Tag Archives: Travel

I Have No Style

Russ is still sleeping off his post–Spring Break hangover. So this week all you loyal Reasonably Ludicrous followers will have to deal with something different: me, Sam.  My writing style is notably different from Russ’s  in that he is fun and I am not.

That’s not entirely accurate. It’s that Russ can find happy, collaborative humor, the kind that everyone can enjoy together. I can’t do that kind of humor. The only way I can be funny is to point out when there is a problem. Usually I’m the subject of my own humor, because as I have proven time and time again, I am an exceptionally easy target.

I often wonder if this self-deprecation is an inherent quality of my upbringing. It’s not unreasonable to speculate that some few formative experiences molded me into a shuddering mass of neuroses, and that the long institutionalization within the hearth of the American School System fired me into the man that I am today: somewhat lumpy and increasingly fragile. It’s only now that I’m exposed to the cool air of reality that I realize there’s not a glaze in the world that can fix the cracks in the clay.

But you didn’t come here to listen to me sculpt abstractions; you want some concrete. Well here’s the truth, folks. I was, tragically, born without a sense of fashion.

I was doomed from the start. Near-sightedness prevented the development of crucial pattern-recognition, leaving me unable to distinguish the hideous from the complex. My parents, naïve fools that they were, decided to allow me to pick my own clothing. And for whatever god-forsaken reason (maybe because of Todd next door, who was always grilling fish in them) I attached myself to Hawaiian Shirts.

I would wear them everywhere. Their combination of formal and fun made them perfect for literally all occasions:

Parties!

Class!

Church!

The Beach!

Utility has always guided my decisions in some way or another, which was why I also liked to complement my ensemble with cargo shorts (keeps you cool, and so many pockets!).

It took me well in to high school to realize that these outfits were actively hindering my acceptance into the fold of mainstream society. Rather than alluring, peacock-like flair that drew attention towards me, these rainbow colored masterpieces of tessellation were actively alienating me from the opposite sex I had heard so many great things about.

Had I had a traditional childhood, I’d have been blessed with elementary-school bullies who would have stomped my ‘style’ out of me before I had time to grow a collection. But either I went to a particularly nice school or I was too tall to be pushed around, because the only person who told me I looked like an idiot was my sister, and that’s what she always said anyways so why would I listen to her?

So I continued on, dimly aware that I wasn’t exactly ‘stylin’’ but that was okay because I had a style all my own.  In fact, it was that sense of individuality and aversion to peer pressure that solidified my resolve to continue wearing Hawaiian shirts. I wasn’t going to do the ‘cool’ thing, just because everyone (and I mean everyone) told me I should. They were just imposing their conformist ideas of ‘fashion’ on me because they couldn’t handle how unique I looked.

Gradually, however, the social stigma overcame the joy. The joy of integrity is worth only so much to a pubescent high-schooler. At some point I caught on that if I was going to get ahead in this world I was going to have to put the Hawaiian shirts away for good.  So I phased all but my favorites out of the rotation, and eventually those went as well.

I could never bring myself to get rid of them completely. To this day some of them hang lonely in the corner of my closet back home, hoping beyond hope that the next time the door slides open it will be me, ready to take them on a trip. But instead it’s my cat, looking for a damp place to hack up a hairball.

Now this might have been a simple, bittersweet-but-ultimately-happy story about a boy putting away childish notions to become a man. But that’s not the kind of story I tell. My lack of fashion sense isn’t limited to Hawaiian shirts, you see. It’s a constant, malevolent force, just looking for a new way to manifest itself. It worms its way through my psyche, waiting for me to make a choice just bad enough that people will gently chide me for my lack of self-awareness. But the joke’s on them, because that will simply convince me that I should continue on my way, just to show them they don’t own me.

In college I was finally able to grow my hair beyond my collar (I had gone to a Catholic school with a strict dress code against facial hair and hippies), which I overcompensated for by not cutting my hair, at all. This was a brilliantly freeing notion to me, because my hair had always worked against me in high school. It grew quickly and unevenly, and I would comb it into all sorts of terrifying shapes. But now I would embrace my hair and allow it to become what it had always wanted to be. There was a brief phase of white-man afro, after which it collapsed from its own weight and became a kind of shaggy mane. I thought this was awesome. I decided I would grow it out until it was a ponytail. But my normally sprouting-like-a-weed hair-growth rate slows to a crawl right after about 10 inches. I managed to tie it all back, but all I could produce was a little puff ball.

