Spent the last week sick and/or taking care of my sick children. Which is to say, I watched a lot of television. I don't normally watch a ton of television at the moment, which isn't to say I'm one of those TV is the end of civilization as we know it folks, either. My TV watching waxes and wanes. I'll overdose for awhile--years, sometimes--and then walk away with barely any TV at all. Right now there aren't any shows other than the Simpsons that I watch even close to faithfully. Except maybe Ghost Hunters, but I fast forward to the reveal so I can see and hear all the EVPs, MVPs, LEDs and full-body apparitions in approximately 37 seconds. Yes, I'm aware how lame this is, and in fact have been told by a close friend how lame this is, and I don't disagree with him. But I have to tell you, for those 37 seconds I'm absolutely terrified!
So I started watching one of my daughter's favorite shows with her to pass the time, a show called What Not To Wear. For those who are unfamiliar, What Not To Wear is a show hosted by two super snarky fashion gurus, Clinton and Stacy. The idea is that there are many non-fashionable people in the world who must be corrected on their non-fashion, so what will happen is a "friend" will set an intervention of sorts in motion by narcing on the "fashion victim" to the fashion police. Clinton and Stacy will send out spies who actually go film the fashion victim, with the victim being completely unaware they are being filmed! Once enough evidence of sartorial wrongdoing has been amassed, Clinton and Stacy will swoop in like two impeccably groomed and coiffed hawks to confront the offender, usually in their place of work. In the 27 episodes (or so it seemed) I watched with my daughter, I was able to see the public humiliation of teachers, lawyers, hairdressers, actors. It was great!
One thing that I noticed was that Clinton and Stacy, both of whom are filled with a wonderful, Wildean sense of humor, with their quippery as sharp as the creases in their clothing, had a tendency to reserve their most venomous comments with those that fought back against their advice. Those who went with it, or were clearly lost sheep left dazed in the aftermath of their trip to the pillory, were granted hugs, kind comments, encouragement. Those who claimed to have a good fashion sense (and to be fair, they were sadly mistaken--all the participants I saw were either formless frumps or showoffs confused "provocative" with "ridiculous") or worse, actually questioned the fashion choices made by Clinton and Stacy, were all but eviscerated by their sharp tongues and pointy shoes.
After being mocked for awhile by their hosts (all of their clothes are thrown in a big bin, my daughter says, and then are then given to charity) the guests are sent out onto the streets of New York with a $5000 credit card. This gave me pause to reflect, because I think that, except maybe the two suits I've bought over the years, I think it is actually possible that I haven't spent 5 grand on myself for clothes in my entire lifetime. I actually started adding this up, starting with all of the basketball sneakers I've owned over the years. I have one pair of Air Jordans, from his second year with the Wizards, but I got those on clearance for something like sixty bucks. I had a nice leather jacket but that was a Christmas gift. I paid a hundred bucks for a pair of sunglasses once--do sunglasses count?
I started writing all of this stuff out (meanwhile onscreen a hairdresser was buying a two thousand dollar Prada dress, and an earlier episode had a man whose first outfit, a nice casual affair, something you'd wear out to a movie or party with friends--was said to cost $550) and then my daughter tells me that I should be on the show.
"What?" I said, instantly suspicious, wondering if she and my wife have been having me filmed. What would What Not To Wear's producers uncovered something with their P.I. work? A murder, or a conspiracy? A mother of two who spends her evenings knocking over headstones at the local cemetery?
"You should be on this show. Look at that shirt."
I did. It was my Charlotte Hornets t-shirt, the one that I bought when they drafted Larry Johnson.
When they drafted Larry Johnson twenty years ago. My God.
"It has holes in it, Daddy," she said. And she's right. Three of them, two completely irreparable. But twenty years of hard use has warn the threads down to that perfect grain of comfort and...
Who am I kidding? The shirt is almost twice as old as my daughter, is twice as old as my son.
"You have to go out in public now, Daddy."
By public, she meant more than just being a fixture at hers and my sons' basketball games, where I can conceal the holes in my shirt with a heavy coat because the gym where they play is actually pretty cold.
"Couldn't...couldn't you and Mommy just get me stuff? I'll pay!" The only decent clothes I own are those that she and her mother have bought for me, usually just before we go on a family trip where they can't bear to see me in the same stuff that I wore in college.
"See how they talk about proper fit?" she says to me. I bought the Hornets shirt when I was considerably heavier than I am today. What actually happened was I left college pretty heavy, lost a ton of weight immediately after, gained a little of it back, then had kids, messed up my back in a car wreck and took a job with a lot of travel, three factors that helped me balloon up again. I was heavy throughout most of my kids' lives until last year, when I dropped a big chunk of weight and got in shape again. And yet somehow managed to keep basically the same wardrobe throughout all of these changes, from endomorph to ectomporph to endomorph again, and now I'm fairly mesomorphic. With the same clothes, only older and shabbier (the clothes--but yes, me, to a lesser extent).
"Proper fit, right," I said. "Got it."
"I could help you." My daughter loves to shop. This might be one of my greatest failings as a parent, I don't know.
They could be deadly sarcastic, in a very Mean Girls way, but at the end of the marathon I decided that I liked Clinton and Stacy. Maybe it was because they gave the teacher an extra grand to spend and then donated 2G's to her school, or maybe because when they spoke with conviction about how appearance can contribute to a positive self image (which they said was achieved through proper fit and use of color, rather that a specific designer label, although they didn't exactly look down on the designer labels), but they won me over to their 'cause'. I've always had a pretty cynical outlook towards the whole "live better through conspicuous consumption" school of thought, but somehow I got the sense that they believed in their work. That they weren't just removing blights from our collective landscape; they really seemed to believe they were improving people's lives.
Some of the people they had on really were transformed in a way that seemed to precursor important beneficial changes in their lives--they were on the cusp of getting the job, the promotion, the more meaningful relationship.
So I believe in their sincerity, anyhow. That isn't the same as not believing that their entire enterprise is a sham, though, or that people should be able to derive self-esteem from something other than personal appearance. Inner beauty is what counts and all that. But, in the two or three times I actually looked good out in public, I have to admit that I felt good as well. Maybe they have a point.
I just hope I can do it for less than 5 grand...
"I think Clinton could really help you," she says. Giggle, giggle.
She might be right.
NEWS FLASH: I just received copies of the paperback edition of Generation Dead and they look sweeeeeeet. Tell all of your friends who were too cheap I mean too impecunious to buy the hardcover. In fact, you may wish to buy a couple copies for yourself, just in case. Just in case what I'm not sure, but I'd really appreciate it.