Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Bike Tour and Blisters… or Man, Does My Ass Hurt!

This post is an anomaly, an aberration, an event that will never be repeated. There will be no sartorializing. In fact, my mode of dress throughout the period I am writing about was so shockingly appalling that there is no photographic record of it. You will also notice the tone of this does not match the rest of my blog. You are not obligated to read it… if you wanna be a dick about it.

For those of you, my gentle readers who are unaware, I am an avid cyclist. While the bikes I ride are classic examples of elegant design, the attire, or “kit” as they say, is nothing to be proud of. I have been described as “approaching douchebaggery” while dressed in my padded spandex. Trust me, the requisite outfit is purely utilitarian, and for a ride that was meant to be about 225 miles each way, an absolute necessity.

The bike, however, is a thing of erotic beauty. Sensual beauty? Sensuous beauty? No, bicycles are sensual. People are sensuous. I chose to take Lorelei out on this adventure. She is a 1977 Schwinn Superior, with a hand fillet braised chrome molybdenum frame weighing in at about 28 lbs (not counting her luggage rack and all of my steamer trunks strapped to her.) Her most exciting feature is that she is Flamingo Pink, a color only available for the first six months of that year. It would seem that no one wanted a pink men’s road bike except for me.

Guess who she is named after.

She is not as high-end as Miriam, my 1970 chrome Paramount p-13, but is swankier than Red Sonja, my 1978 Continental II.

Now you know the who; time for the where… and maybe some sort of why. I have been toying with the idea of riding down to Rehoboth since last summer. The idea of taking a long tour has always appealed to me and I have been meaning to see what Rehoboth is all about for years. Since there is no convenient mass transit route from here to there, this seemed like a natural two-birds-one-pointy-stone solution. I am also participating in a long charity ride in September that requires a bit of preparation, but more on that later.

Now on to the nitty-gritty observations from throughout the journey: Trust me, it is quite a mixed bag of exhilarating and terrifying. Consider this as hints to any other novice doing an unsupported tour through unfamiliar territory solo.

The first takeaway: Don’t trust your GPS… especially a Gamin Bike-specific GPS device. I tried to plan out a rough course beforehand, but thought I could rely on my Garmin Edge Touring GPS to guide me through the specifics. Ha! I took the ferry from Wall St. to Jersey City. That part went smoothly, but upon reflection I offer up takeaway #2: don’t dawdle! Get up early and leave early… not mid-morning. You will want that time back later, but the universe just doesn’t work that way. But I digress; it was early on in Jersey City that I first discovered that Garmin (ATMOS for Doctor Who fans. You will discover why.) is not the most reliable source for directions. He (totally a guy, and kind of a dick) started to direct me down non-existent streets and around in circles: a whole string of left turns, ultimately returning me to the ferry terminal about 20 minutes after I had landed. At that point, I used Google Maps to get a rough idea of how to get out of JC. Unfortunately, I did go back to ATMOS for the actual directions. He took me on a lovely tour of some park… we’ll call it a loop. Eventually, I did find a dirt trail to take me to the only bridge I could bike over, according to my “bike-friendly” GPS. That route was a highway (US 1/9) with no shoulder and a massive amount of tractor-trailers. Those drivers were not nearly as considerate as I assume BJ McKay would have lead me to believe. Then ATMOS decided it could take me off the highway, which I thought would have been much better, but no, those back streets were in horrible condition, threading through industrial warehouses and lined with more enormous trucks. I had gone into this with trepidation about getting through urban North Jersey, but I truly thought that the bike-specific GPS would plot a better path. I gave serious thought to aborting the entire venture, but I am a cheap bastard and had already booked the hotel at the end. No refund, so no bailing out. I consulted with Google once again and found a route to Newark.

Now Newark was surprisingly pleasant for a place known as the murder capital of the Northeast. The ride became quite pleasant at that point. Takeaway #3: just take the PATH train to Newark next time. I would give more details of my route, but ATMOS shut down around Princeton, claiming that no route existed to go… anywhere… and did not save any record of that segment. I am fairly certain he did it just to erase any evidence of the insanely bad directions he offered.

I made the decision in Newark to have ATMOS guide me to Bound Brook where I could get on the Delaware-Raritan Canal Path, which would take me to Trenton. I reasoned that a shorter route like that would be simpler for a simpleton GPS to calculate. Indeed, that part worked out ok. I rode though Summit (Named without any poetic license… it is simply up, peaking at Highpoint Drive… no imagination there on the part of the city planner. It was completely literal.) Happily for me, the second half of summit was all downhill along an empty, well-paved, winding road that threaded through lovely parkland. I must confess I did exceed the posted speed limit on those downhills. I had to stop at one point to relieve myself in the woods (too graphic? too crude? we do all pee sometimes) where something made its way down the back of my jersey and undershirt. Nature does have a dark side. Whatever it was bit and/or stung me. I say whatever because when I reached back, all I found was a green gooey blob of mush, mixed with red (I assume my own blood.) A little itchy but not enough to ruin what had become a euphoric mood.

