THE JUNIOR HIGH LOCKER ROOM OF LIFE
Thoughts on a well placed metaphor
The evolution of a dream is a curious thing. And there’s really nothing like a well-placed metaphor to capture it.
A year ago, I contemplated augmenting my income with one of my creative hobbies. In the early spring, we talked in earnest about the cost and commitment necessary…with Denny’s blessing, I began to sow the seeds of my dream. Nurturing them throughout the summer…seeking guidance where I could find it (thank you Deanna, thank you Merle, thank you Alex, thank you ridiculously hot sales clerk at Artmart), acquiring elements along the way, paycheck to paycheck (thank you Flourish Tents, thank you Mark Florida, thank you Dick Blick’s). As the last blistering weekend of summer blazed across the Midwest, like a farmer with his barrow, we hauled our harvest to market.
If you’ve read any of my earlier blogs, you know I’m fond of a complex metaphor…you get this one, right? The idea being my art is the seeds, which sprout and grow, and then I take them to sell…so, in this metaphor my art is like a flower or a vegetable…which I’m now realizing is somewhat awkward…my point being, you get the idea, so “great”, because now I’m gonna drop that line of thought. It’s becoming cumbersome and I’d like to go in another direction, entirely. But fear not, I’ve got another metaphor up ahead, and you’re going to love it! (I hope).
Our very first outing, on that scorching Labor Day weekend, was The Art Fair at Queeny Park. *
*this is usually the point in a blog post where I comment about my nerves or clumsiness getting the best of me…it usually involves a beverage…I feel honor bound to report the following, thereby upholding the tradition.
Right before the doors opened for business, I took a deep swig on a frozen Sangrita Blast (thank you Taco Bell). The resulting brain freeze caused me to mishandle the cup and douse my yellow & blue plaid shirt with bright red slushy. As a disembodied voice announced “We are Open for business, have a good show!” (thank you ubiquitous PA system), I stared at Dennis in abject horror. I looked down at my shirt, and thought “who knew a poly blend could be so absorbent?” as the red stain spread across my substantial girth (It was a lot of slushy…I usually get a large).
Now, it may have been our first art fair, but it wasn’t Dennis’ first Rodeo…He reached around, behind the back panel, and pulled out a freshly pressed option from my seemingly endless wardrobe of short sleeved plaid shirts. He’s pretty amazing, the “lid” to my “pot”. That’s another handy metaphor derived from a charming colloquialism. My mom would tell me that all the time…”there’s a lid for every pot”…it’s funny, as you get older, how right you realize your mom was (thank you mom).
One of my favorite things during the last three art fairs, was the amazing people watching. In fact, checking out all of the odd “lids”, and finding that they did indeed have well-matched “pots”, was one of the more profound things I discovered…that, and the fact that way more people have “cankles” than I ever thought…but, as I am want to do, I digress.
You can learn a lot perched atop your Artist’s “Director’s” Chair (thank you Amazon Prime), and by the time we finished the third art fair, I’d observed a great deal: First, I had really lucked out with my choice of “lid”, Second, there was probably a market for a good “slimming” socks, and third, and possibly the most profound epiphany of the weekend, the boy’s junior high school locker room can be used as a pretty acurate model for many of life’s situations…this includes art fairs.*
*at this point, I would like to remind you that I promised a killer metaphor, and I’m about to deliver.
Now, thanks to the behind the scene analytics provided by the host of our website, I know that the majority of people who read my blog are women between the age of 35 and 50…so I’m going to take a stab in the dark and say that your knowledge of this small slice of hell, a.k.a. the boy’s locker room, is limited. With your indulgence, I will lay the groundwork for my brilliant metaphor.
For either sex, the onset of puberty and junior high, is a time of change, mental of course, but physically as well…things grow, sprout, and shift…for girls the development of breasts is one of the outward expressions of this physical and mental turmoil…it’s a little different for guys. Due in part to my background in costume design, in particular, my tenure in the belly dance world, not to mention time spent dressing showgirls on the Las Vegas strip, I feel comfortable saying that I’m about as familiar with the female breast as your average mammogram technician. I know the stories of early development and late arrivals, helped shop the options from training bra to bustier, and I’ve heard the tales of rapid growth, and the plans of augmentation. What is consistent in all these scenarios is an ease of visual appraisal.
