A Tale of the Mod Man and the Man He Became
2012 by Steven Hunley
We’re looking through the family photos the other day, right after the Fourth of July barbeque, after the kids have exhausted the muscles of their necks watching fireworks and tucked into bed. I find a picture of myself and don’t like what I see. How gray my hair has turned, the whole nine yards.
I’ll admit it. I’m suffering from old-man angst. If I had been nothing before it wouldn’t bother me a bit to be nothing now. But I wasn’t nothing. I was something.
Out of the shower and dressing, looking in the mirror. What do I see? I see a hunched-over old man. And grey-haired too. Only the moustache hints of the rich black, the “used-to-be” color I possessed and wore so well. The eyes have lost their sparkle, and the boyish charm has probably gone the same direction as the jeans, which are sagging around the butt. I hate the reflection that is me.
Angsty, that’s my style lately.
Like I said, it wouldn’t bother me if I had been nothing, had been no one. But I had been someone. I’m going to admit it right now to you all. I was Mod Man.
It happened like this: In
nineteen sixty-five I graduated and started wearing my hair long.
Not because of the fashion, at first. Because I had big ears.
All my life the big ears. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but
Disney came out with “Dumbo” at the same time I was in grammar
school. So you know what they called me.
When the Beatles came in, here was my chance to bury my ears beneath mounds of hair, and I took it. The Mod fashion came later. We first American Mods had to search for fashions, and copied “the look” from English band album covers. My wide-whale corduroy pants were as wide-whaled as Brian Jones’ red ones on the pictures from High Tides and Green Grass. You’ve seen it on TV or in history books by now. Long hair, military jackets, bell-bottomed pants, flowered or paisley shirts with plain cuffs and collars. Beatle-boots with stupid zippers on their sides that always broke.
Girls thought, everyone thought, you had to be in a band. I even rented a base guitar from Apex music downtown. Thought I could manage four strings at least. Turned out I couldn’t.
City College was right across the street from San Diego High School . It was small, and believe it or not, only three of us dressed anything Mod. There was me, a guy Mike Millsap, who was actually in a band, and Steven Garrison, an artist who drew for the Fortnightly, the college rag.
Long-haired, all three of us. We’d sit together at lunch and swap stories.
“Guess what happened when I walked by the jocks today?”
That’s how it started.
One day the Jocks would say, “Is that a boy or a girl?” Typical topical jock-humor.
Next day it would be, “When you gonna get a haircut?” Ditto the first comment.
Funny thing is, inside of a year they’d be, everyone would be, wearing their hair longer in one way or another. We were the pioneers though. We took the flak for the rest of them. Like the first bombers over Berlin .First in battle and so forth. Front-line fashion troops, that’s what we were.
Then one day Steve comes to the lunch table with a piece of paper in his hand.
“Look at this,” says he.
It was the first cartoon of Mod Man.
“It’s you,” he says.
He made them for a semester, and if you don’t believe me, go down to City College in Dago and ask to see the back issues. Just for nostalgia’s sake I’m about to do it myself one day. Just for nostalgia’s sake, get me?
Gonna ask myself what happened. Gonna ask myself what went wrong. Gonna ask myself why I’m not famous anymore, why I’m only yesterday’s favorite. Gonna die my hair and stash with something that “just gets the grey out.” I’m not just going to get it out. I’m going to exile it. Exiles on Main street . No, then it might return like Napoleon from Elba . Better to assassinate it. Gonna back-date my age and everything.
life's what you make it - don't backdate it.”
That’s what Talk-Talk says.
I gotta go back to the mirror to brush my hair, it’s dry now anyway, it took so long for this old man to type this angst out of his system. But wait a minute here! Something’s wrong. An hour has passed and the light has changed in the room. I can see better. Let me open the blinds up a bit.
My daughter, short as she is, has hung the mirror too low on the wall! That’s why I’m hunched over. And now that the light is brighter, the grey is all silvered-out instead. My stash is silver and black too. Kinda cool. It ain’t so bad after all.
The eyes, all blue and green, have more sparkle than Captain Kidd’s treasure!
And hey, these are my big-butted son’s jeans! Mine are over there on the chair. Lemme try them on. Hey, there’s my butt after all. It was there all the time.