A little further down the road I felt as if I had been going uphill for ages. It didn’t look like too much of a grade, but I did find myself looking far down into some picturesque valley. I can’t tell you where since as I said ATMOS deleted my trail. I would have taken a picture but I was not stopping with the camera on this trip. Sometimes you just want to be in what you know is a fleeting moment and experience it as a “now, but never again.” I was also very eager to convert all that potential energy I had invested in into kinetic. After a long uphill, gravity owes you a free ride. I did see my first substantial roadkill along that segment — a raccoon. Coincidentally, I just watched a Nat Geo special on raccoons. Urban raccoons will soon evolve into a hyper-intelligent species that will subjugate us. Perhaps that channel is following in the sensationalist footsteps of TLC and Bravo.

This whole section of the ride exhilarated me. Just before Bound Brook I did get myself a pint of those roadside Jersey blueberries. I forgot how good they could taste. I had also eaten an energy bar for the first time on this trip. They are vile! Perhaps the blueberries were just that much better in contrast.

I was hoping to stop for lunch before setting out along the canal path, but all I found in Bound Brook were Mexican restaurants. As much as I love Mexican food, and it smelled very appealing (I was also famished at that point) my better judgment kicked in to remind me of the, shall we say, biological impracticality of eating something like that while riding far from any facilities. Tip from The Amazing Race: take loperamide hydrochloride before heading out for a long day of no bathrooms. The food choices being limited, I opted for some yogurt to go with my blueberries. Takeaway #5 (I think): stick with fresh fruit and vegetables on a long tour.

I did start down the Canal Path at that point, but was not too keen on its surface. It was packed earth and gravel, but leaned more towards the gravel. Perhaps fine for a mountain bike, or even a hybrid, but a road bike is not named for no good reason. Even with my new 1¼” tires, she prefers actual roads. I did do my best to travel the adjacent roadways, but ATMOS really wanted me back on the bike trail. I switched back and forth but should have stayed on the paved roads. It was around this point when I encountered my first vehicle-triggered traffic light. I had read about these signals that require the mass of an automobile for them to change, but had never had to deal with it. Quite frankly, they suck if you are a cyclist who obeys the traffic laws.

From there I had another delightful segment to Princeton, which has some great designated bike lanes on the roadways. If only they were more common. I would have loved to stop there for some fine Ivy League College dining, but I was already far behind schedule. The easy roads encouraged me to keep moving along towards Trenton. I did stop just outside of Trenton to have a well-deserved Nutty Buddy… mostly because I found a deli that let me bring my bike in. With my trunk and pannier bags, locking Lorelei outside and removing everything would have become a huge production. Second piece of roadkill — a big, juicy possum. The rest of the ride to Trenton went swimmingly as well, even though I was becoming worried about the setting sun.

I crossed the bikeable bridge into Pennsylvania at about 8:15. I had really expected to be entering Philadelphia by that time. Little did I know just how pear-shaped this ride was about to turn.

First impression of Pennsylvania was, "How fun!" I was so wrong!

Now it was getting dark, and I had to rely on ATMOS even more. He must have known how vulnerable I was and sent me down a dark, winding road. In all honesty, I was still enjoying it then. The road was empty, and the downhill grade made it a lot of fun… until I got to the bottom. I saw a train in a covered station and thought it was some sort of commuter area. I even considered bailing on the rest of the ride and taking it into town. Lo and behold, this was actually a restricted area, a NJ Transit Rail Service Depot. Then ATMOS suddenly directed me to turn onto “unpaved road.” I realized I was getting dirty looks from the rail workers, and it was VERY wrong. I turned to head back the way I came and that is when I learned that ATMOS was indeed homicidal. He demanded I turn left… onto a railroad track… with an oncoming train. Luckily I have eyeballs and did NOT obey. I continued back out to the main road, ignoring his demanding beeps and incessant calls to make an immediate U-turn.

From there it went from bad to worse. Night had fallen and ATMOS directed me onto US 1. At this point, I will admit that the terror set in. Takeway #6: cheap LED lights are fine in urban settings so that YOU are visible, but in other environments, have lights that will actually illuminate your path.

ATMOS changed his mind abruptly and had me turn off into a suburban enclave. At this point I had no idea where I was other than Pennsylvania, north of Philadelphia, so I had to rely on him. That turned out to be a 30-minute detour that took me back where I started, leaving me in fear that he would try to murder me on the same rail tracks. Then he declared that no route could be calculated and shut down, losing all trace of where I had been once again. Once I rebooted him, he recalculated a path. This time he lead me further down Route 1 to some more dealable roads. Honestly, this part wasn’t horrible but I had no idea what might happen next. That kept me moving at a cautious pace, especially since some of the roads were completely unlit. My front light just barely illuminated the white line in front of me to see any turns a few feet ahead.

Eventually, I made it to Northeast Philadelphia. It was probably 10:30 or 11 at that point. I would have stopped to call my friend who was expecting me that night, but I was again afraid of the unfamiliar area… you know the kind… urban but isolated with a lot of abandoned buildings, peppered with corner dive bars… real dive, not faux dive. Needless to say, I rode fast and hard for the next hour until I made it to his apartment. I did get to hear a pair of hookers say, “Look at the skinny white boy on the bike.” At least that gave me a chuckle.

