying," he finally said. "And thank you for the advice!"

"You're talking to Bing--"

"--and the Spatula Man--"

"--on Zeeeeee-93! All right, caller, now tell us why you're mental in the morning!"

Ted clutched the pay phone receiver tightly and cleared his throat before replying. "I tend to relate to the world in an intellectual capacity during most parts of the day, not just in the morning. Could you please be more specific?"

A few moments of dead air passed, then one of the DJs (Turkey Baster? Ted had already forgotten their names) let out an uproarious laugh. "Looks like we've got a real live nerd on the line today, Bing!"

"We sure do!" Boing chimed in unnecessarily.

"So, tell us, Professor Egghead--"

"That's Professor Aggressor, actually," Ted interrupted Cheese Grater. "Although I'm currently retired from wrestling."

"A brain that does sports?" Beep asked gleefully. "Now that's mental in the morning!"

"I disagree," Ted replied. "I've found that sports generally require a great deal of physical effort as opposed to mental. Of course, I haven't tried every sport yet. So far in addition to wrestling I've attempted volleyball, basketball, and--"

Lemon Zester sniggered. "So you like playing with balls, huh? Tell us more about that!"

"I'd be happy to elaborate! See, I've been trying to achieve a certain level of fame through athletic pursuits, but so far I've had little luck with print media. That's why I thought I'd try broadcast media instead!"

"Uh huh," said Bleep, giggling. "So when you play with balls, do you like to play by yourself or with other guys?"

Ted was beginning to suspect the two DJs weren't terribly focused on his plight. "Listen, are you two going to help me become a famous athlete or not?"

"Hey, if you wanna be a sports star in this town," said Garlic Press, "then you need to go for the big dog!"

Ted glanced over the list Ms. Li had given him but saw no sports that mentioned any kind of animal, canine or otherwise. "Are you referring to greyhound racing, perhaps? Because greyhounds tend to be quite lean, rather than big."

"I mean football, the only sport that really matters in Lawndale!" Boop was starting to sound frustrated, and his cheerful persona was beginning to slip.

"Oh, I understand now. Thank you for the suggestion! Now, when do we go on the air?"

The only response was a dial tone as the DJs disconnected the call.

Ted walked onto the football field that afternoon, ready to join the team as they prepared for practice. He approached the player who seemed to be in charge, a dark-haired young man with a happy grin who looked familiar. After a moment Ted recognized him as Kevin, Brittany's boyfriend. Ted knew from past encounters that he was also a chicken farmer and an amateur brain surgeon, so it was a surprise to find that he had time for extracurricular sports on top of his agricultural and medical duties.

"Hello!" he greeted Kevin, stepping forward with his hand outstretched to shake. "I don't know if you remember me, but I'm--"

Kevin turned to look at him and froze. The smile slid right off his face and the boy began to shake with fear. "Y-you're that grip who beat me at the geek contest!" he stammered, taking a few steps back.

"Um...okay, " Ted cheerfully replied. "But this time I'm here because--"

Yanking both hands out of sight behind his back, Kevin yelped, "I knew it! You're here to finish the job!" and took off in the opposite direction. He was looking over his shoulder at Ted, which meant he didn't see the little boy playing at the edge of the football field until after he'd tripped over him, sending them both sprawling. Kevin didn't look at the boy or apologize, but jumped up and kept running at full speed.

The little boy sat on the sidewalk, unhurt aside from a skinned knee, but an elderly man standing nearby waved his fist first at Kevin, then at Ted. "I saw the whole thing!" he shouted, then held up a camera and took a picture. "And now I have photographic evidence!"

Ted was still watching Kevin as he rapidly disappeared over the horizon. "--because I want to try out for the football team," he finally finished.

"The football team?" the old man yelped. "So it's a conspiracy, then! Well, we'll see about that!" Grabbing the little boy by the hand, he dragged him up the sidewalk and out of sight.

The other football players drifted off toward the locker room now that their leader had deserted them, and Ted was left alone on the field. "I give up," he finally said. "This whole sports star goal has been more trouble than it's worth, and I still have nothing to show for it."

The next morning, Ted stopped at Drugs 'N' Stuff to pick up a new pack of gum. When he passed the display of newspapers, he stopped in shock. There, in a slightly-out-of-focus photo, was his own face staring back at him.

"Lawndale Football Team Caught Victimizing Five-Year-Old Boy!" the headline read. Ted picked up the paper and saw that it was a newspaper he'd never heard of called the Lawndale Shopper. He skimmed eagerly through the article.

...conspiracy among the Lawndale Lions...vicious attack on an innocent child...entire football team the worst in Lawndale history...Lawndale High is clearly a school for losers...will make it my life's work to destroy the credibility of those horrible people....

Ted stared at the article, which went on to insult Lawndale High School in general and the football team in particular, thanks indirectly to him. Now the newspaper writer has an extreme distaste for the players, and he's taking his anger out on the entire school. Not only that, but because my photo is next to the article, everyone is sure to blame me for all of this. They'll see me as the worst thing that ever happened to them.

"Hooray!" he cheered. "They'll see me! At last, I've gotten the publicity I've been seeking!" He grabbed every single issue of the Lawndale Shopper and set them on the counter next to his gum. "I'll take all of these, please!" he told the clerk. "They're my ticket to fame...or rather infamy!"

Ted spent most of the school day distributing copies of the Lawndale Shopper, but he wasn't having much success. Most of the students he gave them to threw the papers away without even looking at them. A few kids glanced at them and grumbled something about tabloids or conspiracy nuts.

At last, after school that day one girl took the paper from him and looked through it, then suddenly squealed, "Oh, wow!"

"My thoughts exactly!" Ted exclaimed, thrilled that someone finally recognized his achievement. "Don't forget to tell all of your friends!"

"Of course I will!" the girl replied, pointing to a place in the newspaper that was nowhere near the article about Ted. "Cashman's is having a one-day sale! This is so great!"

The girl rushed off down the hallway, leaving Ted to contemplate yet another failure. As he continued toward the exit, he overheard someone saying, "How about if I call the three local TV stations and tell each one that the other two are running the story?"

He turned to see a crowd of people gathered around a girl--the same girl he'd seen in the news story about the track team!

"Damn," said Ms. Morris, one of the gym teachers. The crowd of people all turned their backs on the girl and walked away.

Ted looked at the girl, now standing alone. In spite of that article on the paper, she's become an outcast, Ted realized. She was even about to get herself featured on the TV news, and yet they all act like they can't see her...just like me!

The girl walked past Ted, looking unconcerned about the whole thing. He watched her go, suddenly feeling that he'd found a kindred spirit. "I understand exactly how you must feel," he said, trailing behind her. "Being ignored by people who once admired you, I mean. It's a troubling experience. If you ever need someone to talk to...."

But the girl continued on her way without turning around to look at him. It was almost as though something was preventing her from hearing him.

Ted sighed. Invisible even among the other invisibles. He tossed the remaining Lawndale Shoppers into a nearby garbage can. "Perhaps it's just as well," he mused to himself. "Having to sign all those autographs for adoring fans and endorse consumer products would really have cut into my arcade time."