“I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it again, It’s the L.A. moment. It’s the L.A. moment.” Craig stated with enthusiasm.
He did indeed say it twice and probably has repeated that repeated phrase a million times- because it’s true.
Craig said it to me in an easy-going sort of way, looking over at Mike with a smile. The two of them had just spent the entire night painting the interior walls of Commonwealth Proper’s new showroom in DTLA.
The space used to be the backstage area of Al’s Bar, one-time hot spot to see artists like Beck, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the Replacements. You can still see what used to be the stage in what is now a clothing shop next door. When I was there I could also see a white board with a sketch of the new floor plan and a list of all the construction still left to be completed before they open. It looks to be the kind of classy with an intentionally unfinished rough edge sort of place that I would expect from Commonwealth Proper.
Commonwealth Proper has matured since it started back in 2008. It has grown up in that there will now be 4 showrooms (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, LA), and matured in that the brand doesn’t have to try to be anything other than what it is. They have established themselves and are free to be whatever sort of menswear design shop they want to be.
And I kind of love what they have become. Commonwealth Proper has done this odd thing where they have learned the skill of bespoke tailoring appropriate for Wall Street and too good for Congress, while maintaining both a sense of humor and an edge.
I am not a floral corduroy jacket or full plaid suit wearing guy, I’m too physically large for that much pattern, but I love that Craig makes and wears those things. I love even more, and am the sort of guy, that would wear a fitted navy suit with the two Ron’s, Swanson and Burgundy, printed on the lining. I would wear that to death. If someone pitched that idea to me in advance I would snicker with self-righteous doubt, which of course shows how little I know and how skilled these guys are.
A part of growth and maturation is the humble re-learning of things we already know. We understand that what goes up, must come down, yet throughout our mortality we continually toss things into the air hoping they will somehow take flight. Ideas, aspirations, children, all tossed up and most of them tumble back down with varying effect or consequence.
But sometimes things soar.
There have been times and occasions when I have thrown about the idea of committing myself to being an artist. In those moments, before the idea falls flat, I have looked at the careers and works of two artists whose work I have simply always liked- and who I have in many ways imitated. Those that soar.
One of them is Shepard Fairey.
Back when my wife and I were young, and broke, and had nothing on our walls that I hadn’t painted myself, I would troll the Obey Giant website waiting for Shepard’s flash sales but never bought anything. It is hard to justify buying art when the kid needs diapers.
So. Many. Diapers.
In 2007 I made my very first art purchase. It was just a print. The image consisted of two small African children rendered in gold, green, and orange, below the word “HOPE”. It was affordable, $15 0r $25 if I recall correctly, and all the proceeds went to Darfur. It was a perfect purchase. It looked how I liked, had a message I appreciated, with the bonus of potentially tangible aid to a cause.
A year or so later I saw another HOPE poster by the same artist. So did the whole world
My oldest daughter, who I thankfully caught when tossed in the air, recently reminded me that having a fandom isn’t considered cool. I asked her in all of her middle school expertise, if there were some things cool enough that fandom would be excusable. She could not think of any.
This was in my mind when I shook Shepard’s hand last Saturday.
Not that I have ever had any real cool to begin with, but I did my best to keep it in that moment. In every instance I’ve made the attempt to keep my cool when excitement was bubbling hot below the surface, the results have been stiff and awkward encounters. I was awkward and gawky. I tried not to be, as I was in this instance the guest of a guest, but “tried” almost by definition denotes failure.
Luckily the person whose guest I was initially, was, and is, cool enough that I didn’t ruin everything, but at the end of the day- I met my Luke Skywalker.
I also met, but mostly saw, a world, or crowd, not my own. I like that world, I just don’t know it. And in knowing I don’t know it, but finding myself there that night, I felt myself world adjacent. I was next to it, I saw it, but I was never really in it.
That is how worlds work.
You can know all sorts of things without them being a part of you. You can want to know everything, you can look, stare and gawk, but to enter, you need an invite. A host.
How does one find a host in a world they know nothing of? I’ve lucked my way into a few of those in the past. I crashed a party or strolled past the guards unannounced and stumbled into the lap of a host here and there. But gate crashing only gets you so far. It can get you in the room, but not really into the group. I get that. I get it. It is what it is.