And the boyish charm, well I can’t say for sure where it was hiding, but there it is, right where it belongs, inside of me. I’ll use it whenever I please.
life's what you make it - celebrate it
anticipate it - yesterday's faded.
Nothing can change it - life's what you make it.
Ev'rything's alright - life's what you make it.”
That’s the thing about old-man angst. Like Malaria, it comes and goes. Or maybe I was just going through a phase.
Don’t we all?
Next there’s a
picture of me in front of the bus stop next the curb. In this
one, I don’t look so bad. I’m dressed up and ready to go.
Since I read bus signs, I call this photo, Pull Cord for Next Stop.
Pull Cord for Next Stop (Jale el Cordon para pedir parada)
Three pan dulces (sweet breads) in a bag, a copy of Seutonius in my back pocket. Don’t think I’m some sort of literary stick-in-the-mud. Seutonius is like reading the Roman version of the National Inquirer. A rag. That’s why I love him. I’m ready to go to Montebello to be live-scanned for work. I’m doing an after-school reading program.
On the bus-
A popsicle-stick black woman with hair slicked back and pulled tight has most of it wound up on one side like a burnt swirly cinnamon bun with sunglasses propped up on her head. She’s bobbing her head up and down to music from her Walkman. Probably Mountain. Most likely the song Mississippi Queen. Her eyes take a queenly look at the men passing by in the aisle, evaluating, weighing, then measuring their possible value to royalty.
Her stately chiseled Nefertiti face
reveals no emotion. Large hollow gold bamboo earrings dangle in time
with the tune.
Out of nowhere a baby cries.
She bestows an incredible smile with teeth of white coral and her thick queen-sized eyebrows arch in recognition. I catch her regarding a fellow sitting opposite holding a jug of Oceanspray cranberry juice between his legs like a real man.
Blue jeans, black socks, white laces on tennies. Mustached and goateed, hair cropped to perfection. Quite handsome.
While he’s looking away she regards him. When he tries to catch her eye she casts her gaze down demurely.
Something is going on here. It looks like eye-tag to me.
She selects a different tune from her ancient Walkman and adjusts her ear-buds.
Queenie tilts her head back and yawns wide. A glistening strand of silvered saliva appears between her lips like frozen dew on cold kite string. Uh-oh. Her illusion of beauty is soon to be snapped forever.
At a stop Queenie gathers her things and prepares to get off. The man scoots forward in his seat. She stands in front of him. From my angle I can tell he’s evaluating her queen-sized butt.
My goodness, he’s gazing as if transfixed! Ooh, I can use that. It sounds so literary!
They both get off and as we pull away I can see him crossing the street after her as if she were a female dog in heat.
Good luck to them both, that’s what I say.
I decide to write they got off on a street named Natchez, to prove that my artistic license is still valid and that I’m not uneducated in Mississippi geography or Mark Twain, either one.
Two male teens are texting like mad then look out the windows for girls. The window is scratched up with gang signs like the CG’s, El Segundos, and Lime Hood. So much for the masculine teen-age human condition.
An older Mexican lady gets on with a messed-up umbrella she uses only for the sun.
Outside, two men with tuff orange helmets and cheap sunglasses are digging a ditch near the curb. All I can see is their shoulders and heads, yet somehow the work looks too hard. Work always looks too hard to me. That’s why I write. I like to play.
A sad older lady with grocery bags marked “Food for Less” gets off. Her mouth is turned down at the corners. It probably wasn’t as “less” as she expected. She grimaces at the realization that nothing is ever as advertised.
On the right we pass the Tropicanna Bakery and Cuban Cafe. The T is made out of a neon palm tree. I wonder if Ricky Ricardo works there. I wonder where Lucy is too. I wonder what happened to all the black and white TVs. Their history was like the report of a monsoon in Rangoon. Thousands were left homeless by color.
I eat one of my pan dulces on the corner of Whittier and Rosemead. Eighty-one degrees of sun feel good on my face, no buildings in sight over two stories. I ponder just how many stories I’ll get out of this trip. Maybe more than I figure.
I arrive at the place for the live-scan. Like I said, it’s crawling with cops. There are eight desks and each one is busy, each person as straight as a ruler. A class is beginning in another room where some guy is explaining how to arrest someone else. What fun! There are holsters and gun belts and tasers and phasers. William Shatner shops here for sure. I just know it.
