Little Terry and the Very Odd Pants

May 2, 2009

Little Terry and the very odd Pants
There is much to envy in the youth of today.

I’m serious. I mean, aside from wearing any damned thing they want and making it look good, at least to them.

For example, when I try to wear the least thing different than usual, I get that “dressed before coffee” kind of thing going on. People ask me if there was a power outage that morning that caused me to dress in the dark.

I hate that feeling, and with good reason.

What I envy about kids today is they don’t have to worry about what to wear to express their absolute individuality. All they need to do is to watch the ads on TV, on the ‘net, on billboards, to know exactly what to do.

I’m not kidding. It’s tremendously liberating to know that you can dress up in, I don’t know, shirts that only come down to here, and pants that slide all the way down to there if you’re not hanging on to them, if you know that everywhere across the civilized world, there of millions of other kids who look just as stupid.

This is very liberating. (Here comes that “when I was a boy” stuff)

When I was a boy, communications weren’t quite up to today’s standards. Fads would get fired up in some urban area like New York City and Los Angeles, and totally peter out before they ever found their ways to the Deep South, where I grew up. This was long before satellite TV, and way, way, WAY before the Internet and texting and all that. It was way back when a Blackberry was a fruit and cells were something you studied in biology class.

But, while I didn’t have access to any of that stuff, I had Shirley, Polly, and Audrene.

They were my aunts, my mother’s sisters, and they were nothing if not fashion-conscious.

That’s fine, for the most part. For boys in their pre-teens, like my brother and me, it was a little bit like tap-dancing in a minefield. You just never knew when something was going to blow up in your face in the guise of a present from the bowels of metropolitan Pittsburgh, the Constantinople of the Steel Belt, where the three ladies liked to shop.

Oh, at that time, David and I were the only two small children in the entire extended family, so the three ladies’ urge to play dress-up on us was not diluted at all. Our cousin Tom was older and had already lived through the fashion barrage. Besides, he lived near Pittsburgh, so the clothing he got was similar to the stuff his friends were wearing at school. So, for a few years, until my Uncle Bing had a little girl to take away some of the pressure, David and I were in point-blank range of the sartorial barrage. (Thank you Lynn!)

David and I lived in Georgia at the time, the early 1960s, when most people bought their clothes at Sears & Roebuck or at regional department stores.

So, the stage is set. It is, I think, Easter, or thereabouts, and I am in the sixth grade.

A package arrives from our birthplace, a still-thriving steel town 60 miles north of Pittsburgh. David and I exchanged worried glances. NOW what?

We didn’t have long to wait to find out.

Inside the box were two brown paper packages fastened with cellophane tape. Inside each of those was a pair of pants.

Now, you need to understand the narrow range of butt-covering that was allowed, then and there, for young men.

Blue jeans were to be worn for work and play, but not to school or church unless you lived on a farm and then you could get away with it but people would look down their noses at you. Old people still called them “dungarees,” which always sounded to me like some sort of small marsupial, but never mind.

For school and church you were supposed to wear something dressier, meaning a fairly limited array of fabrics in somber, serious colors. Nothing bright. Nothing patterned, checked, dotted, striped, or plaid. It just wasn’t done. It wasn’t as though somebody posted a written rule about these things. Everybody just knew it, the way they knew not to break wind in Sunday school.

And so, when we opened the crinkly brown paper packages, my brother and I knew instantly that our standing at the Alps Road School and the Homewood Hills neighborhood was about to go straight to haberdashery hell.

Each package contained a pair of calypso pants, a type of sartorial disaster that I blame on the singer Harry Belafonte, who had hit the charts with a couple of Caribbean-flavored hits and suddenly everybody wanted to look like they lived on the beach of a tropical island, doing whatever it is that people who live like that do.

Keeping in mind what was acceptable then and there, understand that calypso pants came to about mid-calf, with a narrow bit of piping that ran down the outside of each thigh. Each pair had a white rope belt and a sign across the buttocks that said “please beat me up and tease me mercilessly.”

Ok, I’m kidding about the sign. The beat-me-up-and-tease-me part was just understood, in much the same way one understood that it was bad form to stare at amputees and lunatics.

David was lucky. His were dark blue.

Mine were a bright, throbbing red. You know, the color of imminent death.

I really only remember the initial stages of the reaction we got at school. Oh, yes, we wore them. It is one of the immutable laws of family dynamics that one has to wear items of clothing sent by dear relatives, even if said items resemble casual wear sported by bug-eyed-aliens on some frozen beach on Ganymede, even if you only wear them once and thereafter fall into eye-rolling asthma attacks at the threat of ever having to be seen in them again.

All I remember is sitting on the bus on the way to school that morning, suffering from tunnel vision and traumatic hearing loss, waiting for hell’s chorus to get tuned up. The boy in the aisle seat across from me was staring. So were a lot of other sixth-graders who filled the bus. But he was closest, and the largest, and had the most tattoos. I think he was about 19.

“Hey,” he said.

I just looked straight ahead.

“Hey,” he said again, poking me with a finger the size of a kielbasa.

I looked over at him, resigned to the inevitable.

“What?” I asked, in a tone that said, essentially, that I did not need a blindfold, thank you very much.

“What’s wrong with yore britches?” he asked.

That was the beginning.

There has been a lot written about the nature of time and how long eternity is. Nobody has even come close.

I confess, I think I wore them just the one time. That was sort of the unwritten rule. You wore whatever haberdasher’s hallucination showed up in the mail, and then you hid it under everything else in the dresser-drawer and hoped nobody ever noticed that you didn’t wear it. You couldn’t throw it away in case the relative who bought the gift came to visit, at which point you gritted your teeth and put the damned things on for show.

So, whenever somebody says to me, “Gee, wouldn’t it be great to be a kid again,” I give them a very stern look.

“Only if I get to pick the wardrobe,” I say.
© 2009 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:


4 Responses to “Little Terry and the Very Odd Pants”

  1. Ummm … do you have a photo of you in the pants? If not, that’s OK … you did a great job of creating mind pictures of the bus ride.

  2. Claire said

    I know exactly how you felt. Being one of 6 children and one of 4 girls my mother decides that Easter of 1961 all the girls had to have a Toni permanent. We all ended up with afros before they were fashionable. My thoughts of going back to Jr.High that Monday put me into a sick bed, but Mother being a nurse knew better. Oh please earth open up and swallow me whole. But it didn’t and I was teased for at least a week until other mothers found out about the Toni. Then it was payback time. Your red pants and my afro were certainly in the same catagory.

    • T.W. Burger said

      That was before I knew you: we didn’t move to forest heights until, I think, the spring of ’63. Isn’t it amazing what our relatives will do to us in the name of love?

  3. Keep it up, bookmarked and referred some mates.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: