Take fairy tales, for instance, which left me anticipating the arrival of a handsome, white-steed-mounted prince, who would swoop into my humdrum life with magical kisses and the conviction of love at first sight. Or what about all those commercials promoting bouncy, shiny hair as the way to a man’s heart? Bouncy, shiny, terrific-smelling hair. Bouncy, shiny, terrific-smelling blonde hair.
Summer in Detroit, late 1960s. I was at Molly’s house, next door. We wore lightweight shorts and sleeveless blouses, scoop necked, tucked in. Socks and round-toed play shoes. Little kid clothes. We might have been seven and eight. While Molly and I played Barbies on her porch, a tall concrete stoop guarded by boxwoods that were no higher than the stoop itself, but wide, wide – so wide that when we jumped over them from the height of the stoop, we risked landing on their trunks and damaging the genitals whose intended purpose we didn’t yet know – my brother and David-from-three-doors-down lurked in the bushes with their G.I. Joe action figures, spying on the enemy (us) and pretending to blow things up.
Tiring of our pretend "boyfriends" (my doll had a long-term fantasy fling with Davy Jones of the Monkees), Molly and I begged the boys to play Barbie and G.I. Joe (or boyfriend/girlfriend) with us. My brother, Bryan, two years younger than me, refused. David, my age, the next-to-youngest of thirteen children and perhaps more mature sexually and more aware of the possibilities of pre-sexual play than Bryan, was at least willing to entertain our pleas. I didn’t really want to play Barbie and G.I. Joe with Bryan, anyway, but we needed two boys. Bryan would pair up with Molly, leaving David for me.
Now, I have to say that I did not then, nor did I ever, have a crush on David. Throughout my life I have had crushes on boys in my class, boys at church, boys I merely saw across the cafeteria without ever knowing their names, TV characters, co-workers, friends, my brother’s friends, and even a cousin. I know from crushes, okay? So I think I am not being disingenuous when I say that although I liked David, I did not like him like him. Still, there was more to playing Barbie and G.I. Joe than just play. This was some sort of practice for the real thing, and when Bryan opted out, leaving just one male to choose between two females, the stakes rose precipitously.
If Molly and I didn’t actually say, "Pick me, pick me!" it was certainly what we implied – and what we felt. It hurt when David declared that G.I. Joe would go out with/date/be the boyfriend of Molly’s doll. Molly – who was younger and less mature than me. Molly – who pulled her pants to her ankles and then hopped about, laughing, until a parent came to spank her bare bottom and then drag her pants up and her into the house, not necessarily in that order. Molly – who never took part in our all-day-Saturday games of tag because she had to go to Temple and who was not, we agreed, missed. Molly? He wanted to be with Molly?
Because that’s how it felt. As if he had chosen her over me. And why? "Because blondes have more fun," he said. Molly herself was dark, but her Barbie was blonde. My doll, a Barbie wanna-be named Susie, had dull brown hair, like me. We were seven. Maybe eight. I doubt we knew what the good folks at Clairol meant by "more fun," but believe me when I say that I wasn’t having it.