I got to my friend’s place around midnight, desperate for a shower and a pizza-steak hoagie. I only got one of those things.

Needless to say, the plan to ride the longer leg from Philadelphia to Rehoboth the following day was abridged, and abridged by a lot.

My friend who was joining me for the rest of the trip suggested that we divide the second leg into two days, but the hotel was booked and I was not going to lose that money (I am both poor and cheap!) New plan: train from Philadelphia to Atlantic City and then ride from AC to Cape May to catch the Cape May-Lewes ferry. That is a ride I can handle. Being from South Jersey I know that place and felt very confident.

Unfortunately, there was a headwind the whole way, and I had not quite recovered from the day before. As my friend pointed out, my pannier bags were acting as sails to create a huge amount of wind resistance. This part of the ride would have been pleasant, but a train delay put us 30 minutes behind and ferry service stopped by early evening, forcing us to ride fast and hard the whole way. Fast might be a mischaracterization, since the wind resistance forced me to take a huge speed hit. At once point he suggested that we take the local bus, which I know would only take us a few miles, and would be slow. As it turns out, it probably didn’t save us any time, but allowed me some much-needed rest. Ultimately, it was a brilliant idea. The bus took us to the Dunkin Donuts by the Rio Mall (my fellow Cape May people know what that means) and then the ride from there to the ferry was something I had started doing as a tween. I found the familiarity invigorating. Also for my Cape May compatriots, did you know they added a bike path along the rail line from Rio Grand next to Route 9? And it continues along Ferry Road (now Carl Sandman Boulevard) all the way to the ferry terminal. That would have given us all a much safer childhood. We made it to the ferry about 30 minutes before departure. Hooray!

The ride from Lewes to Rehoboth was only about 8 miles, but a big part of the route was another gravel path. Again, crappy for a road bike. We made it to the hotel just before dark.

Another lesson learned: prolonged compression of the blood vessels and nerves in the perineum will not only cause chaffing and blisters in males, but can also cause transient nerve damage and impotence. Very personal information here: I couldn’t feel my junk for days… I still can’t feel much. It is surprisingly common according to Web MD. I think it was really because of the hard riding in race position at night through northeast Philly and from AC and the rough ride over the gravel in Delaware. My very cheap riding shorts from China do not have sufficient padding. I have ordered a much better pair, based on my sister’s recommendation. I will need them for my 275-mile ride later. I am also forced to rethink my devotion to my Brooks saddle. As much as I love its classic nature, perhaps there are alternatives to riding on a leather seat whose design has gone unchanged since 1898.

Rehoboth was fun: amazing crab cakes, some nice oysters, hotel hot tub to soothe the aches. And FUNLAND!

The water was too cold to go all the way in. Home is out there somewhere.


The perfect Spring seaside dinner. I earned this one.

I finally got to make up for NOT going into that carnival.

The trip back was a total pussy move. Rehoboth to the ferry via actual roads, which made a huge difference in speed, as in, we could ride twice as fast. The ride from the ferry into Cape May was something I could do with my eyes closed. We took the easy bridge instead of the more fun/dangerous big bridge, but I think that is a young man’s game.

On a disappointing note: I was REALLY looking forward to the eggs Benedict with crab at the Mad Batter, but they had closed at 10 am for a wedding. Man, I wanted those.

From there, it was just the bus back. We might have ridden, but it was raining on-and-off and it had to be done in one day to make a 9 am appointment the next day. And saying I could ride it would definitely have been a case of my mouth writing a check that my ass couldn’t cash!
And now for the shameless plug for charity: This September I am riding from Boston to NYC to raise money for the NYC LGBT Center's AIDS Outreach, Prevention, and Education programs. The tour is 275 miles over 3 days. It's a fantastic cause, and I encourage you to donate and spread the word. Contributions are tax deductible and many companies will offer matching donations for their employees. Have I nudged you enough?
This is the link to my fundraising page: Cycle for the Cause

Saturday, June 15, 2013

My Favorite NYC Disaster, or the Risks Associated with Wearing Wool in the Summer

Today is June 15th. My rent is due, second-quarter estimated income taxes are due, but those are just details of the day. What is important is that it was on a day just like this — exactly 99 years ago, almost to this very moment — that the St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Lower East Side must have really pissed off Varuna.

It was time for the Lutherans' much anticipated annual summer picnic. A boatload (and I mean that literally) of fine church-going woman and children piled onto the General Slocum to head out for a day of wholesome, God-sanctioned fun on the North Shore of Long Island. We're talking the kind of fun that One Million Moms would approve of and not the kind where you put Zesty Italian on romaine lettuce.

Obviously, we're talking this                                not this                  
Clearly, decorum dictated that they were bedecked in their best Sunday finery, despite the fact that it was Wednesday. At the risk of editorializing (sometimes I even make myself laugh) I do have to admit the clothes were very fetching. As I have written time and time again, I miss the days when no respectable human would leave the house without a hat and gloves. Much as we don't think of this as summer picnicwear today, I would happily return to this style.

