Note: Brian Buckner is reading tonight at the Spoken Word writers’ workshop at Sunrise Cafe on Calle Larga.
By Brian Buckner
When I was a young fellow, at the threshold of manhood, several things were uniquely different from now. One thing that I thought cool was the manner in which some women used make-up and attired themselves. And no, I don’t mean all women. The current state of fashion or style isn’t too broken. It is what it is, a fad, which will pass and be replaced by something else. But, in years past, some women projected a style that just worked with the time and it’s a look I don’t see today. A select group of women created a certain look for themselves, a special look that I haven’t forgotten.
Enter the era of the “Pin-Up” girl. I use that descriptive term loosely as that’s appropriate in this context. This was a time when most women who smoked cigarettes did not do it publicly. The state of nudity was much more protected to the extent that there was no such thing as a Playboy at the news stands; much less on the shelf at the library! For those interested, the mind was left to its own devices to question, to wonder, to create what might not be shown, yet was always suggested, in a pin-up photograph or drawing. The most that might be seen was a deep dive in a neckline or perhaps a very short, poodle-type skirt. The imagination was given a rich palette from which to create. Their lips were always adorned with a shade of lipstick that is virtually never seen today. These women also drove, an act that was not the norm for their sex at that time. They drove all kinds of old trucks and new cars and that made them seem even more exciting, or even “racy.” They puffed their non-filtered smokes as they were blowing down the road. Everyone’s mind pictured pin-up girls when they saw those red lipstick stained Lucky-Strike butts on the side of the road.
This rather select group of women did what they wanted to do, when and how they saw fit. They weren’t doing any checking in with society to see if their behavior or look was socially acceptable. They simply went for the gusto! These are the women that most men loved to look at, chat with, hold the door open for, etc. However, men didn’t seem to marry these gals. A lot of men just lost their tongues and couldn’t speak in the presence of this type of woman. They were not prepared for the coming explosion of women’s liberation that was just beginning. A lot of women were not tongue-tied when they saw these gals and referred to them as being loose, trashy, and immodest at best. That’s the way the perceived threat of a different type woman was dealt with, anyway. Oh, by the way, they did drink and would do so in public where it was allowed.
The horn blared loudly. “Hey shugga, how ’bout gassin’ up this big ol’ ride o’ mine,” a voice dripping with honey called out. I was seventeen and just finishing up cleaning the bugs off Mr. Jones windshield. “You must be tha new gas monkey I’ve been hearin’ ‘bout,” that same sugary voice proclaimed. I turned my eyes in the voice’s direction and took in an astounding blonde bombshell of a woman.
“Yes Ma’am, I’m the new fella. How can I help you this afternoon?”
“You can start by fillin’ her up with ethyl,” she replied with the wickedest little snatch of a grin I had ever seen. As I stood there filling the car’s tank, she played with a little lipstick in the rear view and did a little primping and straightening. “Hey, Mr. Gas Jockey, my name’s Maybelline,” she crooned, “Aren’t you the photographer fella too?” My ears felt a little hot and my heart began to speed up; the world was compressing into a small little zone that contained only the station’s client and me. How did she know about interest in photography?
“Well, sort of,” I stammered, “I do like to take a lot of photographs.”
“Well, that’s awful special,” she replied, “My daddy has a little money and he might hire you to take mine.”
“I might not be quite experienced enough for that,” I replied surprising myself in both what I just said and how I said it.
“Oh no honey, you’re perfect!”, she purred through a huge smile. I stared at those paper-white teeth framed by those unbelievably red lips. “Let me just tell old man Buckner that you’re gettin’ off a lil’ early today,” she said. “Hop in and let’s ride out to the lake together and see if there’s a good picture takin’ spot for me,” she invited. Well, I could use the money for any photography I might do to supplement my take from the station. I felt a little nervous. I had a girlfriend, but then again, Maybelline had suggested nothing other than a ride to discover a great photo-shoot location. However, I kept thinking about a saying that I had heard other, older men use. The phrase was, “a little too much woman.” I think they used it in referring to women like the one I was talking with. How does a fella know when he’s chattin’ with “a little too much woman?” I figured she was probably in her upper 20’s, maybe ten or eleven years older than me. Was that too much? What did the “too much” part mean anyway?
She had climbed out of her big red and white car carelessly, or was it artfully, revealing a large expanse of un-tanned thigh during her de-boarding maneuvers. She was walking quickly and was almost to the station door. I knew she meant to tell the old man that I was going to be leaving early today and for some unknown reason, I was getting nervous that he was going to tell her that was just fine. Entering the station, she called back to me, “I’m ’bout ready to start seeing a lot more concrete and a little less cotton in my life; this place is kinda’ hicksville if you know what I mean.”
“Hi Brian, what’cha doin’ and who’s that girl?”, came the words that were going to save me. I wasn’t sure from what, exactly, except that I just felt like I MIGHT need savin’. A young wisp of a sixteen-year-old girl on a bicycle was talking to me.
“Hi Edie!” I replied loudly as Maybelline spun back around on her toe’s. “I want you to meet Maybelline,” I said. “She’s Mr. Caruthers’ daughter. You know their family, they have all the cotton from here back to Shreveport,” I offered. Edie ignored Maybelline and kept a firm gaze on me.
”Mama said you could come have supper at our place tonight,” Edie said. “After dinner, Daddy said we could sit on the porch a spell and that he and Mama would give us a little time to visit while they straighten up inside,” she said in a way that defied any answer other than yes.
“That would be cool Edie!” burst from my lips with such force that there must have been spittle flying.
As we smiled at each other, I heard a big V-8 fire up and it’s gears start complaining as Maybelline headed back onto the highway.
“You ought not to be talkin’ to Maybelline,” Edie said.
“Well, she was doin’ most all the talkin'”, I said. “And, she wants to hire me to photograph her down by the lake.”
“Yep, and that worries me. Mama says that she’s trashy and loose, and just goes with any man that’s handy,” Edie spouted as if her mama had the final word on all. There were those words of conviction again, reaching out to mar Maybelline’s reputation and to defer any future conversations with her, I supposed.
Now, the facts were that I wasn’t going to be going anywhere with Maybelline, or any other woman, because Edie was my girl. However, Maybelline was very pretty and seemed like a sweet gal. Why did all the other women dislike her? All she was asking about was a few pictures; well, it seemed that way anyhow.
“Do you think she’s just ‘a little too much woman,” I said more than asked trying out what I thought was an over-worn description on Edie. Edie whirled around fast enough to make her skirt spin.
“That’s what Daddy and the other men say,” she snapped. With that much conviction, I reckon she’d heard that sayin’ more than a few times.
“Is six a good time for me to come on over,” I asked.
“Perfect,” Edie said as she took my hand and pulled me in close for a quick little smooch. When her lips touched mine, sparks flew and I was reassured of something I already kinda’ knew.
In the dark, on Edie’s porch, I rocked on the swing with her, my hand resting lightly on her shoulder. The dewberry cobbler had filled the last empty space in my stomach. As the insects droned on, my thoughts drifted to Edie and I and then, to Maybelline. I understood something then as a young man, it became very clear in a few short moments of thought. Edie was not “a little too much woman” and never would be. Maybelline, however, would always be “a little too much woman.” Funny how all those men knew that.