It being what it is, is why I have decided that when I have a chance, when I am positioned to be one, I will look for people who need a host. I will be that. In the event that one is outside looking into wherever I am, I will open the door and my arms, and show them the ropes.
No one can welcome everyone, and if where you are is a place everyone wants to be, I get the need to screen. Or protect. Or just rest. But I am not there. I am just here. Just is the right adjective. I am only in this middle place that only some people want to be but aren’t, so I can afford the extra company. If you want into my world, the one I know, I can and hope to be that guy. HOPE. The print I bought had that word, along with the words “helping other people everywhere.”
I cannot expect entre’ into all the spaces and places and peoples at which I gaze. Nor do I deserve it. But if I, or maybe you, catch the eye of an outsider, they will forever remain outside till one of us lets them in. And who knows, maybe one day I, or one of you, will toss out an idea, and it will be one of those hosts who give it wings.
Also… Shepard Fairey, and his art, and his studio, and his friends, are freaking awesome and I don’t care what my middle school daughter thinks!
And also also… Justin Bua is on notice.
Occasionally I drift into materialistic dreams of stuff that I believe would make my life, and myself, better.
I do not have these things in part because of the specificity of my tastes, but also, because I maintain a modest budget that leans more toward necessities. My real challenge in life is finding ways to make the following items necessary.
The items in question are:
Solidly made, water resistant, steel banded wristwatch.
Black running shoes, no colored trim, no bulging or bubbling soles.
Plain brown, no extra zippers, no colored trim, high collared, leather racing jacket.
Brown leather, no adornments, waterproof, hiking boots.
All black, no colored trim, backpacking backpack.
Black sub freezing sleeping bag.
Desert tan pack packing tent.
Two, leather and wood, Kala armchairs.
Original, large scale painting by Gregg Deal.
1st edition 1891 copy of American Football by Walter Camp.
I am somewhat surprised I am still alive without these things.
In Washington’s current climate of crassness, exaggeration, and accusations, the public are not well served when the press print things that are salacious, silly, or just plain wrong. So as a public service I must say, that no-
Robert Mueller is not a style icon.What a shame that the New Yorker has fallen so far that the editorial board knew no better than to accept the author’s proposal that because the man wears suits that fit, he is somehow doing fashion.
I of course wear ill fitting suits, not because I am anti- fashion, but rather because I am anti sit-ups and there are consequences for such decisions. Somehow we have confused the sort of discipline that includes reasonable portion size as well as reasonable amounts of pomade with style. That isn’t style, that is a healthy morning ritual.
Occasionally in the mornings I trim my nose hairs. This is not some sort of extreme preening worthy of note by the national press, this is simply because I am a grown man with a job who doesn’t want those he interacts with to be distracted by a disgusting nose jungle. Mr. Mueller’s attire might indeed be like my nose, intentionally boring, or it may be naturally boring (like the lucky noses), but either way it is a far stretch from any sort of rhinoplasty.
So stop it Mr. Patterson. Do not tell America that by wearing a pin striped suit with a button-down collared white shirt, that Mr. Mueller is doing anything other than just being boring- and a little bit wrong.
What we really need to discuss is why a man with such an important job is wearing the exact watch I was disappointed to have in 4th grade. I wanted the calculator watch thinking it would help me get an A on my math test. If that investigation is leaking why isn’t anyone looking into that watch because even Mr. Checketts at Bell View Elementary knew better than to start a test without checking our wrists and no one who cares a thing about style is wearing a Casio DW-290.
(Yeah, so maybe this is like a year late- just like the impending indictments)
A friend told me New Orleans was exactly my kind of place. A different friend described New Orleans as completely debauched. I think one was referring to the city’s reputation for music history and food and the other was talking about drunken toplessness. He compared it to Vegas where too many people are trying too hard to do something regrettable. He did however give New Orleans credit in that while Vegas is a plaster imitation of a million other somewhere elses, New Orleans is in fact a real place all its own.