You can refer to my previous posting on swimwear,
but here are some scantily-clad children at full frolic.

Remember that good, working-class German men would have no time for picnics, so there were few on the boat since they were all busy cheese-mongering that day.

On to the tragic tale: The General Slocum set off up the East River laden down with 1,342 souls aboard. The details of what happened next are incomplete and at time contradictory, but the boat caught fire shortly after launch. The captain was reluctant to beach his craft (there was no way he would get paid for the day if he had done THAT), so he just sailed along on his merry way. Here is where the story becomes gruesome, reflecting the lack of regulation and oversight of the time. The safety equipment was purely ornamental. In fact, I do believe the lifeboats were merely frescoes painted on the exterior. The fire hoses were rotted out. The life preservers had been filled with cork, sawdust, and possibly iron filings. Capacity regulations and inspections were non-existent at the time. Mothers watched their children dragged down under the surface of the river, weighted down by the life vests that they had strapped to them. It was bitterly ironic. Ultimately, 1,021 people drowned in that fire.

A rare photo of the General and Widow Slocum

Since you, my gentle readers, are clearly intelligent, motivated, and well-appointed with Internet access, I expect that you can research further information yourselves, and there is no need for me to copy text from WikiWorld and the like. Suffice to say that this disaster is important beyond just being the second-largest loss of life in a single New York City incident. Despite the fact that The Knickerbocker Steamship Company was barely penalized afterwards, maritime safety regulations received a substantial overhaul. Ignore the Titanic for the moment, which had a better survival rate.

It's all very wool. Very wool, indeed.
Now back to the wool part of this whole affair. It is fairly well believed that had these people NOT been wearing a fabric that became so heavy when waterlogged, more might have been able to stay afloat long enough to be rescued. In realty, no one could swim back then — even actual naval sailors and assorted seamen often drowned when they fell overboard because THEY never learned to swim.

Don't even try it. I always have this on under my clothes.
Another fun fact: I can't swim either, so if you are going to murder me and make it look like an accident, I suggest you hold me face down in the tub and dump my body on a nice beach somewhere... somewhere it will be found by children making sandcastles. I probably shouldn't have told you that.

Fun fact number two: you should not go boating drunk while wearing one of those awful puffy down jackets. Natalie Wood died that way. Just to be on safe side, don't ever wear a puffy coat.

Incidentally, that particular church is now a synagogue right in the middle of Curry Row. Varuna will just not let this one go.

Coming soon: Wool Underpants and Why Come They Are So Scratchy.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Seersucker Most Certainly Does Not Suck

After all, what else should I wear in the summer when I have been asked to join in a croquet match? Daisy Dukes and a tube top? If you answered "Yes," you should ask yourself how you would set up that croquet pitch around that wheelless Ford F10 and off-brown couch in your yard, and then you should promptly leave this page to explore NASCAR scores or something like that. But I digress. 
Just to set the mood
I have always had a bit of a fixation on seersucker, perhaps because of the way it evokes summertime whimsy or perhaps because it demands that you top it off with a straw boater and we all already know how I feel about straw boaters. Indeed, my gentle readerfolk, I have been meaning to address this vunderfabrik for quite a while, but I have been trepidatious about my ability to do it justice. However, a few recent cultural twists have made me feel that time is ripe. I must warn you that I had initially written a very curmudgeony intro for this, but I decided that nothing would be served by picking on those 20-somethings who think it's cool to have Gatsby parties so I softened it in the end. (Indeed, I was hyper-critical of the recent film, I haven't even seen it yet. Maybe when it is on TV. Historically speaking, 3D is ridiculous for that sort of movie. We all know for a fact not only was the world in 2D back then, it was in black and white as well.) The recent fixation on that time period has also prompted a number of retail outlets to launch lines of seersucker and pincord, which is a welcome change over "relaxed fit" anything. 

Gee, I wish my fronts weren't so full… 
they sure ruin the line of your beads
We do have to bear in mind that dressing for the twenties does involve a certain amount care to keep those styles neat and properly fitted. I certainly want this blog to be a place to build up, not to tear down. (Yeah, I  know, I am not completely above making the snarky comment here and there, but I really do try to keep those to a minimum.) 


Perhaps I will hang on to my vitriolic tirade to remind me NOT to descend into that very dark place. That being said, there is probably no better place to start than with a brief history of seersucker and the related-but-not-the-same pincord.

Yeah, this is Renoir’s Luncheon
of the Boating Party and is neither British
nor Colonial nor Indian, but you get the point

Historically, the name seersucker is a rough transliteration of the Persian compound shīroshakar by way of the Hindi sīrsakar meaning "milk and sugar," which I find poetically evocative. The texture of the raised stripes functions as a heat sink, dissipating body heat much more effectively in warmer climates, and was favored by those British colonial types. You get the thermodynamics: more surface area means more air exposure hence more heat transference. Clever, no? Somehow, when seersucker made its way stateside it became a fabric of the poor (because only the poor would be out in the heat and wealthy are specifically bred not to sweat.) In the 20s it became a subversive trend among wealthy college kids to wear it. See how it all ties back to those crazy kids in Gatsby?

