Unification News for June 2003

Bohemian Breakfast

Claire Bowles
June 2003

In 1st grade I drew a nude. It was a woman sitting on a horse, backwards. A picture that filled the whole page of butcher paper, as we were encouraged to do. My teacher came over to look at it. She was very nice, but obviously flustered and a little disturbed. She said nervously that it was very pretty but didn’t I think the circus lady needed some clothes? I remember what I said to her and now it seems very precocious. "Don’t you believe in nudes?" I drew lines at my woman’s wrists and neck to indicate clothes but I was feeling my six-year-old pride miffed.

The main difference between my Bohemian upbringing and that of kids being brought up by what WE called trashy people was the type of trash that littered the houses and yards. For example, in the bohemian home there would more likely be wine bottles rather than beer bottles scattered about the place after an evening of entertaining, but the placement of the wine bottles would be quite the same as the beer bottles in the ‘trashy’ homes. Same ash trays full of the same cigarette butts. On any normal day the books and magazines covering our floor might be Allen Watts and Poetry Digest, rather than True Romance and Hot Rod Monthly but they still lay there day and night, untouched for months at a time. The paintings on our walls were definitely nicer to look at than the calendars plastering ‘trashy’ walls but in both houses the pictures were mostly of women with little or no clothes on. Of course, we called ours ‘nudes’.

There were trashy people in every race, but they weren’t the same as everyday people. Everyday people worked hard, took care of their families the best that they could, were enlightened to the extent that was available to them, were pretty boring and didn’t have much time for a heck of a lot more than that. Trashy people, on the other hand, didn’t serve others, including their kids, and didn’t work hard. Trashy people had lots of dramatic sexual relationships. Trashy people didn’t care about laws or authority. Trashy people had trashy houses and yards. Trashy people didn’t like everyday people. Hmmmm. Trashy people were just Bohemians without education.

There was a real superiority complex among the bohemians of the ‘40s and ‘50s and they had to defend their superiority with the weapon of snobbery. So, even though our houses were just as dirty, and the kids just as neglected, perhaps the morals just as corrupted, and we lived in the same neighborhoods, we somehow still felt that we were superior to trashy people. I say "we" even though I was just a baby and a child through the ‘50s, but I felt it, too, and came to repeat the catch phrases that I heard adults say. "A real ballet teacher can’t teach any other form of dance." "Real poetry doesn’t necessarily have rhyme." "Real artists don’t care what people think." I understand now why these things were said and even why they are true, but we also were taught, without words, to look down upon people who didn’t understand or know these things. Everyday People who didn’t care about or have time for ‘real’ ballet teachers or ‘real’ poetry or ‘real’ artists, were just glad their little girl was taking ballet, tap and jazz. These were people who got misty-eyed when they heard "Mother is a Word Like No Other" or loved the painting which hung over their sofa and which was mass produced in Taiwan. Somehow, the bohemians that I knew lumped everyday people in with trashy people and snubbed them equally.

I’m being harsh now. But I knew that something was wrong with my life even at age 8, though I tried very hard to fit it all together. I saw from the TV that there were several different kinds of people. There were everyday people like on My Three Sons, Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best, who were largely indistinguishable from one another, and then there was Maynard G. Krebs, who was the token Bohemian on TV. He wasn’t like real Bohemians. But there were similarities. Therefore, the others weren’t like real everyday people, but there were similarities. And commercials weren’t true either, but there were similarities between the real product and the commercial.

So I tried to figure it out. My grandparents were everyday people and were involved in my upbringing because my father and then my step-father were artists and couldn’t always support us. My grandparents didn’t bring their own dishes when they came to eat with us, (my father’s second mother-in-law did) they just never came to eat with us. We ate at their house every week or so. My grandparent’s house was Twilight Zone different from my world. Everything had a place and it never strayed from that place…for years! Always in the same place. My grandparent’s house was filled with food. Cupboards were full and a big, full freezer was in the basement. Opposite my house. And my grandparent’s house didn’t have any nudes. They had ‘pictures’ on their walls, which were different than ‘paintings’.

Take a typical day at my house: I am 7, or 8 years old. I get up for school soooo sleepy. I have to hunt for clothes in a pile of laundry that is a big mountain in a closet that has no door. I hunt through, flinging clothes into the air like a cartoon, and finally find something to wear. I hunt for a brush to brush my feathery blond hair. I can never find a brush but a fork works, I discover, except that I have to wash one. I have no breakfast…as usual. My mother got a job as an artist at the newspaper and is never there in the mornings. In fact, I am a latch-key kid before there are such things. Sometimes there is Captain Crunch but not regularly. Even when my mother was married to my step-father (3 years) he didn’t make breakfast either, though he was staying home painting instead of working. I don’t remember anything but Captain Crunch. No toast, no plates, no eggs. Just like the trashy people next door. Only WE have bookcases on OUR walls with real books in them and…there it is! Between the book of Salvador Dali paintings and that empty old carton of cigarette…a hairbrush!

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