Due to an assignment that took us to a swanky clothing store (read all about it in this issue, Dear Reader) Yours Truly has been forced to think about clothes.
The Observer must have been 12, maybe 13 years old when first informed that rolling up one's pants legs was bad form. This was at an academic summer camp — yeah, shut up — on the campus of a North Carolina university, and a couple of girls about my age flatly told me I looked ridiculous. They stopped me cold on the sidewalk cutting through the quad to deliver their verdict out of the blue, then threw their heads back to laugh and laugh, their perfect teeth glinting in the golden afternoon sunlight. They were about 6-foot-6 and glowing with unearthly beauty. A trapdoor opened up in the nearby grass, and I fled down a subterranean tunnel, right into social oblivion. At least that's how I remember it.
This was the first time I was made to understand that clothes serve a purpose aside from simply making you not naked. That, for whatever reason, it's not considered OK to wad up your oversized Walmart jeans in clumpy fistfuls around the midsection of your calves. That other people have the uncanny ability to eat fried foods without reflexively wiping their greasy hands over every available square inch of fabric on their body. That dress is governed by some unspoken Code of Hammurabi, disobedience to which causes attractive strangers to laugh at you.
Eighteen years later, this is still how I think of fashion: as criminal law, a litany of frequently arbitrary prohibitions enforced by the whip of ridicule. Knowledge has accrued slowly, each tidbit a shocking revelation. In high school: What, people give a shit about shoes? In college: Women's shirts button down on the opposite side? Oh yeah? Then why do half the shirts I own button down in that direction, smart guy? Post-college: Evidently, there are pleated pants and nonpleated pants, and if one buys all of one's clothes from a thrift store, one is much more likely to get the former variety, which also means one is much more likely to be told one day by a girlfriend that one sort of looks like a clown.
I've been forced to acknowledge, over time, that appearance matters. It shapes perception. Slowly, grudgingly, I've given up on giving up on how I look. I try to look decent. But secretly, The Observer still dreams of the glorious day when every citizen is distributed an all-purpose single-piece Star Trek uniform: self-cleaning and buttonless, one-size-fits-all, with even the heaviest grease stains rendered invisible and benign.
And, speaking of the dream of being allowed to go naked: The older The Observer gets, the harder summer in this state is on us. We fantasize about becoming a reverse snowbird, lighting out for someplace where it never really gets hotter than light shawl weather and February shrieks down from the north like the blue, zombified meanies on the other side of The Wall in "Game of Thrones." International Falls, Minn., maybe. Sweden. Upper Alaska. The meat locker where they store all of Donald Trump's yak fur hairpieces. That's the ticket.
There is an art to enduring August in Arkansas, and The Observer fears we have lost our flair for it — for iced fruity booze drinks and getting every part of one's self submerged in a kiddie pool from Walmart. Once you've lost that talent, the only option is to start wishing for a cataclysmic ice age.
So, we'll complain about it. We'll wear our Dad shorts, even though the sight of our fishbelly-white pins is contributing to the overall feeling of hopelessness. We'll stare at the air conditioner by the back stoop, thinking: "Just hang on until September, big fella. I believe in you," while Entergy sucks money out of our bank account like a Shop Vac. We'll look at the weather in Portland, Maine, and seethe with impotent rage. We'll go to the bars and start some ignernt mess in the hopes somebody will throw a drink in our face. We'll go to church and stake claim as a benighted sinner, just so we can get our hands on the keys to the baptismal tub. We'll hold on. We'll say: In a month and a half, we'll be getting the jacket out of the back of the closet. In a month and a half, we'll be golden.