When a boy considers his dad, and compares him to the fathers of other boys, an element of emulation unavoidably creeps into his thinking. A song by The Smothers Brothers, who had the same father, expresses this sentiment nicely.
“My old man’s a sailor–what do you think about that!” the Brothers Smother sang, and then ran through a list of occupations ending in “refrigerator repairman” that would represent a good day’s work at the Department of Labor.
When the time came for me to engage in this sort of filial one-upsmanship, I was at a distinct disadvantage. “My dad’s a mailman!” one boy would say. “My dad owns a gas station!” another would crow. “My dad’s a telephone lineman!” a third would exclaim.
When my turn came, I would exhale, look at my shoes and then mumble “My dad’s in women’s clothes.” Not the sort of thing that gets you picked first when the guys choose up sides for football.
When I first became conscious of what my dad did for a living, I understood that he was somehow involved in the manufacture of women’s shoes. When I was in third grade he changed course and opened up a women’s clothing store, which he grandiosely described in advertisements as “Mid-Missouri’s Finest Women’s Specialty Shop.” As if there were a lot of competition.
The son of a farmer can ride on the back of a tractor and learn to milk cows at his father’s side. The son of a carpenter can play with a hammer until he’s ready to pound a nail into a 2 X 4 all by himself. What does the son of a ladies’ clothing retailer get to do when he goes to the store with his dad?
Well, you put together the gift boxes into which all the nice sweaters and blouses are placed when they’re sold. You help assemble complicated hat displays, if you lived in the twilight of the day when women still wore hats. And you move and clean the female torso mannequins that are used to display the wares of Olga and Bali, which are two foundation undergarment manufacturers, not Russian ladies who want to date you!
Given the number of plastic mammaries that I handled before I reached puberty, it is a wonder I didn’t end up working in the adult entertainment industry. But like someone who works at a candy factory, you can get sick of . . . uh . . . busts if you’re surrounded by them all day, no matter how much other men may crave them.
In economic terms, the principle that I follow as a result of my depraved boyhood has been best expressed by Frank Zappa, the brilliant rock composer whose works were too complicated to ever attract much of an audience. “Anything more than a mouthful,” he said at a concert I once attended, “is wasted.”
I’m somewhat proud of the fact that I’ve never purchased a copy of Playboy, the mammary-obsessed rag that was once the hallmark of sophistication among wild and crazy guys, but which now seems to be identified primarily with air fresheners hung on the rear view mirrors of cars driven by men who may or may not have green cards. I used to read the copies my friend’s dad bought but that was for the Saul Bellow short stories and the interviews with Norman Mailer–just like everybody else.
As I reach the age when the body begins to lose its battle with gravity, I am often amazed at the persistent youthfulness of some women I know, whose upper decks, shall we say, seem to have undergone major renovations. They look like something out of science fiction, not National Geographic. Isn’t there a happy medium?
So to paraphrase Emma Lazarus: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free beneath your sweater. Not some giant-sized monstrosity filled with saline solution.
Anything more would be wasted.