I had in my head, thanks to history books and too many movies, an image of a place a lot like Philly, having an old colonial feel topped off by a few decades of industrial decay, just with more of a swing than a beat- and wrought iron balconies. Maybe I was just seeing what I wanted to see, but I wasn’t completely wrong. I would have been all the way right if I hadn’t overestimated New Orlean’s ability to deliver filth. With everything I had heard about Katrina and Bourbon Street, combined with what I experienced in Philly, I expected a little bit more disaster than I got. While there was plenty of graffiti accented by dead palm fronds, there were no piles of trash blowing down the sidewalk. Philly keeps its filthiest title.
The whole place looks like it used to be green, was then grown over in black mold, and finally scrubbed hard with bleach. The result is a faded green and white streaked with grey black echoing the Spanish moss that hangs from trees outside of town. There aren’t as many trees in town, and they are strung with beads not moss.
When I got there it was surprisingly quiet. There were people around, places were open, but I got the feeling the whole city was resting up, waiting for something to happen later. There were bright colored bits of cloth left torn and strewn over everything. Formely glossy green gold and purple beads hung from tree branches and balcony railings and rainbow flags mixed in regularly with the flour de li. It was like the whole city was experiencing a post drag show hangover. Like something wild and just a touch trashy had already happened, it was sure to happen again, but everyone needed a nap first.
Crossing a grassy median by the trolley tracks I stepped over a pile of discarded casino chips. It was a small pile of Harra’s disks in purple yellow and green. I am not now nor have I ever been a gambler, so as I kept walking past that stash I simultaneously wondered if I had just passed a pile of redeemable money, how one might redeem a pile of found chips, and how badly I would get mocked if I went to Harra’s and tried. Wondering if it was worth a try I noticed an old woman who looked like money walking a miniature dog past a homeless man, and just past the homeless man was a hipster.
Actually they were two, not one- a couple. He with his horn rimmed glasses and beanie, her with a lemon yellow bob and septum piercing, neither of which alone make a hipster, but I saw them navigating by phone, not taking pictures of pretty houses, which could only mean Yelp. I have made it a best practice to follow tattooed millennials who are navigating on foot via Yelp. It is how I have found some of my best meals. On this occasion they were right and so was I.
They were indeed finding food and it was better than good. My first instinct would be to say that the Turkey and the Wolf is not what would be considered New Orleans cuisine, but it is there, and I’ve never had buffalo sauce deviled eggs topped with chicken skin ‘cracklins’ anywhere else, so I would have to say my first instinct was wrong. My second instinct was to order said eggs as well as the shredded lamb gyro drowned in dill. My second instinct did not disappoint. I may have been the only one Instagramming the houses out on my walk but everyone at lunch posted their meal. That includes me.
There were no hipsters at Cochon, and the fact that Google maps had it listed as existing at all made me worry just a little. But it was the closest restaurant to the hotel that wasn’t a hotel restaurant and it was going completely ignored by the tourists who were in town for Wrestlemania, which I saw as a good sign so I went in. I sat at the chef’s counter right in front of the wood burning oven. The chef’s counter is where you sit so you can see your food being made and hear the chef yell unintelligible things to everyone in the kitchen and then they all shout back in unison “yes chef”. You see people scurrying about doing menial things like washing plates, hauling flour and stoking an oven till chef rings a little bell and slides a plate of edible art onto a counter where a less sweaty person picks up the plate for delivery. The waiter described dish Cochon as pulled pork that is formed into a patty, lightly breaded then pan seared. It was good but it was the eggplant soufflé that made me want to shout “yes chef”. I did not expect to like it but the waiter suggested it. and he was right.
Food is everywhere in New Orleans. It is in every little corner shop, in the balconies. In the river, the ocean- everywhere. I had stuffed flounder at Adolfo’s, oysters at Felix’s, boudin and meat pies at Bourree, lime seared chicken at Cane & Table, shrimp etouffee at Galatoire’s, beignet at Café Du Monde, and crawfish at some side of the road place where the guy at the register had to speak through one of those little devices throat cancer survivors use to sound like a robot. They were all worth it in all the ways that matter. No, they are all worth it in all the ways that exist. It is a city where- when it comes to food- no matter how you roll the dice you win. It is telling that in all the days I was there in all the miles I walked or drove, I only saw one McDonalds and never saw a Target. I did see a Bubba Gump, which made me remember that Office episode where Michael’s favorite NY pizza spot is Sbarro’s. Because I’m much more Dwight than Michael I kept walking.
Despite it being a Wednesday. I had to weave and squeeze my way around revelers and wanderers down the blocks off Jackson Square. In full disclosure those streets are quite narrow so they aren’t the hardest thing to fill, but the rows of second story balconies packed with people give those streets a gauntlet quality that could be either exciting or terrifying, depending on the person- or people I suppose if you consider both the walkers and the balconers. I enjoyed it. It is a place that feels like a place. The quiet from earlier in the day was gone replaced by jazz.
I’m calling it jazz despite my not really knowing a way to define that genre- but there were plenty of trumpets, tubas, clarinets, and upturned hats or buckets sitting on the curb waiting for tips. Whatever an actual authority might call it, it was mostly upbeat and made walking down a street of strangers feel a bit like a party. No. It felt like multiple parties all squished together. One party was being led by a slightly tubby 20 year old doing covers of 70’s funk songs accompanied by a weathered Al Green doppelganger. Next door, and this part was a surprise to me, was country music. Stepping into an almost empty bar I was initially disappointed to hear a twangy voice slowly whining over an acoustic guitar. I was a little intrigued when I looked on stage to see that noise coming from a black man. As I stared in wonder, a little bit in horror, I realized I knew the song. It was “pictures of You by the Cure. I was witness to a black man singing a country version of a Cure song. I was amazed, a little impressed, but definitely didn’t want to stay to hear that. One more door down was a full swing band crammed into a very small corner. The sound was great, thumping bass line and quick fingered clarinet, but 20 year olds in fedoras and zuit suits made the place feel a little to costume party for my tastes. Which was fine because there was another bar with another band right next door. This one had a steel guitar and organ and a 40 year old white man singing about bringing a loaded gun to the door to chase off salesmen. I appreciated what he was doing but his voice sounded explainey more than singy and no where near whaling or soulful. The place that finally made me linger was an ensamble that looked like an “all ages” chess club, or maybe like a tech company kick ball team, but they played like I thought the city should sound without looking too kitschy.
Just about an hour’s drive up the Mississippi there is a row of preserved plantations popular with chartered tours and wedding receptions. Facing right up to the big river and backed by sprawling fields of sugar cane are the sorts of palaces fantasized about in Gone with the Wind or any other antebellum story. There you find the real life relics that inspired those post war un reconstructed ideas. Oak Alley aptly named with a long arched tunnel of Oak limbs flanking a path leading to bright white columns encasing a genteel two story wrap around porch is right off the road. One mile up river is another called Evergreen, and then there is Laura, and St. Joseph. They are all landscaped to photographic perfection with clean and quaint gift shops selling cook books and hoop skirts. Lousiana isn’t unique in this. After all, the real Terra is in Atlanta and Mt. Vernon is above all else, celebratory. I have been on house and ground tours in Virginia, Savannah, Charleston, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and they all do things pretty much the same. They dress up like the white people who owned the place and tell wonderful stories of rags to riches mercantilism, explain the furniture, and then they laud the family’s contributions to the community through the 1930’s or 60’s when the last spinster descendent turned the estate over to a preservationist trust so we could all enjoy the rich history that lives in this beautiful place.
Then there is the Whitney.
Historically the Whitney is exactly like all the others. It too started with a colonists dream built into a business then handed down as a family palace. Its history is no different than Monticello, the Hermitage, or all its neighbors along the big river but it is fundamentally, foundationally, spiritually, different from all of them today.
I have been to Monticello and been told on the house tour that Mr. Jefferson had trouble getting a good cook to stay in the house. I was told a story of how Jefferson made a great investment in his chef’s French training only to have said chef skip town once back in America. There was no mention that this was because the chef was a slave and slaves didn’t like being slaves. Nor was there mention of this slave being related to the master’s family by blood and I was informed that this was scandalous rumor that couldn’t be proven- despite the fact that a Pulitzer prize winner had recently done just that.
I was told another tale at the home of Andrew Jackson where great honor is given to a grey haired old black man who when given his freedom, decided to stay on the plantation. The tour gave no room for questioning why.
