The last time I saw a boy dressed up in a sailor’s suit was in 1992, in our Tribeca loft where my wife Melissa and I had a brief 10-minute wedding ceremony, with 60 or so people in attendance, before heading over to El Teddy’s for a blurry but dreamy reception. Aside from the bride, apparel honors went to my eight-month-old nephew Rhys, decked out in sailor garb that brought smiles all around the living room. (Rhys, now 31 and married himself, can’t have a recollection of his ersatz runway performance, although I’m certain he’s been reminded.) You don’t often, if at all, see kids of any age dressed in Naval gear today, but it was once very common. Above is a picture of my Uncle Joe in the Bronx far back into the last century, flanked by baby Uncle Pete and my mom with a fittingly outrageous bow in her hair. (Clues below to identify the year.)
There’s a picture of me somewhere in the house, taken in 1958, next to a neighbors’ dog called Plut (no canine name has surpassed that one), and the sailor’s suit I’m wearing has a very noticeable pee stain on the pants; perhaps I was too busy posing to hit the john, or maybe I was just free as a bird, letting it flow! When Halloween came around, I’d guess as a toddler I wore whatever was brought down from the attic, but once turning seven, I always dressed as a hobo, a tramp, a vagrant, with whiskers applied by the smearing of burnt cork, and some too-big clothes raided from an older brother’s closet, and topped with one of my dad’s many hats that he no longer wore. Grabbed a pillowcase, met up with buddies and we’d stay out until 11 (with a pit stop to unload the full-size Hersey’s and Nestle Crunch bars, and chuck all the fruit and loose candy). Stopped trick or treating at 12, since Halloween, like Trix, was for kids.
During the year, in the early-1960s, when horsing around outside, I often dressed as a cowboy with a toy pistol to shoot up Indians, or a Civil War soldier, alternating between the Yankees and Rebels, and sometimes as a WWII American soldier. My own sons, in the 1990s and early-2000s were more eclectic, or perhaps modern. Nicky struck an immaculate appearance dressed as James Bond, with a suit, ascot and tie; Booker, who spent all his money (or, more accurately, the cash from mom and dad’s wallets) on anime, the books and fragile action figures, and dressed up as Ichigo from Bleach, Kurapika from Hunter x Hunter, and, as he told me last week, “the coolest” was Doraemon. I had no conception—or interest, really, except to see Booker happy—of who these characters were, but he went whole-hog.
We attended Baltimore’s annual summer Otakon festival three or four times in the early-aughts, and though the lines were around the block, I’d guess it was a highlight of Booker’s youth, traipsing from booth to booth, engulfed in a mob of crazy people—I never understood, still don’t, adults in their 30s and 40s dressed in costume at these three-day jamborees, but as Sly Stone (still, and unfathomably, underrated) sang so many years ago, “different strokes for different folks, and so on and so on and scooby-scooby doo.”
Last week, when replacing a busted cabinet in our “media room,” and cleaning it out, I asked Booker if I could chuck about 50 volumes of manga. My ears, which unlike the peepers, are tip-top, are still ringing from my 28-year-old son’s protests, which I obliged. It reminds me of Boomers who bemoan the loss of their baseball card collection from spring-cleaning parents while they were away at college or with young families. That wasn’t a problem for me: my mom never threw anything out; if I dared opened a taped box in our basement today, it wouldn’t surprise me to find a pack of Green Stamps from 1964.
Look at the clues for the year: the Eskimo Pie ice cream bar is patented; the Lincoln Memorial in D.C. is dedicated; Stephanie Goldner becomes the first female member of the New York Philharmonic; Betty White is born and Marcel Proust dies; the California grizzly bear is hunted to extinction; Jack Kerouac is born and John Wanamaker dies; Flesh and Blood is released; Al Jolson’s “April Showers” is the most popular song; D. W. Griffith releases One Exciting Night; Morvich wins the Kentucky Derby; Gummy Bears were created in Germany; and Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt is published.
—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023