$148 LEVIS by Peter Nolan Smith

My mother dressed my older brother and me in jeans for most of the 1950s and early 1960s, however when the hippies adopted the tough western trousers as part of their unofficial uniform, Cardinal Cushing of the Boston diocese banned Levis on his evening rosary program. A fierce Catholic my mother obeyed the Pope’s representative refused to buy them.

One afternoon in 1966 I got off the school bus to discover her burning my treasured jeans and suede Cuban heel boots.

“No son of mine will be a slave to the Devil.” she spoke with a heavy Boston accent as would anyone reared in Jamaica Plain.

“I don’t worship Satan.” I had tried to sell my soul on several occasions to the Fallen One without his appearing with an offer binding my eternity to Hell. The Devil like God was a myth, except in the minds of my mother and the nuns of Our Lady of the Foothills south of the Neponset River.

“He doesn’t want your worship. He wants your soul.”

Beelzebub also existed as a villain in many movies, but neither their belief nor Hollywood’s depiction of Lucifer made him nor God real.

“I’m a good boy.”

“You better be.”

“Yes, ma’am.” My heels of my boots added a funny color to the flames.

My mother never suspected my disbelief in God. My father was equally ignorant of my apostasy, which was a good thing, since atheism was unacceptable to the vast majority of Americans. Thankfully heretics were no longer burned at the stake, but I thought it better for my mother to think that I was a good Catholic boy.

My grade for religion at school was an A. I served as an altar boy at Mass. Latin was my second language. I earned $10 a week from my paper route. My mother banked most of it. I kept the tips and after a few weeks my savings came to almost $12.

“What are you going to do with it?”, asked my best friend, Chuckie Manzi.

“Buy Levis at Walker’s.” the newest style cost $6 at the store opposite the Public Gardens.

“I thought your mother banned them.”

“She did, but I’m unbanning them.”

“Fuck the Church?”

“Yes, fuck the Church.”

That Friday after school Chuckie I caught the trolley into Ashmont and then rode the Reed Line into Park Street.

We walked across the Commons into the Garden over to Walker’s Western Store on Boylston Street. The store ran a radio ad on WMEX for jeans. I bought a pair of jeans. The salesman sold me a paisley shirt too. Chuckie got a buckskin jacket. Our hair was a little over our ears and we strolled over to hippie corner in the Commons to listen to a free-spirited band.

I recognized the lead singer.

The messianic leader of the Fort Hill Commune was famed for his 30 minute solo of ROCK OF AGES after Bob Dylan’s electric performance at the Newport Jazz Festival of 1965. Mel Lyman blew in his harp, as longhaired girls danced in the sunshine. They smelled of patchouli.

Chuckie and I left at 5. My father was on the same train. He looked at my jeans and said, “You better change out of them before you get home.”

I did in the woods behind our house and I hid the Levis in the garage. My father never snitched me out, which was a surprise for a man 30 years older than me. All he cared about was that I scored good grades and that I didn’t cause my mother any problems.

My waist size back in the 60s was a 28. It’s more than that now and so is the price of Levis. Most stores offer them for $40-60. I buy mine in a second-hand stall in Pattaya. They come from aid shipments to Cambodia. Americans don’t realize that Cambodians don’t fit into big jeans, so the relief foundations sell them to Thai traders. I pay $10 for used Levis.

A good price, however the Wall Street Journal reported that Barney’s on Madison Avenue are selling American-made Levis for $148 and investment bankers are buying piles of them. I went up there to look at these high-priced jeans. They felt the same as my used jeans and the $6 jeans from Walker’s Western Store.

Some things never change.

Only the price.

To hear The Lyman Family with Lisa Kindred – James Alley Blues, please go to this URL

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