Posts Tagged ‘Image’

Whatever Happened to “Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice”?

By Bob Litton

¶I believe I have always been averse to absurdities, especially grotesque and gruesome absurdities. That’s why I am coulrophobic (turned off by clowns). The aversion probably circumscribed my enjoyment childhood, affecting not only my reaction to clowns but also to some children’s stories and nursery rhymes. I couldn’t see anything amusing about Humpty Dumpty breaking his “crown” or in Jack breaking his either. And those poor three blind mice whose tails were cut off by the farmer’s wife? Phooey! One nursery rhyme particularly annoyed me, this one:

What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails
And puppy-dogs’ tails
That’s what little boys are made of.

What are little girls made of?
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice
And everything nice [or “all things nice”]
That’s what little girls are made of.

¶The reported consensus of literary historians is that the above verses were composed by English poet Robert Southey (1771-1843), although they did not appear in any of his published works. Besides his own seven children, Southey and his wife supported the wives and children of his companion romantic poets Robert Lovell and Samuel Coleridge, after the former died and the latter abandoned his family, so we cannot criticize his personal observation of what children are like. He wrote some poetry and stories for children, including “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”, which was probably my own favorite in childhood.
¶But I am digressing too much from my topic: the change in our image of girls and women.
¶What bothered me about the sketches of gender above is that it paints boys in such miniscule and dingy terms (Did Southey’s boys cut off the tails of puppies?). Of course, individual grains of sugar and spice are miniscule, too, but they are usually partaken in bulk and children of both genders can’t seem to get enough of them. Moreover, reserving “everything nice” for girls pretty much excludes any pleasant attributes for boys. As another grownup male complained on an Internet site that critiqued the verse, “It isn’t fair!” Hearing that poem read aloud was my introduction to the “battle of the sexes”.
¶Back in Southey’s time, girls and women, of the upper classes in England at least, were pointedly sheltered from the cruder aspects of life. They were expected to be the moral exemplars for society, maintaining values which men, for their part, had not many qualms of abusing. Sure, there were some young gentle women — Mary Shelley, for instance — who breached that rule; but, overall, it seems that people paid at least lip service to it until the early 20th century. And it has been a downward spiral ever since Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I was especially disappointed when, in 1987, the editor of the New Yorker magazine caved in and allowed a four-letter word to be printed; now that magazine’s pages are littered with words ordinarily reserved for Penthouse.
¶I was raised under the old code. Mother instructed me to surrender my seat on the trolley to ladies, especially old ladies. And I was taught by various elders that profanity was excusable only among adult males, never in the hearing of ladies. Recently, I mentioned my developing dismay about the modern trend of ubiquitous profanity to a female acquaintance at our local senior center (she is about my own age). “Yeah,” she said. “When I was young we couldn’t even say ‘sex’; we had to spell it, s-e-x’!”
¶One of the former residents at my apartment complex was an old harridan, whose unit was two doors south of mine. She was quite loud in every way: face-to-face conversation, her television-viewing, and on the phone. For some reason I never discovered, she would not have the courtesy to shut her front door when engaged in her racket-making and especially liked to stand on our common porch and chatter away on her cell phone. One afternoon, while I was outside sweeping leaves off the porch, she was in her living room, practically yelling into her phone. I walked over, opened her screen door, and pulled the main door shut. She jumped up from her chair and came to the door, opened it, and started cursing a blue streak. That old cliché about “words that would make a sailor blush” seems hardly adequate to describe her behavior. I silently kept on sweeping.
¶Don’t gather from the above that I am a “goody-two-shoes” (whatever that is!). I sometimes utter curse words, mostly while I’m driving, but my vocabulary level in the vulgar range is limited and I’m certainly not proud of my profanities; it’s just a release for my frustrations, I guess. It is mainly an echo of that old lesson “don’t swear in the company of ladies” that causes me to get slightly irritated when I hear fellows at my favorite bar punctuating their conversations with the activities and products of their body parts.
¶The problem is not just the presence of “ladies” (for they can be just as foul-mouthed); the issue is also the gratuitousness of such extended vulgarity. Imagine: If all of us — men, women and children alike — include an obscenity in every sentence we utter, those profanities would lose their effectiveness. After all, the rare use of a four-letter word used to signify a sudden change in temperament or it charged an incident with emergency. Now they are just wasted puffs of breath with a slightly foul and boring odor in them.
¶Female use of profanity is all part of the “women’s liberation” movement which began in the 1960s. It was also connected to the growing prevalence of smoking among professional women, epitomized by Philip Morris Company’s 1968 advertising slogan for its new Virginia Slims cigarettes: “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby!”* Of course, smoking by women was common in the 1920s, -30s, and -40s, in the movies at least; but the trend seemed to have burgeoned in the 1960s.
¶Before I go, I want to add a few words about the other new trend: tattooing. Like cursing, this feature used to be almost the exclusive property of sailors and South Seas islanders; but now it seems to have become fashionable in my home country. I frankly don’t understand it. The human body, at least for many of us, can be beautiful; but we seem determined to besmear it with ugliness. Those generally indistinguishable markings with their lurid colors, that look more like signs of a blood disease than artwork, are just another way of attracting attention to one’s self, when the best way to do that is to be well-groomed and courteous.

