By Jeff Owenby
When I was a kid, the word "girlfriend" was not permitted. It wasn't even thinkable. A guy could be shot by full firing squad if the idea was even ever mentioned. No matter how pretty they were girls were just part of a puzzle that just couldn't fit into our schema. Though the concept of "girlfriend" lived secretly within our minds, the idea was never verbally communicated between guys unless, of course, it was delivered as a taunt.
Girls were indeed an interesting phenomenon. They were creatures of mystery that baffled, bewildered, and confounded us guys to no end. They had their own culture, and with the exception of "Tomboys", they were really pretty much unacceptable in our manly circle.
I remember in our neighborhoods, there were girls who were actually friends when the other guys weren't around. They were the ones who could be interesting and fun, and had a unique sense of adventure unlike many of the kids I knew. They were creative, and had much more imagination than some of my guy friends. The only problem was that they just weren't interested in playing army, or performing death defying feats on their bikes.
Worse yet were the girls that I actually developed a crush on. They were the ones that haunted my solitary dreams and had the ability to perform witchcraft forcing me into odd public behaviors. People all around me knew when I had a crush on a certain girl. I found myself looking at her just a bit longer than necessary while getting shoved by the guys. They always laughed feeling invinicible, but little did they know that their time was coming soon as well.
Girls were usually a bit more precautious, and had a wiser approach to life in the sense that they knew dangerous things were just plain stupid. Still, for all of their shortcomings, girls were worthwhile, and good to have around. They made us guys feel heroic and were always on hand as an audience to our stingray show-offing and skateboard showmanship. Girls also came in three standard models: the Sweet, the Bad, and the Dangerous. Let's break these categories down, shall we?
First there were the "sweet girls", the ones who were shy, quiet, and pretty much kept to themselves. No matter how we boys teased them, there was something secretly desirable about them. They were shrouded in mystery. The word "girlfriend" was an easy concept to embrace though it was never muttered aloud. The sweet girls were the ones your mom always said you should try to "be nice to", or even play with. Though culturally we were worlds apart, these girls could buzz into our radar with no problem whatsoever and leave lasting traces of their flight patterns.
The sweet girls were also protected. Any guy, who pushed, overly teased, or knocked the books out of the hands of one of these girls was subject to an immediate pounding after school. These girls also had the ability to carry out reasonably intelligent conversations, and could prove to be athletically proficient. Often they enjoyed the same things we did, but held a social responsibility to not openly share with boys.
Next there were the bad girls. They were the ones who tattled, kicked over your army men, or teased and stuck out their tongues on a regular basis. The bad girls were the enemies in our camps. There was no negotiating with them on any level. They weren't above name-calling, or constant hovering in areas where it was boys only. Could a guy have a girl pal who was one of the bad girls? No; it was statistically impossible. There was no trusting the bad girl; she could turn on you at any moment when her friends were around.
There was no mercy for the bad girls; it was open season on any of them all year round. Bad girls were usually portrayed heavily on television. They were the bratty little sister that drove you bonkers every week. These girls basically just took up space in the world and were quite easy to ignore.
The "Dangerous girls" were double-trouble for they were the girls that could beat us guys up! As pretty, and saintly, and winsome as they appeared, they could whop you in the chops with relative force then return to jump rope as if nothing at all had occurred. They were as dangerous to the male ego as arsenic is to the human body. Only a fool attempted to push, or "out fight" one of them. Needless to say, they earned our respect. Even the toughest guys on the playground avoided them. There was always the terrifying "what if" factor to consider. "What if she actually beats me up in front of everybody?"
Interestingly, these girls weren't aggressive, they just defended themselves, their honor, territory, pony tails, younger siblings, or whatever else needed defending. I shamefully submit that the "dangerous" girls were trouble that we guys had to intentionally go looking for. Some of the dangerous girls also shared double bill as "Tomboys", and Tomboys were always a challenge.
Now, having examined these three types, there was yet another form of trouble that a girl could offer a guy back then. There was nothing worse than when a girl decided that you were her "boyfriend" and there was absolutely nothing you could do about it. She'd show up arbitrarily on your doorstep, or assault you with a saturation campaign of nightly telephone calls. These girls were relentless, and refused to take "no" for an answer. Then, to make matters worse, your own friends would turn on you and enjoy your torment.
Conversely, there were girls who could actually be friends (girl pals). Again, the word "girlfriend" was not acceptable nomenclature in the ever-complex kid infrastructure. They were only "girls that were friends". These girls were often more fun than the guys. They were willing to play games longer, go farther on bike rides, seek out new adventures, and basically have a lot to offer in a friendship. Eventually I grew to be a much wiser person and appreciate girls for all they had to offer. Still, back then, in those distant summers of the sixties, girls were pretty much a stone in my shoe.