They have guns too, all dark and deadly. Snub-nosed 38, $450.00. Berretta 9 mm. with extra clip, $350.00. They seem expensive, guns do, just like Disneyland. They must be lots of fun too.
They take my prints. The guy who does it is good at it. He has the touch.
“How long did this used to take,” I ask him, “when they were still using ink?”
“How long now?”
As I walk out the door I say to the guy who gave me my receipt, whose hair looks suspiciously like Jack Lord’s and is wearing a Hawaiian shirt in a most arresting manner,
“You know, this was the next best thing to being on the set of Hawaii Five-O.”
“Thanks,” he says, and it’s over.
He shoulda said, “Book ‘em Danno.”
On the way back I notice that Montebello City Hall looks like a left-over set from the film Lost Horizons. It ain’t Shangrila but it’s close. I decide to spread a rumor that’s exactly what it is, a piece left over from the film that they purchased from Columbia studios at a discount back in 1937. I would have bought it myself, it was one of my favorite movies, but I wasn’t born yet. Not too many people who were are still around.
Perhaps my artistic license should be revoked. Perhaps I should be arrested for the things that go on in my mind. Perhaps we all should.
I get off to transfer and get lost. I see a dude rolling up the street on four wheels.
“Is the 60 this way?”
“Where do you want to go?”
“The city or the boulevard?”
He’s handsome, Hispanic, and middle-aged with just a taste of grey on his Aztec temples. I can’t tell how tall or how short on accounta the wheel chair. He smiles.
“It’s two lights down, that way. I used to go there all the time."
We stroll parallel. I figure if he can wheel himself there then I can walk it no problem.
“And you were rolling!” I point out.
He beams a little California sunshine my way with his teeth.
“How long you been in the chair?”
“But you’re young. How can that be?”
“I got the polio when I was one.”
“I thought they cured it in the late fifties. Salk and his vaccine and all.”
“Yes, but I was born in Mexico where it was still around.”
“Oh, I see.”
At the corner we part. Me on my feet, him on his wheels.
“You must have great upper body strength!”
“Yes,” he answers, “en mis brasos!” (arms)
He wheels away and points his arms up, fists clenched, and bent at the elbows. He’s flexing his muscles like Popeye.
“Muy fuerte!” (real strong!) I shout, and he’s gone.
Funny how some people emphasize their strengths. With me it’s my weaknesses. Sometimes I think something’s wrong with me.
So I walk two lights, save sixty cents, and learn something about myself in the process. That I’m too self-absorbed.
Now I’m at the next stop.
On Whittier a passing Dalmatian with a black freckled face pokes his head from a car window sniffing what the Colonel is frying.
On the bench a young Asian fellow is sitting beside me texting his girlfriend tormentedly with Fingers of Fury. Bruce Lee would be proud. A young couple in love shares a hamburger on the corner at a cement table under a metal umbrella. Two straws in one Coke. That’s love for ya.
A Pico Rivera sheriff goes by in a squad car with her hair all done up in a bun. Why is it women in authority always wear their hair in this fashion?
We zoom by seven signs that say Bank Repos. They are not good signs any way you look at them. A man with an olive-green back-pack gets on and tries to sell a pair of sunglasses to the driver for forty-two dollars.
“Fifty-five for two of them!”
The driver drives on.
“The frames themselves cost sixty-five dollars.”
The driver keeps driving.
.“Your insurance would charge you one hundred and fifty!”
When he gets off at the next stop the driver decides he can breathe easily.
At Paramount and Firestone we pass Norm’s restaurant. I suddenly realize I have lost my pan dulces! They’re gone. I think I left them with the cops! OMG OMG! I have just brought the Mexican equivalent of donuts to cops! This is a faux pas for an ex-hippie! Perhaps I should not publish this. What if the hippie police find out?! My counter-culture reputation is at stake. I don’t know what to do. Whatever will the hippie authorities say?
“Book ‘em Danno!”
I decide to go back to doing what I do best. Write.
So if you see an
old man scribbling on a notebook in the back of a bus, please pay him
no heed. Act natural. It’s most likely me.
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