*If you would like to see how this slogan developed over the years, check out this site: http://flashbak.com/youve-come-a-long-way-baby-virginia-slims-advertising-year-by-year-365664/

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Of Haircuts and Barbers

Barber cutting hair of mature man

Barber cutting hair of mature man
Source: Getty Images

© 2015 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

Do you have an ideal haircut (or hairdo) style? Have you been able to find a barber or hair-stylist who could create it to your specifications?

I have had such a dream “do” for many years now, ever since I gave up the flat-top of my high school years. Initially, it was patterned after Paul Newman and then after Cary Grant. After ensconcing myself dutifully in the barber’s chair, and after he had chokingly tied a sheet around my neck, I would gurgle, “Make me look like Cary Grant!” The barbers used to take me seriously, although they had no photo of Cary (or, earlier, Paul) to use as a model. A couple of decades ago, however, they began to chuckle. Now I don’t even mention movie stars anymore. Sad to say, my only unintentional reflections are the senators and representatives; it’s not my fault they want to copy me!

Once upon a time, while I was residing in Monahans—a town one-sixth again larger than my present “hometown”—I would drive sixty miles over to Odessa to shop, dine at a cafeteria, drink beer, and get my hair cut. (Odessa has about fourteen times the population of Monahans.) After one of those jaunts I liked my haircut so much that I had my girl-friend of the time photograph me under it; I intended to show that photo to future barbers as the model of what I wanted. I haven’t done so in a long while, but recent experience is pushing me in that direction. (That photo at the top of this page is not of me, by the way, but it is of a man apparently not very far removed from me age-wise…and he looks like a nice enough fellow. But why hasn’t he removed his glasses?)

My first barber in this town was an old-timer who came here in the 1950s, a colorful chap who could relate all the news he had heard in his shop that and the prior days. He was more reliable than the local news media. He retired about six years ago, sold his business to a couple of the women who worked for him, and moved to Central Texas to be near his children and grandchildren.

Then one of his female successors finally obtained her master’s degree in geology and left. Things went downhill: The other partner just did not have her heart in the business; one could never be sure when she would open up, go to lunch, how long she would be out to lunch, or when she would close. I believe she lost a lot of business; anyway she lost me.

My next barber was a woman whose shop was in a retrofitted house on the south side. Her primary appeal for me was that she, at that time, was charging only $10, while almost everybody else was charging at least $14, for cutting a man’s hair. Despite her comparatively low fee, however, she was living high on the hog. Of course, she had a husband who also worked somewhere; but they had a fairly nice middle-class home, and her shop was large enough and well-maintained. She also had a fairly new Cadillac sedan, which I spotted one day through one of her windows, parked beneath an attached carport.

I made the mistake of teasing her about the Cadillac. (I have a terrible habit of teasing waitresses, barmaids, and barberettes. Just terrible!) “You know what?” I said. “You’ve got it made. You cut hair off no telling how many skulls in an hour at ten dollars a whack, and so you can afford a new Cadillac. Say you cut six haircuts in one hour, each one taking up five to ten minutes, at forty hours a week that’s twenty-four hundred bucks a week…not counting the tips that others leave, not I.”

“It’s not enough. I’m going to raise it to fourteen dollars.”

“Oh, don’t do that! I’m a poor boy. The main reason I come here is because your rate fits my billfold.”

“Everybody else in town charges fourteen.”

“Maybe so, but they’re professionals. They’ve gone to barber college.”

She got huffy. “I’ve been doing this for forty years. That’s enough training. I’m a professional.”

Shortly after that conversation, she stopped answering the phone when I called to set an appointment. I started going to one of the fifteen-dollar fellows in town.

There really isn’t much competition in this little hamlet. You have to take what you can get for the price they ask. It’s the same with doctors and auto mechanics.

I try to make it a month between visits to the barber shop for two reasons: the high cost and the frustration.

I’m sure $15 is no significant drain on most of my readers’ pocketbooks, but for me it equals one and a half meals…sometimes two. Consequently, each time my haircut day comes up, I dress in my most worn-out garments to lend a little more evidentiary point to my poor man’s image.

As for the frustration, do you have the same problem that afflicts me: virtually blooming hair-growth about the ears, and strands practically going to seed on the crown? I try to describe to the barber what I want, but without much success. “Looky here,” I say, “Please cut close around the ears but leave enough for people to see there’s hair there…and I want to be able to part my hair…to comb it all over…but I don’t want to look like Bozo the Clown a week from now.”

But what does he do? He trims it close all the way to a 16th of an inch below where the part line is and then clips even more off the top. I bow my head and wish I could cry. Nonetheless, when I get home and comb my hair the next morning, initially brushing it downward toward my eyes, there are three or four center strands that dip down below my eyebrow. I look like a Marine just out of boot camp.

I have not always had a problem with barbers. Hate to say it about my little town here, where I have resided for the past thirteen years, but the problem must have something to do with the amenities. Any really adept barber—just like any other really adept professional—is going to go to, or stay in, a more civilized, cosmopolitan city, if he or she can successfully compete there. Those unable to do so will venture to the hamlets where they do not have to compete…at least not as fiercely.

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