After days of begging, my mother finally agreed to shave my head like a Mohawk Indian. With her electric clippers she transformed my blonde crew cut into a single strip of hair running down the center of my skull. For a truly authentic look she then rubbed my head with the soot from the bottom of her cooking pot.
It was 1962, and I was causing chaos on American streets way before punk rock, and Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols. I could be seen in my loincloth running across the freshly cut lawns of my St Paul neighborhood. I remember the sweet pungent smell, and how the wet grass clippings stuck to the bottom of my bare feet. The flat top of my Mohawk matched the shape of the manicured hedge-rows planted along driveways and between yards.
My problem was that my mother insisted I wear tighty-whities under my homemade loincloth. I argued that, “Tarzan does not wear tighty-whities.” I clearly remember watching our Zenith black and white TV to study the construction of Johnny Weissmuller’s loincloth. Once when Tarzan was climbing on a sheer mountain cliff a gust of wind revealed the key-missing piece of material absent from my costume. When I tried to explain this essential detail to my mom, I saw her eyes glaze over as if it was one detail too many.
The little girl next-door, Sandy Seestedt, was of course scandalized when she saw me hide my tighty-whities in the bushes as soon as I was out of site of my mom. Every time the wind blew Sandy would get another lesson in male anatomy.
It didn’t feel natural playing Cowboys and Indians in the antiseptic environment of my neighborhood. But just one block east of my house was Beaver Lake. I’m told that the local Indians named it for it’s original shape. The City of St Paul later drained off the beaver’s tail to develop it into a city park. Today it looks more like a turtle, but when I was five years old it was my private wilderness. I ditched my tiighty-whities in the tall grass by the water and imagined I was a real Indian boy roaming the undeveloped shoreline alone. I would spend endless hours catching tadpoles in the marshy water, or exploring the woods along the shore. Eventually my hair grew back and I became an ordinary boy again. But the fleeting time I had a Mohawk – running free with the summer breeze caressing my body – is the closest I’ve ever felt to nature.