Tuesday, May 3, 2011

One big walking pimple*

Such a happy, deluded kid …
Is this vaguely R. Crumb-y?
Lengthy correspondence with a friend from high school long ago (thanks facebook!) forced me to reckon with the fiery trial through which we pass: Junior high (or middle school, if you insist, though a different name doesn't improve that hell) and high school, especially the Making Our Way in the World part.

The memories led me to confront my sophomore year at Cabrillo High (best mascot ever, as long as you ignore the genocidal pedigree; unbelievably awesome aquarium and graphic design lab, long after my time, sadly; remarkably considered and consistent use of logo elements), when my uniform looked like this (left):

1. A Greek fisherman's hat, worn every single day. I got it at Fisherman's Wharf  on an eighth grade trip to San Francisco because (honest to God!) I saw an ABC After School Special in which the teen-aged protagonist treasured the Greek fisherman's cap given him by his late father. My dad was quite alive.

[Note: I make tangential connections to the world. The reasons I'm a San Francisco Giants fan, for example, are that one of my aunts has lived in and around the Bay area — mostly around, in Marin County and the south Bay — and I found the place exotic and fraught with adventure, and because an older cousin, nowhere near the Bay Area, could imitate Flip Wilson doing his Geraldine character shouting, "Hit that ball, Willie (Mays)! C'mon, Willie, hit that ball!"]

Tabbed for your convenience!
Just clip it out and clad me to recreate
an exciting night at Huyck Stadium!
2. A rugby shirt. Even though they're typically long-sleeved, I insisted (to myself) on wearing a short-sleeve version, because I read that drug users like to hide the needle tracks on their arms with long sleeves, and I didn't want anybody thinking I used. What a full-out weird kid I was. I had several of these, and occasionally wore a collarless polo shirt (there was a name for these, but I've forgotten it) to break up the monotony; you could get them from Miller's Outpost (anybody remember that place?).

3. Jeans, but not real ones, not even real denim. My parents usually bought from JC Penney or the Vandenberg Air Force Base Exchange, and found less expensive bluish looking, kinda stretchy pants that resembled jeans, from a distance.

3a. Sometimes I wore corduroys. Anyone remember corduroys? Where did they go?

4. Those shoes you got at K Mart. They must have had a name — someone told me they're "Clark desert boots" though I think the name may have been (knockoff) Wallabees  — but I call them, "shoes you got at K Mart." They were high-topped (mid-ankle) the uppers made of tan suede, and the soles made of "crepe" if that's what bright, hardened layers of rubber cement means. A ridge of fabric ran from the top of the shoe around the toe, holding the three pieces of suede together. Usually they had only two or four lace eyelets. Everyone wore them at the time. I haven't seen them since.

5. On Friday nights during football season, I wore the same thing, except I added a backbreakingly heavy ivory colored Irish fisherman's sweater, to complete the evening ensemble. It would have kept me warm during a hearty gale, if we ever had one. It did protect me from the fog so common on a Lompoc evening, and any girl who may have even accidentally entertained a molecule of thought about going out with me. I really thought I was something, with a style neither imitated or duplicated, probably with sound reason.

I was, quite plainly, a plain dork. I think I must have seen myself in a mirror or a photo, and decided by junior year to lose the uniform.

But I give myself credit for daring to exhibit what I thought passed for style. My body had thinned from the junior high pudge (think Bobby Hill without the buzz cut), from a lot of running around Mission La Purísima where I grew up (I was hoping to make either the 1976 or 1980 U.S. Olympic team. Honest to God! Don't tell me a rich fantasy life has no benefits!) and I wanted to exult in my sleek form a bit, celebrate a la Walt Whitman. And I credit my parents for not calling me out (maybe they thought it looked good, but having seen their old stepping-out photos,  I don't see how they could). Mom drew the line at a Navy pea coat; that fell into the "get a job and buy it yourself" category. For the most part, my parents let me find my own way; I remember once my mom let it slip that my dad had a conversation with her along the lines of, "No son of mine is going to draw and paint …" but my dad never discouraged me directly from exploring art.

Thanks for coming along on my catharsis …

* Thanks to Carol Burnett for her concise definition of adolescence.


  1. As some know I grew up as Shawn's next door neighbor, he was always different. Once he got the notion to become a BMX bicycle rider! his Dad built him a bike and we went up to the Catholic church to practice jumping.( they had great ramps) First jump Shawn's hands slipped over the handle bars, feet off of pedals, face first into the chain link fence!!! BMX career over..

  2. I learned something new about you! I didn't know you were training for the olympics!