Friday, December 03, 2004

Preppies or Guidos

Growing up in my city there were two groups that kids identified with: the preppies or the guidos. The preppies were the rich kids, the smart kids, the Jewish and the Protestant and the free thinking kids whose parents were professors, doctors, business leaders or otherwise wore a suit to work. At Christmas time they never strung gaudy colored lights, only tasteful white ones. At school the kids proudly displayed the ski tags from their weekend excursions on their LL Bean down filled parkas. The guidos were the Italian kids or those who wanted to adopt the look of big hair, designer jeans, gold chains and mafioso junior. They were Catholic, had lots of cousins and weren't known for their academics. I was from the wrong side of town to be a guido, and I lived among the preppies. But I had a secret: I was working class.

My brains were my entry to the preppie world, but I was always a fringe player. Not popular. Not well-travelled. I would have two or three new outfits each year for back-to-school, and the rest we got from the Salvation Army. This is before vintage was cool. This was when you would be terrified to walk into the store because somebody's rich mother might be dropping something off, just as you went in to buy.

The Salvation Army store had a unique smell. It must have been how they laundered the clothes. Everything smelled of it until it was washed. It was like a treasure store to me because I loved to look through the jewelry, piles of bangles, necklaces, earrings...all for pennies. I loved the scarves--silky, funky, psychedelic and old money chic. Wool sweaters were usually the primary goal. If they could were still in good shape, no holes, no pilling, then they could be layered. Layered with a button down shirt, I could almost pass for preppie. There were never any fair isle sweaters there, nor any in cutesy shades of pink and green, so I was always a plain preppie rather than a trendy one.

It was my ambition to attend an Ivy League school and to come to a place of real belonging among the preppies. To become a professor, to arrive in the academic circles by virtue of my brain. Then I discovered theatre and found much greater belonging there than I ever had in my usual social groups. This was not the popularity contest of school plays, this was the world of community theatre with a wild mix of people I had never met before. It was an inner city group so there were so many more blacks, Latinos and poor than I was used to mixing with. There were many ages so my friends started to be out of the ghetto of just my grade in school.

In theatre I learned that I was creative, I had something to say...I could even sing it if I needed to. I was looked up to and was listened to. I loved the applause, but most of all I loved the emotion. I heard people laugh and even made them cry sometimes or hoot in appreciation. It was powerful. The rest of the small-minded cliques didn't matter anymore because I had found a place where I belonged.

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