Archive for January, 2014

68 Go-Go

Posted: January 30, 2014 in Tomboy Life
Tags: , , , , ,


I’m betting I was ten when this happened.  My official tomboy uniform at the time consisted of dungarees or bell-bottom corduroys, T-shirts or paisley button-downs, white, ribbed A-shirts, gym socks and girls’ underpants.  For school I was forced to wear a dress or skirt, since it was 1968 or thereabouts and no one at the time could figure out that most girls had two legs just like most boys did and that pants would not only fit us but make us more comfortable.  But as soon as I got home, every single day, I changed into the clothes that felt right for me.  My sneakers were PF Flyers.  My baseball cap was always navy blue and always sported the interlocking white NY of the New York Yankees.  When I was dressed in my uniform, I felt ready for anything.

One fine summer day, some neighborhood friends and I wandered off to the woods behind our houses.  We couldn’t access them from our yards.  We had to walk around the block and enter through a perfectly placed hole some older kids had cut into the fence so they could hide behind all the trees to smoke cigarettes and drink beer.  Our parents knew there were bullies hanging out in those woods and told us, emphatically, that they were dangerous, forbidden, out of bounds.  We all knew we’d be in huge trouble if we were found out but it was 1968 and we had played all the baseball, tag and football games we could stand and now ached for a new adventure.  I don’t remember whose idea it was but at least seven of us made like spies, peeled off and boldly headed down the sidewalk towards the glorious woods.  The hole in the fence beckoned us all to explore what lay beyond.  It was quiet at first and there was no sign at all of any big kids or their smoking and drinking detritus.  We walked around as if we were Robin Hood’s Merry Men and decided to build a lean-to with some of the broken branches we found, just in case it rained.  Our small group worked that wood like experts and as soon as we had weaved the final branch into place, we heard a booming, mocking voice.  It was the bully we all feared, the boy who was old enough for high school but who was still in 9th grade at the junior high because he kept getting left back.  He appeared out of nowhere with 2 or 3 of his henchmen by his side.  The first thing he did was snatch my Yankee hat off my head.

Well, we were all scared shitless of this nasty kid but my sister and friends knew what that hat meant to me so there was no way we were leaving those woods without it.  We chased after it as it was tossed from one big kid to another, as they joked about our puny efforts to retrieve it until suddenly, the head bully noticed our lean-to.  He pointed to it and laughed.  Then he picked up a huge fallen branch with the intention of tossing it onto our creation to crush it into a pile of twigs.  He said if the shelter could withstand the weight of the branch I could have my hat back. Then he heaved the fallen timber over his head and let it fly.  It landed with a crack, right on the top of our structure and came to a dead stop.  Not a stick fell out of place.  Not a single twig moved.  There was barely a shudder.  Because we might have been little kids but we were smart, adventurous, creative little kids, and we had built that shelter to last.  We all slowly turned our smirking faces towards the shocked and shamed ogre and cracked up.  He called us fucking losers and told his sidekick to toss me my hat.  I caught it, looked at my gang of buddies with a twisted, desperate face and no words were necessary.  We took off so fast for the hole in the fence that our lungs were bursting when we made it back to the safety of the street.  I don’t know how the parents ever found out that we had explored that forbidden place but we were all grounded for a week when we got home.

Later that same summer my mom’s eccentric sister came for a visit after a day of shopping in New York City.  She had no kids of her own and spent a lot of her husband’s ill-gotten riches on herself and her sisters and nieces and nephews.  The first thing we noticed was that she was wearing two different shoes.  And we were pretty sure she had no idea, which, of course, turned out to be right.  My sister gently brought it to her attention and she had to squint down to see, clearly, that we were not pulling her leg.  Mortified that she had spent an entire day in the big city with shoes that didn’t match on her aching, swollen feet, she finally just had to laugh and take a seat.  The shoes were very similar, I’ll give her that much.  But one had a buckle and one had a ribbon.  This aunt was always good for a chuckle.

Her shopping that day had taken her into Greenwich Village.  Hippies were in season then.  Peace and love and flower power.  She reached into a big paper bag and pulled out a pair of boots each for my sisters and me.  Go-go boots.  White go-go boots.  Girly go-go boots.  Back then this was true and still to this day, if I go ice skating I ask for brown or black hockey skates.  I don’t wear white shoes, unless they are softball cleats or basketball sneakers or some kind of athletic footwear that looks just as good dirty as clean.

My sisters were thrilled with their gifts and pulled the boots on immediately, right there at the kitchen table, and they ran off to look at themselves in the full-length mirror in the bathroom.  I was not pleased.  Another well-meaning aunt had given me a purse the previous Christmas.  A cousin had contributed some hand-me-down blouses with Peter Pan collars.  These girly things were all stuffed into the very back of my closet so I not only wouldn’t have to wear them but I also wouldn’t have to look at them, be reminded constantly that no one seemed to understand how badly I didn’t feel like or care to dress like a typical girl of the mid-20th century.  I was having a boyhood, not a girlhood and it pissed me off that no one seemed to get this fundamental aspect of who I was inside.

Those go-go boots were cool, though.  I really wanted to like them.  I wanted to be seen wearing them.  I just didn’t want them to be white.  So I did what any smart, creative, adventurous tomboy would do.  I thanked my aunt, put them aside and waited a few days until I had the house, briefly, all to myself.  And then I used a mess of boot polish to transform my cool, white go-go boots, that I wouldn’t have been seen dead wearing, into my new, super-cool, black, mod boots.  Which, by the way, if she had found them in my closet, my mother would have killed me for ruining.  So I hid them in the leaf and lawn clipping pile out back.  And then, whenever I wanted to wear them, to be seen wearing them, I would leave the house with my PF Flyers on but hit the sidewalk with my cool black boots.  And unlike that ill-fated trip to the woods, no one ever told my mom about what I had done to the boots my aunt brought home from the city just a few days before school started again.  Those boots.  They weren’t made for walking.  They were made for cross-dressing.