I know what you’re thinking. This is the hair of a bad-ass muthafucka. But my social calendar from that period, if I kept a social calendar, would have told a very different story.

Nowadays my hair is a much more reasonable length. I wear t-shirts with only one funny picture on it once, as opposed to many times over and over again. If I have a formal occasion to go to I have a selection of ties, which have tasteful patterns and no pictures of the Cat in the Hat.

And yet still, I am haunted. Recently I was visiting with Sarah and Karen, these two girls that I had taken a trip with the previous summer. Somehow, I don’t know, somehow they got to talking about how poorly I had dressed on this trip.

Apparently it had been the subject of much hilarity, none of which I had been privy to. I had actually been a source of regular entertainment for them, wondering what eye-gouging ensemble I’d put together next. It had been so bad that our other friend Mark had actively avoided being seen with me in public.

“Remember the jeans shorts?” Karen burst out, and they both collapsed into hysterics.

I made a mental note not to wear my jeans shorts when I saw them again the next day.

Did you know that jeans shorts are a fashion faux pas? Because I sure didn’t. But they are. There’s even a derogatory term for them: jorts.  It seems that Jorts (which redirects to Shorts on Wikipedia) are the kind of clothing suburban moms wear, and only when they’re hanging out around the house, not you know, out. This is apparently common knowledge, and according to Karen has been so since the early 2000’s. I’ve been wearing jeans shorts for the entirety of my 23 years of existence, and this is the first I hear of it.

This does little to allay my perpetual suspicion that everyone I know is keeping secrets from me.

••••

What I don’t understand is, if they felt so strongly about my fashion choices, why not they tell me? Why allow me to repeatedly make a fool of myself in public? Why bother to protect my feelings in the first place, only to reveal the horrible truth to me afterwards, when there’s nothing I can do about it?

“Well it wasn’t really a big deal most of the time”, explained Sarah. “We were out of the country, so you just looked like a tourist.” After all, it wasn’t until we had gotten to New York that Mark began actively avoiding being seen in public with me. He had people to impress, whereas in China everyone was going to stare at the gay black man no matter what he wore, or how unstylish his companions.

So with tact not dissimilar to my fashion sense I will transition into a conclusion about all of this, which is that fashion is context-dependent. You judge what’s acceptable based on perception of surroundings, a mix of conscious and subconscious notions of stylistic relationships and your current surroundings. It’s how you know that something is ‘inappropriate’ for an occasion—style is judged by how something responds to normalcy. There’s a reason they call a sense of style ‘taste’– like taste, style is entirely based on the subjective accumulation of perception.  And if it’s subjective, I can spin it in my favor.

So it’s not that I don’t have a sense of fashion. Rather, I have a limited palate. I’m a ‘picky’ stylist, in that I make choices not based on what other people think when they see it, but rather what appeals to me personally, for whatever formative experiences led me to that conclusion. Sure, my nipples may poke through this shirt like tiny little pebbles. But it’s 100% cotton! Not hanging up my pants doesn’t make me a slob, it makes me a hipster! Hawaiian shirts are cheesy now, but I’ll be hailed as a visionary in a matter of decades! You just wait.

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The Pitfalls of Being a Camp Counselor: Airport Edition

Once a year, young folk are faced with the challenge of finding a summer job, and the last two loops round the sun, I’ve tackled that challenge by being a camp counselor at Stanford, where I spent six weeks nurturing and supposedly educating forty kids whose parents paid thousands of dollars for them to spend their summers sitting in stuffy lecture halls taking college-level classes because they desperately want their children to be accepted to an elite university. And let me tell you, the whole experience is…well, really fun, actually! The kids are all smarter than I am, they’re full of energy and fun to talk to, and most importantly, they’re the perfect dodgeball fodder for my three-time-intramural-champion rocket of an arm.

But it’s not all fun and games at Stanford camp. Well, it is for the counselors, but with the kids, it’s nose to the grindstone from dawn till sort of a late eveningish hour. There’s a highly varied breakfast of pre-packaged pancakes, tater tots, and surprise sausage, which comes in exciting circular and cylindrical varieties depending on the day, then three straight hours of lecture which the counselors get to sleep through. Then lunch, three hours of study session (which I ruthlessly command), and finally a bit of free time to do tomorrow’s reading before lights out, at which point the counselors absolutely do not immediately begin to booze heavily, sneak into faculty hot tubs, or play spin the bottle, because those things would be against the rules laid out in the often-read and ever-cited handbook. All told, the amount of work we put in is about half that of the students, and we’re paid to be there. Who’s the smart one now, poindexters?

