I’m 5-foot-9 and have been since my mid-teens, but I never had a growth spurt. I just kept adding inches, slow and steady, to everyone’s amazement. For one thing, I was a low birthweight baby. (Under 5.5. pounds.) Plus, everyone else in my immediate family is small-boned. If you see me with my father, mother and sister, the only conclusion to draw is that there was just enough food for one person and I got it all.
In grade school, however, I was smaller than my sister and wore her hand-me-downs much of the time. So new clothes were a huge deal to me. I invested new clothes with talismanic powers, capable of changing my life. They never did, but I never lost faith. This outfit, this pair of shoes, this rust-colored corduroy pants suit — this would do the trick and I would be . . . something.
When I was in sixth grade, my mother purchased me a jumpsuit (I know, ouch) from Atlanta’s J.P. Allen’s. Very quickly, I had added my usual annual inch and my ankles were exposed. Lorenzo — oh yes, I remember your name, you also used to call me Marcia Brady and ask if I was dating Harvey Klinger, a nerdy boy who was once Marcia’s lab partner — called out.
“The flood is over, the land is dry, so why do you wear your pants so high?”
Pleasure gone. I wince when I see photos of the offending outfit. Although, to be truthful, the exposed ankles were only part of the problem.
There were only two sartorial sins in the Balitmore school system in my youth: High waters and fish heads. “Fish heads” were cheap sneakers, defined as anything other than Keds or Jack Purcells in that pre-Nike world. (“Fish heads, fish heads, mama bought your sneakers at the Pantry Pride,” the kids chanted at Willard who had enough going against him. The name Willard, for example.)
In junior high, all humiliation was summed up in a single word, drawn out over many syllables. “Ti-i-i-i-i-i-ight.” As in “Tight face,” which did capture how one felt when embarrassed. Cheeks hot, skin seeming to shrink over the bones.
What pleasure became humiliation? What wonderfully cool thing was diminished by a classmate’s taunting?
And, admit it: Did you ever turn on another kid? I did and I just want to say: Mark Metcalfe, I’m sorry.