Heatsink...seersucker...get it? That is what we call applied science.

Lest we forget, seersucker has a sister fabric less delightfully named pincord. For simplicity's sake let's just say it is a 16+ wale corduroy version of seersucker. The striping is more subtle but the cooling effect is similar. I do prefer the bolder statement of seersucker and also feel that there is something more classic about it. That's just me, but it is my blog so there.

Pincord is really just like a seersucker reduction. You culinary types know what I am talking about.

The accompanying straw boater (AKA "skimmer") has a somewhat similar modern history: in the late 1800s it was favored by the working class because it was lightweight and naturally ventilated, therefore perfect outdoors in warm weather. By the 20s, it was adopted by the younger, well-moneyed set. Those were more civilized times, when a gentleman walking outside without a hat on was on par with an escaped circus baboon.

The suspect is hatless, I repeat, hatless.

By today’s standards, that hatless man might be walking naked, urinating on children, or smoking bathsalts in Florida. 

As an added point of interest, Straw Hat Day is the day when men officially switch from their winter beaver to their boaters, but the actual date is completely arbitrary and varies based on geographic location. Check your local almanac or Pennysaver Newspaper for your exact date. Here in NYC it is May 15th, and September 15th is Felt Hat Day (the obvious inverse.)

Here is another bit of fun Wikipedia trivia (so take it with a grain of bathsalt) about Felt Hat Day: If someone was seen wearing a straw hat [after Felt Hat Day], they were, at minimum, subjecting themselves to ridicule, and it was a tradition for youths to knock straw hats off of wearers' heads and stomp on them. This led to the Straw Hat Riot of 1922, and I highly suggest you read up on it, before you pshaw the Rules of Fashion and the consequences for ignoring them.

On a personal note: images
like these had a profound effect on me during my formative years. My version of Venus in Furs? Maybe.

I think that has painted a complete contextual picture and this is how it all comes together in my daily summertime life.


And that is what I call one sticky wicket!

Sky blue and charcoal grey may be the most common colors for seersucker and pincord, but I have that special penchant for whimsical pink. The vest is the same wale pincord as the jacket, but in contrasting blueish grey. It's always good to switch up hues when a single pattern dominates. The boater is a very special eBay find—special in that I have a teeny tiny noggin, so I assume it belonged to a child or a circus pinhead. It's ok when we call each other that.

The blue is much more nautical. don't you think?
This is a new skimmer: note the wide feels very Venetian.

For the sake of variation on this same outfit, I have the shorts in the same blue-grey as the vest and the jacket in grey pincord. I can wear some form of this every day for a week. The secret is having a selection of socks and ties to keep it all exciting. It goes without saying that you should make sure that your ball matches your tie and your icecubes match your shorts.

And just to let you know, I do have the actual seersucker suit to back up all this jibbibilish. Of course I bought it with two pairs of trousers, so I could have one altered to create a pair of schoolboy shortpants. The best way to dress for an office environment AND get away with shorts is the three-piece suit. The jacket and vest lets you show off those sultry summertime gams without looking like a floozy. That crispness of clean, well-pressed seersucker will always leave an impression of complete composure. 

One final outfit to leave you with: my casual shorts. This particular pair was actually my white whale for an entire month one summer. I saw them in the window of (gasp) American Apparel on Bleecker Street. They were the perfect pink however, they did NOT have my size, and that set me off on an Odyssey that led me through each and every branch of that store from Grand Street far uptown. Each store had them but every sales girl and boy insisted that they did not come in pink at all. Luckily, my Jewish heritage has left me well prepared for wandering quests. FInally, huzzah! I found a single pair of them. To celebrate, I carried them triumphantly into the closest bar to buy them a beer...incidentally, it was the Eagle. (If you don't know anything about it, see what you can find under Missed Connections on Craigslist. You may not want to go there with your mom.) This is my Sunday at the Victorian seashore outfit.

I know this was an uncharacteristically disjointed piece, so if you have gotten this far, I congratulate you. Your takeaway should be that seersucker will keep you cool as a cucumber in the summer while ensuring you LOOK like you don't stink (so if you do, everyone will assume it is the person next to you.) The straw boater is the essential topper to that warm weather outfit to pull it all together.

Coming soon: underpants and why come you will never, ever, ever look like the guy on the package.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Spite: Or the Best Reason to Do Anything! Keep Your Grubby Eyeballs off My Jacket.

They say that living well is the best revenge, but I say that running someone down with your car is REALLY the best revenge. Adjacent to revenge is the other great motivator of action: spite (it says it right in the title.) I can even count the number of times I have sex with people out of spite (sorry if you are one of the people I banged for that very reason, but I tried to make it as pleasant for you as possible, knowing that you would tell the intended target and we would both have gotten some sort of sick satisfaction.) Are you shocked, my gentle reader? I hope not since you should have some insight into the rich tapestry that is my soul.

