How Magnum, P.I. Pierced My Tomboy Heart

by Amanda Magee
Originally Published: 
'80s tv show magnum p.i.

I was never a girly-girl.

As a kid in the ’80s, I was what you’d call a tomboy, except I hated that term because, while I wasn’t girly, I also wasn’t a boy. I never understood why the term wasn’t tomgirl.

I spent every recess playing dodgeball with the boys. In Eugene, Oregon, circa 1981, we called it slaughterball. We’d tear around the playground either chasing or dodging the ball, and when things would get competitive, we’d yell “Facial disgracial!” Sometimes I’d go on the bars with the girls and do penny drops and dead man’s drops, and the girls would ask me why I always played with the boys. I didn’t really have an answer other than that I just got along with them better.

It was easier at home on my dead-end street. The kids in my neighborhood were mostly boys, and we would meet in the no-man’s land between the two houses across the street from mine. One of the kids had a slick, black Darth Vader-shaped carrying case for the Star Wars action figures that we would spread out and create scenarios for along the stone retaining wall and under rhododendron bushes. The only other girl in the neighborhood usually got the Princess Leia figure. I’d snag the odd extras from Buck Rogers like Twiki and the dog.

Being grubby kids of free-range parents before that term even existed, we played until it got dark, then stumbled into the house grimy and ravenous. My mom would be in the kitchen assembling something involving zucchini and cottage cheese. That’s when we were still a mom-and-dad family, my parents’ divorce about five years from our doorstep.

“Did’ja have fun?” Mom would ask.

“Yeah, we played freeze tag and Star Wars. Can I watch TV?” She rarely said no, because it was so infrequent for me to be inside.

Thursday nights were Magnum, P.I., and I never missed the opener.

My head would follow the motion of T.C.’s striped helicopter, and my feet would twitch to the fast-paced theme music. I would sprawl out on the brown and gold shag carpet near our fireplace, cup my chin in my hands, and wait for the butterflies. I had to be in front of the TV when Tom Selleck turned toward the screen—toward me—and raised his eyebrows. When it showed him holding the woman in the bikini and looking at her ass, my cheeks would flame. I wasn’t sure why I loved the show so much, I just knew that whenever Magnum was on, I felt flutters.

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You gotta a thing for Tom?” my dad would tease.

“Nu-uh! Of course not!” I would scoff, all the while thinking, it’s Magnum, not Tom.

Looking back now, still very fond of Magnum/Tom, I realize why he did it for me: He was safe. There was no risk in staring a bit too long, and back then the shorts didn’t seem as scandalously short as they do now.

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He mixed cute with goofy, and his constant squabbling with Higgins made him seem like a lovable screwup, not that I knew about feeling like I wasn’t good enough for someone, but man, I could imagine knowing him. I could let my heart race and feel myself slip into a moony smile every time he filled the frame because there was no danger of getting it wrong. My boyish way of dressing and acting wouldn’t be called into question, and there was no need to feel silly or embarrassed. There were just those eyebrows, that mustache, the Ferrari and sea kayak that I imagined riding in with him.

Yes, Magnum/Tom was my first crush, the first to ever pierce my tomboy heart. And he was a good one, dammit.

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