It would be stretching the truth to suggest that 20 years ago a woman named Connie shaped my entire perception of women. But while other young men remember the first time they saw Marilyn Monroe on the movie screen or the first time they began wondering what Annette might look like without her Mickey Mouse Club ears, I remember Connie as the first sex object in my life.
She used to stare at me with one blue eye -- her other eye was usually obscured by a great shock of blonde hair. She favored very tight, very brief clothes. Her breasts, as the paperback writers put it, often strained against thin fabric, and her waist was slim as a pencil.
To a 9-year-old boy, this was very hot stuff.
So it ws with no small interest that I recently learned Connie was going to have to clean up her act. It was a congressional command: Connie was to toss her temptress' wardrobe in favor of turtlenecks because Sen. William Proxmire didn't like Connie's vampish looks.
Maybe you don't know Connie. Maybe you never cleaned the corroded launch tube of a Redeye XM41E2 or adjusted the towing pintel of an Army personnel carrier. If you had, you'd remember Connie as the curvaceious cartoon character in PS, the Army's monthly magazine about preventive maintenance.
Connie is sprinkled through PS pages that show the parts of weapons systems in clinical detail. For decades, Connie -- sometimes holding a wrench in a hand that always had long, scarlet fingernails -- high-lighted certain preventive maintenance procedures GI Joe would be well-advised to remember lest he find his fighting tools useless.
Or you might have met Connie the way I did. She used to stare at me from the pegboard in my father's basement workshop at Ft. Knox. As head of the ordinance section of the preventive maintenance department there, my father knew Connie quite well. Her creator, artist Will Eisner, signed a watercolor original of Connie to my father. Today Lt. Col. R. J. Maxa (USA-Ret.) says, "All I have other than Connie are old uniforms. I will be buried in a uniform holding Connie."
There's undoubtedly a bit of the old soldier's melancholy exaggeration in that statement, but Connie's place in our household was undeniable. Life as an Army brat was pretty strict; my father wasn't the type to subscribe to Playboy. I was taught to answer the phone this way, and only this way: "Col. Maxa's quarters, Rudy Maxa speaking, may I help you, please, sir?" (Only in retrospect did I note the presumption that the caller would be male.) After I washed the car, my father would hold an honest-to-Army inspection while I nervously awaited his verdict.
In this regimen of my youth, Connie was a delicious hint of decadence, and I don't need a psychoanalyst to tell me Connie is one reason leggy blondes who dress in a becoming fashion can catch my adult eye; is it a coindence that both my father and I married tall blondes? And at age 30, I am only beginning to realize the substle influence (no need to go into too much detail here) that Connie had on my psyche.
And now comes Proxmire and his concern over Connie's "overt sexual orientation." It is enough to turn me Republican. I talked to the Colonel about this, and he was equally grumpy.
"Connie was a way of getting information out to the field soldiers in a hurry," he said. "She told the GI how to do a job in simple terms, far from the way one learns in technical manuals. A picture is always better than words, and if Connie sold, that's what kept the guys firing, the tanks rolling and the vehicles moving."
Ike couldn't have put it better. Dressing Connie in turtlenecks is like putting Bette Midler in a Villager ensemble, like dressing Blondie's lead singer, Deborah Harry, in a LaCoste tennis outfit. Something is wrong with the picture.
But these are New Times. In the Army, women are very nearly fighting in the field. Sexism is a buzzword as old as the '60s. Stockings may be coming back, but one isn't allowed to ogle.
I applaud most of this, even if the Colonel sometimes longs for the days when men were men and women knew it. But the first time the turret traverse lock on a combat vehicle malfunctions -- because some GI nodded off while studying a repair manual that featured a G-rated Connie in a turtleneck -- well, tell it to William Proxmire.