1951 # 7: Chicago hood
September 4, 1951
Niles Township High School
For the first three years of high school, other than on special occasions, other than an occasional pair of chinos, Mitchell Lipensky wore nothing but blue jeans, open-necked dress- or sport-shirts, and his old dirty white-buck shoes, but now, for his debut at Niles Township High School, he wanted to start fresh and make a new, a different, a proper impression.
The style for the “cool guys” at Harrison last semester and, so far as he knew, this semester too, was bright colored slacks with pegged legs; the cooler the guy the peggier the legs.
Knowing his looks had always given him as much attention as he wanted, and on occasion more than he’d wanted, Mitchell had never worried much about style, but in keeping with his desire for a new image he had purchased three pairs of slacks—green, blue and black—all with a slightly modified peg leg.
At 7:15 that morning he boarded the orange and black school bus wearing his new blue slacks, a yellow sport shirt, and shiny, black penny-loafers. After numerous stops to pick up students the bus stopped in front of Niles Township High School and its passengers, at least for this day, the first day of school, reverently disembarked.
The rolling lawn was landscaped with dark green grass, mature bushes and tall oak and pine trees. Fresh and beautiful, everything here seemed so new and so different than the West Side, and Harrison.
Feeling lost within this sea of unknown faces, he stood a minute, then walked up the wide sidewalk and eight steps leading to the school’s entrance, where, waiting for the bell to ring, sitting to the side of the top step, he watched.
Groups of kids were all over—on the steps, on the grass, on the sidewalk—shaking hands, hugging, kissing, renewing last semester’s friendships.
Inside, the black and white tiled hallways shined and the lockers looked new.
The girls wore dresses or calf-length skirts with sweaters or blouses, bobby socks and, for the most part, dirty, white-buck shoes. The boys, generally, were neatly dressed, mostly in jeans, sport or dress shirts open at the collar and, for the most part, dirty, white-buck shoes.
Usually shy in class, on this day, at this beautiful new school where he didn’t know a person, for some reason relaxing, Mitchell allowed his personality to come through and in classes was friendly and gregarious, and without his usual shyness giving the impression of conceit, he made friends, both male and female.
Returning to his locker that afternoon, he found an envelope taped to the door. Opening it, he apprehensively read the enclosed note:
“Mitchell, you are one of the neatest and nicest new guys in school. If you want to make friends here, stop dressing like a Chicago hood. We don’t think you are really that way.
“Your future friends.”
The next day Mitchell wore worn Levi’s, a white dress shirt open at the collar, and, his dirty, white-buck shoes.
(A "Becoming" Extract)