Presidential Fitness Test

Reading Danielle Friedman’s Learning to Love Fitness, Despite Dreading Gym Class, and the discussion on I’m reminded how that had a huge, positive effect on my mental health and self esteem back in fourth grade or so.

The first year we were doing the tests, we would do one or two each gym class twice a week for a couple of weeks. I remember the day we had the pull up test very well. The teacher went over the process, climb up the ladder, palms away, swing out and pull up. Girls could just hang and each second counted as one pull up. A few boys tried, and these bigger kids, they had been held back. First one got zero and he was working and working. Next one struggled and got one. We find out that we’re expected to do 1. If we do three, than that’s excellent.

We ask the teacher if anyone had done three yet, because one looks really really hard. A six grader the day before did nine. Nine! That kid must’ve been superman or something.

Now it’s my turn, and I’m dreading it. I’m undersized and not good at baseball and soccer or the other organized games we play in gym class. This is just going to be a shit show. I’m just going to hang there, probably less time than some of the girls, and fall and break my arm or something.

I grab the bar, swing out and try to pull my head up to the bar. And I just go right up. I lower myself down, I go up again, and down and up and down and up. The class is counting along I get to nine and I just let go. I’m not a big sixth grader, I’m not supposed to have done that many. Nine is obviously at the the limits of what is humanly possible. I’d better just stop now.

The teacher asks “Could you do more?”


“Get back up and do more.”

So get back on the bar and I do more. After 16 more my arms are getting tired and I struggle out two more.

I may not be good at a lot of the physical activities, but, in this little microcosm of a 100 student elementary school, I’m extremely good at doing pull ups. And going forward, I’ll think maybe I’m good at other things things too if I try.


I’m listening, and enjoying the Cobain 50 podcast from KEXP. Nirvana was a very important force on my life from basically mid-1993 until present day. I figured, to borrow a phrase from Alex Steed, here are the various lights this band has shined on my human existence.


I first heard Nirvana, like many people my age, around October 1991 when Smells Like Teen Spirit was breaking. I was mostly listening to some urban radio station from Albany at the time because it would play rap quite a bit, which I dug at the time. The hitch was I could only get the signal at night and I had some elaborate antenna setup to at least get a signal without static. I remember that and Enter Sandman by Metallica were getting a lot of play. Both of those songs were discussed quite a bit with my Jr. High friends. Even at this early point, understanding the lyrics was a frustration point.

I picked up Nevermind a little after Come As You Are was released as a single. My parents would take a trip to the Plattsburg Air Force base every six months or so to stock up on tax free generic branded cigarettes. The base also had a PX with a fairly large record / tape / CD section. I had $10 or so, and after picking out some “exotic” snacks, I had enough left over to get a tape. Embarrassingly I picked up the “MackDaddy” by Sir Mix-a-lot, but the lady at the checkout would not let me buy it because it had the parental advisory sticker. Running out of time, I grabbed Nevermind, which was my second choice. The two hour ride home, listening to that, was pretty intense. I was not sure what to make of the whole second side and the swirly, out of focus pictures on the insert. I had originally lumped them in with the other long haired rock that I had been exposed to at the time: Guns and Roses, Def Leppard, Whitesnake, etc. But this… this was not like those at all.

I also remember I got some new basketball shoes that promptly fell apart that evening after I got home and went to play at the nearby court. They lasted all of about 15 minutes. Not related to Nirvana, but I’m still disappointed in those shoes to this day.


In the summer of 1993 a friend gifted me a copy of Incesticide on cassette. I spent a lot of time on car and bus rides flipping the tape over switching between Sliver and Aneurysm. However, it was the liner notes that really stuck with me and I guess started my radicalization. And who are The Raincoats? What’s maximumrocknroll? So many questions.

I also remember being late for school the day the Hearth Shaped Box video premiered. I thought it was so amazing. REMs Losing My Religion, I think, premiered around the same time. I was late for school that day as well. Pretty wild time for music videos looking back on it.


