Sunday, December 19, 2004

I live in a giant bucket.

The Xmas season is in full swing, as we all know. Some people I know will ream me out for calling it Xmas, but really, what the hell does Christ have to do with it anymore? So anyway, I recently made my yearly trip to the mall to buy gifts for the family. Walking around, I realized how alienating the mall was for a guy like me, a guy who doesn't buy into the whole go-go consumer mindset. As I walked around this temple of commerce, I noticed that nearly everyone else was dressed in nice, un-faded clothes, wearing expensive fragrances, and carrying fancy cell phones and other assorted gizmos. I'm against the idea of carrying cell phones (a rant for another day), but what kind of got to me was the clothing/smelly-stuff issue. Thinking about it, I realized that I haven't bought a piece of clothing that wasn't socks, underwear, jeans, seasonal outerwear, or souvenir t-shirts in at least two years, and I've never spent any money on what might be classified a "fragrance."

This realization, combined with the fact that most Xmas music makes my asshole clench, made me quite uneasy. I didn't recognize these people, I thought. I don't see myself in them. They look like people I'd see on television, and I don't watch television. Are they the strange ones, or am I strange for not conforming to their ways? Is the fact that I don't wear fashionable clothes and drench myself in manufactured scents the reason I don't have a girlfriend or a well-paying honest-to-goodness-grown-up job?

And then I realized- these were exactly the thoughts I'm supposed to have, walking into a mall. The trend-based environment that was so suffocating to me is meant to produce anxiety in shoppers, in order to compel them to make guilt-based purchases lest they feel like they're behind the curve. Unfashionable behavior is the disease, and large-scale spending is the cure. Trouble is, if you think this way, you can never stop spending, since fashion is temporary, and next season is just around the corner.

Meanwhile, I'm dressing much the same way I did in high school, spending most my incidental scratch on DVDs instead of the clothes on my back, and I could honestly live the rest of my life happily without going inside a mall ever again. I know enough people who are also like this to know that I'm not alone in thinking this way. We may be a minority, but I'm fine with that.


Erik said...

Paul, I have to say that I have felt exactly as you have on more than one occasion. For that and many other reasons, I detest shopping malls.

Having said that, I would probably seem to you now more like one of "those people" and less like my inner geek. This has happened by degrees. It started in late May, shortly before I left Ohio, when I finally caved in and bought a cell phone. It was as much by necessity as for any other reason; the place I was moving into (for one month) was not going to have a landline. Nowadays, I use the thing all the time, to the point where it is nearly a crutch. I don't like driving while using it though.

Then there is the clothing. Tutoring (and soon, teaching) requires a more professional appearance than unloading trucks at some anonymously huge retail establishment. I frequently wear cargo pants now, for function as well as style. (The cell phone and recently acquired digital camera take up space that denim does not offer.) They make me look less skinny too. I also now tend to wear shirts in a rayon or polyester blend, which gives them a nice texture.

And the final nail in the coffin earmarked for my dorky persona must be the purchase, and occasional use, of cologne. Granted, I got it, a matching aftershave, deodorant, and body wash all in one package for ten bucks, but it still counts as "smelly stuff." I don't use it all the time -- just for nice occasions -- but frankly I like it.

Now I'm not saying you wouldn't recognize me if we were to hang out and talk movies again; you would. But on the other hand, my Tool t-shirt, faded levi's, and I-don't-give-a-fuck-what-you-think-I-wear-this-because-it-is-low-maintenance-and-comfortable attitude are at least temporarily on the back burner. One part of my closet gathers dust while the other expands.

I feel a little wary about it. Is it pretentious to think about which shirt "goes well" with which pair of pants? But I've decided it's not a bad thing. It's taken me a little time to accept that chicks like guys who put some effort into the way they look and, yes, smell. Is this just about women? No, not really. I guess it's about conceding that maybe jeans and a t-shirt aren't the definitive fashion statement. There is some merit to your argument that being self-conscious about appearance suggests increased spending, but this is the first time I have given any kind of an overhaul to the way I dress since I started buying my own clothes ten years ago. It is not fickle; it is a change that is going to last me for some time.

I'm not saying you should make the kinds of changes I have, or any changes at all, really. Just keep in mind that women like good-looking guys just as much as men like Diane Lane. It's something to think about.

Paul C. said...

I see what you're saying, and I understand. But really, it all comes down to money, which I don't really have in large quantities. My current station in life doesn't require that I spend money on clothing, so I don't, since I don't make enough incidental cash for that to be a valid option.

And I guess I should have clarified my position on the smelly stuff. I suppose it's a case of sour grapes on my part, but my skin in quite sensitive, and nearly every cologne/aftershave I've bought thusfar has caused irritation. So yeah, I'm not going to use it any more than I'm going to run out and buy a cat (I'm allergic). Although if you know of any reasonably-priced smelly stuff that has a good fragrance and doesn't take a toll on the skin, I'm all ears.

Trog said...
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The Home Theater Wizard said...
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