For the most part ladies garments are designed to highlight female attributes…so without actually disrobing, a fairly accurate assumption of physical endowments could be ascertained. Large or small, natural or enhanced, unfettered or padded…for better or worse, the lady in question is a known commodity. “She’s fashionably flat chested…I like that” or “wow, those are huge…dude, we should have a wet t-shirt contest”. That doesn’t mean that a large percentage of men, and a smaller percentage of women, aren’t dying to unwrap said breasts, in order to marvel in the confirmation of their hereto as yet unquantified assumption. But with that first appraisal, we tend to assign a value judgement. Basically, for right or wrong, she’s a “book”, and we’ve just “read” her cover. It’s very different for men, and by default, middle school aged boys. Where women’s clothing is meant to hug curves, and highlight assets, men’s wardrobe options serve to accent shoulders and waists all the while glossing over the crotch. Fashion tends to make the contents of the male crotch rather nebulous. Safely cradled in soft cotton or micro fiber, in its flaccid state, there exists no true indicator of actual endowment, and therefore not a reliable predictor of promised sexual prowess…the foundation of manhood. To follow through with our earlier analogy, we know it’s a “book”, but somebody has ripped off the dust jacket, so there is no cover to “read”…which brings it all back to junior high school gym class.
For most guys the 7th grade locker room is the first time they will be naked in front of their peers…naked, and exposed at an awkward time of physical change. We all know that not everyone will develop at the same rate, nor will they all eventually develop the same. And here is the real kicker, unlike their female counterparts whose endowments remain the same size, clothed or naked, aroused or sedate, little “Johnny Junior High” is working with an unpredictable piece of flesh…one with a mind of its own. Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that the girls had their own cross to bear (I think we’ve all seen Carrie) and I don’t mean to be insensitive, but I’d have gladly traded you cramps and pads for the unexpected expansion of the contents of my jockeys at inexplicable times, like…oh let’s say “Mr. Kent, why don’t you stand in front of the class and read the next paragraph on the Holocaust”, or when the 65 year old lunch lady bends over to pick up a dropped item, sending you into an introspective spiral of self-recrimination and doubt.
Now assuming peter pecker chooses to behave (thank you for behaving for most of my junior high existence) during the approximate 3 minutes that a junior high school boy requires to get naked, walk through the locker-room, shower thoroughly, return to said locker, towel off, and quickly apply previously discarded underwear, our young friend, though naked and exposed still does not have an accurate read on his cohorts, or his place in this little “lord of the flies” scenario.
As a gay man, I know now what the majority of my readers (my lady friends in the 35 to 50 demographic) have also figured out with time. For the 35% of my readers who are guys, and/or the lesbian contingent, who may not have encountered an excessive assortment of erect male genitalia, I’ll endeavor to explain…there is often a big difference between what a guy is “packing”, and what he can “unpack”.
Let’s break it down, shall we? There are two basic categories: “Showers” & “Growers”. A “shower”, may have an impressive flaccid appendage, but though it becomes rigid when aroused, it doesn’t increase greatly in size, conversely, a “grower” may appear to possess a diminutive endowment that can quadruple in size when required to “rise to the occasion”.
Sure, I know this now, but ya know who didn’t have an inkling that his “gherkin” could go head to head, inch for inch, with the giant swinging shlong of seventh grade “hottie” Mark Mancino? Junior high school me, that’s who!*
*I have now official been identified as a member of the “grower” contingent
Seven years later, a late night, chance “encounter” with Mark, my former junior high gym locker neighbor, (thank you William E. Orr middle school) in the UNLV college library, gave me a glimpse of man in his infinite varieties, or at least a glimpse of that particular man…ok it was more than a just a glimpse, and we had gone to dinner first…*
*at this point I feel the need to clarify, it was practically a date…I don’t want you to think I was a slut…
My point being, even naked and exposed to our peer’s evaluation, we still didn’t have an accurate “read” on our fellow man, or how we measured up. God forbid that an exposed junior high penis actually expand to its full glory…the resulting chaos and shame would be life altering. So ladies, while you got to flaunt your nubile flesh at a time when your thighs, and pert breasts, I’m guessing, where at your personal best; your male counterpart was socially expected to keep his pride & joy at its most diminutive. The risk of public humiliation, sure to go on his permanent record, left him little choice…this should also give you a basic idea about why so many guys have “issues”. You know we aren’t even allowed to talk to each other in the bathroom, right?
