Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Grammar Snobbery and Homophobia - A Boy's Life in the San Fernando Valley

It was on Keswick Avenue in Reseda in 1952 that I got my first inkling of how much fun grammar snobbery could be. A little girl from across the street — apparently the wrong, trailer trash, side of the street — came over and discovered that I had some sort of kiddie phonograph. “Can we play him records?” she excitedly asked my mother, who got great pleasure for days recounting this wanton confusion of pronouns.

My mother distrusted happiness — I think she imagined that it would be snatched from her without warning at any second, making her more miserable than if she hadn’t been joyful in the first place — and my dad did pretty much as he she told him to do. I desperately wanted to be allowed to stay up until 8:00 on Friday evening so that I could watch Superman, starring George Reeves, but was seldom allowed to. That extra half hour would surely have doomed me academically. Or maybe my parents were eager to be rid of me for the evening, though I don’t recall having been especially obnoxious. That would come later.

I have no recollection whatever of which records I may have had, but I do know that I fell in love with pop music in that house. It is of course very fashionable to denounce pre-Elvis pop as woeful treacle, but a lot of it touched my little heart. I found The Theme From Moulin Rouge (Where Is Your Heart?) heartbreakingly beautiful. Frankie Laine’s shamelessly melodramatic I Believe made me want to sign up for an organized religion. (My parents’ Jewishness was avidly secular.) Rosemary Clooney’s Hey There seemed a small miracle as an expression of resignation. “Though he won’t throw a crumb to you, you think some day he’ll come to you.” Glorious! “He has you dancing on a string. Break it and he won’t care!” How vividly the song evoked the heartlessness of the lover of the woman (one imagines!) being addressed! I learned to love melody, and to positively adore a beautiful melody with poignant, well observed lyrics riding on it.

I played with Stephanie, the girl next door. I would automatically assume the role of her brave protector, and she of the submissive protected. It’s horrifying to look back and see the extent to which we’d bought into the patriarchy even at five and six. I would like to imagine that Stephanie went on to a distinguished career in medical research.

I needed a brave protector of my own. I got in a great many fights, and seemed rarely to win one.  The closest I came was the last one, with Mike Schultz, from the other next door. There was fear in his eyes until he got me in the neck. I couldn’t breathe, and withdrew, little knowing that it marked the end of my fistfighting career. Having realized that I might be seriously hurt, and never daring to hope that I might do some serious hurting of my own, I thereafter declined to put ‘em up, and lost any trace of self-respect in the process.

Every time my parents interacted with other young homeowners, there would be hell to pay the next morning. My dad, from whom I inherited my need for constant affirmation, invariably would have appointed himself the life of the party, and my mother would have felt neglected. If there wasn’t much traffic, you might have heard her raging at him in Van Nuys.

We went in 1953 to see Fourth of July fireworks being shot off in a nearby park. Two gay men there apparently weren’t as covert about their fondness for each other as the times demanded, and many of the menfolk growled ominously about what they intended to Do About It. I remember no one being harmed, though I realize now that I myself was, psychologically. First the patriarchy, and now homophobia! It was a darned good thing there were no persons of color in Reseda, as I’d probably have been taught to fear and disdain them too.  



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