OK, I admit it. I’m a guy that spends too much time in front of the mirror. There, I said it. Well, excuse me for being a little vain and wanting to look good and dress well and stay in shape and feel like I’m doing my part for the universal well-being of man-hood. Is that so wrong? I also use hair products , okay? There, I said that too, at least I’m not blow-drying! Sheesh! And yeah, I like my clothes to fit, I even iron them sometimes. Jeez, what’s the big deal with that? What’s that? No… no, I definitely don’t like wearing old man jeans that make me look like I have a dump in my pants and t-shirts that are three sizes too big for me. Sorry, that’s just not my style, you know, t-shirt sleeves really shouldn’t cover your elbows. Yeah, sure, I know there are a lot of guys that just don’t give a shit about their appearance. Hey, more power too ‘em, I say! I guess they save an extra 15-20 minutes of mirror time in the morning that they can cash in for ESPN time. But I do, to each his own, okay? Sure, maybe you’re right, maybe I do need to go to a “Guys That Spend Too Much Time in the Mirror Anonymous” meeting. What? GQ? Yeah, okay, you found me out, I admit that too, I have a subscription… and yeah, sure, I really look forward to it coming in the mail, yep, just like a teenage girl getting her Seventeen Magazine…
Let me tell you a story about Don McCook.
I never knew Don McCook, my grandfather on my mother’s side (in fact, I never knew either of my grandfathers as both passed away before I was born) but I’ve heard the legendary family stories. Don was a tough, handsome, well-dressed, well-built, fair-skinned mix of Irish and Scottish blood with wiry, reddish-brown hair. There are stories of him being a drinker and a bar-brawler. But he was also a teacher, a coach, a poetry writer, a singer, a philosopher and an artist. In the 1950’s he and my grandmother, Helen McCook, taught at the Solebury School near New Hope, Pennsylvania where my mother and her siblings and my father went to school. My grandmother was an extremely talented artist who created beautiful oil and watercolor paintings and handcrafted porcelain dolls that she sculpted from clay, fired in a kiln, hand-painted and hand-stitched. She was the art teacher at Solebury School. Don McCook taught core subjects like history and English. He was also the athletic director and the football coach.
Don was a tough coach, a punch ‘em in the mouth kind of coach. Of course, while he and his family were not wealthy folks, surviving on teacher salaries and living in housing at the school, the kids he was coaching were rich, private school kids, many coming from very wealthy families, but most likely not bound for any careers in professional sports. But he didn’t care, these kids were going to compete, and compete against whatever level of team they could get to come put an ass-whooping on them. He “recruited” my father, a New Jersey kid and a reasonably good athlete, from Lambertville, the small blue-collar town across the river, to come to the school and play quarterback for the football team. They occasionally challenged teams from local public schools that were bigger and stronger and faster and far more talented. As the story goes, during one tough game when his players were tired and beaten up and demoralized, Don McCook, the coach, uttered the now famous quote, “look down between your legs and see if you’re a man!” I suspect they still lost that game decisively, but that quote now lives in infamy in my family, like a Paul Bunyon-esqe tall tale, and is frequently repeated when I am together with my brothers or cousins and aunts and uncles from that side of the family and a “man-up” situation presents itself.
In the summers, Don and Helen ran a camp in Maine, a typical camp with lazy days spent in the sun, swimming and canoeing and playing sports and fishing and doing arts and crafts and all the other usual summer camp activities. They drove an old Willy’s-style army jeep and would pack their stuff in, throw the three kids in the back and drive up to Maine and live at the camp for the summer. Apparently this jeep did not have working brakes and he would coast it to a stop when necessary. I still find that hard to believe but this was reiterated to me, once again, this past summer by my uncle (Don’s middle child) so I guess I’ll let the legend live on. But Don lived in the days before sunscreen and concerns about melanoma. Much too early in life, the sun caught up to him. My grandfather passed away in 1961 at the age of 44 from skin cancer.
As I said earlier, I never knew Don McCook. I was born in 1967 and he had died six years before that. I only know him now from the stories passed down from his children, but I have a deep respect and admiration for this guy who was a man’s man, handsome and rugged and stylish and confident. A guy who lived life to the fullest, who enjoyed athletics and literature and the arts and music and the outdoors. A guy who was proud to be who he was and who did his part for the universal well-being of man-hood!
Would Don McCook approve of me putting gel in my hair? Who knows… back then, they probably used motor oil or something. Will I ever be as tough as him? No chance in hell! I’d run from a bar-brawl like a screaming little girl! Would I drive around in a brakeless jeep with no protection from the elements. Nope, I’m a big fan of ABS brakes… and roofs. What would he think about me spending “too much time in front of the mirror….?”
Ummm… well, about that… there is another storied quote that Don McCook was known to utter. He would stand in front of the mirror and say, “Don McCook, you’re so handsome, I hope you never die.” I love that, it’s fucking epic! At least I have someone to blame my vanity on!