For Christmas in 1993 I received a gift certificate for the record store in the mall. Now, back in those days music came on physical media and the closest place to purchase said media was a 30 minute drive away, and the trip was only made on special occasions. Such as redeeming Christmas presents. This would’ve been the first or second weekend in 1994. I picked up In Utero, on CD this time as I had job which afforded me this upgrade. But still 90% of my listening was through dubbed tapes on a no-name walkman with the earbuds from a Gameboy. And let me tell you, it was the belief at the time that tapes dubbed yourself from CDs were audibly better than purchased tapes.

While at the mall, I also wandered to the the Walden Books that was a couple of stores away. I found “Come As Your Are”, Michael Azerrad’s book, which I also purchased after reading through the first chapter or so in the store. On the way home, we stopped at the Pizza Hut right down the street from the mall for dinner and I still remember the whole scene. Dim lights, the semi-translucent red plastic cups with a pitcher of Pepsi and I’m reading my new book while waiting first for our order to be taken, and then for the pizza to arrive. It’s a little past 5pm but it’s already dark outside and it’s warm enough that the snow is melted a bit and you can hear the sounds of the cars on the wet road outside. I’ve gotten to the chapter about Kurt’s childhood, and I’m basically reading about my own, but of someone 10 years older. It was obviously 100% the same, but enough for me to realize, for the first time in my life, that someone else has gone through a lot of the same shit I had. And had apparently gotten out alive (…so far) and thrived. I now had the permission? strength? to. be. myself.


By March 1994 I had scrounged up a guitar and took the requisite 2 lessons. During the first one, the important information that I actually had to push the strings into the frets to make a sound was imparted unto me along with some simple chord shapes. Second lesson was how to play Red River Valley and another song that I forget at this point. But that was enough to figure out that at least the verse part of Pennyroyal Tea was within the bounds of the 3 or 4 chords I now knew.


About a month later, and about 30 years from when I’m writing this now, a group of friends and I were playing cards in my living room when a Kurt Loder came on TV, barely keeping his shit together, to announce the Kurt Cobain had killed himself.

Yet another moment in this story that is forever burned in my memory. That was the exact moment when my “childhood” ended and the process of my becoming the adult I am began. And I don’t think I’m alone in that experience.

Strangely, I’d be sitting in the same seat, and hear about in the same way, about other deaths over the next couple of years. Kristen Pfaff, Shannon Hoon and Jerry Garcia being the most notable.


During the summer of 1994 I discovered The Sound Barrier, a skate shop that also had a small CD section (where I finally found The Raincoats!!! and Bikini Kill and The Ramones) and magazines including Flipside, Punk Planet and Maximiumrockandroll. Through this I found that an actual real punk rock band, Rancid, would be touring and had a show a mere 100 miles away. This was the show when AFI was opening and Davey hit his head on the ceiling. Yes, I was actually at that show. Apparently everyone and their mother was there, but it was Saratoga Winners opening for Rancid and I still have the ticket stub somewhere. Bite me.

Through the magazines I also discovered the network of indie labels and mail order. And that brought me lifelong loves like Elliott Smith and Sleater Kinney.

The next few years were a whirlwind. I started a band that went nowhere. Started a fanzine that was a lot of fun and also went nowhere. It did get me a very short stint at MMRnR a little bit after Tim Yo passed, before life intervened on my end and I ended up staying in Vermont.

I also found that one of, if not the best, of the country’s small rock venues was only 75 miles away. Club Toast in Burlington. I would make a trip up 2 or 3 times a month to catch touring bands like L7, Pansy Division, NothingFace, Pavement, etc. Along with local bands like Five Seconds Expired, Chainsaws and Children, Zola Turn and bands from Burlington’s sister city, Boston like Tree, Clutch, and the mighty Sam Black Church. Oh, and a little band called Dropkick Murphys. I wonder what happened to them?

Being dirt poor due to spending so much money on gas, I somehow finagled a “job” of helping with sound and after show cleanup. I was paid the amount of whatever the admission was that night plus free soda, which seemed like a good deal at the time. This carried over to Higher Ground when that opened in Winooski and 242 Main.

Two funny 242 stories.

