My style in 1961 was made up of the twist, the swim, the mashed potato and Chubby Checker. Along with Chubby, my style was made from a whole parade of music and images. Music that included Sinatra, Dean Martin and Johnny Horton, among the many found on my AM radio and records. Time is supple and filled with a collage of styles, especially as this soundtrack had me sliding around in white socks. It was the time of the sock hop. But not in the summer.

In my summers, style was dictated by Lake Michigan beaches, convertibles, pegged pants and short hair. Perfect tans. Cruising around curves in the road, eyes looking sharp for curves. I remember a perfect canvas shirt to slap on over my white T-shirt; it belonged to me because my pal Phil Frank sketched cartoons on hoodies to make summer money. (He later became a syndicated cartoonist based at the San Francisco Chronicle.) That wasn’t on his dashboard then, it was just a “cool” way for him to earn money, inking rebellious social and political cartoons on our tough guy shirts. (Later his cartoons were to become “Travels with Farley,” but that was far later.) He had my cartooned figure swigging whiskey, sporting tattoos and smoking a cigarette. I thought it a great shirt.

I had “commissioned” the illustration, and thought it perfect for cool nights and, of course, cool dudes. My sense of style wasn’t thoughtful. (Is raw style ever thoughtful?) We pulled it out of the air, out of magazines and catalogs.  Movies. Television. Seventy-eight LPs. A playlist included: Johnny Mathis, Johnny Cash, early John Lennon. If we dressed up, it was a string tie, or the soon-to-be-regrettable Nehru jacket. We didn’t doubt our tastes of the moment or our sense of style – we had absorbed it. Never thought about what it meant nor how long it would last.

I wore the shirt home. My mother saw it, and my sense of style was instantly rearranged. It had not dawned on me that one of the images at the bottom of the shirt happened to be a swastika. It was small, and I had not really noticed it. I was worried that my goofy cartoon figure swigging from a liquor bottle and dangling cigarette from his tattooed arm spelled trouble. Figured that I might evade disaster by saying that it was just a cartoon.  

My mother glanced at the shirt and said, “What were you thinking?” She went on: “It has a swastika, a symbol that has been responsible for horrible harm. It is despised by any sensible human, and by rights should be ripped to shreds!”

I begged to fix it.Phil revised my shirt and inked in a smudge of dirt where the swastika once was. I still had a shirt for cool nights.

An impossible-to-defend style, in an era and at any age. But as a teenager, what was I thinking? Since then, I’ve paid more attention to what styles mean.

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