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The Pendulum
by Leon Baxter
TheSyndicatedNews columnist

I attended junior high school in a smoky, backwoods town, with a population of maybe 800 in the redwood forests of California during the very early eighties. Now, we didn’t have a lot going on in our community. We played Atari, built forts, talked about a new TV channel called MTV. But, what really made waves in our mountain town was fashion and sports.

I was on the school track and field team. Our team was the best in the county. We held almost every record and every year for at least a decade won the county championships. And, I was an up-and-coming star. I ran the anchor on our 440-relay team, did the long jump, high jump, triple jump, 100-yard dash and the 70-yard hurdles.

I was good at sprints and jumping, but the second area of importance in our town was where I was lacking… fashion. Looking back now, I was a fashion misfit, but more importantly, even in the eyes of the fashionally-challenged early eighties, I was still a disaster. My clothes all came from second-hand shops. My hair was a white-boy’s afro, combed down upon my head making me into a walking mushroom. My teeth were crooked, freckles and pimples decorated my face. And my braces were the icing on the cake.

But, I did try to fit in. Now, I don’t know if it was a 1982 thing, or just a mountain-hick statement, but at the time, it was very chic for young men to wear boxer shorts under their everyday shorts. But, not just any “everyday shorts”. Your everyday shorts had to be shorter than your boxers. That way the bottom of your boxers could hang out of your regular shorts. It was “a look”. It was cool. And, I had to do whatever I could to have some class. So, of course I followed suit.

Now, I didn’t want to stifle my underwear fashion to just the school corridors. I was most noticed at the weekly track meets. So, what better place to show the world how fashionable I was?

It was three weeks before the championship meet. I still had to qualify to compete in the big show. So, today’s, hurdle race was important. I looked at my competition. I’d raced against most of them before. And, the ones I’d raced, I’d beaten. There was just one fellow, from a school from the nearby city (any town with a population of more than 3,000 was a city to us). He was lined up on my right. I gave him a quick look. He was shorter than I, a little stockier. Nice hair, though (had that Farrah Fawcett feathered thing going on that I so envied). I was sure I could take him.

The gun fired and I was off. The 70-yard hurdles is a fast race, over in a matter of seconds, so each step is crucial for victory. By the first hurdle, I’d left most of my competitors a few paces behind me. By the next, there was no way they could catch me. But, there on my right, just a step behind me was Farrah. I soared over hurdle number three, and I could feel his breath on my neck. I knew there would be no room for error in this race if I wanted to qualify for the championships. No missteps, no deviations, no extraneous motion. Every movement was crucial and had to help me reach my goal.

My foot hit the dirt as I cleared hurdle number four. That’s when they made their move. Upon hitting the ground, the “twins” in my shorts shifted. I could feel my boxers riding up a bit. There was one hurdle left in front of me, then the finish line. Farrah was right on my tail. I needed to shift “the boys” to ensure they kept their identities hidden. But, I knew that the movement would throw off my lead. And, I couldn’t risk it. With just one hurdle left, what are the odds that they would make their debut?

I sailed over hurdle number five… and that’s when “the brothers” decided to get some fresh air. There I was, in the closest race of my life, leaping in the air, with my gonads flapping in the breeze. I hit the ground, ignored the slapping of my leg and broke the tape. Immediately I shoved everyone back where they belonged, then I bent down, hands on my knees, breathing hard, feigning exhaustion, when in reality, I was trying to muster the strength to face my teammates, the student body, faculty, opponents, and parents.

I stood up and headed for the stands. No one was staring. No one was laughing. A couple of “Nice race”s and “Good run”s, but that was it. Maybe no one had noticed. Maybe I was moving so fast that it was all a blur. I took a seat in the bleachers waiting for the high jump to start, when Tricia and Aurora approached. I’d known them both since fourth grade. They were brash and popular. Tricia, complimented me, “Nice race”. Then Aurora blurted something along the lines of “dangling wind-chimes”. Tricia pushed her in a “don’t be mean” sort of way.

But, it was too late. I was mortified, to say the least. How many people had noticed? Well, the rest of the year, no one talked about my thrift store clothes, my explosion of hair, or my freckle-face. Instead I was known as “The Pendulum”. We won the county championships again. I broke four school records and two county wearing my new Fruit of the Loom briefs.

I may not have been fashionable, but I was no fool.

Leon Scott Baxter is a West Coast writer who lives with his wife and two daughters in California. To see more of his work, go to

Published: Oct 10,2008 17:40
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