by Terry Hargrove
At the end of every summer, mom took my sisters and brother to town to shop for school clothes. She never took me. I was the favorite after all, with all the benefits and curses that entailed. Because I was the favorite, not just any outfit would do. I got special school clothes, and when I say special, I mean the types of outfits that either elicited fits of laughter from my siblings or got me sold to the pharaoh. Until the clothes were laid out and de-pinned and pressed, I never knew which.
And so, the beginning of each school year was a trying time for me. The problem with new school clothes was that there really weren’t any return policies then, so what mom picked, we kept. “You don’t like the colors? Tough! I spent my second grade year in a dress made of burlap, and your father wore shoes made out of corn husks.” That story, again. The pants and shirts mom bought for me were always one size too large in August, but because of my freakish growth spurts, were one size too small by the following June. That gave me a four week window to be comfortably attired. The material had to be thick and long-sleeved for January’s biting cold. That part I appreciated, since the weight of the material in the August and September heat had me losing all my summer fat in pools of perspiration. It was hard to keep weight on if you were the favorite.
Did I like the clothes my mom bought for me? What difference did that make? How could I tell her to stop buying clothes that made me look like a clown in a Jimi Hendrix poster? If I looked like an idiot, it was the 60s. Everybody looked like idiots.
These were the days that would progress to leisure suits. Remember Nehru jackets? Bell bottoms? Puffy sleeves and hippy beads? I did better than fit in. I was edgy.
So it was that in July of 1966, I sat on the couch as mom pulled out the pieces of an outfit that even today is the stuff of legend.
“OK, all right,” she stammered. “Sit and look at this. First, I got you a new pair of shoes and look at them! Aren’t they cute?”
“I don’t know,” I mumbled. Shoes for me weren’t an everyday purchase. Usually I got Glenn’s shoes when he grew out of them. These new shoes were white and green, like golfer’s shoes, and they shined like glass. My sisters were next to mom, and Glenn had parked himself at the end of the table facing me. He was just beginning to grin.
“And look at these pants,” gushed Mom. “No, not pants. Slacks they are. Little boys wear pants, but you’re a big boy now. Do you see this design?”
I did see the design. The pants were Kelly green with gold circles interlaced like a double helix up and down the length. They were so thick, they could stand up without the benefit of a clothes hanger. Glenn’s grin was a little wider.
“And the T-shirt,” said mom. “Now, the salesman said it had to be black because that’s what they’re wearing in Nashville this year. It’s the year of the black T-shirt.”
“Can I just wear the T-shirt when it gets colder?” I asked. “I mean, I don’t have to wear it now, do I?”
“Now, honey, how are you going to own a black T-shirt and not wear it in the year of the black T-shirt? Sometimes, you don’t make any sense at all. Of course you wear it now, and over it, you’ll wear this!”
Mom pulled the shirt out of the bag with a flourish. It beamed with a magical radiance that made my eyes hurt. It was green also, a shade of green I’d not seen before or since. The long sleeves had the same golden pattern as the pants, although the gold was a different shade, but since the pants were a different shade of green, they matched in an H.P. Lovecraft sort of way. My brother’s grin was so wide, the corners of his mouth met at the back of his head. Mom insisted I try on the outfit.
When all the pieces were on, I turned to Glenn to get his honest opinion. When he was able to stop laughing, he gave it.
“While seeing you go to school looking like that would give me pleasure for, hell, for the rest of my life, I can’t let you do it. I have found the limit of my dislike for you, it seems. To dress you up like this and then send you to school, even I wouldn’t do that to you.”
“What’s wrong with it?” I asked.
“What’s wrong with it?” laughed Glenn. But as I stared at him, his smile slowly ebbed away. He had tried to help, but I was beyond helping. “Nothing. Here, you have to wear this towel over your arm. Put your left arm in front of you like this and drape it over. And you have to tuck your pants in your socks like this. And here. Wear this Mickey Mouse hat. Look in the mirror. What do you think?”
What did I think? I looked in the mirror and I thought it wasn’t half bad. I looked like a matador. A short, slightly pudgy matador.
And as I strode to school that first day, with the black towel draped over my left arm and black plastic ears on my head, I truly believed this was a edgy as I would ever
get. I was El Terrio, the brave matador of Fourth Avenue, off to face the bull that was the sixth grade. I was in school for almost ten minutes before I realized what a terrible mistake I had made.
I sat in the front row of Mr. Bostack’s science class that day, as the chorus of moos rose up behind me. That’s the problem with being edgy. The edge is right there, and if you aren’t smart, you fall over the edge and into the abyss. As sweat poured off my face, I realized mom’s school clothes had transformed me into the matador, and I would be the matador for the next ten months of my life and beyond.
Categories: scholars and rogues