Forty for Forty – #13. Fashionably Late

Editor’s Note:   I turn 40 on June 6, 2012. As a little challenge to myself, I’m spending one calendar year writing 40 posts that say something about my life. I should have been at the halfway point by now but in mid-October, I went astray. At the time I didn’t think anyone was reading these things so I thought about scrapping the project entirely but thankfully, at the end of the year, I realized I need to finish what I started. If anything, I owe it to myself. With that said, I have a little work ahead of me but certainly nothing insurmountable. If you are reading these and enjoying them, there’s plenty more to come. If not, then what are you doing reading this. Get outta’ here.

I can’t believe anyone let me go out in public like that.

Ever since I entered elementary school, I wanted to be accepted. I didn’t need to be the most popular person walking but even at my shyest (which in the beginning – from early grade school through the latter high school ages, I was barely a pupa the social butterfly I am today); even then – when I hardly said “Boo!” to anyone, I wanted desperately to fit in. Who among any generation hasn’t hungered for some semblance of social acceptance even if their Hello Kitty backpack and Hot Topic fake-piercings screech otherwise? But for me, a guy who hit 8th Grade in 1985, a full-fledged card-carrying member of the John Hughes generation – the need to belong was vital.

And yet – always JUST outside my grasp.

While our household’s modest finances make up one part of the equation, my involvement in this mess certainly didn’t help things. See – I had  a vague sense of what I thought was hip but I was usually 2-3 years behind the times. It’s as if my brain registered what all the cool kids were wearing but it took me a few years to actually make the neural connection that if I wore what they wore then maybe – just maybe – I could save some face and skip the occasional verbal smackdown.

Of course, it took me a LOT longer to realize that it’s what’s inside that counts but the world looks mighty different from adult eyes. When you’re in school, rocking the Pony’s while everyone else has the Swoosh stylishly emblazoned on their kicks, you scoot your feet as far back as they can go under your desk, prop your backpack up along the side and start clock watching hoping against hope that you can make it through 179 more school days without anyone noticing. And when the bell rings, you pick up the pace and high-tail it to your next class, getting in the room before anyone else does so you can erect that makeshift bunker all over again and hunker those Hush Puppies down for another 45-minute spell. Rinse and repeat. It’s those little survival tips  that kept my secret safe for easily 15 or 20 minutes on the first day of each new school year.

But word spreads fast and within moments of that first bell, everyone knew I dared to cross the school’s threshold clad in after-market Nike knock-offs. Cheapo sneaks are like blood in the water to any hipster sharks swarming a school’s hallways. You wouldn’t be caught dead in them.

I had no choice when it came to footwear – at least not until I got my own after school job and applied that weekly pay check to set right what once went so fashionably wrong. Until then – I had to make do with what we had in the household which meant stretching the dollar a little longer and dealing with some mostly-harmless torment. Nothing I couldn’t shake off.

I can’t blame anyone else for my adolescent woes. The real villain of this story is me – as when I finally had the means to deck myself out properly, I foiled my good-intentioned schemes at every turn with what I THOUGHT looked good but in reality makes me eternally thankful that I grew up Gen X and not Y or beyond – and therefore most photographic evidence of my calamitous couture is lost in the yellowed ether of faded Polaroids. Looking back, we can laugh at the 8-Tracks we grooved to and the faux wood-paneled station wagons we were carted around in but aside from a few musty photos, the evidence of any fashionable missteps is largely being erased. That’s a perk to growing up analog. These days, everything is forever and a day… and on You Tube.

So I was born at the right time as I needed plenty of time to find my way. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t love some forensic evidence to bust out whenever I need a good belly laugh. I firmly believe that if you can’t mock yourself, who can you laugh at. All of us do so many dumb, silly things over the course of a life where at the time we are absolutely sure we are in the right but from a distance, we can’t believe we ever left the house like that. And it’s so cathartic to look back and see how lame you really were. If anything, it acts as a nice pat on the back. “Look how far I’ve come.