But I have also been to Buchenwald in Germany.
Buchenwald was a concentration camp built by Nazi Germany as part of the final solution. After its liberation by Allied armies the local Germans were made to tour the facility. It was thought important that those who may not have been directly responsible, though perhaps complicit, be brought face to face with the realities of genocide and death. Today the camp is open as a museum and memorial to those who suffered and or died there.
That is the Whitney Plantation.
There was no talk there of confederate bravery or Nazi scientific precision, just honesty and reverence for the black people who suffered and or died-for the sole purpose of making some white people rich. It was not really about blame- though it was honest and fair in a way that those other houses have never been, nor was the prevailing feeling one of hate or revenge.
I have been to DC and stood at the Vietnam memorial, a large wall listing the names of the dead, and it feels sacred. At the Whitney there is a similar memorial listing names of black people who suffered-and or died-as slaves just in Louisiana. It lists double the number of names as the wall in DC (57,939 vs 109,200) and felt to me at least as powerful.
And then there are those statues.
In the little chapel, and out in the wooden shacks, are black children cast in bronze. Their visible presence is an unavoidable reminder of who lived in these homes and why. They are haunting. But they aren’t just blank recreations of what might have been, these children have names. And they have stories. In the 1930’s the federal government sent out employees with recording equipment to capture the stories of those old people who were alive back in slave times. The statues are those people, portrayed at the age they would have been when emancipated. The result is not just a bunch of kid statues, but real people whose stories you can know and stand and hear while looking at them standing or sitting in the location where they were born- meant to suffer and or die to make some white family rich. There is no such thing at other houses.
But what struck me the most, or hit me the hardest, was a bell.
Bells were normal on plantations and they were rung for several reasons. They rang to call everyone in from the field, or for lights out, or as a call to gather to witness someone being punished. The Whitney has such bells. The Whitney also has something else other plantations don’t really have- black visitors. I have stood in several crowds of German, Japanese, or French people at dozens of historic plantations- but what I had never done before was be in such a place standing next to black people. Outside of minors who were bussed to such places on field trips or the awkward bridesmaid whose white sorority sister opted for a genteel plantation wedding, I had not known black people to visit the location of their ancestor’s torture.
But at the Whitney I witnessed a tour guide tell of the old ringing of plantation bells with the explanation that now they choose to ring them in honor of the memory of black people who once lived there, and then I watched a young black mother send her little black son up to pull the rope. When the bell rang I lost my mind. My head stopped thinking and I started feeling. My eyes welled up, my breathing caught short and I had to walk away. I didn’t just see and know things right then, I felt them.
There is meaning in that.
And then I left that place and went a mile down the road to another such house where the guide proudly showed me the plantation owner’s signature on multiple loyalty pledges where he had duplicitously promised not to fight against the United States in the civil war any more. The guide chuckled when he also showed me the list of battles this plantation owner fought in after breaking those promises. There was no mention of black people other than to brag that after emancipation most of the slaves chose to stay. He had no answer as to who those black people were or why they made that so called “choice”.
And that is New Orleans.
It is an old city with much of its story sinking in mud both real and figurative. I t is a place where bad things happened and happen. It is the kind of place where despite all of those things or maybe because of them, people choose not to focus but drench themselves in bourbon and beads. The music swings loud, the food is full of flavor, and they dance at funerals.
The city is turning 300 years old this year which is “founding fathers” old in American years and all this time the crescent city has been its own kind of place with its own story. More than any other city this one is the story of France, Spain, the Huma and Choctaw- and Africa. And then the United States, Haiti, and the Confederacy. All the while Andrew Jackson waves his hat triumphantly in the square and goes mostly ignored. The crowds that mill around are more interested in Café Dumond’s beignets or the buskers on the corner. They are not really looking into the city’s history, unless maybe on a ghost tour, which is less about what happened then and more about what sort of then still haunts now. Which is appropriate because now is haunted by then so much more than the crowds appear to want to know. Though in all fairness the crowds only appear to want to know bourbon and brightly colored beads.
The party is so loud and constant that you sense it has and will always be going on and consequentially the place is celebrated but only shallowly considered. Maybe that is changing just a little, they did after all take down a statue or two,
but I don’t really know.
