Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Walk On The Wild Side

It was the summer I started smoking.  The cigarettes were Rothmans cigarettes – a brand I favoured not for its taste but for its ease of purchase, as they were prominently displayed right beside the cash register at our local gas station (at the tender age of 13, I was much too shy/awkward/nervous/all of the above to actually ask for a brand by name).

It was also the summer I discovered Lou Reed’s Take a Walk on the Wild Side.  I heard this song on the radio this past weekend and a memory came flooding back to me.  It’s a seemingly simple snapshot in time, but a profound and important one for me.  I remembered a summer evening, sitting on my parents white, wrap-around veranda  - a  veranda that hugged our blue gingerbread house, a house that everyone in town knew.  It had just rained, and the heat and humidity from the day had been lifted ever so slightly.  My parents had an abundance of lilacs around their property and the air was fragrant with them.  I was sitting there waiting for my boyfriend to come by and visit, a preppie, clean cut guy, and so memorable I can’t even remember his name now.  Everything and everyone was walking distance in my town, and I was looking for him to come over the bridge.  I had my walkman on – a clunker of a thing (I always received my brothers’ hand-me downs, he must have upgraded and passed this early model on to me).   I had a mixed tape in there, and I was listening to Take a Walk on the Wild Side over and over again (rewind, rewind, rewind).  Of course I had heard this song this song before, but I had never really listened to it.  Oh the details!  I was wearing cropped black esprit pants (I hadn’t started shaving my legs yet and was shy about the blonde hair on them), black oxford shoes, a white T-shirt with an image of a pouting, cigarette smoking James Dean on it.  My head was constantly cocked to the side at this point as I had just had my hair cut into a Belinda Carlisle-esque style where one side was cropped shorter than the other, forcing me to hold my head at a constant angle (if you are from the 80’s you know what I’m talking about).  My hair was also streaked with blond due to frequent squirts from a Sun-In bottle and my arms were brown with summer, the hair on them bleached white. 

I remember in that particular moment feeling really, really pretty.  I wish I could say that this was at the very least a rare occurrence for me, but it wasn’t even that.  I never felt pretty.  I think I popped out of my mother's womb feeling inferior in that department, and in subsequent years, was constantly trying to keep up with and emulate the prettier, popular girls at school, but never succeeding and constantly feeling down on myself.  But in that moment, listening to Lou Reed over and over again, taking chances with a new hair cut and what I thought at the time was a cutting edge t-shirt, I remember being excited that I felt pretty, and even a little bit confident.  Listening to the lyrics of the song with all of its references to people who are different, wanting to escape, escaping, I felt that song talking to me.    It was a moment of fuck it for me, fuck status quo, fuck constantly trying to get with the popular crowd, fuck trying to climb the social ladder, fuck it all.  It was the summer between Grade 8 and Grade 9, and I saw my chance to reinvent myself at high school, align myself with new people and new interests.   I broke up with my bland boyfriend shortly after that night, and started the journey of reinvention.

Now  I’m the first one to admit that I didn’t necessarily make the smartest choices in this transition (a smoking addiction for example, and skewed ideas of what was cool), but that one song, that summer’s eve, changed everything  for me and  started me on the road of making me who I am today.    Oh, and I like myself today, so that is a good thing.


Lynn said...

Loved this post. It's like every dreamy preteen coming of age summer rolled into one - yet purely unique, too. So perfectly captured...now I need a drink and a fake cigarette.

Anonymous said...

You have brought so many memories with that song! On the first day of Grade 9 English Class, I discovered that I was put in the Basic class instead of the Enriched one where I was supposed to be. (Apparently my art classes conflicted with my English course. Grrrrr.) So, in protest, instead of reciting some boring British poem for my class, I opted to bring the lyrics of Take a Walk on the Wild Side to life! LOL! The following day that teacher facilitated my return to the Enriched group... ;-)

- Your friendly neighbourhood curator.

petite gourmand said...

Loved this post..
talk about taking me back.

haven't yet checked out the link yet, but I can already hear the back up singers in my head...do do do doo doo da doo doo da doo da
click rewind.
click rewind.
click rewind.
I think we lived in the same house-blue with white porch in a small ontario town and had the same hair cut (sun in and all)
Only I was hooked on Matinee special milds- my mom's brand so it was easier to sneak them.

oh the memories.
Summer kind of does that doesn't it?

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