This story came to mind recently after a few nice people wrote to me about the Partridge Family/Cher post a few weeks ago. One was a music writer from St. Louis and I enjoyed her pop-culture writings on Cher, Cream Magazine and a very funny piece on Rex Smith. I also liked how she incorporated a representative music link at the end of her commentaries. And she reminded me how my two older brothers, solidly in the 1970s, St. Louis KSHE-radio rock-music demographic, once mercilessly made fun of Rex Smith.
This was separate and apart from their ongoing pressure for me to alter my music plays in the house. And even though my first instinct was to resist their suggestions in this area, in a few cases their influence did affect me unawares.
In the first case, they ruined Barry Manilow’s song “Mandy” by telling me the then-popular rumor that the song was about a dog. The second instance involved Rex Smith when my brothers mocked his single “You Take My Breath Away” one day while we were in the family station wagon because the song was basically the same two sentences sung over and over again into perpetuity. I had to agree they had a point there.
There was also their general, unspoken disparagement of pretty boys in all cases, (especially light-haired ones), which must have seeped into my consciousness somehow and pretty much made impossible any crushes I could ever develop on Rex Smith, Leif Garrett, Sean Cassidy, Jimmy McNichol and pretty much anyone from Duran Duran.
But that was all academic because I was too late a bloomer for Mr. Rex Smith. And I really can’t emphasize that enough. I was a late, late, late bloomer.
I was a perfectly happy camper being a kid with my girlfriends roller skating and playing waitress or teacher or famous novelist. We had our salacious sexcapades with the Barbies; we had incredibly complex township soap operas improvised around the Fisher-Price army of Little People and their building structures. We had board games, books, restaurant menu design, newscasts, pirating.
But the biggest thing was the Fisher-Price and Tree Tots villages we would create in our basements by pooling together our buildings.
My friend Krissy was a year older than me and we played this way for years…until she “turned.” Darcey Steinke explains “turning” for girls very well in her novel Sister Golden Hair. Turning refers to the change from girlish kid-hood into the adolescent tweens. Girls turn overnight, Steinke explained, and this completely jives with my experience growing up. Girls pass from childhood to adolescence overnight like a flipped light switch whereas boys could take months if not years to evolve into their adolescence. I don’t know how it was for gay or trans kids. Possibly something in between. But for cisgender girls, the change was Twilight-Zone quick. One day a girl had a kid personality, the next day that kid disappeared and the same girls were like zombies solely intent on finding out where the boys were grazing. It was unnerving if you were a late bloomer, kind of like watching a 1950s horror movie.
Krissy was older and so her disappearance was expected to some degree, although because she was in a grade higher at school, I rarely saw her again after that. But for the girls in my own grade, the loss of a playmate was much more egregious and painful because we would still be friends at school. We just weren’t spending our free time in the same way anymore. It was a confusing kind of loss. And in the condescending way of girls who mature faster than others, my friends were patiently waiting for me to ‘catch up’.
I made an impassioned case to save them, too. I said things like,
“Hey listen, I have two boys in my house! And first of all, they smell…like bad!
Secondly, they’re obnoxiously immature for like forever and it will be another whole year before one will even be able to have a civilized conversation with you.
Let’s play a game of Life!“
As you might imagine, my arguments fell flat.
I remember my very last Fisher-Price friend. Her name was Chris and she was one of the last girls to turn. She wasn’t interested in boys yet because she was a tomboy, which I was not. I was just clear-headed and probably psychic about the prospect of a lifetime of love-drama ahead. I was also too into dollhouses and stuffed animals to be a tomboy. And I had no interest in climbing anything. A few times I did swear to my father that I could be a tomboy for 48-hours in order to finagle an invitation to the boys-only camping trips. But no luck; he never bought it. Not once. (And thus, an adulthood of compensation-camping for me).
In any case, I was always willing to caucus with the tomboys if it came to that. And I thought, “okay here is someone who beats up boys at recess! She’s good for another year with this Fisher-Price stuff…at least.”
Her father did very well at a local company and so she got presents on holidays like Valentine’s Day. She had so much stuff, she’d give it away frequently. All my Michael Jackson albums were bequeathed to me when she got a full replacement set like on like Washington’s Birthday or some other non-gifting holiday like that.
