In the ‘5os and ‘6os, long before hippies, people went barefoot in Southern California–in supermarkets, drugstores, fast food places. Not everyone, but people who wanted to. And not just kids or young people: middle-aged and old people, too. There wasn’t a “no shirt, no shoes, no service” rule, except in restaurants with waiters or waitresses. Rio de Janeiro is the only place I’ve been that was as casual as the Southern California I knew as a kid. In one of Rio’s affluent beach neighborhoods, I remember an older, portly gentleman grocery shopping in bikini-type Speedos.
As a box boy at the Alpha Beta supermarket, I recall packing groceries for a well-built youngish man doing his family’s weekly shopping in nothing but a baggy swimsuit. In the flow of business we box boys moved from check stand to check stand, most of the boys regularly watching for cute girls in line and jockeying with the others to see who would get to pack “her Kotex next to the meat.” I spotted my swimsuit-only clad man, with dark chest hair, at the end of a long line, and I desperately wanted to pack his groceries but just as desperately wanted not to be discovered trying to engineer my way to that check stand at the right moment.
Shoes and shirts came off after school, and jeans came on. Schools didn’t allow jeans or T-shirts or sweatshirts or shorts. I suspect it’s the large bare feet in the foreground that caught my attention in the photo above, reblogged from minhos21 (Tony’s Blog).
Above, Argentine soccer great Lionel Messi’s feet featured on Sport Week‘s cove after Japanese jewellers Tanaka Kikinzoku paid homage to Messi’s left foot by producing it in gold.
Never an athlete, I occasionally got coerced into after-school football games because guys were desperate for players to make a team of four or five. Most players were barefoot and one team was “skins.” These were often mudfests (because L.A. can have a lot of rain in winter), and the language was colorful: “bitchen” was a complement, and “butthole” or “cocksucker” were common insults. I didn’t yet realize anyone–boy or girl–actually did that, sucked someone’s cock. I thought it was just an insult boys flung at each other.
I was sent out for a pass and turned the wrong way. In the huddle afterward, sweaty shoulder to sweaty shoulder, the quarterback put a blade of grass in my hand and said, “The hand with the blade of grass in it is your left, you wiener wart.” I use that line in my novel Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind? to be published later this year (not long after my mystery, The Man Who Asked To Be Killed). An early reader of the Did You manuscript said guys wouldn’t say that to each other. So much for reality in fiction.
Sexuality can be confusing. Sex feels so good, no matter who you’re doing it with, and the need for release is so compelling, especially when you’re young. In my current novel-in-progress Waiting for Marilyn? the protagonist is sexually ambivalent. As a writer, I ask him who catches his attention, the boy or the girl, when he glimpses an attractive couple. I might also ask, “Whose feet do you look at?”