Philadelphia, PA. – Mid-1970s
Words were used differently back in the 70s. If someone called you gay, it was because you didn’t want to do something. (“Come on… don’t be gay.” Or, “Don’t be gay all your life.”) Or, if you wore something that seemed uncool. (“Those shoes look gay.”) Or, if it was something you just found unappealing. (“That’s so gay.”) I mean this as no offense to the LGBT community, it’s just how people spoke back then. Let’s not forget when gay meant that you were having a really good time 100 years ago. “It was a gay event.” It simply meant, “happy”.
Sadly, even the word faggot, was used as a derogatory comment against young males. It wasn’t meant to say he was a homosexual, it simply meant that he wasn’t brave or masculine. (“You little faggot!”) Maybe simply cowardice. But it never attacked his sexuality. At that age, we barely had any sexuality. We were just kids! Let’s face it, if you look up the word, faggot in the dictionary, it simply means, a bundle of sticks. If you look at the cover of Led Zeppelin’s 4th LP, there’s a photo of an old man with a faggot on his back.
If you accidentally threw or hit a ball onto a rooftop, you called chipsies on it’s return to you. Chipsies was sort of like staking a claim on something. Words like Nerd, came from the show Happy Days. A popular sitcom of the 70s. If you said something was”bad” it really meant it was “cool.” We took this from the black community. Another one we stole from them was saying, “Your Mom.” (Which was a brutal burn back then.) But even though the kids on the Brady Bunch said, “Groovy” we were already over that word and none of us ever used it. The word, “boogie” was something gross that came out of your nose, and later meant “dance” with the arrival of disco music. (Seems fitting to me) To “bogart” a joint was to be selfish with the smoke. The ‘boob tube” was a television set, because it was supposed to make you stupid from watching it too much. Later, girls wore tube tops and we guys called them boob tubes. So, who knows? We even had, chumps and space cadets. What a colorful vocabulary!
If you wore sneakers that were cheap or weren’t Converse Chuck Taylor’s, they were referred to as Bobos. No idea where this term came from. But I do remember there was a song about them.
Bobos! They make your feet feel fine.
Bobos! They only cost a dollar nine!
Bobos! They are for hobos.
So get your bobos, and be a hobo, today!
Once, two sisters (Deneen and Melissa) who lived a few doors down from me were riding in the back of their mother’s station wagon and they were giving the finger to other motorists. (The middle finger. Flipping the bird) Their mother asked them where they learned such a vulgar gesture. They simply stated, “Charlie Wiedenmann taught us that.”
I was immediately scolded and sent to my room because I posed such a threat to their young impressionable minds. (Honestly, I never remember telling them about the middle finger) Framed again!
Another time a group of us were playing in their backyard. I was hanging from a branch and it broke. I was instantly grounded again.
There were also plenty of nicknames back then. I’ll try to remember some of them. There were these two brothers. They didn’t live on my street. Maybe a few blocks over. I think they were both paperboys. I don’t know the actual boy’s names, but I heard them referred to as “Whacko, and “Stinkitis.” I know for a fact that Whacko was our paperboy for a while. Because he used to come to the door collecting for the Evening Bulletin and seemed sort of out of it most of the time. Maybe he just hated his job.
We had Buddy Drew. He had a lovely sister named Nancy Drew. (Literary!) But Buddy’s real name was Wilbur. (I get calling him buddy, now) He sometimes hung out with the older boys up at the corner of Magee and Oakley streets. I think they went by the name, The MO gang. (Magee & Oakley) They weren’t technically a gang, just a group of friends who liked to hang out together. They would pass the time smoking cigs, listening to music in their cars, playing street hockey, or Wiffle ball. Buddy Drew was small, so when their hockey puck or ball would go down the sewer they would call upon his services. The guys would remove the manhole cover and suspend buddy by his ankles into the sewer and he would retrieve their ball. No big deal, and a valuable skill.
