Why I Wanted To Be Tony Gargano

Dear Michael and Caroline,

When I was 13 years old, I belonged to a clean-cut clique called the Rah-Rahs. In accordance with its dress code, I typically wore madras shirts, crew-neck sweaters, chinos with cuffs, white sweat socks and either penny loafers or, if really out to impress the girls, brown-and-white saddle shoes.

I followed the party line of the Rah-Rahs all through seventh grade. I steered clear of beer. I expressed my awakening sexuality only at officially sanctioned neighborhood makeout parties. We considered ourselves insiders, qualified as cool.

Secretly, though, I admired our opposite number, known as the Boppers or Hoods, especially one Tony Gargano. As far as I was concerned, Tony had the market on cool cornered.

If he slouched at his desk in class, the teacher would order him to sit up straight, but he would just roll his eyes. He had long, greased-up black hair combed straight back, except for a single curlique forelock that dangled strategically over his eyebrows.

For a while there I wanted to be Tony.

Back in 1966, after all, I had never quite cut it as the quintessence of cool. I wore thick black glasses and my hair frizzed in humidity. Besides that, I was shorter and skinnier than almost all of my male contemporaries. Plus, I seemed to feel too much. I would always let you see me sweat. Everything about me ran counter to cool.

Mr. Uncool.

I would stand in front of the bathroom mirror, trying, with a profound sense of futility, to torture my renegade curls into a facsimile of the same hairstyle.

So with shoes. Tony wore these pointy black suede lace-ups with two-inch heels. I went to a local shoe store to get a similar pair, only to discover, crestfallen, that my feet were still two sizes too small for that style.

I watched the Boppers hang loose at curbsides around town, Tony snorting cigarette smoke through his nostrils, flicking the played-out butts across the street without looking.

He went out with a girl who teased her hair and wore heavy eye-liner. I quietly yearned, with an ache in my chest, to defect from the Rah-Rahs to the Hoods.


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