Authors: Richard Glover
he younger shop assistant in Jay Jay’s Jeans was eyeing me over, assessing whether I was man enough to cop her rather rash proposal. But something must have clicked right with her: maybe the way I was standing, maybe the shape of my bum in the pair of Levi’s 501s.
‘You could buy that pair,’ she said, ‘but we’ve got exactly the same thing for about $60 less.’
‘Exactly the same?’
‘Well, exactly the same except they are
Instantly, I felt myself flush: I’d spent a lifetime trying to get into girls’ pants. The girls’ Levi’s were $33; the boys’ $99. I was presented with a stark choice between my identity as a man — the whole history of male achievement on this planet — and saving $66. Naturally, I went for the dollars.
There are times in every man’s life when he’s tempted to wear women’s clothing, and this was mine. I went into the changing room and slipped on the pants; they were cut a little differently, but who would notice? And they were a
I walked out and modelled the pants. Both shop assistants approved.
‘Actually, I think they look better on you than the men’s,’ said the younger one, with what I felt was unnecessary enthusiasm.
‘Yes,’ said the other,
men just suit the girls’ cut.’
I knew exactly what sort of men she meant. Those with child-bearing hips.
I met Jocasta and the kids back at the car, and, still a little embarrassed, still a little hesitant, whispered all about it into my beloved’s ear, all about the money, and the cut, and what they said about the pants’ suiting me.
And, of course, Jocasta reacted with her usual demure sensitivity. ‘Hah!’ she yahooed to the kids, slapping her thigh. ‘Look at your father, he’s wearing girls’ pants!’
I wonder whether you happen to have a pre-teen boy in your family. Because only then might you understand exactly how funny such a child might find the idea of his father wearing girls’ pants. And the answer is very, very, very funny indeed.
So there we were in the car. Me sitting in my cheap girls’ jeans; Jocasta trying so hard not to laugh that she’s spluttering over the windscreen; and Batboy paralytic in the back seat, red in the face, panting to get the air in, chanting: ‘Girls’ pants, girls’ pants.’
But Batboy is a comedian, and he knows there’s nothing like good timing. So he calms down and waits; waits for that moment back at home when we pass in the corridor, and he looks up and delivers his cheery greeting: ‘Hello, girl.’
By now it’s clear: I should have stopped experimenting with wearing women’s clothing when I was sixteen, like all my mates. Whatever the saving, the jeans are cursed. On Sunday I wear them to a barbecue. Within minutes Jocasta has told everyone, and all the women demand to know what size I take in women’s jeans. So I tell them the size, and no longer am I taunted for wearing ‘girls’ jeans’; I’m taunted for wearing
On Monday, I wear them to work — knowing I have to take The Space Cadet to school on the bus, and so jeans will be good. But can I shake off the Curse Of The Plump Girls’ Jeans?
We’re on the bus for ten minutes, when The Space Cadet works loose the top of his drink bottle. Gracefully, he pours the juice onto my crotch. No longer do I look like a plump girl riding on the bus; now I look like a plump girl with a bladder-control problem riding on the bus.
The stain looks shocking, a big dark patch spreading from my beltline to halfway down my thighs, and yet, at the school gate, no-one takes any notice. The other parents have seen Juice-Bottle Lap before, just as they have seen Vegemite Collar, Peanut-Butter Shoulders and Weet-Bix Bum.
But at work, people are staring. First up, I have a message to see the boss, so I’m standing in his office in my girls’ jeans, holding a copy of
over my crotch, and we are discussing my responsibilities. And I can see he’s eyeing my soaking crotch, thinking: ‘Who’d let him control anything, when he can’t control his own urinary tract.’
Finally the jeans dry. I pick up The Space Cadet from after-school care and stumble home, to see my family, standing there at the front door, a picture of warmth.
‘Hello, girl,’ says Batboy, with a big, toothy smile.
‘Hello, girl,’ says Jocasta, with a kiss.
The girl is home.
Jocasta decides that our discussion of my
drinking problem needs one more element.
