Since the nightmarish memoryscape of the mid-1980s has become something of a theme this week, I might as well go all in with a photo which you may or may not be familiar with…
…the State of Andrew Otis Weiss, circa 1985.
The real tragedy is that it depicts what was probably the high water mark of my junior high attempts fumblings toward a style. It’s certainly better than the Edgar Winter ‘do and tracksuits I wore for most of seventh grade. (Yes, I have a difficulty visualizing it as well, but for different reasons than yours.) It was also a shade more dignified than the pleather Jacko jacket and quilted nylon pullovers which immediately preceded the final phase featured above.
There were other regrettable moments mixed in there, too, involving Sears sports jackets and my paternal grandpa’s hand-me-down Stetson cowboy hat. Fortunately, photographic evidence of these fashion atrocities is next to nonexistent.
The Hawaiian shirt thing was a homage to my beloved Magnum, P.I. and by abetted by a Bradlee’s clearance rack with a 90% markdown. I went into the store looking for cutout bin K-Tel cassette comps and Fighting Fantasy books and left with my default wardrobe for the next three years. You can’t see it in the picture, but the right sleeve of the shirt had a Miami PD patch (picked out of a bin at Jolly Jim’s flea market) sewn onto it.
“Miami Weiss.” Get it? GET IT?
(Your desire to slap me right now is nothing compared to the self-flagellation I’ve already inflicted upon myself over the past three decades. Trust me.)
My usage of that nickname came to a screeching halt after I used it to send away for the exclusive Sgt. Slaughter G.I. Joe figure. Six weeks later, I got back a package addressed to “MIMI WEISS.”
“It’s because of your fucking girly hair, asshole,” was my loving and supportive father’s response.
My dad truly loathed my long hair phase, from the initial flowing mane period right up to the terminal rat tail era. It wasn’t a military thing, but a response to the twentysomething wannabe rock stars my mom worked with at the stereo factory. I don’t know how much was drunken jealousy and how much was general Weissian cantankerousness, but he truly despised those dudes and my growing locks served as a lightning rod for his ire.
When I finally made the decision to get shorn in the beginning of my sophomore year, my mom refused to do it. (She was also pretty blitzed on port wine at the time, to be fair.) “THEN I’LL DO IT,” beamed my old man as he inelegantly snipped off my rat tail with a pair of pinking shears. (I still have the thing, bound up with an elastic somewhere in my collection of Weiss Family ephemera.)
From there I moved on to a Beatles/Byrds mop, briefly dyed black after a weird impulse purchase of a Nice & Easy kit at the supermarket down the block from my local comic shop in Stoneham. This was also around the time I swapped out my Chuck Taylors for a pair of combat boots and started rocking an unbuttoned flannel over a t-shirt look.
Up until her death at the end of 1988, all family haircuts were carried out by my mom, who tended to stick to simple (and dated as fuck) trims. After she passed away, my grandma would give my brother and I money to visit a barber in Woburn Center whose two default styles were “flat top” and “crew cut.” By the time I got into punk rock the following spring, I was already sporting the classic “suburban hardcore kid” look. The only things missing were the self-identification and the soundtrack. It’s a style and a stance I’ve retained even since, apart from some short-lived experimental phases.
An oddly uncomfortable coda to my junior high style angst took place about a year ago, when I was guilted into attending the funeral for my aunt’s ex-husband. My dad also showed up, and it was the first time I’d seen him in person for months. I barely recognized him at first…
…because that hypocritical bastard had grown out his fucking hair.
I’ve been told that I have plenty of reasons to hold a grudge against my father, and I suppose I do. I’ve done my best to avoid that mentality because it’s not healthy and I made a conscious decision to let bygones be bygones. I made that decision after visiting the old man in the VA lockup ward on the afternoon following my mom’s death. There was was, the fear-nothing hellraiser gone ashen-faced and shaken to his core.
The first words he said to me then have stuck with me like a knife in the gut.
“Andy. What happened?”
The world had ended. There was no point in carrying over any deep-seated animus. The love of his life was gone. He’d already received the worst punishment imaginable.
Yet as easy as it was to forgive the sixteen years of manipulation and mental cruelty and drunken taunts, it ended up being the fucking hair that stuck in my craw. I don’t know why, because I was never particularly attached to the look and would never even think of letting it grow out to that length again. (Maura wouldn’t let me, even if I wanted to, which I don’t.)
For a moment my rage burned incandescent on the sidewalk outside the church, and then it passed. The only action I took was to respond with “Sorry, remembering all the shit you gave me about my long hair” when he asked what I thought of his new look, followed by some grumbling into Maura’s sympathetic ear during the drive home.
Maybe it was because there was a part of me that thought my father had been right and that he did it for my own good, instilling a life-long aversion against letting my locks grow past the nape of my neck. But, no, there was no lesson nor moral. It was just another round of head games in a childhood full of the same. Like I said, it’s weird how that ended up being the residual resentment trigger out of a very crowded field, but there’s no second-guessing the subconscious.