November 23rd, 2014:

FLIRTING IN 1950s TRIPOLI

When my family lived in Tripoli, Libya, in the 1950s, I was barely a teenager, and in those long ago days, many of us had little inkling of what sex was all about. Movies we saw were innocent and only hinted at sex: a kiss, a little groping, a closed bedroom door. Television in those days wasn’t even a consideration—my family hadn’t even brought a TV set over with us, and we didn’t miss it. Listening to Armed Forces Network (AFN) radio at night was entertainment enough. A good actor could read a powerful tale and your mind supplied the details.

An all British effort cartoon by British Servicemen

An all British effort cartoon by British Servicemen

A popular music show on Saturday morning radio accepted requests, in case you wanted to dedicate a song to a potential crush at Wheelus High School. I remember requesting, “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation,” or maybe it was “A Rose and a Baby Ruth.”  I don’t recall to whom the song was dedicated. The high school sponsored dances and there was a teenage club where a talented student, Jon Jorgensen, led a band called Stardust. Close slow dancing provided its own stimulation.

In the city of Tripoli, American teenage girls were advised not to wear suggestive “form-fitting” jeans since Libyan women were dressed in barracans,  similar to burkas except one eye could be shown. Libyan men, as the majority of men throughout the world, were interested in females. As I recall the directive about jeans didn’t mention why not, and the advice was probably never considered by independent American girls.

The Egyptian Ambassador lived across the street from me, and he was served by a few Libyan policemen who patrolled the walled perimeter of his compound. If my girlfriends and I walked the unpaved path outside the compound, and if a policeman were nearby, he’d try to walk beside us and brush against us with his body. We learned to avoid them.

One day, a girlfriend and I had an unpleasant encounter while walking to her house, a few blocks away from mine. We were in jeans, of course, and sauntering along in the middle of the street since there was very little traffic. We weren’t paying attention to a young male bicyclist trailing us. Most male Libyans had bicycles; they were relatively cheap and reliable. We were prime bait and he saw his opportunity as he swooped in front of us and made a grab for my crotch. He succeeded and then rode on a little ways. I started to tell my friend when he came back and managed to do the same to her. He was quite the adept cyclist, which made us even more incensed. He rode on as if nothing had happened and we followed him, thinking we’d get revenge by attacking him. We couldn’t catch him and had to swallow our anger. Being street-smart from then on, we learned to be more aware.

My neighbor and good friend Gail, who lived around the corner, and I loved to play tennis on her street, which was seldom used by cars. We weren’t very skilled at the game and the ball often landed in the walled compound on one side of the street that was said to belong to a former Queen of Libya. The Queen’s lush gardens swallowed our balls. Sometimes our ball went into the smaller gated compound next door to the queen, which belonged to a British general. A few attractive British enlisted men served him daily. They didn’t seem to have much to do and always enjoyed our athletic efforts.

They kept one of the tennis balls and the next time we played, they tossed it over the compound wall to us. They’d slit it and spent some time making an artistic rendering of us on a small piece of lined paper to insert into the slit. Gail was supposed to be Gail Storm, who had a TV show and I was supposed to be Marilyn Monroe. Between us was a “hound dog” named Elvis! We were flattered since both actresses were good looking in person. I saved the little cartoon, never knowing I would eventually put it on a blog! There was always a wall or fencing between us but it was fun to flirt and we did it when they were around. Probably a good reason to play tennis in the street!

A crude little poem, misspellings and all, was printed on the back of the cartoon to impress us:

Hi! Jirks

You squeeke and groan

And make queer noises

But o’er yon wall

We know ‘tis you

So if this ball you do trow back

Don’t be shy, come round the back

And have a chat.

E.P.

One day, in a break from our game, we were flirting with these congenial servicemen, as usual. We were standing on the sidewalk and they were behind a metal gate composed of bars.  Suddenly, I noticed a Libyan man in paint-splattered overalls sitting on a bike nearby, leering at us. Then I noticed another detail. He had removed his penis from his pants and was waving it at us enthusiastically. To me at that time, no expert on penis size or shape, I thought his penis was menacingly huge and seemed to be dotted with paint. Or was that my vivid imagination?

Disgusted and a little frightened, I tapped Gail’s shoulder gently to get her attention. She looked around without being obvious and saw him right away. We both struggled to maintain composure as we stepped closer to the gate and hung on. We didn’t know what to say to the young British soldiers, who probably couldn’t see the pervert, so we said nothing and hoped the crazed cyclist would eventually pedal away, which he did.

We felt confident that we had kept our cool! Weren’t we the savvy ones discovering that sex can be exciting and disgusting at the same time!

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