Monday, January 18, 2010

Naked doll.

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.


  1. toy shop stereotyping is mightily depressing. as a teacher of 10yo kids, I'm always conscious of keeping things gender equitable in the classroom and to foster a sense of acceptance and understanding of difference. I ask the kids to treat each other kindly and fairly. all kids 'get' the concept of kindness and fairness.

    inevitably, every year, certain kids come to know I'm gay. interestingly, to date, not once has it proved a problem. it doesn't change the teacher I am and they seem to respect that. I hope that sometimes, if a kid growing up can identify with me as gay and that makes it a little easier for them. well, great.

  2. Discovered your blog yesterday. Love the blog; love your pics; love your candor, your humor and that you guys have managed to stay together so long.

    This question of gender roles is a vexxing one. I remember my visiting Berkley prof. in Paris in 1972 telling me she knew a couple that was raising their kid with its gender anonymous to the public. Wonder how long that lasted. Most cultures are feircely determined to maintain status quo which is all based (it would seem) on cave man era imperitives. Gay men have always shaken up those conventions. The shaman, the berdache, the dancers throuhout history. And the pendalum swings. We just need to keep on asking why.

    Have u ready Gay New York by George Chauncey? It's brilliant.

  3. We had the movies at the summer camp that I worked at in the back in the '70s. Here's a link to William's Doll just in case you've forgotten the words :)

  4. So that is where your doll collecting originated.You certainly come a long way baby.I never heard that Marlo Thomas album.I think I bought a Sesame Street album back in the 70s.I know my mom bought 45s and had a huge Afro for a Latina woman LOL OMG did I just say that out loud? My childhood consisted of watching cartoons,playing with action figures(as they were called back then)and hanging out with Juanita's siblings who don't talk to me anymore.Oh well life was simplier back then.Both my parents were together,both sets of grandparents were alive and I was a happy kid until 1980.When you trigger another childhood memory I will reveal much more.

  5. I must have been around 5 or 6 when my neighbors Tricia, Nancy, and I would have beauty contests. They'd have to walk down the "runway" naked and I'd have to choose I winner. Though I have a clear mental image of them sashaying through Nancy's bedroom I don't remember to whom I gave the crown.

  6. Ken, I used to play "Tittie Contest" with 2 little girls in my building around the same time as this story took place. I should have included that! I clearly remember that I knew it was wrong but I had no idea why.

    Great memories, Frank. I hope I do trigger more.

    Dana & Don, thanks for your insight & input!

  7. It is glad to see this blog, it is good and detailed fun to read this, nice informative blog, Thanks for share this article.

    reflective essay

  8. Hey guys. I discovered you through your Facebook page, and now I've discovered your blog, and I wanted to say that when I was a kid, I used to play with dolls all the time. I really liked to change Barbie's clothes, and leave Ken naked. Is it actually possible to have a crush on a doll? Especially at the ages of five and six?


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.