“There’s No God in America,” by CJ Hallman

Feb 20th, 2009 | By | Category: Prose

When we bitch and moan, Coach always goes, “There’s no ‘I’ in Team, and there’s no ‘God’ in America.”

Then he makes us run laps.

My parents tried to get me into the Catholic school; I passed the entrance exam and wrote an essay entitled, “My Relationship with Jesus” and everything but then they got divorced and my dad took off to Wyoming with this woman he met at a kitchenware store; they bonded over nonstick pans and next thing you know, he was making her omelets, and then my mom and I were alone in California with no money.

I don’t even know why Coach makes us do this. You know, he’ll say, Give me ten laps, but we do four, at most, and slowly, so it seems like enough time has passed for us to have done ten. Coach doesn’t watch us anyway. He just stares at his clipboard or at his shoelaces. Mark Martin said that Coach was declared mentally retarded by the State and that even though he is thirty-one, he still lives with his mother, and that the school gave him the job as P.E. Coach as an act of charity because he was too functional, physically, to go on Disability. Mark’s mom is on PTA with Coach’s sister-in-law, who doesn’t have kids but likes the idea of motherhood. So I’m guessing it’s probably true.

Dad took our dog with him; sent a postcard with a picture of a Sasquatch on it a couple months ago and signed it as the dog; Love Always, Mr. Cuddles. I realized then that I probably deserved to lose my dog because I had given him a cat’s name. My dad sucks. But long story short, the tuition was too high at St. James and Mom thinks public schools are for teen prostitutes and FFA hicks, so I wound up at Ackerson Atheist Junior High, running laps.

The only guy who ever does the assigned amount of laps is Amos. We call him Famous Amos, like the cookies. He’s pretty much the fattest guy in the ninth grade, but the boy can run. He flies past us all, with his jiggly stomach and his LA Lights that flash every time his soles slap the floor. The third or fourth day of class, when we were stretching our hamstrings, Trent leaned over and was like, Dude, do they even still sell those shoes anywhere? And Famous Amos just shrugged and said his mom bought them on Ebay. A couple days later, Trent said he had looked up Famous Amos’s mom’s Ebay profile and found out that she had, like, thousands of sales. Trent figures she’s probably a self-made millionaire and that the LA Lights must be a collectible item, especially considering the way Famous Amos only wears them when we do indoor activities. He wears Nikes like the rest of us when we go outside in the dirt field to do free recreation or play flag football. He’s alright; my first instinct is to make fun of him for being such a Lardass, but he always brings extra cans of Coke in his backpack and he gives them to the people who sit at his table in the cafeteria, so I keep my mouth shut. Like I said, he’s alright. My mom won’t let me bring Coke to have at lunch because she thinks it’ll explode and I’ll get In-School Suspension for making a mess of the cafeteria. Famous Amos’s mom is worth millions so she probably doesn’t worry that much about stupid things like that.

We finish the laps, four for us and ten for Famous Amos, and we all sit down, Indian-style, on the out-of-bounds line on the gym floor. Coach goes into the supply closet then comes back out and tells us to stand up and line up against the wall, facing him. He has a baseball bat in one hand and the handle of a big old bucket of baseballs in the other. He sets the bucket down beside him and it thuds on the floor. God, I wish I was at home playing video games right now.

We stand there waiting, seventeen boys in white or gray t-shirts and black or blue shorts, dress code regulation. We have to have our last name printed on the back of our shirt in Magic Marker or iron-on letters so Coach can tell us apart. He tosses a ball in the air and hits it to us to field, I guess, but we aren’t even on a field because it’s raining outside and he didn’t give us any gloves anyway. Cut-backs, I heard the two art teachers talking in the halls one day, can’t afford vital educational equipment like sable natural bristle paintbrushes and Prisma Colors pencils anymore; stuck with these Goddamn Crayolas; who will these kids grow up to be?

I guess they can’t afford baseball gloves now either. I told Mom about the overheard conversation the day I heard it, over another takeout dinner from John’s Burgers and More; I wanted Mrs. Flowers to get in trouble with the school board for cursing in the hallway in earshot of students because she gave me a freaking B on my still life drawing of a fungusy toenail from a pharmaceutical ad, but Mom just shrugged like she didn’t care and chewed her cheeseburger with her mouth open and said, Creativity is all from your head anyway, and, Let them do what they have to do to keep the Goddamn Tuition down.

 That first ball bounces off the wall and it hits me in the back of the shoulder. Godammit. I hate junior high. You know, every other town starts high school in ninth grade; we are the only one I know of that starts at tenth.

Another ball bounces against the wall. One hits the backboard of the basketball hoop, and goes right back toward Coach. He dodges it and it bounces on the floor and finally rolls to a stop behind him, and he pulls his mesh shorts up so his pink thigh is all exposed, raw chicken meat in the bad gym lighting, and goes right back into the hitting stance like he’s Alex Rodriguez or someone flashy like that.

