By Joe Rector

The picture with my column is several years old. I’m not sure anyone would recognize me now, although I don’t think I’ve changed one bit. Readers don’t much care what a writer looks like as long as the man or woman has something interesting to say. I’m as bland as unbuttered toast, but I do like to talk. Little do most people know that in my early days, I was somewhat of a rebel. In some areas, I just didn’t want to follow the norm.

Our high school had many rules about dress. Boys weren’t permitted to go sockless. Shirt tails had to be tucked in at all times. Belts weren’t optional. Hair had to be above the ears, and no sideburns or beards were allowed, even though most of us couldn’t grow a beard if our lives depended on doing so. Pants were banned for girls. They could wear skirts and blouses or dresses. That particular rule for females seemed ironic since the dress code tried to prevent individuals from drawing attention to themselves during the era when miniskirts were in style.

My first minor step toward being a rebel was growing sideburns. I didn’t have enough facial hair for a whole beard, but the sideburns allowed me to thumb my nose at those in authority. Such an act seems so insignificant now, but back then, I was raging against “imagined” oppressors.

When I left for college, my looks changed even more. I grew my hair long and worked on a mustache and goatee. Contrary to this, I wore clothes that I thought would make me look stylish. Wide-collared shirts, flared slacks, and brown and white dress shoes (that hurt and blistered my feet) were everyday attire. A “cool” Bush jacket, complete with a belt, was in order on cold days. I hung out with people who despised fraternities and sororities. One fellow who was popular with others appeared to be older than the rest of us. He turned out to be the local dope dealer, and although I wanted to be a rebel, I wanted no part of that stuff. My so-called rebel college years ended with my graduation and only two people I could call friends. Not even they lasted, and I haven’t heard from them since that day that I walked across the stage to receive my diploma.

At the school where I taught, the principal, who happened to be the same man who had been my principal in high school, maintained the same kind of dress code as the earlier one. A fellow teacher and I decided to ignore it, and we put on our jeans. The principal called me to the office and asked about them. I told him two pairs of slacks had already been ruined by the gunk at school and that I was going to continue to wear jeans until the place was cleaned up. During that time, I also grew a full beard with a white streak down the middle of my chin. My rebel life came to an end when students called me “Skunky” and Amy told me the hairy face had to go. Not long after that, I shaved the mustache as well. It had turned white and couldn’t be seen.

For most of my life, I’ve been an independent voter. In local politics, my votes have gone to Republicans. Nationally, I’ve favored Democratic candidates. That last statement alone makes me a rebel in these parts. Good-natured arguments with Republican friends are no longer possible in such a polarized country. The “either/or” mentality seems to have hit too many of us these days. I’m too old to waste energy on fighting and arguing about such things. I just want a government that works for all of us equally.

After having read this piece, I sound more like a “wanna-be” than a rebel, at least in my early years. These days my wardrobe is usually a t-shirt and shorts or sweatpants, with an occasional pair of jeans if I want to dress up. I just want to live and let live and get along with everyone. I don’t need anyone other than my wife telling me what I should do. Maybe I’m a wimp instead of a rebel.