Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Wait, wait!  Don’t stop reading this!

If you are anything like me (and God help you if you are), then your eyes glaze over when the topic of fashion comes up.  For me, it conjures up images of impossibly good-looking people with incredibly stern looks on their faces sauntering up and down a runway while wearing an outfit made of Froot Loops and Turtle Wax, or some such thing.  This is NOT about anything like that.

It’s about my own personal fashion, or lack thereof.

You see, I am not a real risk-taker with what I wear.  Pretty much, I am a jeans and t-shirt kind of guy.  In warm weather I might be a cargo shorts and t-shirt kind of guy, and in cold weather a jeans and sweatshirt kind of guy, but you get the picture.  It worked for me when I was 8 years old, and it works for me now at 41.

There are four reasons why I cling to this basic look: 

First, I like the way jeans and t-shirts look and feel.  They are comfortable, versatile, and appropriate almost any everyday activity, except maybe swimming the English Channel or performing brain surgery.  I have separate outfits for those.

Next, jeans and t-shirts are reasonably inexpensive.  I can be pretty rough on clothing and go through more than my fair share.  Hole in my $7 t-shirt?  No big loss.  Hole in my Ralph Lauren polo shirt?  I’m out $50.  Expensive clothing might be fine if I was rich, or a store mannequin, but for who I am, it’s not.

Third, jeans and t-shirts are not age-specific.  At 41, I am no kid anymore, but I don’t really feel like an old fuddy-duddy either.  Much of the clothing marketed for men these days assumes that you are either 19 or 91.  I don’t know exactly HOW a 41 year old guy is supposed to dress in today’s world, but I am fairly certain that jeans that hang to my knees or plaid “slacks” appropriate for shuffleboard are not going to cut it.

Lastly, jeans and t-shirts are easy to shop for.  Almost any store that sells clothing sells these items, and usually stocks a wide variety.  Shopping is second only to sharpening the blades of a moving lawnmower on my list of least favorite things to do.

I’ve run into trouble recently though.  It seems that t-shirt makers are changing the “cut” of t-shirts.  The short sleeves now seem to be shorter and are made to hug the biceps tightly.  I blame the meatheads on “Jersey Shore” for popularizing this trend of showing off one’s “guns”, a.k.a. upper arm muscles.  The trouble is, when looking at a t-shirt in a store, it is hard to tell if it has this musclehugger cut or not.  Yes, I could take it into the dressing room and try it on, but that would require asking for help from a sales person, and real guys don’t do that any more than they will stop to ask for directions or slather sunscreen on another guy.

So, I have a whole drawer full of these musclehugger t-shirts that I refuse to wear.  As to why I don’t just take them back to the store, see the preceding paragraph.

Now you might be asking yourself, “Why don’t you just wear them?”  The answer is simple.  I just don’t want to.  I hate they way they feel.  I hate the way they look.  I have no choice in what I have to wear at work, since medical scrubs are the standard for my line of work.  I do have a choice for what I wear in my own time, and I’m going wear things that look and feel good to me. 

It’s not that my “guns” are low caliber, mind you.  I don’t work out or anything, but the nature of my lifestyle is such that my arms are reasonably strong.  I just seems silly to me for a middle-aged guy in so-so shape to be walking around like he’s showing off something that, quite frankly, is not really show-offworthy.

I’ve found that there are still a few t-shirt makers who use the traditional cut on t-shirts, but there are strings attached.  For the ones I like, it seems their products are apparently made by blind lemurs with substandard IQs, since they shrink and stretch beyond practical wearability after just one laundering.  This is not helpful, though they make terrific rags for washing my chariot.  The others are t-shirts with pithy slogans such as “Born to Fish, Forced to Work” or images of monster trucks crushing Volvos.  That’s not a look I can pull off either.