Sorry, back on track… Now, “how”, you may ask, “does this apply to an art fair”? Well, let me tell you.*
*this is where I really develop my metaphor, like a Master’s Thesis…see what I did there? I created a metaphor about my metaphor…read on
You know the time has come and everyone is going to see your naked penis, I mean art. You’ve spent a lot of time with your art…looking at it, talking about it with your friends, thinking about it…you’ve been really “hands on” with it. You think it’s a pretty good penis/painting, and you’d like to pull it out so that others can look at its sheer awesomeness.
If you’re at the art fair stage, you’ve come to the conclusion that someone might even be willing to give you money, to touch it, possess it, even take it home…your only problem, you just don’t know how it stacks up to everyone else’s.
Will you be laughed at and ridiculed? Will people quietly whisper their shock and pity behind your back…or worse, will you whip it out like a porn star, waiting for your entourage to line up, only to find you are profoundly average.
I found that my art, not unlike myself, falls in the “grower” category.
Within a half hour of being open for business, I sold not one, but two pieces, to a total stranger.*
*I should point out by “pieces” I meant art…after some of the earlier allusions, I didn’t want you to misinterpret. And by "stranger" I meant someone who didn't know me, or anyone I know...so there is no way it could be misconstrued as a pity purchase.
We went on to sell enough to meet the expenses of the show, cover cost of materials, and start making actual profit.
The second fair had us driving 5 hours north to the charming village of Mundelein IL, a northern suburb of Chicago. We enjoyed beautiful weather, great people watching, and again sold enough to cover costs and expenses, in addition to receiving the Emerging Artist award (thank you Kirk Players). The prize was determined by the judges of the fair, but given by the local community theatre group, and turned out to be the largest cash prize of the festival…larger even than “best in show”.*
*not that size matters…it’s what you do with it. (What did I do with it? I bought more art supplies)
The third fair, The Art Walk at Taste of St. Louis (ironically, not in St. Louis), brought us back to our general turf, and the beautiful grounds of the Chesterfield Amphitheatre. By this time, I was very comfortable with my exposed penis, I mean art, and with the minor exception of a major “foot in mouth” scenario (I’ll tell you about it in a minute), everything went well. We saw loads of friends and family, made new connections with several of our fellow artists, and sold as much as the first two fairs combined.*
*fine, I’ll tell you what I did. By now you’ve probably figured out that I don’t have much of a filter…if it crosses my brain, it’s likely to come out my mouth. The boyfriend of a friend came up to the booth to reintroduce himself…having met us at another friend’s surprise birthday party…in tow was his sister (whom I had not met before). She asked how we were “enjoying Chesterfield?” For those of you that don’t know, I should point out that Dennis and I live in an historically liberal area of St. Louis “proper”…in the city. Chesterfield is a large, fairly conservative suburb, out in the county, way past the highway that draws the imaginary border around our community. My response of “well, we got our passports stamped, and successfully alluded the “gay sniff’n” dogs at the border”, was met with a shocked expression, and an ashen face. She pulled herself together, and with great solemnity, identified herself as a member of the Chesterfield City Council, and went on to declare her city’s fondness for those of the gay persuasion…”as long as they’re nice” (said with a finger wag). Dennis silenced any response I may have been contemplating with a quick look. Fortunately for City/County relations, a customer’s inquiry required my immediate attention. All in all, this encounter ranks on the minor side of my verbal foibles.
We wrapped up our three fair string with another showing at Old Orchard Gallery. I won best in show at the 33September exhibit, which probably explains why I have been thanking people, like a Golden Globe nominee, for the last two weeks and throughout this blog post.*
*Dennis would like me to point out that a more apt analogy would be a Miss America contestant, since he says I’ve been wearing an imaginary tiara and sash since the award was announced.
We have one more fair this season...I'm no longer worried or stressed, I've gotten much more comfortable in the "junior high locker room" of life...and if and when I find myself exposed, it's handy to have a collection of show ribbons to cover up the "pink bits".