As we all know, I am not here to talk about my personal exploits (that may be a baldfaced lie, but just let it pass for the moment. You can send me a strongly-worded email later, and feel confident knowing that I will answer you. I may be a jerk, but I do know the meaning of propriety.) I AM here to relate the vast complexities of existence to sartorial simplicity. No doubt I have already made it painfully clear that "on sale" is always a fantastic reason to change a maybe purchase to a well duh I am already in the checkout line so it's too late purchase, but we have all been on the fence about that one item, the last of something on the rack, where we sort-of like it but aren't sure, knowing that if we pass it by it will be gone. Then someone slinks up beside you, looking over your shoulder at said item, trying to look like they are intent on some completely unrelated garment, all the while hovering over you for when in that moment of weakness you put it down. It's in that moment when you notice that opportunist lingering and leering askew that your asshole instincts kick in and you make that snap judgement that you may not necessarily want the thing in your hands, but you'd sooner die than let that usurper get their grubby mitts on it. If only they had exercised some subtlety in the matter... some discretion... you would have just let them have it, but THEY had to make it into some sort of competition... an event of olympic proportions. We've all been there and here is one case where that jerk has my eternal gratitude for riling me up.

These "go" but they don't "match."
I was in H&M (I am unashamed to admit that it is one of my favorite sources of cheap pieces that can make for a fetching outfit) when I found this one (and only one) tweed jacket. I agonized over whether or not it would work in my wardrobe or not. I had a tweed vest in an extremely similar fabric and style, but I knew that when two pieces are so close without really matching you run the risk of looking careless and sloppy. If you are going to match, then match. There is that no man's land between things that match and things that go, generally described as "matchy-matchy." If things truly match you don't even notice they do, whereas if they are slightly off they read as too much of whatever they may be. Think of the difference between a suit and single pieces that just don't quite fit. That was my dilemma standing in that dark and far-too-loud H&M basement when that little weasel of a man sidled up to me and started shuffling through the rack. It was very clear that he had taken notice of the jacket in my hand and at first tried to find another. It was after his failure to do so that precipitated his thinly veiled buzzard-like circling, picking up a random assortment of jackets and shirts, never moving more than four feet from me, even following me from place to place. Naturally, I had to tease him by returning it to its spot, watching his eyes light up, but never taking my hand from the hanger. It is the kind of assholism I learned from chess... making that losing move to titilate your opponent, only to take back that deliberate misstep. Psych!

Just tuck the price tags inside.
There is no reason to cut them
Of course I bought it, and it has served me well. I have not looked back. Not once. No, that's a lie since I did have my back-up plan where I would return it... to a different store, perhaps in a different borough or even across the river in Jersey City. I had conceived that oh so brilliant plan on the spot in the store knowing that it would give me a month to make my final purchase decision and keep it out of those undeserving hands. 

I'm gonna return that purchase and keep the money.
You can do that, you know!
That is my second rule of spite shopping: you can always bring it back and get the full satisfaction of sticking it to your target without any of that financial or wardrobe space commitment. Then again, if you keep it, that article of clothing becomes a trophy making for an even sweeter outfit. Trust me when I say that every time I put that jacket on I swell with pride at my victory.

Coming soon: Underpants and How to Tell if Someone is About to Steal Yours.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

You Can Wear a Bathing Suit as Underwear, but You Probably Shouldn't

So with Winter drawing to a close (just ignore this week's... incident), I think it's time I address this topic: SVIMVEAR!


OMG! I Totally grew up in that house!

Now, my gentle readers, since all 5 of you know me so well, and since I talk about my childhood ad nauseum, you are very aware that I grew up in a seaside resort town that shall remain nameless for legal purposes, but you know the one... the one with the Spring tulip festival and Fall lima bean festival. I think there's a horseshoe crab festival in there too but I forget when that one happens... June 26, I think.

I come from a rich cultural tapestry.

Throughout my childhood it was impressed on me (pounded into me) by peers and one particular sibling, that beachwear was the sole indicator of your social status and your place in society (jock table, band table, art table, theater table, mathelete table, stoner table?) so it was of the utmost importance that I pestered my parents until they bought me the appropriate Birdwell Beach Britches, or perhaps Sundeks so that I would not be the social pariah who could only hope for a riptide to end my shame. Of course I had to rely on the hand-me-downs, so it was a matter of luck whether or not an older brother would have that fortuitous growth spurt while his suit was still fashionable. Alternatively, you could REALLY beg to go to the Kona Sports end-of-season sale and maybe engineer a shift one rung up the social ladder for next year.

My ass never looked anything like that.

These are what I had, down to the classic sky blue. My GOD! Those are expensive! No wonder I never got them new. Note to self: call parents and have them mail those to me.

That's probably all (more than all? way more than all?) the background one needs to understand the deep-seated psychological issues I have on this topic, and why I now tend to swim at nude beaches. You might think that someone who loves clothes as much as I do, and conversely hates nudity, would not favor those 70s swimming spots, but go figure.

All that being said, I do have some preferences for beachwear. In a perfect world we would all be wearing Victorian or Edwardian fullbody trunks. It isn't that I subscribe to the Victorian social mores of modesty, but rather the style is phenomenal! Any outfit that you can top off with a straw boater can not be praised highly enough.

