At the start of our senior year of high school, my friend Anna and I discovered we’d neglected to earn the gym credits required to graduate. In a kind of accelerated recovery process, we were forced to enroll in Weightlifting with half of the Golden Wave, Tupelo High’s middling football team. Our class met daily at 7am and was run by a man called Coach Funk, who wore zip-off track pants and told us on the first day that he’d “loved high school so much he’d never wanted to leave.”
Anna and I managed okay, largely because Coach Funk stationed us at the bench press closest to the exit. Being outside his field of vision, we could mime our way through the warmups and spend the rest of the morning doing the previous night’s homework for classes that, you know, had homework. Could we lift more than a textbook? No, but we got really good at letting commotion melt into white noise. We memorized flash card-Spanish as metal barbells clattered onto concrete floors and Coach Funk jeered at the benchwarmers. We churned out five-paragraph essays on Lord of the Flies as real-life adolescent boys derided each other’s virility all around us.
I can’t say that in my years in Florence I’ve ever been reminded of Coach Funk, weightlifting class, or my onetime ability to tune out grating noises and get work done. Until a recent Friday at 7am. The apartment directly above mine has long been empty and uninhabitable, but that morning, I heard an end-of-the-world thud and an eruption of male voices that gave me Tupelo High gym flashbacks broken up by Florentine expletives. Peering into the hallway, I spotted a grim-looking notice taped by the mailboxes; any document that begins with “Spettabile Condominio”, as you’ll know, always spells trouble. This one announced that a crew was beginning work on installing new plumbing and electricity systems in the apartment upstairs. Expected duration of renovations: 60 days. So, 200, give or take.
The timing is comically bad, as I’ve just begun working from home. Turns out when you make that transition, regular old writer’s block transforms into freelancer’s shock—at how disturbing the quiet can be, how alone with your thoughts you can sometimes feel. Hearing the daily drop-and-drill rituals of this crew of Coach Funk-like Florentines feels like a sure enough pendulum swing. It’s unfortunate I can’t summon the sound-canceling concentration of my 17-year-old self, now that I’m older and my work is harder. But maybe this will be good training, the way weightlifting is supposed to be. I still sit close to the exit for when it gets to be too much.
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