There was a kid named Michael Hopper. He had the word, “Hop” on the back of his bicycle seat so that name stuck. And who can forget my neighbor from across the street named Steven with his amazing afro? He became known as Kink. (I always loved that name!)
I even remember my friend Michael had been called Brittle for awhile. But I don’t know why. My friend Jimmy Hunsinger loved to perform magic shows at kid’s parties and had two different characters he became. “Jimbo the Clown, and The Great Hunsini”. Jimmy was always a very creative and industrial guy. He had business cards for his magic act at age 14!
Jimmy did the makeup for our Halloween costumes one year. I was Gene Simmons, My buddy Steve Peoples was Peter Criss, and Jimmy was Ace Frehley.
There was a younger kid that always wanted to hang out with us. Sometimes we’d let him tag along but he couldn’t really go anywhere because his mom was really protective of him. He seemed like kind of a mama’s boy, but a sweet kid.
We’d all be hanging up in the treehouse and he’d wander down to the end of the lot and want to come up. We really didn’t want him around but we’d usually relent. Plus, he’d bring little boxes of cereal, so if the kid was bearing gifts he could hang.
Like any kid when you’re away from home for any period of time you ultimately have to go to the bathroom. We quickly learned to pee outside against a tree and it felt liberating to whip it out in the great outdoors and mark your territory like the dog you were.
But what if you had to go number two? This was rare but you had to be careful. Not so much with the act, but what to use to wipe your butt. You grab the wrong kind of leave from the wrong kind of plant, and you could end up with a whole new problem with your backside.
You could go home and do it, but most kids’ fear was, once they go into the house to do their business and their mom sees them, she’ll tell them to stay in. That was a bigger fear than anything else. It’s funny to me now but everybody worried about that. You’d have to stay in and possibly miss anything fun that your friends may have gotten into in your absence. I remember there was this one kid I knew who would accidentally wet himself because he held his pee in because he didn’t want to go home to pee and miss something. Crazy stuff!
So he has to go number two one day and doesn’t want to go home to do it for that very reason. We’re all up in the treehouse and we tell him to just go around the bushes behind a tree out of sight and drop trough and drop a deuce. He’s nervous about the whole ordeal but we assure him where he’s about to pinch a loaf there isn’t any poison ivy and the big leaves on the plants are okay to wipe your lily-white little butt with. It was either that or go home and stay in by your mom.
He chose to go in the bushes. So, after promising this kid we wouldn’t look, we sent him off into the hidden brush about 30 feet from the treehouse. We waited a minute for him to get firmly ensconced in the act and then proceed to throw stones at him from our treehouse arsenal. Now, don’t get me wrong, we never hit him. We just tossed pebbles in the general direction of where he was to freak him out while he was trying to go. (The same thing happened to all of us!)
It was hilarious and he took the hazing in stride.
Another time there was a bunch of us playing back the tracks and on the embankments around the rails and of course, we were all throwing rocks at stuff. Just dumb boy stuff. Well, this kid was there again, and lo and behold he gets beaned right in the back of the head with a rock.
It didn’t do any real damage, but his head was bleeding. Not really badly but whenever there was an injury, (And there were many) you got sent home to your mom. It was an unwritten law. Blood = Mom. So, we tell him he’ll be fine, but he should go home.
Doesn’t his mom come out and give me a bunch of crap about how my friend RJ threw the rock that hit her son, and that I was lying to protect him because he was my friend. I had no idea what she was talking about because I know RJ was standing on the embankment next to me and nowhere near where this kid was standing when he got hit. Frankly, I really have no idea who threw the rock that hit him. There was a bunch of kids down there. I’m sure it wasn’t intentional. It could have glanced off a tree and struck him accidentally for all I know.
This is the nonsense we had to put up with all of the time because when you’re a young boy on the loose, there’s sure to be trouble. I’d love to hear some of my readers’ stories of them having nicknames or “getting in trouble.”
Some of the simplest lessons in life we learned as children. It’s good to know that sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you.
But in the information age we live in now, words can hurt and we must choose them wisely.
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