It needs Simon to be involved. Now, Simon is
a good bloke … but he’s also a doctor.
he way my parents brought me up has left me with many advantages in life, chief of which is a watertight excuse should I ever snap and become a crazed psychopath. The reasons are too numerous to mention, at least until the judge calls for the submissions on sentencing. But we could start with my childhood wallpaper.
While most parents decorate their eight-year-old’s room by buying four litres of baby-blue paint and a night lamp, mine decided the room should also have a ‘feature wall’. This involved James Bond wallpaper, complete with a recurring pattern made up of a sports car, a glinting revolver, some quite realistic bullet-holes and a group of semi-naked women — presumably evil Soviet spies.
In terms of my own psychosexual development, it’s hard to assess the exact impact of the James Bond design, although it did lead to constant dreams in which I was brutally murdered by wallpaper. And, years later, I still find myself strangely anxious in groups, particularly those comprised of half-naked women with Russian accents.
Of course, as the 1960s gave way to the 1970s, feature walls around the country were painted over, and young minds began the slow struggle to regain their equilibrium. Which is when they brought in novelty underpants.
Novelty underpants were a sort of ‘70s version of the feature wall: while the rest of you would be dressed in fawn, your underpants would be covered with orange geometrics or, worse, actual cartoon characters.
Again, we can only speculate as to the deep effects on my developing mind, knowing that deep beneath my school uniform, Barney Rubble and Fred Flintstone were playing inside my pants. And — just maybe — protecting me from the next attack of the half-naked Russians.
It was a strange idea, really, the personality jockette, and most men just settled for the Jockette of the Month, which offered twelve new designs each year — a marketing idea which collapsed after it emerged that most men thought you were meant to wear the single pair all month.
The exotically patterned jockette survived, however, and quickly built a reputation among teenage boys as a real Girl Magnet — with considerable effort being expended, before each date, choosing which one to wear.
No women, you understand, actually got to see the pattern — at least, not the patterns worn by the sexual no-hopers in my peer group. We must have believed the girls could just tell — that somehow they’d know that beneath our jeans there lurked a pair of red ones. And that, given the subconscious rays being radiated by these, our lucky undies, the girls would be rendered helpless.
‘Hey, Liz, look at Richard over there — there’s just something about him that makes me think, I don’t know … red.’
‘Yeah, Hanna, I know what you mean — suddenly I know it’s right for me to have his baby.’
Later in life, we’d discover that a ‘pair of luckies’ was essential to all sorts of events, and not just adolescent dating, including:
(a) the pay-rise ‘lucky undie’;
(b) the public speech ‘lucky undie’; and
(c) the university exam ‘lucky undie’.
Yet unanswered questions crowd in: if a bloke’s lucky colour is red — and it always seems to be — why doesn’t he just buy two dozen reds, so he can always be encased in a pair of luckies? The answer being (hushed voice):
‘Because they would lose their power, that’s why.’
The lucky undie is a delicate instrument — and must be left to accumulate its power in the drawer, only to emerge when needed; when its power can be suddenly unleashed on the unsuspecting.
And, of course, it’s not only about colour. It’s also about fit — a subtle matter that cannot be bought in bulk, but has to be chanced upon in that perfect pair that’s not too loose, and not too tight; the one with the action gusset and the nurturing support.
Yet despite it all, the magic undies never quite worked and we were forced into desperate experimentation with other suspected Girl Magnets — conducting dangerous trials with devices such as the polyester body-shirt, the shoulder-length hair and even the Janis Ian record collection.
These were the early days in the development of the Girl Magnet. There were many in our brave experimental team who never recovered after these devices went tragically wrong in the field — young men who made the fatal error of smelling their own armpits after wearing a body-shirt, and those, both male and female, exposed to what we now realise were near-lethal levels of Janis Ian.
If only, years back, when I was eight years old, I’d had the guts to stand up to my parents and quote the words which Oscar Wilde uttered on his death bed: ‘Either this wallpaper goes, or I do.’
f you drank less you might look a bit more like Simon.’ Jocasta makes the statement baldly, factually, letting it drop on the mat between us. Simon, who has invited us to stay the weekend, is next door, in the kitchen, mixing up some muesli and singing chirpily. Every time he hits the high note it’s like a knife into my hangover.