Why do these only seem to exist in Second Life? Are we so incapable of realizing our fantasies? I would wear the crap out of each and every one of these. Imagine a beach full of nothing but this! Perhaps THAT is why people cash in their 401Ks to spend in virtual alternate realities.

This brings me to another point, first expressed to me by a good friend on the beach: straight boys are terrified of their sexuality showing... kind of. It is actually a bit more complex than that in an analogous way to the aforementioned Victorian Modesty. For some reason, to show any flesh below the hip but above the knee (or even the knee) is somehow as risque as being absolutely naked; however, low-rise (so we ALL know you manscape) is de rigueur, much like a Victorian woman showing ankle is clearly a trollop, but a plunging décolletage is completely acceptable. Now I have some idea as to how this has come to pass, but I don't want to get into the whole pants-on-the-ground debacle that makes me cry inside. Suffice to say it is not a good look, and society would be much better in general without the crackshow. Standards and Practices said no!

Knees??? I shall positively swoon!

Confession: I am NOT 13
in this picture.
Somehow a trip to the beach now involves wading through a sea of shapeless, sack-like suits but I refuse to fall into that and it still earns me sneers and scorn. I say pheh to all that! I am not 13 years old anymore. 

Please wait 30 minutes after eating before reading
to avoid emotional cramping. 

Speaking of BEING 13 on the beach... funny story: I had ridden my Schwinn Varsity from school (singing "school's out for summer" the whole way) over the solitary hill in town (it was a bridge... it was the best we could afford back then) to the beach to frolic in the surf. Lo and behold, there on Popular Crowd Beach was a particularly unpleasant red-headed girl from the 9th grade doing her own frolicking with the Popular Crowd after whom that beach was officially named (look on Google Maps, hand to god it's true!) Unsurprisingly, she dropped in on my little sitting rock to bombard me with her special brand of tomfoolery, rifling though my backpack to triumphantly wave my change of underwear over her head like some sort of victory flag. To this day I am not sure if she thought that tightie whities were something freakish or not, but she did delight in running down the beach with them and putting them on to the amusement of the other PCB teens. That is the exact moment that I had my epiphany and came into my own. I watched the other boys laughing and knew that they all wore the exact same underwear, give or take (mine were high-quality Haines, not crappy BVDs like others... you know who you are, former PCM minions), and this chick (I'll call her Mabel, since I can not for the life of me remember her name, but that sounds plausible) acting like an idiot (she was in remedial math, remedial reading... you know, everything... so I am fairly certain that she was technically an idiot) and I realized I was not at all interested in being a PCBer or having their approval. In an instant I knew I was so much better than that and than they were. I had no reason to be ashamed of my skinny body, or glasses, or lack of a tan. They should want my approval, but they were all just a bit too dim to understand that. I walked up to Mabel and said, "You keep 'em baby. They'll help you keep your dick under wraps."

I left the beach and never looked back. That isn't to say that I never went back: it was the nicest part of the beach, and I was not about to give up my spot. To this day, I sit in the same spot with the same beach towel.

Yes, it is the same bathing suit from 1985. The sunblock, however, has gone from SPF4 to SPF70.

But I digress... this isn't Degrassi Junior High and I am just here to rap about the rad threads. Sorry. That still sounds like some Degrassi guidance counselor talking.

Original Jams just like Moondoggie used to wear.
I still like mine better, so suck on that, Gidget!
My all-time, non-crack revealing favorite bathing suit is the one pictured above: my Original Jams. While they may have faded from their original florescent 80s grandeur, their 60s inspired new wave sensibility outshines anything I could find today. In fact, I have scoured the InterWebs for something similar, but to no avail. I will be heartbroken should they ever fray. Luckily, they were made with love and built to last so maybe they will outlive me.

Then there is that even more classic square cut suit that James Bond favored. How could anyone NOT want to have even half his style. There is something simultaneously sexy and sophisticated about that look which reveals just enough while still looking natty.

Daniel Craig or Sean Connery? Or George Lazenby?

I have to say, I feel extra suave when I wear mine and drink martinis as the swim up bar.
Matthew Williamson and Lifestyles. Sexy, huh?

And during the course of writing this, my mommy informed me that she could not find my old Sundeks. That is the same mommy who bought me those tightie whities, because duh, I was 13...who else was going to? Everyone's mom bought their tightie whities when they were kids. What 13 or 14 year old had the discretionary income for underpants? Problem solver that I am, I did find these on eBay Israel for a mere pittance. Sadly, they have succumbed to that lengthening trend, and THIS now qualifies as short. Perhaps I can get them tailored to what they should be.

Clearly the ones on the right represent the ideal Sundeks of the 80s.

If I have left you with a sense that I had a melancholy, solitary childhood, fear not gentle readers, for I did have my own crowd, and I did consider us the Popular Ones. I still see a lot of them, and we are still the coolest!

Coming soon: Underpants, and why come your mom will always buy them for you.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

When It Rains, Most People Suck (Or Just Because It's Raining Doesn't Mean You Have to Be an Asshole)

Ok, that may sound harsh, but I bet you, my gentle reader, are saying "fuck yeah!" under your breath while trying to demurely sip your cappuccino across the street from Lincoln Center. Golf umbrellas? On a crowded sidewalk? Is that some sort of deliberate powergrab, trying to control personal space when life is spiralling beyond that feeble grasp? Even that fattest ass among us does not need 6 feet of umbra' to be 'ellaed.