So, if you see me on the street wearing a t-shirt stained in grease or full of holes, you don’t need to offer me a few bucks to get by.  I’m not broke or homeless.  I just can’t find a decent t-shirt anymore.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Heartbeat City Here We Come

I belong to an online music subscription service.  It’s the 21st century successor to those record clubs that used to advertise in magazines back in the 70s and 80s.  Remember, “Choose 11 albums for just one penny”?  As a subscriber to this current service, I get outrageous discounts on MP3 downloads each month.  It’s a pretty sweet deal, especially for a big music fan like me.

Usually, I have no problem using up my subscription amount, which I have to do or risk losing it at month’s end.  Sometimes, though, there just isn’t anything major on my “must have” list.  This was one of those months.  So, I did what I typically do in such cases, and went back into the site’s archives, looking for albums I used to own on vinyl or cassette and never upgraded when CDs came along in the late 80s.

This time, I decided to download Heartbeat City by the Boston new wave/rock band The Cars.  Heartbeat City was THE album of the summer in 1984 for me and my pals.  There were pictures of a souped-up sports car and a pretty girl in tight clothing on the cover.  Lead singer Ric Ocasek always wore sunglasses, and the rumor among my friends was that it was to hide his eyes because he was high all the time (not true).  Bass player and singer Benjamin Orr wore skin-tight leather pants on the jacket insert, leading us to believe that he must be gay (also not true).  But that combination of perceived naughtiness and incredibly catchy and well-crafted tunes made Heartbeat City the ideal soundtrack for the summer between junior high and high school.  I bought it on vinyl the first day of summer vacation that year.  I immediately made a cassette copy, and it followed us on our Walkmans wherever we went all summer long.   We used the song titles and lyrical references as catch phrases all the time.

As I listened to it from start to finish for the first time in nearly 25 years, all kinds of things flooded back from that landmark summer of 1984.

The summer of 1984 was a transition period for me if there ever was one.  It was the summer between going to the parochial grade school which I had attended for 8 years, and attending public high school, which I would for the next four.  It was the last summer before I was old enough to drive.  It was the last summer before I was old enough to get a part-time job.  It was the first summer I had a “serious” girlfriend (or as serious as it could be at age 14).  Ultimately, it was the summer when I started stepping away from being a kid and toward becoming an adult.

I could write a whole series of articles about that summer, and maybe I just will, but for now, suffice it to say that The Cars’ Heartbeat City on my iPod takes me back to a time when bicycles were my primary mode of transportation, when friends meant everything, when kissing a girl was the height of risk-taking, and when having $5 in your pocket made you feel like a rich man.  I was old enough to go mostly where I wanted and make many of my own decisions.  That summer, Americans not much older than I was were dominating the Olympics in Los Angeles, Ronald Reagan was on TV making us feel good about America and ourselves as a means of getting re-elected, and it seemed like every day was sunny and hot but not uncomfortable.  Looking back, it was one of the high points in my life, though I didn’t realize it at the time.  It truly seemed there were limitless possibilities and nothing standing between you and them. 

Not long after that summer of 1984, the realities of getting older began to set in.  The girl I dated that summer broke up with me not long after high school started in the fall.  The complexities of a larger social scene in high school put walls between me and some old friends, while bringing new ones into my life.  I started to see things in people I had not seen before, both good and bad.  They probably started seeing the same in me.  With high school came the drive to excel in order to “get into a good college”.  There was the pressure to fit in, to look a certain way and do certain things.  I started working not one, but two part-time jobs.  I got my driver’s license and all the freedom and responsibility that came with it.

The last song on Heartbeat City is the title track.  It is a decidedly tentative-sounding song, and a seemingly odd choice to round out a collection of mostly upbeat tunes.  It is essentially about a girl who left town for an extended period and finally has returned.  The lyrics indicate that the singer didn’t see the girl’s absence coming, and is unsure of what to make of her return.  Trust seems to be lacking now, though he is still glad to see her.
Heartbeat City was my best friend Brian’s favorite song on the album.  His mother had just died of cancer that spring after a long battle.  She suffered for a long time, and was suffering no longer, so there was surely relief in that.  Still, he missed her a lot, though he didn’t talk about it much then.  The ambivalence of emotion in the song must have struck a chord with him at some level that didn’t hit me until much later.

When I listen to Heartbeat City now, it almost seems as if there was a message to the 14-year-old me back in that summer of 1984.   It was a message I didn’t see at the time and wish I had: “Enjoy what you have now, because change is inevitable and it is complicated.”

Indeed.  Summers are short.  Life is short.  Enjoy it.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Return to Blogger

I am back to Blogger after an absence of almost seven years.  Frankly, I didn't have that much to say.  My old blog was basically a mess of self-indulgent garbage, interspersed with the occasional enlightened tract (usually the result of too much drinking).  So, not much has changed.

What HAS changed is the pervasiveness of blogging.  It seems like there is a blog for everyone and everything these days.  What has also changed is the ease of accessing other blogs.  On Blogger, for example, you can just click on the "Next Blog" link at the top and it takes you to (guess what?) the next blog.  I tried this link when I first got started on here again, and it took me to a reasonably insightful blog by a young woman working in mid-town Manhattan. Nice neighbor, I thought.  She probably has intelligent and thoughtful readers who may click over and view mine.  A few days later, I clicked on the "Next Blog" link to visit my neighbor blog, and found myself at a very dark and disturbing German shrine to 80s death metal.  I never knew you could do THAT with weinerschnitzel!  Once I scrubbed my eyes out with Ajax, I came to the realization that the "Next Blog" button takes you to a RANDOM blog, and not the same one each time.  There goes the neighborhood.

I thought it might be fun to click the "Next Blog" button a few times and jot down a few notes about what I find.  I've opened a new tab in my trusty Chrome browser, so off we go to explore the neighborhood as it is currently configured.

#1-Killer Bee 89.3.  Terrific.  A radio station playing "today's best music" (likely a very short playlist).  I worked in radio for eleven years starting when I was 15, and have continued to keep tabs on it ever since, so I know a thing or two about this.  Any station that far down the FM dial is either A) a public radio station, B) a public access station, C) a college station, or D) a pirate out of some guy's basement apartment.  My guess here is D).  It's not a blog so much as a site for a station that apparently no one listens to.  The construct of the site is not terrible, I have to admit.  The streaming feature indicates right now that there are two listeners.  In other words, the dj and me.  Given the hideous Katy Perry song cracking across my speakers right now, that number will very soon be down by one.  Let's move on, shall we?

#2-Welcome to Tabbed Browsing (Subtitled: This is a snail who wish to be somebody).  Ooooooookay.  Evidently, a very sad, homesick, gay fellow's blog.  I have absolutely nothing against the sad, the homesick, or the gay, or even the sad, homesick and gay. I do have something against melodramatic whining. I am trying to envision a circumstance that would make me want to visit regularly to read things such as the following, in the most recent post: "Been to here and there for a month plus now. Saw a lot and exposed to a kind of life that I never knew I could fit in few years back. But to tell the truth, my life is not bad. At least I am looking for every tomorrow to come. There might not be sunshine tomorrow but to know there are people around you to walk through it with you is enough. More than enough I shall say. And here I declare, 5 countries, one month, camera,"  

Yeah. I am not making this up. I wish I was. Also, the blogger describes himself in his profile as "sporty". Unless you are a Mazda...who DOES that?

I think we are done here. One more visit.

#3-Alias Pail. An electronica musician. This is like shooting fish in a barrel for someone trying to write humorously. Let me just do a little direct copy and paste of this charming little blog, and it will do all the work for me.

"back from the blogworld deadlands. consulting with utanapishtim and hunting for the boxthorn, i came up empty handed. but serious: blog time has shrunk, the master distraction, the important piece of procrastination in a stacked pancake of delicious duties, this once weekly blog has become a petrified tree."

