Cruel and unusual punishment

I don’t really think that my parents set out to make my life truly unbearable, but it sure seemed that way.  Since I was the eldest, I turned out to be the ‘test kid’ for pretty much everything from haircuts to shoes.

Part 1:

I’m sure they thought it best when faced with four kids (two boys and two girls – in that order) that buying a home hair cutting kit made sense.  Now, I’d seen my mom cutting my dad’s hair several times for ‘just a trim’ so I wasn’t too worried when she sat me down in the kitchen on a stool, threw a dishtowel around my shoulders, pulled it up tight, and clicked on the shears.  It was during this first time that I learned to tell just how deep a certain cut was by the change in tone of the clippers.  A seriously gone astray swath would also be accompanied by a phrase, usually under her breath, that wasn’t meant for my tender ears.

After what seemed like the finals of the Australian Sheep Shearing festival, she turned the clippers off and started using scissors for ‘really close-in’ operations.  Raking the comb one way and snipping with the scissors the other way she whacked across the top of my head.

Finally, she pronounced she was done, whipped the dishtowel off, and pushed me out of the stool.  I rushed to my bedroom where I could take a look at my new haircut.  This was a mistake.  I should have just gone directly to hell.

What looked back at me was what appeared as a badly drawn image of Dagwood Bumstead from the comic strip ‘Blondie’.  Despite several escaping shafts of hair from the side of my head, there was what looked like a small gouge right down the middle – but just a bit off center.

Maybe I shouldn’t have moved around as much as I did.

Part 2:

The haircut was applied at the end of summer so that I might be prepared to enter school in the fall not looking like some lonesome sheepdog in need of a license tag.  What also took place was the dreaded “school clothes shopping” trip to the Base Exchange.  Previously, they had been taking us to places like Sears and Monkey Ward for clothes as they apparently had ones that didn’t self-destruct after two days of wear during the summer.  The Base Exchange, on the other hand, provided clothes that would get you yelled at if you even attempted to sneak out the door wearing them after school.  They also tarred you with the brush labeled DORK.  Why my parents ever thought I would want to wear them after school I’ll never know because if I did I would be shunned, or otherwise made to feel unwelcome.  It was bad enough to have to wear them TO school.  This was 1955 and the wearing of ‘blue jeans’ and tee shirts was strictly forbidden by every school in the land.

As we were wandering through the self-proclaimed School Clothes section, my mom gleefully threw shirts, pants, sox, underwear, and other unidentifiable items into her basket.  Once full, she herded me over to the fitting rooms.  Ah!  No!!!  Not the fitting rooms!

Multiple trips were made by me shuttling back and forth into the closet to change into various combinations of clothes.  White shirts and dark pants were pretty much okay with me, but when she pulled out a lavender shirt and light-brown pants I felt the blood drain from my face.  This combination, I concluded, would definitely put me in contention for the “biggest pansy in school” award.  I’d have to leave town after showing up in them.  The finishing touch was the pants were corduroy.   If the lavender shirt didn’t announce my sexual preferences, the ‘whoop-whoop’ of rubbing corduroy would.

Fortunately, my argument of “Mom, I’ll get stomped” held water and she put them back on the rack.  I think she originally chose them just to rattle me.  It worked.

Part 3:

In combination with the above degrading operations, I was also subjected to a visit to the Optometrist on the base.  My parents had noticed that when I was reading that I tended to put my nose close to the page and squinted a lot.  This prompted them to make an appointment.

I arrived in the waiting room the required fifteen minutes early and, according to the wall clock, waited yet another forty-five minutes as the ‘doctor was running late’.  Running?  From whom?  I bet it was from other boys who had been tortured by his machines.

In due course I was ushered into a chair surrounded by diabolical machines designed to suck your eyes out of your head or some such.  First there was the machine that forced your lids open, made you stare straight ahead, and blasted air into the center of your eye.  The explanation was to check for ‘glue coma’.  As far I knew, I stopped eating library paste in Kindergarten so that wasn’t a problem.

Then the lights were dimmed and another machine wheeled in front of me to be pushed directly in my face.  I couldn’t see anything through it so I just sat and waited for what was to happen.  There was a click and my left eye saw a white chart with several dark blobs on it ranging from a large blob on top down to a really long blob on the bottom.  As the Doc manipulated wheels, gears, and spoke incantations, the blobs slowly revealed themselves as letters.  Telling me to read the middle line proved difficult.  I counted the lines – an even number – so what, pray tell, was the ‘middle line’?  I apparently guessed correctly and was awarded several other visual options that made the letters slide sideways at the top, go in and out of focus, and finally coalesce into crystal clarity.  The other eye was treated the same.

I tried to listen carefully to what the Doc told my mom, but it got a bit garbled I think.  He said I had ‘mild my opium’ and ‘a stick matisism’ and that he recommended glasses.  The last word struck like a dagger to my heart – GLASSES!  Oh, no.  I’d seen what military glasses looked like – my dad wore a pair of them.  Every time I saw him wearing them I was seized with an inner mirth that threatened to permanently water my eyes. They consisted of dark plastic (nearly black) with round lenses and made you look like you were wearing swim goggles.  My fate was sealed.  No self-respecting girl would ever be seen with me while I wore them.  At least I wouldn’t get them right away and could try to get in good with a girl before she saw them.

Part 4:

The final nail in my coffin was a trip to the base dentist.  You have to remember that this was back in the mid-fifties and dentistry was still in the Stone Age so to speak.  There were no high-speed drills, cherry flavored gum deadeners prior to getting a jab by a hypodermic needle the approximate size of a fountain pen, or other niceties you have now.

Entering the room you first see yet another chair surrounded by complicated devices intended to torture others into submission.  The most prevalent machine was a multi-hinged device with what appeared as hundreds of little graduated pulleys and wheels wrapped with rubber bands.

Right next to that was a miniature toilet bowl with water running around the rim; no doubt to let the blood drain without getting it on your shirt.  To the side was a small table with hundreds of little pointed things with which to examine every crevice in every tooth.

The nurse sat me down, snapped a tablecloth over me, and summoned the dentist with a “he’s ready doctor”.  No, no, you haven’t strapped my arms to the chair yet – I’m NOT ready!  But the dentist appeared right in front of me wearing glasses that had several other lenses swung out to the side.  Graduated magnifying lenses I thought so he could peer into the cavities he was sure to find.

Grabbing a fistful of little pointed metal things he began examining my teeth.  Occasional he would mumble something to his nurse like “number seven impacting number eight – distilled side – put a watch on that one” or, “number fourteen has an include all on the mole”.

The final result was that I did need several fillings but that he wasn’t going to do them today – thank goodness.  He told my mom to make an appointment to get them done.  How about June 17, 1985?  I don’t think I’m busy that day.

T.O.M.

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