A great advantage of older age is that as one ages, one’s purportedly good reputation becomes increasingly irrelevant. Young people need to acquire and maintain good reputations for the purposes of career and social advancement and to be regarded as trustworthy, reliable symbols of good living among other young people and children. But the older you get, the less relevant all that becomes.
On the see-saw of life’s years, when you know that you have crossed from one side to the other, venturing well past the fulcrum, there’s no denying the inevitable outcome of the downward motion. By the time you notice the downward motion, the journey down has become much shorter than was the journey up. But the plus side of this equation is that there is no longer any need to advance one’s career or social standing. Both career and social standing have become whatever they are likely to become. Younger people just don’t care about you all that much, and no one trusts you around their children anyway, so what the hey, eh?
Older folks have greater freedom. Live it up! Buy that motorcycle you’ve always wanted. Get a tattoo, if that turns your fancy. Take up swearing, if by doing so, you can more adequately vent your spleen or your gall bladder, or whatever other organ may need venting. Admit your love of riding horses, wear a red hat, or an over-sized pearlescent belt buckle, or cowboy boots, or a sleeves-torn-off, denim jacket (a scruffy vest) with no undershirt and lotsa bling. Grow a Fu-Manchu mustache and go around looking mean. Get an ear-ring, or a nose ring, or “ring” whatever else you feel may need “ringing.” Shave your head. Wear a Mohawk-style, bristle-path haircut. Life is short and getting shorter, so do now whatever it is that you always meant to do!
Though many of the above paths of self-expression are already in widespread practice, many of us older folk have shunned their possibilities, believing that we had an image to maintain. Do you? Do you really still have an image to maintain? I suggest that you begin doing the things that you’ve always wanted to do (provided that those things are not illegal, cruel, or fraught with danger).
For myself, I seem to have a pressing need to confess. So here goes.
Among the semi-outrageous activities mentioned above, I confess that I once wore an over-sized pearlescent belt buckle (at age six). Also, I once grew a mustache (not at age six) and I wore urban (plain-sided) cowboy boots for a period of about two years. Not mentioned above, but something I did in my rebellious youth, was that I wore a Nehru jacket to a large social event (alright, alright, it was a Bee-Gees concert if you must know) in 1967. (That one still hurts when I think about it.)
Something I have not done, but I continue to fantasize about doing, is getting about town on a powered, two-wheel vehicle. Notice that I did not say, “motorcycle.” I’m not sure that I could be trusted with a motorcycle. Let me rephrase that. I’m sure that I could not be trusted with a motorcycle. No, I’m thinking more along the lines of getting a moped, or one of those electric bicycles that is styled very much like a motorcycle, but is strictly limited in its horsepower and (in Ontario, at least) qualifies as a bicycle for use on bike paths, etc. Pretty outrageous idea, eh?
Well, you haven’t heard half of it! It seems that I mentally locked this next memory away in the vault and it took years of therapy to get me to look the truth of it squarely in the face.
It happened one summer when my mother was working as a waitress at Bebee’s Dairy, in Norwichtown, Connecticut. Every day, on Plain Hill, where we lived in virtual isolation from much of humanity, she would load up her three squirmy boys in the slope-backed, 1948 Oldsmobile, me and my two older brothers, and drop us off with Mrs. Moreau and her clan of three youngsters, in the nearby town of Taftville. Mrs. Moreau was a fine, motherly woman who was generous enough, or gullible enough, to agree to look after us during the day while my mother worked.
That summer in Taftville was filled with adventure. As I, the youngest in the mobile group, tagged along, trying to somehow heft up my physical appearance to be one of the “big” boys, so that the big boys might be less inclined to leave me behind. My bluff rarely worked, but I was not always left behind either.
I was not left behind, for example, the day that we all went on an errand to get some small thing for Mrs. Moreau from the nearby, Merchant’s Avenue, variety store. As we approached the store, it became increasingly evident what we would be facing when we got there. A skunk had been killed by a passing car, on the roadway, immediately in front of the store. The dead skunk stench was so strong, so powerful, that customers could barely make their way into the store and, if customers did make it into the store, they wanted to leave just as quickly as humanly possible.
Even as a child, I could see how having a dead skunk at one’s door might be bad for business.The owner of the store, who rarely addressed us as human beings, to him we must have seemed more like coins with little legs, began chatting us up.”That’s a bad smell, huh?” ventured the merchant. (He said, “huh” at the end of his sentences because we were all Americans and didn’t know to say “eh” when seeking confirmation of our thoughts.)”It sure is!” we all agreed in our squeaky, little, eager-for-recognition voices.”Boy, it would be worth something to a store owner to be able to get rid of that thing,” the merchant said, adroitly casting his line out among eager quarry.”Oh yeah?” said Mrs. Moreau’s, Maurice, our oldest and boldest representative, “What would it be worth to you?” The merchant briefly feigned thoughtfulness, then said, “If certain boys were to take a cardboard box and a shovel, and scoop up that skunk, and take it far away into the woods and leave the skunk there, I guess it might be worth a free popsicle for each of them.”
