Friday, January 9, 2015

1956: Going Rogue, and Knocking Out My Own Front Teeth

In 1956, Elvis took the country by storm. My parents weren’t sold on this being a wonderful thing. I was slightly too young to take their ambivalence as a cue to start modeling myself after the great man. Others, either older or more sophisticated than I, had no such misgivings, and there arose in my part of the word — Westchester, near the new high school — a new archetype, the rogue. His (there were no roguettes, so far as I knew, not that I knew much at all) hair was slick with grease, and his sideburns obscenely long — sometimes nearly to the bottom of his ear. He wore his blue jeans too low (and around a foot higher than modern homies), and was prone to random acts of violence. In other necks of the woods, he might have been called a greaser, I suppose, or a hoodlum. I dreaded him, as I’d been led to believe he would beat dutiful little Jewish boys senseless on sight.

At Loyola Village School, several boys with rogue or rogue wannabe older brothers or dads started wearing their trousers very low, and to discard their belts. Those in Charge ordained that any boy caught without a belt would be required, humiliatingly, to wear a length of twine instead. Naturally, a length of twine immediately became a coveted badge of honor. I’d never realized before how spectacularly clueless grownups could be, though of course no one used the word clueless in those days.

The problem I had with bicycle-riding was that I’d failed to notice that one’s forward momentum precluded his falling over to either side. It seemed to me that my getting up a good head of steam put me in greater jeopardy of a painful fall, rather than less. My dad got fed up quite quickly with my timidity, adding my fear of his growing anger to my existing terror. And then we stirred in a little guilt. I (that is, a Hughes Aircraft Co. staff artist my dad had enlisted for the job) won a shiny new Schwinn bicycle in the local Thrifimart’s coloring contest. I was sleepless the night before I was to be presented with my prize wondering what I'd do if they asked, "Well, don't you want to take 'er for a little spin?" Not yet nine years old, and already so full of terror and self-loathing it was a wonder I could get into my scrupulously beige jeans.

Of course, it wasn’t just the self-loathing that made me, to my infinite horror, require jeans in a size their manufacturers called…Husky. It was also that my mother derived no pleasure whatever from cooking, and that we filled up each night on sweets. I got a little bit portly, which of course looked more to many of my classmates like obscenely obese. Another brick in the wall!

I did what any self-respecting self-loather would do: injured myself, taking a face-first dive off the infernal shiny new Schwinn one morning after my dad, hopelessly frustrated and seething, threw up his hands and left me alone to learn (or, more likely) fail to learn at my own pace. I knocked out my two front teeth, and came home bloody. How do you like your handsome, hopelessly fucked-up little boy now, Mommy and Daddy?

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