On the Road…
A few weeks ago a guy pulling a rickshaw on Venice beach called me, “Mr. 80s Man.” It was an unsolicited commentary on my clothing — the khakis, button down shirt, loafers and Ray Bans that have constituted my attire since college, forty or more years ago, back when the classic preppy look was in the ascendancy. With the exception of my decade-long habit of wearing nothing but 18th century clothing, my fashion sensibility froze right there in the land of striped-tie, oxford cloth shirt, and a blue blazer on special occasions. A few years ago, a pretty young teller at the bank noticed that I dressed more or less the same way everyday.
“So what’s with that?” she asked. “Is it a uniform kind of thing?”
“Pardon?” I asked.
“You always wear a white button down shirt and khakis.”
It doesn’t matter how old you are; when a young woman notices what you are wearing, it can be pleasantly startling, even if she’s just being nice to grandpa, but I’ve since come to believe she represents a dominant view: most people are a bit scandalized by uniformity. The idea of not spending 30 minutes agonizing over what to wear is utterly foreign to them. The fear of wearing last year’s stuff is palpable. They actually feel a little sorry for us conventional types.
So how do I reconcile all of this with my going grocery shopping in a three cornered hat, buckled shoes, neck-stock, waistcoat and breeches? I guess I’ve settled on three fashion statements for gentlemen: The Alexander Hamilton look, the Sam Elliot look in Tombstone, (duster, vest, sidearm), and the Tim Matheson look in Animal House–or anything on the James Bond to Don Draper continuum. There needs to be some classic, timeless polish to the thing — as though the cut of the clothing burst through history having destroyed all the folderol — leisure suits, wide lapels, and skinny jeans.
I mean once you’ve found the real thing, why does it need reinventing all the time?
“I am out of fashion,” I told Mary, “and I have absolutely no desire to be in fashion.”
So call me “80s Man.” I’ll take that. There are so many other things to think about.
What’s wrong with people?
Picture a nice beach front restaurant — the sort that costs the restaurant operator at least $30k a month just in lease payments. An entire extended family walks in, takes three shore-front tables, and proceeds to set up their own picnic lunch. The patriarch of the clan assures the waitress they will buy drinks, but the waitress looks panicked and Mary can hear her say to a bus boy, “if the owner comes in, we’re toast.”
Mary watches them for the better part of thirty minutes; they are all sitting behind me, out of my line of sight.
“They aren’t even buying drinks,” Mary says.
I just don’t get this on any level. I’m not sure how you even think about doing this. It would be like walking into someone’s living room, uninvited, and peeing in the fireplace.
Speaking of peeing, I fell to wondering about the term “modesty panel” in a men’s restroom — the dividers they place between the urinals. In the industry they actually use the term “modesty panel.” When contractors build restrooms, everyone from the architect, to the planner, to the sub-contractor, to the guy who counts incoming stock on the construction site will be vaguely conscious of the term “modesty panel.” If you are building a skyscraper with a public restroom on every floor, someone in a hard hat will eventually say something like, “1200 modesty panels, check.”
And some teenager with his first union job will wonder, out loud, “modesty panel?”
The older guy will say to the younger dude, “like a junk screen. So when you take a wiz–”
“Oh, right. I get it.”
But the word there, “modesty..”
For anyone who actually ponders language, and ideas, it just seems wildly fraught with totally immature opportunities for lots of total immaturity.
“Wait! Your urinals don’t have modesty panels? You expect me to take THIS out and, like, shame everyone?”
“Modesty? I’m supposed to be modest about this?”
“Who are you kidding with that dinky little modesty panel? How could that possibly hide..”
“Personally, just being honest here, I’ve never thought this thing here was beauty contest material, but, hey, they have a modesty panel in honor of..”
I must be terribly, irredeemably, heteronormative. I keep thinking that women are the only ones to have anything at all to be modest about.
Nothing but Staffs!
So if you have never been to a Sea Shell store, I recommend it. Apparently, they are more likely to be seen on the east coast, but there’s a place in Morro Bay that has been around since 1955, and it demonstrates my theory of art: take the dull gray randomness of the world and vigorously condense it into something therapeutically simple. Condense all the wild grapes into a single vineyard and then further condense that into a sea of pure purple by painting grape clusters or a maid crushing the vintage.
When you walk into a sea shell store, you actually see the ocean turned into a kind of glittering inventory — marlin spikes and white, thorny sea stars, and vintage California abalone. If you visit, you should buy something, of course, but beholding the whole, salty iridescent panoply of the thing is a value all its own — a kind of deep ocean cathedral, a tribute to the Great Creator who is, of course, just, and righteous, and merciful, but wildly inventive too. The Greatest Painter Of All Time.
It set me to thinking about walking sticks and a new idea for a store on the farm. “Nothing but Staffs” What if you dedicated a retail store to nothing but staffs, and walking sticks, and perhaps a few staves? I would add pitch forks and torches but people would get the wrong idea. The “staff” has a long history, going back to Moses and that thing with Judah and Tamar. Picture a whole store dedicated to staffs from around the world. Could that be more than just a Mike Myers “All Things Scottish” sketch?
Maybe. Like I say, the Morro Bay Sea Shell Store has been around since 1955.
But Are We Your Default Sea Shell Store?
If you really want to understand Bill Gates, go buy a brand new Windows laptop. You simply cannot install all your essential apps without being asked — CONSTANTLY — “Would you like to make Edge your default browser?” Bill has even checked the box “yes’ for you.
I got to thinking what if the rest of the retail, service, entertainment, religious and political world followed suit?
- We couldn’t help noticing that Safeway is not your default grocery store. Would you like us to route all navigation apps to the closest Safeway?
- Thanks for using Al’s Plumbing. We couldn’t help noticing that you don’t use Al’s by DEFAULT. Would you like us to correct that?
- Thanks for watching that on Netflix. We couldn’t help noticing that your current device doesn’t ASSUME Netflix as the default streaming service. Can we help you with that?
- Thanks for attending our Easter service at Community Presbyterian. We noticed that we aren’t your primary denominational preference. Can we help you fix that?
- Thanks for your mail in ballot. Voting is a lot of work. Could we help you with that and just put you in our column by default?’
THIS is the guy we trusted with a pandemic response?
We’re up to 35 years. She’s still my best friend.