Advice is best doled out sparingly. I have only one thing to say to the younger generation -- I'm 33 years old and approaching the midpoint of my life expectancy, so I consider myself middle-aged -- and it has nothing to do with saying no, staying in school, or keeping your baby. It's this: Pull up your pants.
Being middle-aged, I guess what I feel is proper pants height is maybe just a reflection of my age group. Older men keep their belts above the spare tire, so they have that roll of fat as one last defense against their pants falling down. To them, slight embarrassment is better than complete embarrassment. Perhaps I'm just firmly stuck in the middle, a fence-sitter of the paunch.
But I don't think so. When I was young, it was important to keep your waistline right where it was supposed to be -- at your waistline. The cuffs of your pants couldn't be too high, lest you be mocked for wearing highwaters, or too low, lest people think you were some bellbottom throwback, trying to give off the no-longer attractive illusion that you had no feet. That's the complete anti-foot-fetishist there.
Even cowboy- or dingo-booted kids still kept the pants on the outside. Just because your footwear extended up to your calves, that didn't mean you were exempt from the cuff barometer.
But these kids these days -- and I say "these kids" to make it clear that they are not Jerry's kids and they sure aren't my kids; they are someone else's kids and they are someone else's problem. Children are the future? I do not think so. Children are the present. If they were the future, we could just ignore them, like we ignore everything in the future. In the future, they will be adults, and if we just build enough prisons, the problem will take care of itself. In the meantime, they must be tried as juveniles, and that is the problem.
Apparently, the whole hiphop pants-too-big fad arose from prison fashion. Cons are issued clothes that don't fit them, and it's better to wear clothing too loose than too tight. The term "prison fashion" itself tell us there's something wrong with the penal system. Prisoners aren't skinny enough to be models, so they must be too well fed. Nothing but rice cakes and mineral water for them from now on. There aren't enough models in prison, apparently. After all, Robert Downey needs someone to date.
That prisoners have time to think about fashion tell us they are not busy enough or deprived enough. The same goes for what we consider "poverty" in this country. Truly poor people have neither the time not resources to be worried about fashion. Look at news reports from truly poor regions of the world. You will not see fashionably dressed people. If they are wearing foreign clothing, it's some awful synthetic blend with some '70s or '80s icon too ugly to wear yet not ugly enough to sell at Ragstock. The fact that companies are printing moreScooby-Doo t-shirts and not simply taking them out of Salvation Army surplus somewhere tells us that these '70s nostalgites and their polyester pushers need to be sent to work in the rice paddies for a while and let them resort their priorities. The Cultural Revolution? That was one groovy scene, man. So put your retro message back in the Kiss Army surplus outlet store where you found it and look up "ugly" in the dictionary. There are some things in the world that are not relative, and that includes your older siblings' long-discarded taste in clothing, music, and cartoons.
Speaking of music, this thing now where '80s music is now "oldies" is one double-edged sword. While on the one hand, we're hearing less and less of that '50s and early '60s malt-shop dreck where some grown man is singing about "sweet little 16" and giving me a thorough sense of the creeps (and somewhere in some roadhouse between here and Ohio, the guy, now almost 70, is still singing it today -- where is a single-engine airplane crash when you need one?), and can occasionally turn the dial without hearing "Freebird" one more excruciating time, the sentimentality attached to A Flock of Seagulls tells me that a generation of gel-haired youth were feeling each other up to some godawful music. To think that anyone has their early sexual experiences somehow tied to nasal, effeminate, whiny British accents, genuine or otherwise, and pre-programmed synthesizers sends a Pavlovian chill up my spine. There were an awful lot of kids getting wang-chunged to some pretty pathetic elevator music. If disco served any purpose, it was to make New Wave sound good by comparison, and I have a feeling that rap is setting the stage for making synchronized dog-barking sound like Mozart. The crossover between rap and heavy metal had me worried enough, but if rap and country ever mingle their fluids, you'll have an abomination worse than the results of any hillbilly matchmaking. And it will be on the radio all the time.
I don't know how it happened, but all I can say is, thank the gods kids are into swing music now. Every once in a while, people's sheeplike behavior works out for good rather than evil. Granted, I'm under no illusion that a lot of these kids really, truly, actually likeswing music, but as long as they are willing to pretend to do so in order to not be seen as unhip, that's all I need. Swing'll be out of the public eye faster than you can say "Stray Cats," but hey, if Brian Seltzer could make the world safe for bubblegum rockabilly, I'm sure he'll be able to fund the next decade of his life with this year's trend.
But I have really, majorly digressed.
Fashion and coolness have long been laid bare for me. My mom had pierced ears, drank coffee, and smoked; I failed to see how imitating her was cool. My mom liked Big Band and calypso music, so as I child I was spared whatever condescending "children's" music was the "Barney" of its time and listened to "Man Smart, Woman Smarter." Hell of a better lesson than "I love you, you love me."
I normally do not care what other people wear, and after all, disapproval is what many people are looking for. There can be no other explanation for putting holes in one's own face to hang ornaments from. Earrings are now so well a part of our cattle-like behavior that it's no longer even a matter when Princess will defy Mommy and get her ears pierced a year earlier than allowed. It's how many little holes Junior will put in his head before Dad makes one great big one. If their parents madethem wear clothes three sizes too large, they'd complain to high heaven about having to wear hand-me-downs. Maybe it's an extension of the pre-washed, pre-shrunk, holes-already-conveniently-in-the-knees continuum. Clothes aren't supposed to look like you just bought them, and now, apparently, they're supposed to look like they were bought foryou by someone apparently convinced you are the world's fattest man, a prisoner of your own flesh but apparently not of the state penal system, because then you would be waiflike and have a rock star boyfriend. In a few years, you'll have to buy clothes off the rack that are already too small for you, and then pass them along to your kid brother or sister.
It's been said that if today's woeful education system had been forced upon us by a foreign power, rather than the result of our own low standards, we'd consider it an act of war. Likewise, the idiotic fashions of youth can never be forced upon them by their elders, they must collectively dupe themselves into it.
But unfortunately, the youth market influences clothing for the rest of us, much like the way each year's fashion runway space mandarin designs are diluted into less ostentatious but still freakish styles in a store near you.
In the real human being's section of the clothing store, it's often well-nigh impossible to find anything in an extra large. And I'm neither fat nor tall; a medium is just too small. Conversely, smaller women can rarely find anything that fits them; they're directed to the petites section as if they were preemies. Meanwhile, young people are being sized for circus tents and all the extra larges have been purchased as nightshirts for 13-year-old girls.
And since I already brought up Shaggy and Scooby, what in the name of Maynard Krebsian economics is with the collective adoption of goatees by young men who cannot be counted among the Dutch masters? No man has any business wearing a goatee unless he wears a white suit and sells fried chicken.
© 1999 Randel Shard