Bait taken, hook set.Without further negotiation, the lot of us went to work and quickly disposed of the skunk carcass, just as quickly as boys can run. Then we returned, still stinky, to the still-stinky premises of the store to collect our payment.
After enjoying our popsicle fiesta, we all walked back to Mrs. Moreau’s home, our lips stained with brightly-coloured popsicle dye, to deliver her order and to explain our delay, our adventure, our brightly-coloured lips, and our heady odour.
“Okay. An interesting story,” I hear you saying. “But where’s the confession?”Well, the above story was from one of the times when I was not left behind.
When I was left behind by the big boys, my lot was to play with Mrs. Moreau’s daughter, who at just a year older than me, was the closest to me in age. I don’t remember her name, so let’s just call her Marie. That would be an appropriate name for a girl in a village that was dominated by a French-Canadian population and by the Sacred Heart Cathedral.
Marie was a pretty girl, who liked to do pretty-girl things. She liked to play dolls and word games. She liked the Magic Eight Ball and all that might be imagined after receiving such sage advice as “It might be so” as it slowly floated into view in response to her queries. She held a certain fascination for me as a curiosity, but nothing she could do could alleviate me from the shame and humiliation of being left behind to play with a girl – playing girl games.
After what was probably an hour, but seemed like days, of playing indoors, I finally persuaded her to go on an outdoor adventure. I challenged her to show me her secret hiding spot outdoors and she agreed to it. My heart leapt with joy! We were going out to explore, to journey to unknown places, to discover what was waiting to be discovered. Well, not quite. Girl adventure, I discovered, was very different than boy adventure.
Together, we took about 30 paces from her back door to arrive at her secret, outdoor hiding place. We went up a small hillside and ducked under some tall ferns. That was it! No journey. No significant adventure. No thrill of being hopelessly lost. No sense of suddenly having to fend for oneself against imagined death-dealing monsters. No hurried, desperate communications about how we might escape the clutches of the drunken, malevolent pedophile who was known to make his home in the woods and regularly cooked unwary children on his fire. Instead, we just ducked under some ferns and looked out, knowing that it would be hard for anyone to look in.
We could see her backyard and anyone or anything therein.That was when I sold out. Some folks might say that I “fell from grace,” but those people just don’t know the nature of young boys or they don’t know the nature of grace. I sold out. Or, more accurately stated, I rented out.
Marie sidled up to me, her bare, slender arm pressed softly against mine. The very fine, blonde hair on her arm shining golden in the dappled sunlight. Two sets of grubby knees, four little, rounded peaks of bone and flesh and dirt, arranged in a row, just below our chins. We sat there, under the cover of ferns, looking out on a yard distinguished only by the square inverted pyramid of a clothesline apparatus, the lines of which were punctuated by a series of unused clothes pegs that sat upright, like so many starlings gathering on telephone lines for the fall migration, and a few lonely items of already dried clothing being slowly bleached by an unforgiving summer sun.
I was just about to offer an imaginatively conjured menace for us to face and defeat together, when she popped the question, “Hey, Jimmy, (I was known as Jimmy then) have you ever kissed a girl?”In typical little boy fashion, I responded with offense at such an insinuation. “No!” I put it simply, cleverly leaving the door open to further discussion.Then she pressed her arm and her leg against mine. “Would you ever want to?” she put forward.”I don’t think so,” I replied.She eased her press.I quickly added, “Maybe. Sometime.”She pressed again. Then she said what to me were the magic words, “Would you let me kiss you, for a nickel?”
And so I prostituted myself. I sat stock still and somewhat disbelieving, as Marie slowly, but apparently without fear or trepidation, pressed her lips to mine and held them there for what seemed like a very long time. I guessed that she wanted to get her nickel’s worth. Which, I hasten to point out, was the full price of a twin, double-barrelled popsicle in those days. I’m just saying. Nickels had some worth.
Ah, but I know this talk of the value of a nickel, is all just so much self-justification. The sad (and hereby, officially confessed) fact is that I sold access to my body, not just once, but again, the next day, when it was she who suggested that we go once more to her secret, outdoor hiding place. For another tender pressing of the lips – for another nickel.
That was me in the summer of 1954 or so. Gigolo Jimmy, the rent-a-boy. The boy who would let girls kiss him for the price of a popsicle. I’ve kept this secret so long it almost slipped away from the collected wealth of human knowledge. Now, at last, now that I no longer feel that I must protect my reputation, the truth may be known.Okay, so I’ve confessed. And I’ll make a further confession. When she kissed me, I liked it. I only collected her money because she offered it. So there! That’s a load off my mind. I’ve “outted” myself, as the saying goes.
Think what you will of me. I’ll live with it.Now that I have forsaken my good reputation and abandoned all related behavioural pretense, I think it’s time for me to do something really rebellious like get my hat pierced, or buy a YikeBike, or some similarly subversive act, and generally care less about what others may think of me.