There's also a link to "favorite anime of the moment".  Oh, and here's the dude who writes it:

I wore that same outfit to church last Christmas!

I don't want to come across as nasty, close-minded, or intolerant, though, let's face it, we all have shades of that in our personalities, even if it is not politically-correct to let any of it to the surface in this day and age.  I am a huge free-speech advocate, and am proud to live in a place where people are able to publish whatever freaky stuff they want.  As a matter of fact, I'd encourage you to visit these neighbor blogs of mine, which is why I included links to them.  However, as someone with a background in literacy education, I'd offer this advice to anyone thinking of writing for their own blog.  CONSIDER YOUR AUDIENCE!  If you didn't care what other people think, you wouldn't be putting your blog on the Internet.

Oh, and one more thing...ditch the sound effects that play when someone logs on to your page.  I hate that.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

What's Cool?

Driving home from work today, I passed a white minivan coming from the other direction.  It was kind of battered, and was driven by some young guy about 18 or so, in a sideways ballcap and the 1970's, Smokey and the Bandit-style sunglasses that have become popular again.  Some kind of hip-hop music was thumping out of the windows.   The first thought that crossed my mind was the cynical one, of course: "No matter how hard you try, you can't be badass in a minivan."  My second thought was a bit more sobering: "Twenty plus years ago, that was me."

I didn't drive a minivan at age 18 mind you, but like that guy I saw today, I drove what I could afford, not necessarily what I liked.  In my case, what I could afford was a really bright yellow 1981 Ford Escort.  This is not the actual car in the photo.  Mine had orange stripes.  Really.

It looked remarkably like a lemon on a roller skate, and had a ride of about the same quality.  Whenever the temperature got below 25 degrees, it didn't start.  Whenever there was the lightest of snows, it slid all over the road.  There was no air conditioning and the windows only rolled down sometimes, so summers were kind of sultry.  It stranded me in the most remote and uncomfortable places possible (one time almost causing me to be eaten by a bear, but that's another story), and it was constantly in the garage getting repaired. Designed by drunken lemurs at Ford toward the end of the Carter Administration, this vehicle could be best described as a disposable car.  Yes, it was very good on gas, but once it ran out, it would have been best thrown away.

However, I made the most of it.  It (usually) got me from point A to point B, and it had a great-sounding radio.  Like many of my peers, I rolled down the windows and cranked up my favorite tunes fairly regularly.  And the stuff I liked at that point in time was probably ridiculous to the 40-somethings of those days, just as hip-hop is too me now.  Cranking up big hair bands like Poison and Cinderella while driving around and around the town square on a Friday night was one of the best ways to express oneself.  What I didn't realize then was that I was expressing the fact that apparently I was a blithering idiot.  But hey, there were lots of us expressing the same thing.  No doubt, a few heads with more gray hairs than I were turned in the direction of my little yellow dorkmobile as the dulcet strains of "Talk Dirty To Me" wafted gently on the summer evening breeze, and no doubt the phrase "What an asshat!" (or the late 80s equivalent) crossed a few lips.

At the time, I wouldn't have cared.  It doesn't really even bother me that much now.  I WAS a fool at age 18. Who isn't?  If you weren't, you should have been, because it was a lot of fun.  All things are relative.  My grandparents' generation would have shaken their heads at kids in the 60s cranking up The Kinks or something from their rusty Detroit tanks.  My parents' generation thought we were morons for blasting out the Ozzy Osbourne songs from Escorts and Chevettes.  And undoubtedly, many in my generation think anyone blaring Pitbull (a popular rapper, I am told) from their rolling junkheap is probably losing brain cells at an alarming rate.

So, Mr. Battered White Minivan, more power to you, Dawg.  (Do people still say "dawg"?)  Enjoy being young and somewhat free in the summertime, because sooner than you know, the day will come when the music has to be turned down because the responsibilities have been turned up.

You are still not badass though.  And don't drive by my house with that crap blasting after I am in bed.