Simon is my oldest friend. We’ve been mates since we were twelve. And old schoolmates are important to a man. They are great for telling stories, for laughing about old times, for sharing a few confidences. They are less useful, however, when your partner starts using them as a point of comparison in order to describe the extent of your own physical decline.
‘Simon looks just
good,’ says Jocasta, warming to her theme. ‘Well, actually he looks
Such a fresh face. And so happy in the mornings.’
Next door, Simon hits a particularly high note in his rendition of ‘Morning Has Broken’, causing some sort of electrical storm in the nerve endings of my brain.
‘I mean, look at him,’ says Jocasta, waving airily towards the kitchen as if Simon’s beauty was of such staggering intensity as to be easily appreciated through a double-brick wall. ‘He doesn’t wake up looking haggard. He doesn’t wake up feeling tired. And that’s because he’s sensible about his drinking.’
I let loose a groan. I am under attack, and just when all verbal skills — all the skills of counter-attack — have been momentarily disarmed by alcohol abuse.
It can’t get worse than this, I think. But it does.
Jocasta decides that our discussion of my drinking problem needs one more element. It needs Simon to be involved. Now, Simon is a good bloke, and it’s been lovely to visit him over the holidays, and to learn his recipe for a really sustaining muesli. But he’s also a doctor.
And so when Jocasta marches us both into the kitchen and asks Simon whether he thinks his old friend is drinking too much, he says: ‘Yes, I think he definitely needs to cut down.’ He pauses, stirring in another handful of organic bran: ‘Four standard drinks a day is about the limit. Plus, of course, two alcohol-free days each week.’
He throws in a handful of apricot chunks, before continuing breezily: ‘Although, of course, there may already be some permanent brain damage.’
This is the problem of having a friend who ends up a doctor. One minute you’re both fifteen years old and getting smashed together on Smirnoff hip flasks while stealing your parents’ cars. The next minute you’re both turning forty and he’s giving you a lecture. Usually on the state of your prostate.
Jocasta, of course, seizes her moment of triumph. ‘Let’s see you do it, right now, in front of Simon. Admit you’re drinking too much.’
For a moment I consider doing just that, before pulling myself together. Admitting it would be against the Marital Code of Arguments, the very first clause of which is Never Admit Anything. (As in the comment: ‘I was not drunk; it was just that your sister’s cooking upset the delicate balance of my stomach.’)
What’s crucial is to not let the mere facts of the case get in the way of victory. Especially since — under the Marital Code of Arguments — both parties should feel free to range over contentious issues from the distant past. (As in the comment: ‘I may drink too much, but at least I know how to reverse-park without running over the neighbour’s cat.’)
Yet this morning Jocasta isn’t playing by the rules. She isn’t point-scoring. She isn’t shouting. She isn’t even bothering to claim that, back in 1979, it was the cat’s fault. Instead she is adopting the most frightening tone of all: the (gulp) tone of sympathetic concern.
‘You’ll develop brain damage,’ says Jocasta, her eyes soft and sad, ‘and then I’ll have to live with you … watching as you go into a decline. It will be so tragic.’
I drink a
more than Simon, and already Jocasta’s mind has fast-forwarded through the whole florid plot line. ‘You’ll go vague, and then get this big veiny red nose, and start smelling of whisky before breakfast.’
Here Jocasta’s voice started to break up as she moved relentlessly through my later years — the alcoholic seizures, the grim faces of the doctors, the decision to move me out of home — and then the sad scene, as Batboy and The Space Cadet are brought to visit me in the Sea-View Guesthouse, walking up into the bunkhouse where I am staying with the other men, all of us with our little metal beds, padding down the hallway from the shower wrapped in our scratchy little towels.
‘I’ll try to remember you as you were before it all went so terribly wrong,’ Jocasta sobs.
Even Simon, busy in the corner polishing his muesli container, is starting to get pretty choked up.
I knew the time had come. For once, I was going to have to break the Sacred Oath of the Marital Argument. I was going to have to Admit Blame.
And so this morning I have promised to improve.
to escape Jocasta’s powers of description.