I defy anyone I graduated with to flash their Senior Year pictures here. In mine, I rocked a spiked mullet that curled at the bottom. Between my shellacked spikes and all that Aqua Net that pushed the girls’ hair-dos to the heavens, the inconvenient truth is that my graduating class gave Al Gore a second career. As for the current plight of polar bears – “Sorry about that!!!” Hey – you make an omelet….

Somewhere out there, someone has photographic evidence of  me on all my bad hair days and questionable clothing calls and that’s the sole reason I’ll never seek higher office.

For starters – there’s the Junior Prom. I remember sharing a limo with three other guys including my buddy Chip – and our dates, of course. The girls were all decked out in a beautiful array of light and bright Springtime colors. For some inexplicable reason – the dudes decided to match our formal wear NOT to our date’s dresses but rather the “hearse” we rode in on. So, any shot of the four of us, reclining against our blinding white limousine reveals 3 floating heads of hair; a complete white wash of blank tuxedos blended against the body of the car. Fortunately the 4th guy, Chip, is of African-American descent – adding a nice splash of ebony to our ivory idiocy and marking the sole means of identifying any signs of life in those pics. It’s a good thing we didn’t get into a car accident. We’d have woken up in a junkyard – the cops completely unable to detect any inhabitants in the vehicle.

From High School Junior Year through maybe my Sophomore Year of college, it was one misstep after another. I remember taking two or three weeks worth of pay checks and heading to the Hanover Mall to do some clothes shopping before heading out to my Freshman Year in college. When I got there, I was distracted by the newly released Final Fantasy for the Nintendo Entertainment System and the first book in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. That set me back a bit – forcing me to readjust my budget. Fortunately, Chess King was having a Buy 1 Get 12 Free sale on Parachute Pants and Piano Ties. I should have seen the signs. No deal is that good – not when my generation’s version of disco was on the way out. Faster than you can say “Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt Me” I was striding off to UMASS in the most open-air inflatable jeans I could find. I figured one day I could just convert them into bell-bottomed Jorts. And then, I guess, move to Yugoslavia.

Earlier that summer, I went out with a group of my high school cronies (including Buzz, Casa, Gobes, Dan, and Macka) for Freshman Orientation. We made the trek in Casa’s party van and spent 2 days and 1 night getting the lay of the land. The first thing we did was hit the Campus Center Bookstore where we all grabbed some school attire. Now we could head back home properly flashing our new colors. I grabbed a white hoodie with the maroon University of Massachusetts emblazoned across the front and for some inexplicable reason, the smallest pair of fluorescent orange MEN’S shorts I could find. Whatever sweat shop those shorts crawled from; that’s where Daisy Dukes go when they die.

My first year at UMASS, I was a jeans and sweater guy. It would be a good year or so before I was wearing shorts and a sweatshirt year round. That first year, I THOUGHT I was making an impression. So, I slapped on the cardigan and acid-washed jeans on a daily basis. The sweater said Cosby and the hair screamed Seinfeld. And still, I was decidedly Must NOT See TV.

Sophomore year, I finally started to get a clue. I changed up that weird spiked, mopped, mulleted pompadour I had planted on my head and went into the hippest hair salon we had in town on a tip from a female friend of mine who just so happened to favor the feminine persuasion (that last part is important). You see, I specifically sought out a shop owned and run completely by lesbians with the thought that they would either make me look real hip or at the very least, a little more butch. When asked what I was looking for, I froze. I had no clue.

“Something that doesn’t make me look stupid”, I said.

“How about The Brandon?”, was her reply.

“The Brandon?”, I parroted back.

“Walsh? Priestly?!? 90210?!?!?”

“Oh, THE BRANDON!!!” – Now I got it. Then I called an audible. “Make it a DYLAN and you’ve got yourself a deal.” Thankfully we were a good four or five years away from “The Jennifer“.

30 minutes later, I walked out with my hair perfectly coiffed to resemble  TV’s latest lovable bad boy and firm instruction to let my sideburns live large. Although I was initially worried I might need to invest in some Chia seeds – within a few days those facial follicles came in nicely. And from there, I started dressing a little more appropriately. Not too cool for the room nor so hip to be square – but somewhere down the middle of normalcy.

Right where I always wanted to be.