Thursday, December 11, 2014

Just in time for Christmas...

     Maybe people do change after all.
     I would have sworn otherwise. "As I was at 5," Tolstoy said, "so am I now." 
     Ditto for me. The same kid then, 50 years ago, off in a corner by himself, on his knees, balancing one block upon another, constructing an elaborate castle the entire afternoon, the same adult now, off in a corner in a chair in front of a computer, building his little block castles, only with words.
     But maybe some people change, in more subtle ways.
     Tuesday I was strolling back from an appointment at the Pittsfield Building. I could have Divvied—I rode the Divvy bike down, parked in front of the Cultural Center. But it was lunchtime, and why not stroll to a different station? Why not cut through Macy's and see what people who don't do all their shopping at Kohl's are buying for themselves?
     My attention was caught by a blue Nautica button down Oxford shirt. "Ocean washed" Really? What could that mean? I pictured big sloshing vats of seawater, with bales of shirts being dumped into them, floating around, agitated by hatchet-faced New England salts wearing yellow Nor'easter slickers, wielding row boat oars.... 
     They can't do that. It has to be mere puffery.*
     I was almost out of the store, clutching my new shirt ("Ocean washed." It sounds so breezy) about to project through the revolving doors at the north end, when this display for fleece zippered jumpsuits caught me short. 
     Once upon a time ...
     When the boys were small, in their terry cloth zip front rompers.  I remember thinking: "That looks really comfortable. They should make those for adults. I'd buy one of those." 
     Or maybe it was even earlier. In my early 20s, when I drank martinis out of a Hello Kitty sippy cup and thought of myself as louche yet maintaining a certain childlike wonder toward the world. Remembering the feet pajamas of my youth, that last pair, before I grew out of them. I would have snapped up one of these adult versions back then, grateful. 
     Now Macy has got them. My private nostalgic yearning made real. Here's my chance. Snap up one of these puppies because, really, how often do you get the chance? Never. And on sale, half off: only 35 bucks. I wasn't crazy about the cow pattern, or the Super Man pattern—sorta strange. Okay, really strange. But the one with the skulls? Or the fish skeletons? Kinda cool. A blend of babyish and edgy. 
      That thought crumbled at a touch.  No, not even tempted. And I realized: that guy, the one who may have once wanted this outfit, had vanished. Utterly. I didn't want these at all. Not a bit. In fact, they seemed really stupid.  A uniform for morons. I had changed. 
       Or had I? Maybe because the culture had wrecked this sort of thing, by overuse. That blanket with the arms they sell on TV? The Snuggie? As repulsive an item of clothing ever created. This wasn't unusual anymore, but too similar, too familiar: couch potato fashion, fashion for people with no waists. 
      For a moment I wondered if this topic was beyond the pale; too embarrassing to address here, to admit ever having theoretically wanted something like this, even notionally, decades ago. But then I thought: Shit, they make them. They sell them. So somebody must buy the things. It can't be a line of clothing designed and manufactured based on something I mused about long ago. I can't be alone here.
      Heck, forget jump suits. Remember the convention last week in Rosemont? There are "furries," people who make a lifestyle out of dressing like low rent college football mascots, mingling, dancing, hooking up and, well, best not to follow that line of thinking any further.
      Here I'm worried about seeming strange, about admitting to fleeting thoughts about feet pajamas when I was 30; meanwhile people are dressing as Willie the Wildcat and trolling Rosemont for that special Winnie the Pooh.  I'm dogpaddling tentatively on the surface of dull conventionality, and there's six miles of deepening weird under me, plus a Mariana Trench of the truly strange under that.  
    Then again, strange is relative. My wife believes that everyone is odd, if you shine a life into their lives, and the closer you look, the odder they are. That makes sense to me.
    My colleague Dan Savage sneers at those of us living in what he calls "vanilla" lifestyles. I don't know. There is a blessing to normality, to being able to find happiness without props and special equipment. It's hard enough to find that special someone without requiring that he or she be wearing a particular costume. I don't think I'd have been happier than I am now if I had the opportunity to lounge around in a yellow terry one piece jumpsuit, with a big yellow duck embroidered over my heart, wearing a red fez and drinking a tankard of frozen lemonade and vodka.  I like to think that, even then, some part of me would look upon the scene from afar and be suitably revolted.
     That former wish, that former self, hovered for a moment around the display of this godawful line of merchandise, still in stacks, even at half price. Shoppers not exactly beating down the doors to get at them. Then that thought, that person, vanished, in a puff. I took a few photos and continued on my way, thinking, dodged that bullet.

* Mere puffery it is. To my vast surprise, Nautica replied to my email query ("I purchased a Nautica oxford shirt whose tag said it was 'Ocean washed.' What does that mean? Was it washed in the ocean? What benefits does that impart on the shirt? I was curious. Thank you") overnight: "Thanks for your question regarding the Nautica Oxford Shirt. That description reflects the color of the item and the 'look' of the item. It was not actually washed in the ocean, it is just a creative description of the coloring technique. We appreciate your purchase with Nautica and we hope this answered your question!"


  1. Any friends who are wracking their brains for a present for me, I'll take the cow jumpsuit please.

  2. I like your wife more with every comment you make about her, even though I've never met her and probably never will! I also firmly believe that everybody is "odd" and "odder" the more you know about them. It's what keeps life interesting and surprising, for better or worse!

  3. I have a ten-month old son and my brother, husband and father have all openly coveted his footie jamas and claimed they would like a pair. I've seen adult versions at Target and Macy's, and if daycare for 2 kids wasn't sucking my wallet dry I would buy pairs for each of them as a joke. And frozen lemonade and vodka...takes me back to college. I could go for one tonight.

  4. Typo alert: "everyone is odd, if you shine a life into their lives." Not that that's not an interesting phrase, itself...

    "I pictured big sloshing vats of seawater, with bales of shirts being dumped into them, floating around, agitated by hatchet-faced New England salts wearing yellow Nor'easter slickers, wielding row boat oars..." Love the evocative imagery. Even if "ocean washed" meant anything real, however, it would more likely involve smooth-faced Asian sweets wearing bland gray smocks wielding whatever plastic implement was appropriate and dousing the shirts in the waters of the South China Sea. ("Smooth-faced Asian sweets" is solely meant to contrast with "hatchet-faced New England salts," and is not intended to be as creepy as it sounds, just to be clear.)

    And who wouldn't like a giant snowsuit with attached "idiot mittens" to accompany the XL rompers? ; )

  5. I'm sure we all change little by little over the years and sometimes even by leaps and bounds, if necessary. But I think there is a core personality that persists. Grumpy people come out of the womb snarling; happy babies turn into happy adults...mostly; and introverts and extroverts only rarely switch places, perhaps only in show business. Myself, I was a spoiled kid and although I wouldn't call myself a spoiled adult, I realize that when I'm asked how I am, I'm generally more interested in answering the question than asking back.


  6. Regarding the obituary: I think you used an adjective, perhaps "vicious," in the blog to refer to the ads showing Judy dancing with Governor Ryan, which did not appear in print this morning. I'm unable to confirm that, because I can't access that part of the blog for some reason. 2nd thoughts? Or a cautious editor?


    1. I realized I had never seen the ads, and had glommed that word somewhere and had no idea if it was accurate or not. I was updating the obit through the day, adding quotes as they came in, and there must be a dozen different slightly different versions that went up and then were amended.

  7. would love to find a pink bunny suite a la "A Christmas Story" for my son. he's 40, 6'3" and weighs about 250. anybody got any leads?


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