Self-Image of a Codger

gym class

All through school I was someone who didn’t look forward to gym class. Competing with other boys at physical games, in races, and on tumbling mats was something for which I occasionally even faked illness to avoid.

mean coach

The ego-defeating experience in middle school of doing laps around the gym and hearing Coach Blint’s sarcastic dictum of “Come on, Fluffy, this ain’t no ballet!” has never left me, even in college, when I played tennis under the sneering instruction of Coach Barnes, who made us play outdoors in December snow wearing only our tennis shorts and polo shirts in order to “toughen” us up and mold us into “real men.” That last phrase, simplistic and primitive as it is, has always intimidated me to the point of often, in groups of other men, making me feel I’m attending a party to which I wasn’t really invited, and this is not in any way based upon other men trying to lower my self-esteem. There’s never anything deliberately inflicted that should make me feel subordinate. The feeling of inferiority is already inside me, where it cowers at talk about football and golf scores, both sports of which I would happily give up in favor of a root canal or mild case of melanoma.

Amazing snow in May! Sara Gettman

For these reasons I have generally gravitated socially toward groups of what society calls “men of academia,” that safe stratum of manhood where conversation hovers around the twists and turns of verbal communication more than around what I see as distant, impersonal, abstract talk about sports teams, not one of whose players I know by name or who knows me either. And that isn’t to say that an egghead can’t be an avid sports fan or a superb athlete can’t be intellectually gifted. Stereotypes work only part of the time, but somehow our society perpetuates a value system of people based too much upon black and white, overly conventionalized portraits of the way it believes men and women, respectively, are supposed to think and behave. No wonder there have been several feminist movements over the past century!

feminist movement

That brings me to the real reason for my writing this little essay. Though I’m not really much overweight, I’ve joined a gym, where I work out three mornings a week in order to tone up a body that, if left to its own devices, would eventually resemble a large potato. I’ve been working hard on the treadmill and on machines that provide resistance exercises targeting various muscles for this body, which will turn seventy this winter. The many men and women who work out there represent every possible age group and body type.

gym workoutsEverywhere are posted signs that read, “No Judgment,” a message upon which I hope everyone there focuses from time to time. The locker room and showers are where the unadorned truth is most evident about the degrees of sculpted beauty achieved by the many participants with bodies resembling everyone from Frodo Baggins in The Hobbit to Adonis from classical Greek mythology.


I remain somewhere between those two images and must leave it to the reader’s imagination to summon whatever appearance he can. Maybe by next spring my confidence will be sufficiently improved that even the insults of my old coaches can no longer prove a menace to me.   JB

About John

About John John Bolinger was born and raised in Northwest Indiana, where he attended Ball State University and Purdue University, receiving his BS and MA from those schools. Then he taught English and French for thirty-five years at Morton High School in Hammond, Indiana before moving to Colorado, where he resided for ten years before moving to Florida. Besides COME SEPTEMBER, Journey of a High School Teacher, John's other books are ALL MY LAZY RIVERS, an Indiana Childhood, and COME ON, FLUFFY, THIS AIN'T NO BALLET, a Novel on Coming of Age, all available on as paperbacks and Kindle books. Alternately funny and touching, COME SEPTEMBER, conveys the story of every high school teacher’s struggle to enlighten both himself and his pupils, encountering along the way, battles with colleagues, administrators, and parents through a parade of characters that include a freshman boy for whom the faculty code name is “Spawn of Satan,” to a senior girl whose water breaks during a pop-quiz over THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS. Through social change and the relentless march of technology, the human element remains constant in the book’s personal, entertaining, and sympathetic portraits of faculty, students, parents, and others. The audience for this book will certainly include school teachers everywhere, teenagers, parents of teens, as well as anyone who appreciates that blend of humor and pathos with which the world of public education is drenched. The drive of the story is the narrator's struggle to become the best teacher he can be. The book is filled with advice for young teachers based upon experience of the writer, advice that will never be found in college methods classes. Another of John's recent books is Mum's the Word: Secrets of a Family. It is the story of his alcoholic father and the family's efforts to deal with or hide the fact. Though a serious treatment of the horrors of alcoholism, the book also entertains in its descriptions of the father during his best times and the humor of the family's attempts to create a façade for the outside world. All John's books are available as paperbacks and Kindle readers on Amazon, and also as paperbacks at Barnes & Noble. John's sixth book is, Growing Old in America: Notes from a Codger was released on June 15, 2014. John’s most recent book is a novel titled Resisting Gravity, A Ghost Story, published the summer of 2018 View all posts by John →
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6 Responses to Self-Image of a Codger

  1. Mike says:

    Is it odd that after reading this post, I find humor in the fact you used a statue of Bacchus for your final image?

    • John says:

      Not odd at all. Actually, I was drinking a glass of wine as I finished the posting of the essay, and there were no pics of Adonis that looked as good. I wonder if anyone else will notice. Well done!

  2. chip bolinger says:

    I think that you are, like me, not a”guys guy”. It seems to run in our family bloodline. My friends have generally been women, most of my life. Jocks are jocks and relate to each other. There is nothing wrong with that, as there are many strata of different types.

  3. Jan says:

    Confidence comes from within, regardless of the outer circumstances. Self-confidence is not dependent upon our bodies, our income, or anything else. Deep down, we all know this but old programming keeps sabotaging our best intentions. Have patience with yourself, John, you’re on the right track. (No pun intended, 🙂 JP

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