The year nineteen-seventy marked one of my worst (see “My Scariest Teacher”), but one of the few bright spots was when a Playboy truck tipped over on the North Side of Chicago, spilling thousands of Miss Aprils onto the streets (it might have been Miss March, but let’s not let a month get in the way of an erotic and evocative story).
I cannot honestly say that I got one of those centerfolds (oh how I always wished that we lived closer to the city), but when you’re ten and it’s 1970, just the idea of Miss April flying all over the streets of Chicago in her birthday suit is a highly charged image.
After years of reading much in the way of archetypal symbolism from alchemy to Zarathustra, I am struck by how my own memory of an incident of Teamster premature dissemination also serves as apt symbol of the return of Persephone from the underworld. I know that the equinox is the official return of Miss Spring, but after atypically ample rains this year, the wildflowers in California are just now dancing in a Dionysian riot (along with their raggy-weedy sisters’ allergy assault). And so I think of multiple Miss Aprils once and eternally swirling about the City of Big Shoulders, presaging the Animas in their summer dresses, and I think about how lonely I was then in 1970.
I spent most of fifth grade having a crush on a girl whose dad owned a watch repair. I was too shy to talk to her, so I kept buying broken watches at garage sales and giving them to her to give to her dad for repair. Sometimes I would call (I had the number because I had needed to ask for it to check on my watches) but then I could only hear my crush’s voice and hang up, paralyzed with shyness.
I shared a room with my brother growing up and we had a black light poster of a hand with “I want to hold your hand” written below it. We also had a black light, and so we would turn off the regular lights and look at our poster, and at our socks. Around this time we also got a Salvador Dali print of a man emerging from an egg. It was very sophisticated and we also had a Dali of the melting watches, which only reminded me of my alienated despair in the context of ten-year-old yearning for the daughter of a watch repair artisan.
As part of coping with long summers at summer camp, I had mysteriously stopped hugging my parents at this point, but yet I dreamed of a hug from someone I didn’t resent. While I did not dream of hugging Miss April, I yearned to see Miss April only because I knew I wasn’t supposed to see her, and because nothing that I could see managed to comfort me or cheer me up.
And while I may have been eager to see naked ladies, I also always truly liked girls and women—a paradox of deeply shy emerging sexuality and at the same time a strongly held affinity to the feminine—and an ardent natural sympathy with 70’s women’s lib. I think I disappointed my father in being a feminist (the only one in our family, including my mother); a year or two later, when we went to some swinging restaurant where the waitresses had to wear short skirts, I remember expressing sadness that our waitress looked uncomfortable and how I felt sorry that she was forced to dress in a demeaning manner from which a man would be immune. As he stole glances at our waitress’ fishnet stockings, or her continual skirt adjustments, think my dad thought something was wrong with me; to him women were “gals” and not to be taken seriously while I always truly liked women and tended to take them more seriously than most men I encountered.
When I think about my curiosity about naked women, I think it might have had something to do with never seeing either of my parents naked. I suspect most modern families are like ours, where closed doors and modesty come on with adolescence, but in early years there was no great panic at anyone seeing anyone else without their clothes on. My mom, on the other hand, was practically Victorian, literally shouting in fright if you entered her bedroom and she was in her bra—and shoving the door closed on you as if you were the big bad wolf and she was Little Red.
How much do we think we know about our kids’ secret yearnings? How do our own quasi-secret inner lives mingle with those of our children?
However it all shakes out, let’s dedicate today to the curious child and the Miss April in each of us—healing our shame, bridging our loneliness and deepening our respect and compassion for the beautiful inside, outside and between all of us… in the benefit of all our curious and beautiful children.