So of course all her toys was great. She lugged them all over to my basement one day, all her Fisher-Price buildings, the airport, the cottage, the farm and the Holiday Inn (which I didn’t even know existed). Those combined with my farmhouse and parking garage and we had quite a metropolis.
(No worries. Everything’s fine.)
But then I get the same call again the next day and then the next day; and I know what this means. I’ve been here many times before. She’s turned. She’s still friendly at school and willing to do all the adulting things she’s newly interested in; but she suddenly has no interest in being a kid anymore.
So we’re talking on the phone a few days later and I say, “By the way, you’re going to have to come over and pick up all your stuff or I can bring it over to your house or whatever.”
And this is what she says to me, (and it still breaks my little heart to this very day). She says,
“You can keep it.”
(Flash forward a few decades and my mother kept all that Fisher-Price stuff, both mine and everything Chris left behind, and was a very popular grandmother as a result. All my nieces and nephews loved those toys as much as I did. Even the neighbor kid would come over. It brings me some kind of mitigating joy to know those things had those subsequent lives.)
But anyway, I was adrift then because you couldn’t play with that stuff alone. You needed to bounce your imaginative stories off each other. So Chris’ kid-defection effectively and forcibly ended my career with Barbies and Fisher-Price people forever.
Kid-business just ceased to exist for these girls. Roller skating now had to happen at a disco roller rink where boys could be skated in front of. No more Nancy Drew. It was now standing around at the shopping mall in a cute outfit. (Which, by the way: you couldn’t pay me.)
Over the years I’ve thought a lot about this turning business and my being so tardy with it. It’s like each girl in my grade became possessed with another personality overnight, all the girls except the ones who were never going to turn, like the ones who turned out to be lesbians. Every other girl turned before I did. Actually, most of the boys turned before I did, too. That’s how late I was. And it was a lonely year as far as after-school was concerned. I watched a lot of TV.
I have this theory that Gen X girls in my grade all turned during a three-to-six-month period of time in the early 1980s. And it was like they woke up one morning and said, “Hey, I like boys today!” and then they all went to the record stores all over America and said, “Hey look! There’s a boy!” and then they all bought that same, damn Rick Springfield album.
My friend Krissy was a perfect example. She was completely following my influence in her record album purchases, however questionable they were. Slowly in the late 1970s, Cher and Johnny Cash albums were stacking up in her bedroom. And then out of the blue one day she makes a renegade purchase and I find the Rick Springfield album lying there on her bed.
And it was like any disparaging thing I could say about boys would just result in a moony gaze at the Rick Springfield album cover.
It’s important to note here that this was a completely different situation than years earlier when one of my friends would put on a Sean Cassidy or Jimmy McNichol 45 record as we kept on playing with the Fisher-Price stuff.
I was like goddamnit Rick Springfield; you are making this so much harder for me! It wasn’t his fault, I suppose. If it hadn’t been him, it would have been someone else. So it wasn’t personal exactly.
It was a little bit personal though.
Of course, I did turn eventually. One day in science class two of my girlfriends forcibly made me pick out some rando guy to “like.” And what seemed like a perfectly safe and perfunctory choice in the moment turned into rent garments pretty quickly. Within days, I was so predicably swept away I couldn’t even parcel out all the incredibly deserved “I told you sos” to all my friends.
And from that day that I turned, I have no clue where all that Fisher-Price junk in the basement got stored away because, for the love of god, all that ceased to exist and within days the basement was repurposed into a dance floor where I was dancing to The Pointer Sisters and songs like “Let the Music Play” while daydreaming about stupid rando boy. I had a bathroom now miraculously full of makeup and hairspray, was giving a shit about what I wore to school every day, and even stinky socks and asinine immaturity seemed mysteriously surmountable and even immaterial and now possibly (alarmingly) even part of the new appeal!
I think we can all look back at this time and clearly see I was totally right about all of it; and if Rick Springfield hadn’t enabled the complete Gen-X-Girl Turnover of 1981 & 2, I would have had a fighting chance in talking sense into those precocious, hormonally-hijacked young ladies.
The Rick Springfield thing isn’t personal. It’s just a little personal though.
This grievance of course doesn’t include the Italian Rick Springfield. He’s a total hottie.
And now…the closing Rick Springfield song.
(I did buy this 45 single in 1985 so I couldn’t have been that mad at Rick Springfield.)