I don’t live here.
I have no idea how much experience Ralph Lifshitz had with the sport of polo before he sewed a little pony on a shirt and changed his name to Lauren. What I do know is that before the other day that little logo was all I knew about the game. I’m guessing this is true for most of us.Finding myself with some extra time and contemplating my ignorance, I took a minute to linger and look over the fence of the California Polo Club. The first thing I learned was that these folks are surprisingly friendly.A woman with an accent walking past asked me if I wanted to come in rather than peek. I’m guessing she was from Argentina and she introduced me to a man I’m guessing is from the United Arab Emirates. The woman who eventually did most of the talking sounded Californian and was happy to tell me all about the rules of the game; the most important of which was that anyone can learn them and that I should join the club.The next thing I learned, or rather remembered, is that middle class amateurs in any sport are obsessed with the minutia of sporting equipment. In direct alignment with that principle was me realizing how susceptible we all are to the trap of perceptions.
In some places perception is everything.
Right Ralph Lauren?What I watched that day was the testing of novices to see if they were ready to advance to beginners club competition. This testing is somewhat important considering horses are big strong animals with the potential to break regular sized people- like superman.
Milling around the stables and staging tent I watched as a small bunch of both men and women picked out clubs, pulled on tall boots, and tightened up chin straps. One in particular had extra bits of this and that. Fancier bag, extra padding, and a little silver topped whip. No one else had one of those.The one with the extra stuff, also had a little extra confidence. The kind of confidence that breeds the same in others. This one was obviously the leader- the one a competitor would expect to be the competition.
Then they got on the horses.
Captain A Type looked wobbly in the saddle, awkward with the club, and most of all, appeared deaf to the frumpy looking lady with the clip board barking out instructions. She didn’t look fancy, in fact she was wearing an ill fitting straw hat she borrowed from the friendly lady, and Mr. Confidence looked like he couldn’t find the horse’s steering wheel.
I still haven’t seen a Polo game. I remain ignorant. But what I do know is that just like the shirts and their little horses, or in some cases the big pony, or in the case of last names, or fancy little whips, I think they are called crops, looks aren’t reality.
Just seeing something doesn’t really tell you everything.
To get to the Getty you take a tram from the parking lot. No, that isn’t completely true. I took a tram, you can walk up the hill, but it was hot outside and it is UP the hill. Don’t worry the line moves fast.
While walking into the modernistic rotunda looking for our tour guide, I wondered aloud why this place was so busy. “I don’t think I’ve seen an art museum this crowded since the Louvre.” My wife gave me the side eye and asked, “When is the last time you saw a Rembrandt and Van Gogh for free?”
They also had Gauguin. And they had, I mean have, Monet, Manet, Goya, and my favorite- tourists taking pictures.
As a painter, I have always appreciated other’s work in that same medium, but as an appreciator of history, I have learned to love sculptures.
For example, while the tour guide was talking about the technique used to craft marble or get stone to look like silk, I was learning that long before plumbing, before electricity, even before we understood the human circulatory system, men were taking the time to groom super cool mustaches (their opinion not mine) and dress with a little swagger. There is art in the subject not just the medium.
Or maybe there was this woman, Mary Seacole, a Jamaican who treated wounded soldiers in the Crimean War- which I should note was before America’s Civil War- who taught me not only about an artist’s skill with chisel, but that the look a black woman gives when someone says “confederate statues are history” rather than a celebratory memorial to racism, has been the same for more than 100 years.
I can hear this statue better than I can see it. I had several seats after viewing it.
I also learned that even before digital media, there were pixels. Poor resolution and revivalist mosaic are pretty much the same thing.
What struck me about the Getty, even more than the sculpture, and crowds, was the space. I am too lazy to investigate the planning process or theory in its creation, but it functions as a location first, and houses art second. There are gardens surrounded by architecture placed on a hilltop overlooking LA.
It is a place. A space. To be in. To be surrounded by and lounged in and enjoyed. It is an environment.
And I like that.