Coach’s thigh reminds me of that day in the locker room when Eric Saunders started telling us that his Dad took him into San Francisco to audition for some kids’ toothpaste commercial, and we were all like, Are you serious? A kids’ toothpaste commercial? Does he know you’re fourteen? And then Famous Amos interrupted and goes, The bubblegum flavored stuff? I love that stuff! And Eric just kind of didn’t answer, said his age wasn’t the point, that he blew the audition anyway, forgot all his lines, and he tells us that after the audition his Dad took him to some fancy organic food restaurant to cheer him up and they sat down to eat and right in the middle of his couscous and free range chicken, he tells us that he looks over to the next table and sees this guy who looks a lot like Michael Moore wearing super short khaki shorts and that his right testicle was just right there in the open air. And Famous Amos goes, I bet that was Michael Moore. His mom being a millionaire, he’s probably pretty up to date with where celebrities hang out. And we all just kind of tied our shoes and stored that little tidbit away. You know; acting, San Francisco, some guy’s ball; all adds up to gay. Someone must have said something to him later because after that, Eric started changing in the stalls. One day Trent peeped in the little gap between the door and the stall wall and goes, Hey, Saunders, everything coming out okay? Like he was taking a shit in there. Trent’s a real riot, but I think we were all secretly a bit jealous that Eric met Michael Moore.

God, my shoulder hurts. I hate gym class.

Coach’s bat cracks against another ball, and Mark says he’s going to tell his mom about this, the latest in Coach’s bad judgment calls, and she will tell everyone on the PTA, and then they’ll fire Coach for being a jackass. It’s a nice enough thought, but I don’t think it will help. You know, last week, the girls’ P.E. coach, Coach Debbie, was absent and they combined our classes for the day and Coach made us wrestle the girls. The worst part was that the girls won every single match. Derek said it’s no wonder they won because they’re always eating yogurt and drinking smoothies, both of which are packed with hormones that make them stronger or whatever, and all we do is drink Famous Amos’s cans of Cokes and eat Salisbury steak and taquitos. Derek’s big into science and nutrition and knows that stuff. I don’t care if I’m not strong; I mean, yeah, I’d rather not eat Salisbury steak, but that’s what they serve on Tuesdays and my Mom sure as hell isn’t going to pack me a lunch. But I don’t care. I’m not here to be good at gym class or wrestle girls, I’m here so I can be done with one of the required PE credits and move on to the high school where they have better P.E. credit choices like Marching Band or Yoga. My mom wouldn’t care what the PTA said about bad judgments or inappropriateness anyway; she just wants me to be done with this private junior high so she can quit paying the Goddamn Tuition. If she had a choice, though, I think she’d keep paying the Goddamn Tuition so I’d have A Chance in Life, but there’s only one high school in town, and its public, and everyone goes there, like a three year social mixer; Catholics, Atheists, even that girl, Becky, from the public junior high school, who took fertility drugs she bought from a catalogue she found beside the crapper and got pregnant with triplets and was a guest on the Maury Povich show.

Coach keeps hitting balls and I kind of just shut my brain off. I’m lucky; I don’t get hit again. A line drive bounces off the brick gym wall and slams Mark right in the back of the noggin. Mark kind of screams a little, like he’s trying not to sound like a sissy but like Mom says, Trying Isn’t Doing. Coach hits one more ball, then drops the bat on the gym floor and it sounds like a nonstick pan hitting a cartoon character’s head. Coach goes, Famous Amos! Drag Mark to the nurse! and Eric! You go with them! But Mark goes, No, not the Ball Boy. And Coach just looks all confused, not all that different from how he usually looks and he scratches all up in his armpit and goes, Fine, Someone else go. So I step forward and a minute later, me and Famous Amos are excused from gym, escorting Mark, who is crying like a titty bitch, to the nurses’ office.

When we get there, Famous Amos asks the nurse if he can take his insulin early since he’s already here, and she goes, Sure, like they’re old friends or something, and I’m just standing there while Famous Amos is shooting shit into his veins and the nurse is acting like it’s normal and Mark is crying into the nurse’s shirt printed with green flamingos, when everyone knows perfectly well that flamingos aren’t green.

This kind of stuff always happens to me, you know it? Private school sucks.

After the ball hit him, Mark blacked out for a minute, or so he says to the school nurse as she fills out the accident report after he finally stops crying; but he never fell down or anything, stayed standing up the whole time, so being the skeptic I am, I seriously doubt it.

I want to go home and eat a burger. I want to go home and watch Maury Povich.

The nurse tells me and Famous Amos to go back to gym. She gives Famous Amos a cinnamon hard candy as we’re leaving, for his Diabetes I guess, and Mark just lays down on the paper-covered nurse’s bench, excused from class, waiting for his mom to come pick him up early. We get back to gym and everyone’s still lined up and Coach is still hitting balls and there’s a good fifteen minutes left before the bell rings.

Goddamn it all, I yell to no one. My words bounce off the gym walls and Coach stops hitting balls and goes, “Boys! There’s no ‘I’ in Team, and there’s no ‘God’ in America!”

And then we’re running laps again.


Tragically, CJ Hallman’s fiction is deeply rooted in fact. Triumphantly, writing has (thus far) kept her out of the loony bin. Next comes the story about the time she lost her eyebrow on a shopping mall merry-go-round. Also, her creative work has recently appeared in Identity Theory and SP Quill, among others.

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