Seeing red… “In those days…”
I’m sure you’re familiar with that phrase, probably wish it would leave for another planet, maybe Mars, that reddish one where we’re determined to find vestiges of life or remnants of our solar system’s earliest shopping centers. But, before that happens, allow me to use it one more time.
Although at thirteen I’d outgrown my adolescent psyche, I couldn’t get past seeing myself as an almost six-footer with zits. Worse than that, I had to host a party that featured snacks and records and girls. Although it was ordinary then to wear a coat and shirt and tie to such an event, I was uncomfortable as if I’d been made to wear one of my Dad’s cut-the-grass t-shirts. Why was that?
The answer is that I was wearing a red blazer. Its glare filled the room; I felt as if I were wearing a shark that was ready to feast on my pimply face. Thanks to the reflection of the jacket on my otherwise smooth and heat-oily skin (it was the summer and I was in Greenville, SC), my zits were red as fire.
Fortunately, no one had a Polaroid. That night, shadows were my friend. Somehow, I survived. I never wore that jacket again even when my Mom asked, “Why don’t you wear your red jacket?”
“I outgrew it,” I yelled. What I didn’t explain was how good it made me feel to know I would never see it again after leaving it in a bag under a seat in the very dark Lea movie theater.
Maybe Tarzan got it. Or Gene Autry. Or the guy who sold me a box of eleven-cent popcorn.
Chances are it’s obvious that red is not my favorite color. Except in flags. And that’s it. When one of my poetry students wore red lipstick to match her red hair, I wasn’t impressed. Although I wanted to say, “Please try blue or green next time,” I knew better. What if the word spread that I had a thing about red?
Maybe I do. Take stop signs. I did once, during my sophomore year at Emory, I actually pulled up a stop sign and put it in my car. Why, you ask? Beats me. But I was so busy doing it that I didn’t see the policeman who patrolled just as I’d finished loading it in the backseat.
“Why did you do that?” he asked. He seemed more amused that upset. After all, he’d caught me, you know, red-handed. (So sorry, but I had to.)
“Officer, I have a good reason,” I said, as I looked directly into his bloodshot eyes. “I hate the color red. Can’t stand it,” I said as I pointed to the sign. I wanted to say that I was going to paint it auburn but that may have been an unfamiliar shade to him.
As it was, thanks to that red sign, I was assigned to three weeks of work duty with the ground maintenance crew. Please think of me as Brer’ Rabbit being thrown in the briars; I loved it. From the back of a huge Emory University dump truck, I rode tall and waved. Everyone got to know me; politically, that was fantastic because I was running for a seat in the student Senate. Thanks to my dump truck notoriety, I was so far ahead that I was bound to win.
That’s when the administration made a rule that anyone caught taking a stop sign couldn’t run for student office. I had to drop out of the race. And you know what that meant.
Yes, I saw red.
That wasn’t the last time. I saw red in Schindler’s List. I saw red when I bit into a pepper at one of London’s finest Chinese restaurants. I’ll never forget the color of that pepper.
Need I say that it was R-E-D.
When the fire engines came to my house to put out a fire that burned up its insides, I cried until my eyes were almost the color of a fire engine.
I have been stressed and oppressed by red. Even in Holland, in Amsterdam, when I walked past the red light district, I was chased by some drug-crazed Dutchman because I wasn’t interested in what he had to sell. At least he didn’t try to sell me red roses.
Two other things on my list: the color of Santa’s costume and W. C. Field’s nose. Both bright, bright red.
Almost as bright as the Miata I bought, sight unseen. It is a perfect car in every sense of the word. Less than 8,000 actual miles, fast and tight. There’s only one problem. It looks like a Valentine’s Day gift on wheels.
I’ve owned it for a day and a half and I’m ready to sell it because it’s red, too red for me. Please, make me an offer. Send me a check. But don’t write it with your red ink pen.
And, please, don’t call me about it tonight. I’ve gone into hiding after being invited to a red tie affair. How could they!