No Pink Shirts

My first grade school photo is a memorial to one of the worst days of my childhood. It was school picture day at PS 105 in the Bronx. This was 1969, before kids could wear sneakers, jeans and t-shirts to public school. Rather, our daily wardrobe consisted of some kind of button-down shirt, pants made from a highly flammable synthetic textile, and leather shoes Frankenstein’s monster wouldn’t be caught wearing. Fridays were assembly day, and the “uniform” was a white shirt and green tie.

But on picture day, you wore whatever your mother picked out. Except for me: my mother selected a pink shirt and bolo tie combo for me to wear, ensuring that I would be beaten without mercy during recess. No amount of negotiation or argument dissuaded her, so I resorted to a combination of civil disobedience and mental breakdown. My father – who was already dressed and ready to go to work – stepped in to mediate. I’m not sure where my older brother was, but I’m guessing he wanted nothing to do with this, probably having had to wear something similar or worse in his day.

Despite my father being in the men’s garment business, nothing he said convinced me that boys could wear pink shirts in America and live to tell about it. With no other option, he changed his clothes and put on a pink dress shirt for work with a well matched tie. I had never seen that shirt before and had no idea where it came from, but I suspected my mother was behind this devious assault on my fragile 6-year old manhood. Out of defenses, my resistance eventually broke down and I was forced to put on the shirt and bolo tie combo from hell. My father left for work and my mother took me to school and signed me in a few hours late, reassuring me that everything would be fine and no one would pick on me.

I joined my class and, at some point, we went to the lunchroom to have our pictures taken, resulting in a splendid portrait. Everything went well as promised until recess, when I was beaten without mercy.

I haven’t worn a pink shirt since.

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