A Final Thought: The Great Pretender


By Mitch Allen

Growing up in the 1960s, my family had a “living room” which was, ironically, off limits to the living. The room featured a stiff-backed sofa accentuated with elegant pillows made of velvet and satin. The sofa was flanked on each side by matching end tables, each supporting matching porcelain lamps and gold-embossed, leather-bound books with names like “Leaves of Grass,” which were never opened. Across from the sofa were two wingback chairs with lace headrests. There was also a lighted curio cabinet containing my mother’s coveted cut glass collection.

It was a pretend room.

As a kid, I was allowed into the pretend room only on Saturday mornings and only when I had been assigned the task of dusting and vacuuming it. The floor was covered in orange, wall-to-wall, high-pile shag carpeting which we kids had to rake afterward to eliminate any vacuum cleaner lines (we couldn’t let anyone know that we actually vacuumed). The raking left the carpet so perfect that if anyone dared venture in there afterward, tell-tale footprints would be left in the high shag and my mother would launch an investigation so thorough that she would make special counsel Robert Mueller look like a bumbling gumshoe.

The only people ever invited into the living room were our family’s State Farm agent and other virtual strangers who would never know that our family actually didn’t hang out in there all the time, reading Walt Whitman, sipping tea and holding out our pinkies.

Thankfully, when my father started his own land surveying business in the early 1970s, we could stop pretending. The living room was transformed into his office and we could go in there anytime we wanted. Heck, even his crewmen were allowed in the ex-living room each morning—muddy boots and all. I guess there’s a lot less pretense when you have to meet payroll.

Hanging from Dad’s drafting table was an electric eraser that spun so fast it could erase errant pencil marks completely and instantly. I suppose he could have kept the eraser in a drawer so visitors would never know that he made so many mistakes, but Dad wasn’t a pretender; I was. 

After I earned my driver’s license in 1978, I used Dad’s electric eraser and drafting pencils to alter my temporary learner’s permit. Using these sophisticated tools, I easily turned the “2” in “1962” into a “0,” thus making me 18 years old instead of 16, old enough at the time to get into the hottest discotheques in town.

Dad would have been proud of my mechanical drawing skills—had he known.

But my pretending got me nowhere. Once inside a bar, I was too broke to buy a fancy drink and too terrified to ask an older woman to dance.

Back at our house, pretending didn’t end in the living room. In our kitchen, we had a vintage milk can yet we didn’t own any cows. The milk can was painted green and featured a découpage eagle on it. This was 1976—the nation’s bicentennial—and there was a federal mandate that every home must have a painted vintage milk can with a découpage eagle on it. 

You can Google it.

Pretending also extended to the bathrooms wherein hung the exalted “good towels.” These were bath towels, hand towels and washcloths made of sculptured terry cloth and/or featuring lace trim. We weren’t allowed to touch them, let alone dry our hands or wipe our mouths on them. If ever a smear of toothpaste appeared on one of the good towels, there would be another thorough investigation which—had Mom known about DNA testing—would surely have involved swabbing our cheeks for samples. 

Usually, however, the culprit turned out to be a neighborhood kid at our house for a sleepover, someone who didn’t know that J.C. Penney sold towels that were not actually allowed to dry anything.

Unfortunately, the custom of “the good towels” has survived into my adulthood, and in my newfound attempt to “live more authentically,” I asked my wife last week if we could finally get rid of them.

“What good towels?” she answered.

“You know, the fancy ones hanging in the bathrooms. The ones we can’t touch.”

“What are you talking about? I use those towels all the time.”

“You do?

“Of course,” she said. “Oh. My. God. How in the world have you been drying your hands all these years?”

“Uh, I don’t know. On my pants, I guess.”

Oh, I wish I hadn’t said that.

Anybody got an eraser?


Categories: Smart Living