So there we were at an out-of-the-way table in Buddy Guy’s blues club in Chicago on Saturday night. The harpman invited us to join the band in singing Sam Cook’s “Bring it on Home to Me.” We had the lyrics dead-on and we were reasonably close on the melody. On the gusto index, we were off the charts. Then we raised a farewell glass to Paul Newman, who died the day before; and we raised another to manliness whose fate is uncertain.
At the time, no one stopped to consider just what the heck is manliness anyway? On reflection, I’ll grant that we might not have been able to agree on a definition. But as baby boomers, we darn sure know it when we see it. Newman had it.
So, being a retired fellow, when I got back to Oklahoma, I started thinking about it. Sure enough, I found out an Ivy League professor has written a book on manliness and he titled it “Manliness.” Of course, his name is Mansfield. No joke. Anyway, my bookstore didn’t have it in stock, so it’s on order.
While I’m waiting for the book, I’m doing some more thinking. Sometimes it’s a puzzle how things pop onto the radar screen when you start watching for them. Let me tell you what I mean.
I was speculating on what all might be in the professor’s book and wondering how totally wrong I might have been all those years on what it means to be manly. Then I read that a guy named House Peters died on Oct. 1. You know who he was? The original Mr. Clean. Now I don’t know what year Mr. Clean first showed up on TV, but I was just a kid.
I remember because his appearance on the tube was the first event to cause me to wonder if there was more to being manly than just being like Pop and John Wayne. See, Mr. Clean was a big, muscular, tough-looking guy that would seem right at home in the pages of a super hero action comic book. But he wore this earring and helped ladies clean houses. None of us guys on the playground knew any manly men that did either of those things. Whatever else Mr. Clean might be, none of us would’ve called him manly.
Back then, being manly carried a lot of emotional freight. If you wanted to get along, you had to have a good share of it even if you couldn’t pull the full load. If we had been given a choice between being Mr. Clean or Doc Savage, it’s the Doc all the way.
Today things are different. Manliness doesn’t mean now what it did then. Lots of guys wear earrings and lots of guys clean houses. And there are plenty of opinions about it. There are even those in today’s America who have nothing good to say about the idea of the manly man.
In the coming weeks, “Hey Hink” will explore the idea of manliness from the perspective of a semi-redneck baby boomer who is and always will be a Humphrey Bogart fan.
Oh, by the way, this column is scheduled for the Oct. 9 edition. Oct. 8 happens to be the 90th anniversary of the day Sgt. Alvin York single-handedly took out 25 enemy soldiers in World War I and captured 132 more. Sgt. Alvin York. Now there was a man.
I’m Hink. And I’ll see ya.
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Thu, October 9, 2008
by Mike Hinkle