Retro Week on Facebook has me thinking about my childhood. OK, that's a bald-faced lie (or is it a bold-faced lie?) (the Google just told me that both are acceptable...go figure). I've always had the stories of my childhood swirling around in my head and pouring out of my mouth directly into the Ape's ears. So, this is nothing new.
Since I show so much skin in most of my photos, I thought I'd go back to when my exhibitionistic streak first began. Like, way back.
A few times a week, two older boys would take me to a public yet hidden place at the Brooklyn apartment building in which we all lived –- the alleyway where they would block the view from the street or the roof behind some looming, mysterious metal contraptions –- and I would drop my pants and turn around. The two of them would lean in and stare for a few minutes as I stood there. It was all kind of clinical and mechanical, yet we seemed to get a kick out of it because we knew it was "naughty." I am not sure if I ever even knew their names; if I did, they're long forgotten. All I know is that I liked showing off; it was a real neat-o game. Oh, by the way, they were five years old and I was four. I did say I was going way back, didn't I?
I still like hanging out in alleys.
Three years later, my family did the big shlep to New Jersey. We now had a house – a one-level ranch, because, as my father had said, “Yaw mutha shouldn’t hafta climb stairs with a vacuum.” My melancholy (he hadn't wanted to move) older brother and I now had our very own rooms, and we chose the color schemes ourselves. His was dark, with mahogany wood paneling, burnt-orange shag carpeting, and bamboo shades, while my paneling was baby blue, my shag was ultramarine, and my shades were red-white-and-blue with American eagle pulls. The carpet was so deep and long that every time my mother went to vacuum – no stairs! – I’d insist on spending a half hour combing through it by hand first. I always thought there might be small toys (like my prized Mexican jumping beans) mislaid in there or that had fallen from my shelf, that I’d never know which ones they’d been, and that I’d lose them forever. I even had dreams that it was me hidden in the shag. No one could find me, and my fanatically clean mother was aggressively sucking me up into her Hoover. Dream analysts out there: I'm not sure I want to know what that one means.
The move to Jersey also brought a new playmate, one whose name I do remember and who didn’t want to see me turn around in an alley. She was Coleen, my best friend, confidante, and the freckle-faced girl next door. Or, I should say, the goy next door. She had long, stringy blond Sissy-Spacek-as-Carrie hair, loved to run around barefoot (which I was not allowed to do), and my mother was constantly trying to split us up.
“You should be friends with a boy! A Jewish boy! What’s wrong with Marc Moskowitz?”
“Ummm…for one thing, he’s Jewish and he’s a boy.”
Anyways (I added the ‘s’ to “anyway” on purpose, because that’s the way Coleen used to talk in her Jersey accent), Coleen and I used to secretly play Barbies in the dark in her basement. That's right, right? You don't say "play with Barbies," you say "play Barbies," like it's a game?
Anyway, Coleen and I knew that boys weren't supposed to play with dolls (but I still don't understand why), so we'd hide in a dark corner of her family’s unfinished basement with a flashlight. I was still doing secret things in a hidden place but now, instead of me, it was a Ken doll who had his pants dropped.
(Me, age 8. I never played baseball but I loved a good photo-op.)
Then my Aunt Faye – a sweet but mousy woman who was my favorite aunt – gave me Marlo Thomas's album Free To Be…You and Me. This was a collection of stories and songs that taught kids to break free of the outdated sexist rules of the past: women competing against men in athletic contests, parents sharing the housework, boys playing with dolls, etc. Aunt Faye, who had a sad, childlike quality to her, was in an emotionally abusive marriage to my domineering uncle, who wouldn’t even allow her to wear makeup. I don’t know to this day whether she gave the album to me for me or if it was a silent cry for help.
I was thrilled but also annoyed: the boy in the song "William’s Doll" was allowed to play with baby dolls so he could learn how to be a good father someday; why couldn’t he play with dolls just for the sake of play? And why were/are boys not supposed to play with Barbie-type dolls, anyway? I know it has something to do with deep-seated homophobia in our society, but isn’t it hetero to want to undress and hold a sexy woman?
Still, I was very excited by the concept of this album. I couldn't wait to grow up and live in the new world Marlo and friends sang about. It makes me sad to see that today, very little has actually changed. Little girls are still in pink dresses, toy stores still have pink "girl" departments with baby dolls, jewelry kits, and princess costumes, and blue "boy" sections with guns, tanks, and monsters.
I feel so let down by Marlo Thomas. Thirty years later, are there still little ashamed boys hiding with their Coleens in dark basements?
As for me, I'm still dropping my pants and showing off...and still playing with dolls.
I've come a long way, baby.