Story 1

In the early 2000’s Burlington High School banned same sex couples from attending Prom, so Le Tigre put on a Queer Prom the same night at 242. It was actually just a nice coincidence as they already had the show booked, but took advantage of the opportunity. I was not aware of this prior to the show, and brought a friend who was somewhat homophobic. I figured it out pretty early on what was happening, but he took a while to catch on. The look on his face when he did brought me such joy.

Story 2, the second story

The Misfits were booked to play 242 and during my drive up, I saw so many cards with Misfits stickers I knew it was going to be a big show. I had some other event that evening but stopped by 242 early anyways to say hi and help if I could. A little while after I arrived, the Misfits arrived as well, in full costume. This is hours before showtime. We’re in the venue and the Misfits are saying “Is this the dressing room? It’s too small.”

“You’re already dressed? This is the venue, the stage is right there.”

“No, no this won’t do. We can maybe make this work as the dressing room, but we need somewhere bigger to play. Thousands of people will be here.”

So we start talking to the Memorial Auditorium. The full upstairs is booked for some other thing, but the Annex is available. We take them over there.

“Again, this is way too small.”

“This holds 2500 people, it’ll be fine.”

“Nope, it won’t work. Is there anyplace to eat around here? We’ll grab dinner while you sort this out.”

And they leave. “I guess the show’s cancelled.”

Then I’m walking up Church Street and there’s some Misfits fans in full regalia eating outside at Main Street Pizza. “Hey! Did you find a place for us to play yet?”. Oh, those aren’t Misfit fans, those are the Misfits. Eating pizza. Outside on the street. Looking like fucking idiots.


All that stuff above? Who I am now? It never happens if Nirvana doesn’t break into the mainstream, gets played on Top 40 stations, and some lost kid in Podunk Vermont gets exposed to it.

Jack in the Box

Another early memory I have is either six months before or after the previous story. I remember a Christmas Tree, and I remember being in the living room at my aunt Catherine’s house. My frame of reference is for time is that they stopped putting the tree in the living room by the time I was 3. So I was 1 or 2 at the time.

My uncles were trying to get me to play with a Jack-in-the-box, but I wanted no part of it. I wanted to play with some other toy. I would start to crawl away, but they kept grabbing me, sitting me down in front of the box, cranking the handle very sloooowly so the music would drunkenly warble out until Jack finally made his grand entrance. I remember going through the routine at least three times, getting more and more annoyed each time until finally someone started crying. I partially glad that someone else was sick of this crap too. It took me a bit to realize that I was actually the one who was crying.

I found the jack in the box a few years later down in my aunt’s basement. I smashed it all up and scattered the remains in the neighbor’s yards.

The houses

One of my first memories was of being washed in the kitchen sink. From my new, elevated point of view I could see across the kitchen to the refrigerator and actually to the top of it. And I saw houses up there. I was amazed! Was it a town? It couldn’t be, it’s too small. I remember telling my mother to take a look at it “Mom! Houses! There’s houses up there!” My mother just gave a quick look over her shoulder and ignored me so I dropped it.

A while later, my birthday arrived and what wonderful gifts I was given! My room had been re-done! There had been a strange hallway between my room and the upstairs bathroom. No real purpose for it now that I think back, it just cut into my room for no reason. Anyways, one wall of the hallway had been removed making my room about 4′ longer and my parents had built a little city scape on the floor where the hallway had been. All manners of roads and railroad tracks for my to drive my matchbox cars on. Oh, and there’s a large wooden toy box built in too, what’s in the toy box? All the houses I saw on top of the refrigerator ! I guess my mom wasn’t very happy that I had “found” my presents.

A few interesting facts that go along with this story. I was only about 20 months old during the first part, and I didn’t start talking until I was 3 1/2. My parents actually thought I was deaf for quite a while since I wasn’t speaking or paying much attention to them. When I thought I was telling my mother that I saw houses, my mother contends I was actually just saying “Uhh! UHHH!” I also remember my father telling me not to go into the hallway before it was torn down. He told me there were nails and broken glass in there. I do remember walking through the hallway, before or after the warning, I’m not sure but there was lots of dust, dirt and random junk on the floor.