“SAUNDERS! THAT’S FILTHY! GET IN HERE.”
The bellowing voice belonged to Ron Krall, my P.E. coach at Richmond Senior High School in Rockingham. He’d overheard me profanely regaling classmates in the locker room after class with some no-doubt made-up or greatly exaggerated story or dirty joke.
“Locker room talk” has gotten a bad rap in recent weeks, and trust me, Virginia, it deserves it.
Krall yanked me into his office and proceeded to peel the paint from its walls with his words – words which, incidentally, were still not as bad as mine. Much of what he said remains unforgettable and unprintable 40 years later, but last I heard, NORAD – the North American Aerospace Defense Command – reported seeing a blue streak zooming past in outer space.
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That was probably Krall’s words.
“Saunders,” he said, seething, his face inches – no, an inch – from mine, “you’re the only person I know whose maturity level has actually regressed in four years.”
That’s verbatim, hoss, because when an authority figure says something like that to your teenaged self, you don’t forget it.
He then accused me of trying to socially and educationally sabotage my classmates, and said that whatever potential he thought he’d seen in me four years earlier in ninth grade had been just a mirage.
During those four years, there was no way you could have convinced me that Coach Krall didn’t have it in for me, didn’t hate my guts, didn’t lie awake nights trying to figure out how to make my life miserable. I swear, each time I did something wrong – which was pretty much each time I did something – there he was, jumping down my throat with his black coach’s shoes on or, worse, silently shaking his head in disappointment.
It was a decade, maybe two, after high school graduation before I realized that the dude didn’t hate me, may, in fact, have liked me or – even more amazingly – cared about me.
Whatever he was, he wasn’t indifferent.
I never got around to thanking Krall, who played football at N.C. State University, so I’m thanking him now. Thanks, you #$%&*!
I did get to thank Elder James Turner, though, after he did a Krall and crawled all over me one bright, sunny, summer day. My best friend, Li’l John, and I were walking up Stewart Street while engaging in one of our favorite pastimes – trying to see which of us could most loudly levy the vilest insult at the other.
Unbeknownst to us, Elder Turner, pastor of the local sanctified church, had just moved into the house on the corner.
“Hey, boy. Come over here!” he demanded after bursting out of the house. Li’l John and I went for bad back in those days, but it never occurred to us not to meekly go to him.
His words – like Krall’s – were unforgettable.
“Don’t you ever walk down this street cussing like that again. I’ve got a wife and children in there,” he said.
When he turned us loose, I don’t think John or I spoke – let alone cursed – for the rest of the day.
Where kids pick up potty-mouth must be organic, because neither of my grandparents who raised me ever uttered anything close to a profanity. When I was about 10, I did something so profoundly stupid that it provoked a “damn” or “hell” from my mother – and she spent 10 minutes apologizing to me for it afterward.
She was unaware that my buddies and I said worse things than that in our sleep.
Of the hundreds of locker rooms I’ve been in, though, never, at any time, have I heard one single person boast of sexually assaulting women. Not one. I’m confessing my peccadillo now just in case some audiotape of that long-ago locker room incident emerges when I run for something.
If a certain presidential candidate had had a P.E. coach like Ron Krall jump down his throat wearing black coach’s shoes at 17 – or a neighbor like Elder Turner who jacked him up – perhaps he wouldn’t have been captured being filthy on a hot microphone on a bus at 59.