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Masculinity Saved!

The following is a free excerpt from Dave Fox’s award-winning book of travel humor essays, Getting Lost: Mishaps of an Accidental Nomad.

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Getting Lost: Mishaps of an Accidental Nomad - Travel Humor by Dave FoxLewisham, England: 1976

Noddy and Big Ears never made it in America. Noddy was a toy with a nodding head. Big Ears was an elf. They went on adventures that sparked children’s imagination and taught the value of friendship. They were the creations of one of Britain’s most treasured and prolific children’s authors, Enid Blyton, and they were heroes to the children of England. But Blyton’s stories about them never flew in America. The books were banned because, according to the BBC, Noddy and Big Ears had a relationship that some Americans considered “implicitly homosexual.”

So spending my first seven years in America, I had not been exposed to the allegedly perverted elf-and-toy duo who had won the hearts of British school children. When November rolled around, and it was time to rehearse for the school Christmas pantomime, I didn’t know what I was in for.

“Noddy and Big Ears’ Adventures in Toyland” was a full-on musical production with virtually every student in four grades playing a role or singing in the choir. I came running home one day to tell my mom.

“I’m going to be a nole!” I said.

“What’s a nole?” she asked.

I had no clue.

She looked it up in the dictionary. There was no definition.

“I think it might start with a ‘K'” I told her.

She looked up knole and found “knoll – a small rounded mound or hill.”

“You’re going to be a hill?”

I was perplexed. I had heard of kids being cast as trees in school plays, but a clump of dirt seemed rather dull.

We had another meeting at school a few days later. I came home with fresh information.

“I’m not going to be a knoll. I’m going to be a gnome!”

“Oh!” my mother said. “How exciting!”

“What’s a gnome?” I asked. I felt happy when she told me. An elf was more interesting than a hill. The news eased the sting of some other, humiliating information I had to convey.

“They told us we have to wear tights.”

I was eight. I was oblivious to what Noddy and Big Ears might be doing in bed late at night, but I had learned enough in America about gender roles to know that boys did not wear tights.

“Lots of us have to,” I explained, hoping my mother wouldn’t think I was a sissy. What I really didn’t get was none of the other kids seemed to mind. Even the tough boys, the ones who started fights and talked about cars, had taken the announcement in stride.

My mother’s first response was to reassure me there was nothing to be embarrassed about. Lots of men wore tights. Ballet dancers, for example.

I cringed. “There are men who are ballet dancers?”

“David, things are just a little bit different here. I think it’s okay for boys to wear tights in England. Children play in them. Anyway, none of your friends in Maryland are going to know.”

So while I was at school one day, my mom went out and bought me a pair. They were a good masculine shade of brown. She went for the more expensive packaging because it pictured children – girls and boys – playing together in tights.

“See?” my mom said, pointing to the picture. “It’s okay for boys to wear them here.”

I tried them on. I felt like the same person I had always been. I began getting comfortable with the idea that they were just a different kind of clothing, but my brother quickly disposed of that notion. He made up a new song. He sang it to me. It was called “David Wears Tights All the Time.”

I chased Steve up the stairs, but he slammed his bedroom door before I could injure him. So then I did what any red-blooded eight-year-old boy would do if his masculinity was being challenged by his little brother. I burst into tears.

“David wears tights all the time,” Steve crooned through his bedroom door. “David wears tights all the tiiiiiime!”

It wasn’t a particularly imaginative song. Those were the only lyrics. But considering he was four, you had to admire his ingenuity. The song served its purpose.

As rehearsals progressed, I didn’t discuss the humiliation with my friends. I wanted to ask them, “Are you really going to wear tights?” But the other boys seemed unconcerned. I tried to act cool. We’d stay late after school each day – those of us with even minor acting parts – going over our lines in our street clothes. As mid-December approached, Mr. Bennett pulled me aside one day. He had a special role for me.

I’d been living in England for three months now. In England, I never got teased for being the shortest kid in class like I did in America because, face it, my American accent was a far more interesting target. All you could do to a short kid was beat him up. But if you cornered a kid with a foreign accent, you could mimic him. If you did it well (which, at age eight, you did not, but to British third-graders trying to sound American, anything vaguely resembling a pre-pubescent John Wayne twang would do), you would win the admiration of your mates while the American kid cringed and told you, ordered you, pleaded with you to shut up.

There were days when I left school in tears because of this. Mr. Bennett must have seen what was going on. He was about to make me a hero. I was being type-cast for my American accent.

There were bad guys afoot in Toyland. Some of the older kids rode motorcycles. Other kids were the motorcycles. And I seem to recall some evil bats. The older kids played the bad guys. I envied them, if for no other reason than that the bikers got to wear jeans and white T-shirts, like the Fonz.

The bikers, or the bats, or some other gnome-hating terrorist organization, were out to destroy Noddy and Big Ears and ruin Christmas. I was to swoop in with the line that would save everybody: “In these woods, there’ll be no danger. I’m the famous Gnome Ranger!”

Mr. Bennett coached me on the lines – on the timing, on the inflection. “You have to project,” he told me. His advice was more welcomed than, “If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding.” I was starting to like him.

As opening (and closing) night approached, the news got even better. I would get to wear a cowboy hat. And a badge. And a holster with a gun. For a whole musical sequence immediately following my line, I would walk around and shoot the audience. I felt very manly now, in spite of the tights.

On the night of the big show, my pun brought the house down. My accent had already begun morphing into British English, but it was still American enough to work. The school gymnasium exploded with laughter. I got more applause than Noddy and Big Ears. I shot my neighbor. I shot my parents. I shot Steve multiple times.

I learned some important lessons from my acting debut:

1) Sometimes being a foreigner is a good thing. It can land you a starring role.

2) People who worry about the sexual mores of elves and nodding-head toys have way too much time on their hands.

3) If you must wear tights, always carry a gun.

In the end, the Gnome Ranger saved Christmas. An appropriate parting scene would have been for him to ride into the sunset on a white horse. But the Gnome Ranger was not a normal cowboy, and the Christmas he had just saved was about to become his strangest Christmas ever. Where he was going, the horse was not the preferred method of transport….

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Published on Saturday, March 1, 2008

2 Responses to “Masculinity Saved!”

  1. sarah
    May 15, 2012 at 5:31 PM

    oh I just LOVED this. I grew up with Noddy and Big Ears and we just loved those two. You are right about ‘way too much time on their hands’, Spot On!

  2. May 15, 2012 at 6:03 PM

    :-) Thanks Sarah! Welcome to Globejotting!

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