But there’s one day each summer that is worse for us than it is for the kids, one day on which we earn all the minimum wage scrill they throw at us, and that’s Arrival Day. We wake up at the ungodly hour of six a.m. and drive to San Francisco International Airport, where, over the course of 8 hours and scores of flights, around seven hundred children ages eleven to seventeen spill out of every terminal all across the airport and run amok. They weave in and out of a roiling sea of adults, cackling as they sneak past us, and all we can do is stand there, ineffectively raising tiny, handheld signs welcoming them to camp, hoping against hope that our charges will notice. It’s very stressful.

To make the experience more bearable, I invent dances which I  sync up with the various announcements. I get down and dirty with the “Please do not leave your luggage unattended. Unattended baggage may be confiscated and searched.” That one’s got a lot of head tosses. If I’m in the mood for some more thrusts and shimmies, I go for the “This is a loading zone only. There is no stopping at any time. Repeat. This is a loading zone only…” It’s got such a good flow to it. I could never write that stuff.

Anyway, my dance moves get me a lot of weird looks from angry airport-goers, the type so fed up with the annoyances of regular travel that any modicum of joy sends them into an apoplectic rage.

I’m a lot more successful when I whip out the sexy-model turn and lock eyes with a stranger. Caught off-guard by my unexpected attention, I have them in my grasp for but a moment, during which I flash the camp sign and give them my most longing and hopeful look.

Then they either respond with an embarrassed Zoidberg scuttle in the opposite direction or say something like “Summer camps are such a delight,” or, “Isn’t that the camp where blind kids learn to read Braille?”

Rather than trying to puzzle out why we’d attempt to catch blind children’s attention with signs, I told her that yes, it was indeed that camp. She was very supportive.

Despite my heroic, deeply shaming efforts, the kids don’t pay the slightest attention. One moment I’m ready to snag a gaggle of children (snaggle!), and the next, all the passengers have disembarked and we’ve only located two of the thirty kids from that flight.

How does this happen?! We’re supposed to keep these kids safe. The moment they step off that plane, we’re their legal guardians, but before the race to prove I’m mature enough to hold down a job has even begun, I’ve dropped the fragile, child-laden baton. So now I’m sprinting up and down the baggage claim area, shouting at the top of my lungs for little kids, all the while doing my best to shrug off the looks of horror from airport patrons shocked that someone would be so brazen. After twenty minutes of extremely loud and less-than-tactful shouting, this one woman (just arrived on the scene), asks her elderly mother (who’s been watching me intently the entire time), “What is he doing?”

“Oh, don’t worry,” she says, comfortingly. “He’s just looking for little boys.”

And before I can control what’s coming out of my mouth, I say excitedly, “And girls!” No filter. Both women shake their heads in mingled shame and terror but thankfully refrain from calling airport security.

I manage to wrangle about six small children, including this one 11-year-old girl who’d been completely lost and traumatized. She’d gotten on a different flight than we were expecting and had been wandering the airport for hours, nerves fraying like the ropes of that bridge that’s always situated over an unthinkably deep chasm. And no matter how much I cajole her with my charm, balloon animals, improvised reproductions of Richard III, or unlabeled candy, she refuses to speak to me. I swear I’m being friendly, but who knows what’s going through her head.

I somehow manage to gain enough control of my six energetic devils to herd them over to the predetermined meeting place. There’s a father there with his daughter, and he strikes up a conversation with me. Turns out his daughter’s taking creative writing, and because of my special mental condition that prevents me from ever learning from past experiences, I say, “That’s great! She’ll spend her summer rooming with me then.” Maybe word spread that I’d been on the prowl for little girls, or maybe the dad just didn’t like the looks of me, but he gives me a glare that could stop a tidal wave, and as I fumble for words—“No wait. I mean, that’s not—I’m a counselor,”—he protectively places his arm around his daughter’s shoulders and walks away.

My first day interacting with the kids and already I’d made a huge blunder. If he complained to my boss, I could be in serious trouble. I needed this job. It was the first step in the grueling process of doing things I could actually put on a résumé, unlike Dungeons and Dragons club, and an English degree and, well, you remember the zombie hunter fiasco. So I’m standing there, pitying myself, when little Ms. Silence pipes up.

“Next time,” she says, speaking with the confident, innocent logic only an 11-year-old can muster, “you could probably handle that better.”

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