A Natural History: Peter Kline


A Natural History of My Obscenely Good Looks

By Peter Kline

Edible Overwear

This may shock those of you who know me, but I wasn’t always the handsomely debonair man you don’t see standing before you.  In fact, at the beginning things were looking pretty grim for our Don Juan: mashed-in head, bulging eyes, doughy, parboiled skin, and a gooey swag of stiff black hair on my head, which promptly fell out.  My mother asked for a valium.  My father asked for an explanation.  The nurses gloated like saints.  I pissed on the doctor’s face and fell asleep drooling.

Those first years, likewise, I showed little promise of sprouting into the Mapplethorpe calla lily of my maturity.  Tub-time snapshots show me, shall we say, “ill-equipped” for my future seductions.  And while innovation in fashion at the age of 16 months portends a gigolo’s talent for the dandified, hats made out of spaghetti are neither comfortable nor suave.  My parents’ hopes grew when I came home from nursery school with tales of the class belle, Tina, who always wore a bright pink dress.  Follow-up with the teacher, however, revealed that I had fallen victim to that most ruthless form of unrequited love, the love for an imaginary friend.

You might guess that things went a lot more smoothly in my adolescence.  Two words should dispel this notion: breast buds.  All wrapped up in ski clothes, with nothing showing but my eyes and mouth, I must have appeared a bit more toothsome: first kiss with Rachel on the ski lift.  I learned to put my hands on my hips the opposite way to avoid looking effeminate.  I hairsprayed my bangs in a wave, and pined after the superfine hair of the skater kids, swishing down over their eyes.  Dressed in forest green tights for our production of Once Upon A Mattress, I was told by my teacher, not un-flirtatiously, that I had “nice legs – not chicken legs like the other boys.”  Clearly, something was turning out right if the zany and free-spirited Mrs. B saw fit to admire it.  On the soccer field, the opposing team called me “thunder thighs” and shouted vroom vroom! as I labored by.

Around this time, my bone structure may have been finalizing itself according to the Grecian ideal – high cheekbones, a prominent chin, a slender muscularity.  If this is the case, my freshmen forty made it impossible to tell (thank you, Papa John’s).  My eyes may have begun to gleam like hot jade in a mineral pool, as they do now, but they were seldom visible through all the nappy pseudo-dreads and plastic beads I wore in my hair.  O my undergraduate self, unloved and unwashed!

Beware of Dog/Terrible Polyester

Skip a decade ahead.  Ugly duckling, and all that.  But you can’t argue with results.  That tub problem has been sorted out, more or less.  The forty pounds went away, though only for a quick vacation.  But I perfected “the look,” sidelong and puckish and wry, and that was that.  However flattering, it still makes me uncomfortable when strange women at the salad bar offer me their firstborn.  And how many times can you hear You’re the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen before it starts to take on a disingenuous tang?  Yes, the shallow world of appearances is not for me.  But you – by all means, feel free to look, if you like what you see.


Peter Kline is a kind of me.  If you were a Peter Kline, what kind of
Kline would you be?



“A Natural History of My Obscenely Good Looks” is part of the Natural Histories Project. Click here to learn more >>

Peter Kline lives in San Francisco, where he is a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry Writing.


One comment

  1. I AM a Peter Kline who lives in Ontario, Canada.

    The kind of Peter Kline I would be would be loving, helpful, funny with lots of great stories about world travel, dining and enjoying the wines of the world.

    I’m trying every day….

    Best of Luck to you, Mr. Kline!

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