Thursday, June 25, 2009

What Farrah Fawcett meant to me

I am known in my office as the "'70s guy," which generally refers to my taste in music. But those who know me well know that I am inherently and unashamedly nostalgic, and it is a general truth that most of my all-time favorite movies, TV shows, and musicians are from that oft-maligned decade. Though I was only seven years old in 1970, when I came of age at the dawn of the '80s it was apparent to me that a large part of myself would remain in that time period that saw Nixon, Ford, and Carter in the White House and accommodated both the Ecology movement and disco.

In Judaism, a boy comes of age at 13; for this Jewish boy, that year was 1976. I barely knew I had hormones racing under my skin and would soon be assaulted by both welcome and unwelcome bodily changes, but all that changed when Charlie's Angels premiered on ABC. To say I was awestruck, starstruck, and dumbstruck by Farrah Fawcett is a vast understatement. I was in love. I had never known such magical beauty existed.

It's not surprising that I fell for the blond Angel, as my youthful crushes had been on such golden-haired lovelies as Marcia Brady from The Brady Bunch, Ellie Mae Clampett from The Beverly Hillbillies, and a classmate named Tammy I was too shy to talk to. But Farrah was something else altogether, and that something else was obvious: nipples.

I was playing at my friend Richie's house one day. His mother was out shopping. When she returned, she said she had something for us. She gave us each a copy of Farrah's famous red bathing suit poster. There was so much to look at: her hair, those teeth, the nipples. I stayed on the nipples for a while. Back in 1976, that wasn't something a 13-year-old kid saw a lot of. In retrospect, and knowing Richie's mother as I did, she was essentially saying to us, "You're 13. Here, go learn how to masturbate." Thus my love for Farrah was consummated.

The next three years or so saw my bedroom become transformed into a Farrah shrine, my walls covered with Farrah posters and magazine clippings. I even had a Farrah pillow that I used as a damper for my bass drum (OK, I did sleep with it a few times, too). Eventually, they were all replaced by Marvel comic book covers, and over the years I broadened my taste in and experience with women, but Farrah always remained in my heart as the first clear proof of my heterosexuality.

Today I don't even own the red bathing suit poster, but a few years ago a colleague gave me a mug with that image on it as as birthday present, and this past year my work got me a Farrah cake for my birthday. I took the teasing I got in good fun but I was also aware that she was fighting cancer, and the idea that this archetype of beauty was being destroyed by disease was disquieting. Recently, when the TV special documenting her battle with cancer aired, it was heartbreaking. I even cried at the end. And I knew this day would come, the day I would learn that she had died far too young at age 62.

One colleague hugged me today when she heard the news. Others made pouty pity faces at me, as though someone genuinely close to me had died. Despite my real sadness, I felt I had to somehow justify the impact this quintessential sex symbol's passing will have on me. I can't just talk about lust and tissue boxes, that's too creepy. What, then, does she mean to me really? Why do I care so much about Farrah Fawcett?

I guess it's because she represents an awakening to me, the opening of a new part of my identity and personality; she was a standard to keep with me as I grew up and went out into the world, part of my tastes, my beliefs, my cares and concerns. Not that Farrah herself encompasses all of that, but my eyes literally and figuratively were opened for the first time when I was 13, and everything else I've seen and done and learned and believed somehow has been built on that bar mitzvah-year foundation. It may not be Farrah at all that still draws me to Farrah; it might be that she simply represents the time when I took those clumsy first steps towards physical, mental, and emotional maturity (I'm still working on that last one, actually).

And maybe that's why I'm such a nostalgic person. As I get older, life gets more challenging and confusing, more frightening and less fun. The doors that were wide open when I was 13 seem to be closing. Maybe Farrah is a wedge that I've been using to keep that door open just a little bit. Just to let a sliver of light from my youth pierce the darker air of my adulthood. Something to remind me of easier times. Something to give me hope.

And now that wedge is gone. Of course, her image still remains and ultimately, it was the image I was in love with. And maybe that image can keep that door open a little longer. And maybe that light will also illuminate that wedge, and those things for which I still yearn - love, security, confidence, comfort - might somehow be more possible, more visible for me. Standing out in the dark even. Like her nipples.

Rest in peace, Farrah. And thank you for being on my wall and always smiling at me.

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