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Sunday, December 23, 2007Actually, I don't know what I was. When I was around 5 years old I don't think I had discovered either the Green Lantern or Green Arrow. Maybe I had started to take some notice of the Green Hornet on TV, but more likely my memory is playing tricks and it may have been a few years after that before I was thrilling to his exploits. Of course in those days TV for us in Australia was still in black and white so I had absolutely no idea why the Green Hornet was green, or even if some part of his costume was green.
So what the hell am I on about? Well like most kids in those days we actually played make believe games. Even pacman and space invaders were a future away so we spent a lot of time playing cowboys and indians, or, as in my case, pretending I was a superhero. My first superhero costume was a green square of cloth which I fastened around my neck with a large safety pin. This cloth actually doubled for a square of grass on which I could set up my farm or zoo animals with block fences, or which sometimes was used as a surface on which I could play marbles.
For me though it's most important purpose was that of a cape. With it pinned around my neck I could leap off tall buildings and break twigs in my bare hands. The tall building was an asbestos sheet outdoor dunny in our backyard, maybe eight foot high, spider infested and stinking of tubs full of wee and poo mixed with the tang of phenyl which was poured into the bowl in a fruitless attempt to disguise the smell.
There were blow flies the size of sparrows buzzing around that old shed constantly. Even winter failed to deter them and when you had to venture inside to actually sit on the pan it was inevitable that some of them got onto the floating muck then flew out occasionally landing on an arm or leg or maybe even your face as they fled out to spread typhoid and malaria to the other houses of Box Hill South. But I figured that was fair because the flies from their dunnies were probably regularly visiting us as well.
For me, the Green whatever I was, the roof of the shed was a skyscraper to be conquered, taller even than the ICI building which my Dad used to drive past on nearly every outing just so he could tell us proudly that it was the tallest building in Melbourne. I'm thinking now that I probably proudly wore the green cape because TV was black and white and I didn't know at the time that Superman's cape was actually red. If I had, I may have been a bit embarrassed to call myself the green whatever. Around the time I learnt to read and discovered comics I realised that Superman was in blue and red and so the green cape lost it's power and returned to the box of farm animals never to be brought out to fight for truth and justice ever again.
There were all sorts of magical things for sale in the comics but alas, you could only get them from America and most of them said that they would only accept mail orders from the US or Canada. So I missed out on the x-ray specs that would have allowed me to see through walls. I did wonder how you could turn back the power because when you looked at a person you didn't necessarily want to look at their skeletons or bodily organs, you just wanted to stop maybe at the underwear. I also missed out on that useful tool of learning how to throw my voice. I always thought that skill would be grat if Mum had told me to turn out the light in bed at night when I actually wanted to keep reading. I could have hidden under the bed with a torch and thrown my voice to the pillow stuffed under the eiderdown and made it sound like I was actually snoring when she poked her head into my bedroom to check on me.
But the retirement of the green cape wasn't the end of my disguise days though, because around the time I started to see things in colour my Mum made me another cape. This one was black with a big red "Z" on the back of it and a press stud to clasp it around my neck. You have to admit that was far less dangerous than the big safety pin that had a habit of springing open at inappropriate times like when I was flying off the roof of the dunny or was about to bash the heads of Martians together just before they used their ray guns on the toilet seat, which as you can imagine would have caused all sorts of problems to any person who happened to be sitting on it at the time.
There was no such thing as political correctness in those days, in fact boys were encouraged to play with swords and guns, and if they weren't bought for us, we made them out of whatever we found lying around. Many was the time when the sheets hanging on the clothesline were battered with whatever bit of wood became my sword on that particular day. I could spend hours practising the Zorro "Z" on the washing pretending every striped towel was actually the fat gut of Sergeant Garcia.
The best weapon though was a bow and arrow. The arrows had suction cups on them that never actually suctioned onto anything, so if you actually got hit by one, you'd place it under your arm and hold it there whilst you did a graceful slow motion swan dive onto the ground feigning death. I have no idea how we never actually took out someones eye because there were times when we did remove the suction cups. I think the only thing that saved us from major injury was that the arrows were rarely straight and generally didn't hit what we were aiming at.
Sometime when I was maybe around 9 or 10 I became the proud owner of a handmedown Davy Crockett suit that an older cousin had grown out of. This came complete with a coonskin hat which I could wear jauntily just like Fess Parker did. I must admit to being a bit confused about how Fess Parker could be both Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone with his mate Mengo, the Oxford educated Cherokee. Now never for one minute did I think that my coonskin hat was actually made from coon skin. It may have been cat, or possum, more likely the hat part was some synthetic fur stuff. But the tail that hung off it was a real tail from some dead animal which reminded me of the dead things my elderly aunts used to wear around their shoulders to family events like weddings.
I'm pretty sure it wasn't considered etiquette to wear dead animals to things like funerals, and there always seemed to be lots of them in those days, possibly because of those sparrow sized blowflies that hung around the outdoor dunnies spreading disease. My aunts used to think they looked pretty good but let me tell you that some of those old fox stoles were looking a little the worst for wear by the 1960's.
My superhero days did continue for a while after the Zorro suit to. My cousin Gavin and I spent a lot of school holidays staying at my Nana's place in Brunswick. It was a working class suburb a world away from what it is today. The terrace houses were close together, the street gutters paved with huge blue stone flags and scattered amongst the houses were various small factories and warehouses many of which belonged to various aspects of the rag trade.
Gavin and I spent some days exploring the back lanes of the suburb and on one occasion came across what may have been a furniture factory. I rubbish bins out the front were offcuts of vinyl which we helped ourselves to. These became vinyl armour which we sewed together and wore on arms and legs, as breatplates and with various types of facial disguises that ranged from a Zorro type mask through to a Ned Kelly full face mask with a slot cut out so we could see. I tried making a Batman type cowl but the nose piece made me look like Jimmy Durante of Pinocchio on a bad day, so whilst I had one mask with bat ears sticking up from it I gave up on trying to design the nose. Wearing that vinyl armour no sword or suction cupped arrow could hurt.
Was there a time when a boy wakes up and realises that the games of youth are forever lost in the past. I'm sure that for me there was never any conscious decision to stop playing these things, it was just that other things took over as past times. I graduated to toy soldiers from farm animals and from bows and arrows to basketball. Somewhere, somewhen the little boy became an older boy, the black cape and coon skin cap got relegated to the cupboard with the green cloth.