Now this all seems particularly relevant based on this odd (meaning psychotic) weather that we are having. Stupid global warming! If you are one of those naysayers who denies climate change and refuses to look beyond the weather STOP READING NOW! Go sacrifice some coconuts to your monkey god or do your interpretative dance to wake Mothra so that she will finally defeat Hedora and we can all go about our business. Do that or perform your equivalent and equally reasonable ritual.

I said shuffle, chasse, feather step, ball change, ball change, chasse, heel pull! I don't know what you were doing.

Are they gone? Good. Now I can get back to it. I don't actually address climate science at all from here on out. Anyway...

We all know that I am not the sort to simply curse the dark without teaching a man how to set a fish on fire, so I want to remind the world about raincoats, trenchcoats, and hats; all of which can be both stylish and functional. This isn't to say that umbrellas are completely out (we all love a clear, bubble umbrella or not-so-secretly want to be the Morton Salt Girl) but we do live in a society here.
So that little bitch only had to bring home one thing from  Kroger's and she couldn't even do that right.  I won't even show you what happened when I sent her out for Faberge Eggs.
So clearly the better option to explore is a little less intrusive and provides more opportunity to show a little flair. Why not raincoats? I admit that I had a love-hate relationship with those so-called slickers since childhood. Much like most of you I suspect, I grew up with my mother forcing me into an ill-fitting Gorton's Fisherman-style yellow raincoat and matching hat. (For my younger, less fishsticky audience, think I Know What You Did Last Summer.)

I am not absolutely sure, but I vaguely remember posing for this. 
At the time I was teased mercilessly on the school bus by the cool kids for wearing that, but in retrospect I was the one who showed up dry to school and not the one with plastic bags affixed to my sneakers with rubber bands. In fact, I would be thrilled to have a rain set like that in my adult life. Those industrial closures were so fashion-forward that it makes my head spin. (I hope you know the ones I am referring to, because there is not a single picture of them online, which I find odd since you couldn't swing a wet cat without hitting one back in the 70s.) I wish I could get some of that classic rainwear now, even my sister's purple raincoat that my mother once made me wear to punish me for leaving my yellow one in a wet ball on the garage floor. Does that explain why I am like this now? Maybe. By high school I had at least developed the good sense to know what chic was all about, and I spent quite a while trying to find a clear plastic trenchcoat. Unfortunately, by the mid-80s they only existed in little girl sizes. You would think Zhora would have made them popular, but that was not the case. In the early or mid-90s I did finally find one made by Tripp and bought it without a moment's hesitation. The lesson I learned from that is to always consider HOW you are going to wear a fabulous piece. In this case, your outfit and outerwear do become one, and that is much harder to coordinate than you might think. I realized that I am no Zhora and hardly ever wear it. Also, clear plastic does steam up inside. However, I did make a very convincing Dale Bozzio in it.

So what do I wear now? In warmer weather a short trench keeps me surprisingly dry and well put together. A long, black raincoat keeps me dry in cooler temperatures without looking too Columbine... whatever, it has been long enough.

This is actually belted, but you will have to use your imagination.  Forgive the background,
but the gobos were moireing and you just can't see that the jacket is that very same grey-on-black glen plaid.

This groovy piece of glen plaid
set me back a cool $15 at H&M,
so I don't want to hear excuses.

Hmmm... it seems I really do have
a preference for glen plaid in my
rainwear. What does that say
about me?

I have a certain fondness for hats (have I mentioned that? I am pretty sure I have. Perhaps I will write all about that later) so I do wear my uncle's old-man hat to keep my glasses dry. There is nothing worse than water droplets all over your glasses. Those novelty windshield wiper glasses from Spencer's Gifts in the 70s were not that ridiculous after all, but I can not find an optometrist willing to install them for me. I am sure I could use more wet weather hats. Perhaps some sort of Rex Harrison hat. (Technically a tweed Trilby, but if you say "Rex Harrison hat" everyone will know exactly what you mean.)

I hope you know better than walk into someone's house and start hitting people with your Rex Harrison hat.

Now I am not some sort of umbrellaphobic monster, smashing everyone that I see in some sort of blind rage. I do have a number of human-sized umbrellas in just enough colors to complement any outfit without taking out the eyes of those I pass on the sidewalk. My beach umbrella does not double as a rain umbrella. I trust you noticed that in a particular picture above, the accessory is indeed coordinated.

Trust me: if it looks grey, it's houndstooth. Perhaps I will expand on that later.
By the way, I never did catch that bus.

Here is what you should take away from this: Oversized Umbrellas Are Destroying America. Wearing an Aquascutum is patriotic. Old-man hats are cool (not Kevin Federline hats or hipster, ironic trucker hats...those are douche-y.)

Coming soon (a related post): Underpants, and How to Keep Yours Dry When Your Whole World Is Damp.