junebug

Last week I was engaged in a telephone conversation with a close friend regarding No. 45’s contradictory foreign policy stances. We focused on Donald Trump’s last-minute decision not to go through with his plan to bomb targets in Iran.

Both of us were pleased with this decision, as neither of us wanted to see this country involved in another military conflict. We both concluded that this behavior was typical of Trump selling “wolf tickets” and ultimately failing to follow through.

This behavior reminded me of what I had heard from a cable news commentator who referred to Trump as the “commander in chief of contradictions.” Lo and behold, before we concluded our telephone conversation, the news broke indicating that Trump was delaying his plan to deport illegal immigrants — another indication of his inability to follow through on tough and ill-conceived plans.

We then shared other situations where he had made threats, but stopped well-short of actions. This caused me to resurrect an experience when I was in college that I may have referenced in a previous column. On my college campus, there was a fullback on our football team that everyone feared. Preceding his surname was the adjective, “Killer,” for he was thought to be one bad guy.

He would walk around campus singing these lyrics, “Where have you been Billy Boy, Billy Boy,” which was annoying to most students. One afternoon, while a student was taking a nap, Killer entered that student’s room singing those words. The student, who had been sleeping, rolled over and said, “Killer, can you cut it out? Can’t you see that I am trying to get some sleep?” At that moment, the sleeping young man arose and proceeded to whip Killer. At this point and thereafter, Killer’s tough guy reputation was ruined, and no one again feared Killer.

As I told my friend in our telephone conversation, this is bound to take place with No. 45 when someone or some nation stands up to him. In fact, as I told my friend, this is what typically happens with so-called bullies.

At this point, my friend pointed out that there was at least one person in our neighborhood, when we were growing up, that was a legitimate tough guy and was able to hold his own in difficult and challenging situations. It was someone that stood up and did not back down from anyone. With regard to the “legitimate tough guy” my friend was referencing, how many of you recall the bully in your neighborhood with the name of “Junebug,” back in the day?

Some readers are too young to relate to the name Junebug. For those of us that are 50 years of age or older, we recall the days when most young men had nicknames. Where these names came from, God only knows.

One name, however, that appeared to exist with many groups of young men was Junebug. For many of us, our first introduction to Junebug was in junior high school when we visited the lunchroom. Waiting at the entrance of the lunchroom was the boy that we came to know as Junebug. He was the one that seized ones lunch money.

He was so intimidating until you got to know that you should not wait for him to ask for your lunch money, rather you arrived with 3 to 5 cents in your hand to give to him.

Junebug could be best described by using a portion of Isaac Hayes’ theme song in the movie “Shaft.”: Junebug “is a bad mother (shut your mouth).”

Junebug was typically of a dark complexion, had his hair processed, used profanity profusely, had a big mouth and was viewed as having the ability to engage in “fisticuffs.” What we did not know, back then, was whether Junebug could actually fight as we were too afraid to challenge him. For all we knew, he could have been like Trump.

Those called Junebug also wore nicely creased pants high on the waist so that the spit shin “old man comforts” shoes were clearly visible. Junebug could also dance. Boyn could he dance. Friends of a Junebug of the past gleamed when I asked about him. They recall their Junebug being in the center of a group on the dance floor dancing away as those around him were saying in a rhythmic manner, while clapping their hands, “Go Junebug, go Junebug, go Junebug, go.” I understand that such dancing created a big scene.

Unlike today, girls back then did not like bad boys. Thus, many Junebugs did not have girlfriends because parents would not approve of their daughters dating Junebugs. Also, sisters of Junebugs typically did not have boyfriends because boys were reluctant or even afraid of dating or “hitting on” the sisters of a Junebug.

As I dug into the subject of this column, I attempted to determine the origin and characteristics that caused one to be called Junebug. This was a real challenge. The vast majority of those that I approached recall a Junebug in their neighborhood while growing up, but no one, absolutely no one, could tell me the basis on which this name was assigned or given to that person. But there were some who had some theories, thoughts or guesses.

Some thought Junebug to be a name that originated in the South because of the prevalence of the Junebug beetle and the activities of this beetle. This little brown beetle was famous in the south for their incessant bumping into porch lights and houses on a late spring or summer evening and would often sneak into houses. I cannot see this relationship to the Junebugs that I knew, but perhaps you can.

Others thought that Junebug was used in cases where a male was a junior. Someone believed that Junebug was someone born in June. Interestingly, I learned that some females, those that were cute, were called Junebug. Some viewed the name as a sign of endearment. I even turned to the 2005 “Junebug” movie, but learned that it was about the world of small towns, white towns at that, and had no relationship to the Junebugs of our neighborhoods.

An Internet posting, date and source unknown, under the title of “Black people only? What does June Bug mean and why do you call someone that” did not provide any further clues. The writer also stated what I have concluded — the name Junebug means absolutely nothing.

But, in my mind, there must be some factors, some characteristics that result in one person as opposed to another being called, Junebug, back in the day.

While exploring the name Junebug with several of my friends and associates, there was an attempt to associate Junebug with jitterbug. My previous writings about the jitterbug of the past, indicate that while there are some similarities, a jitterbug has some unique differences when compared with a Junebug.

The classification of one as a jitterbug started with the walk. The walk was everything! Young men would dip their right shoulder and stroll down the street swinging the left arm. They would hug the wall as they strolled down the street with a newspaper or handkerchief, preferably a silk handkerchief, hanging out of the right, back pocket. On a block with rowhouses, the jitterbug would still hug the wall right up to the steps, walk around the steps and go right back to hugging the wall in strolling along. If someone approached them, walking in the center of the sidewalk, they would turn with their backs to the wall and eye the person until they passed by. Jitterbugs had a specific way that they dressed. The manner in which a jitterbug wore his pants was one way in which he was similar to a Junebug. His pants were worn high up on the chest and had a razor sharp crease. Occasionally, suspenders were worn with the pants to accentuate the jitterbug look. All jitterbugs wore hats; they typically wore a “Jeff.” Some called it a “big apple.” Back in the day, these hats were pulled far down on one’s head almost covering the ears. This was not necessarily the look of a Junebug, back in the day.

While I have struggled to come up with an explanation of the existence of the nickname Junebug, I have also had difficulty in explaining the disappearance of the nickname. Just survey those in your neighborhood or interact with close friends and acquaintances and see what information you can elicit. If you come up with some concrete explanation with regard to why one was called Junebug, please let me know. I am dying to find out.

I have no doubt that finding a Junebug today would be quite difficult even if the person was called Junebug in the past. For reasons I cannot explain, the girl, or boy in particular, that was called Junebug in the past, had a nickname that has definitely been left, if not buried in that era I call, back in the day.

Alonzo Kittrels can be reached at backintheday@phillytrib.com or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 S. 16th St., Philadelphia, PA 19146

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