The doldrums of summer seem longer and hotter when you’re twelve. June days are whiled away in nervousness about the future. July is hotter, but as the month progresses, you feel less vulnerable somehow. By August, anxiety turns to excitement – you’re no longer an elementary school pip squeak, but big middle schooler, about to start fresh in a better school this fall, that is, if you don’t blow it. Better get ready.
I surveyed the entire space. With just a little help from Mom, maybe I could renovate my bedroom. Time had come to scrap the deplorable furnishings I once thought were cute during elementary school days: grandmother’s old and dirty hand-braided rug; the pastel, curlicue flower wallpaper; the orange curtains that looked like a Halloween costume massacre. What I really wanted was mod wallpaper, something resembling the big, bold, blue vertical stripes I’d seen on shirts the Beach Boys wore. Imagine having my entire room surrounded in stripes! Other guys my age probably had their bedrooms done up just this way. Now it was my turn.
To keep the momentum going, I asked Mom to buy some new wallpaper in exchange for my agreeing to help put it up.
It must have been the rare offer of labor that explained Mom’s drive to the wallpaper store that afternoon, the closest I’d ever come to riding shotgun in an ambulance. Anticipation was building. Modern wallpaper was meant to be.
Energized, I flashed through hundreds of wallpaper sample book pages with Mom, trying to find a design I liked.
As the hours passed, excitement waned, patience thinned, and the quality of selections deteriorated.
“How about this one, Michael?” she asked, her right hand displaying a light orange-striped pattern.
“Mom, I want wallpaper for a boy. This is for a boy’s room.”
“Oh, and look at this one,” a stupid pea-green stripe design. “And this one here is really something,” an implied stripe motif using tiny rabbits. “When you look closely, it’s really tiny little …”
“Mom, Mom, I’m not a girl.”
“Okay, then what is it you want? This?” Her hand slapped the sample sheet of eggshell white.
“No, Mom, I don’t want …”
“Then don’t use that tone of voice with me, young man. Now, what do you want?”
“I dunno, it’s not here, but it’s gotta be around somewhere.”
Ten minutes more and the search was done. I’d given in. One of her designs won. I hated myself.
A week later, I stared at thin, tiny, microscopic, vertical baby-blue stripes surrounded by large Revolutionary War battle scenes pasted all over my bedroom walls. I knew Mom suffered from Colonial Stylism – the pervasive affliction of many sixties housewives – but this had gone too far. As our home decorator, she’d colonialized everything: pillows, couches, mantle piece decorations, probably her own underwear, and now my room had been captured and sterilized.
Johnny Tremained-out, I didn’t want anyone to witness this massacre – ever, particularly guy friends. What could have been a place to share with them was now a museum of Boston Tea Party scenes. I felt half-dead realizing all my years ahead would be spent gaping at deadly rifles, horses, ships, whips, and men running around in three-cornered hats.
This excerpt is from Chapter Three, “Boys,” in my memoir, “Maybe Boomer.”