In 1961, back in the days of Gidget and the Endless Summer, a seamstress named Carrie Birdwell Mann started making and selling swimshorts at her Orange County home. More than 50 years later the company is still in O.C. making pretty much the same thing, and for the most part- only that one thing.
We call them boardshorts. The world knows about boardshorts thanks to Old Navy and Target, but surfers know about boardshorts largely thanks to Birdwell. Mrs. Mann invented the shorts specifically for them.
Not to take away from what Quiksilver, O’neill, or any other surf brand have accomplished, but when it comes to boardshorts, Birdwell is what all of them are trying to be.
Like any responsible adult, the folks at the factory were a little leary of me when I showed up asking questions. But once they determined that, as they put it, “wasn’t up to any weird @*!!” they were more than happy to show me around.The family sold off the business, or as the current owners say “entrusted” them in 2014. Since then, a couple things have changed, while some other significant things have not.
For instance, they started using actual patters.While this may have removed some whimsy from the whole purchasing experience, it did make predicting if the shorts were going to fit a little more reliable.
They also updated the van.And by updated I mean they painted it not fixed the engine, which is why I found it parked comfortably in the factory parking lot.
What they didn’t change were the people working the floor. They have remarkably low turnover and most of the folks sewing the shorts today, are the same folks who sewed them ten years ago.
This might be in part an explanation for what else hasn’t changed, which is that these shorts are nearly bomb proof. I think these shorts are what the authorities use to identify the victims of shark attacks since the shorts are what always survive.
*I said that not them*
It is interesting that in our modern world of fast fashion and quarterly shareholder returns, there can exist a company and brand that survives without attempting to broaden offerings in order to capture market share or lowering quality to widen the margin and spur more turns.
They didn’t do that and they are still right there.
Like I said before, I don’t surf.
But if taking steps past big box mass retail is a sign- I might be on my way.
I had a free morning so I drove to San Onofre State Beach. The internet told me they have beach camping there, the kind where you can pitch your tent right by the sand, but I couldn’t get anyone on the the phone to answer questions about availability, so I checked it out with my free day. I did not find what I was looking for. I found something different entirely.
When I was ten I did not know much, but I did know I wanted to surf. I had just discovered complex math and the associated reality that meant I would never be an astronaut. I had always known I would not play in the NFL, so the only dream I had left, at ten, was surfing.
I grew up inland, but on the side of the Mississippi that flowed toward LA, not New York, so cool was all T&C rather than CBGB. We knew we were posers with our long bangs and neon shorts, but I wanted to move past that. After years of begging, my parents let me go stay with my aunt in California the summer before 8th grade. It was a step closer to my dream and I was planning my path in my head. I figured I would have to start out with a boogie board, but if I got good enough I would advance to standing up. I would need a board. I was ready for the breeze and splash of salt water. What I got was dirt and cactus because Aunt Nancy lived in Palmdale. It was a lesson on the dangers of mobilizing in ignorance.My last hope was college, because I had been trained to know that I must go to college, but I didn’t know anyone who had ever been to school in California and everyone told me I could only afford in state. So I stayed home. Eventually jobs, kids, and adulthood squeezed everything childish, like the dream of surfing out of my head. I moved on. I grew up.
I gave little thought to my childhood self when I took a job an hour east of LA. I was just thinking I needed a job.
“Great morning right?” a leathery grey haired man asked as I closed my car door. He was sitting on a log facing the water. Next to him sat another old man wiping down his glossy red board. “Uh… yes. Sure is.” I replied awkwardly. The two men both smiled and went back to chatting with each other. I looked out at the water and it was bustling with people bobbing up and down just past the breakers, some paddling up and over the waves, and then, out there and everywhere, people were surfing. They stood up on their boards and shuffled out to stand on the nose. They popped up, cut left, then right, then pumped the board to stay out ahead of the whitewater. I loved seeing it.
I looked around on the rocky sand wondering when Anthony Keidis and his band of hooligans were coming to tell me to go away. They weren’t there. In their place were happy people who looked me in the face and said hello. There were men and women, old and young, and they all looked happy. I knew they were surfers, and only surfers, not because they were blonde or said “stoked” but because they all had boards. I saw a wrinkled bald man covered in tattoos chatting with a woman who looked like my frumpy mother. I saw a white guy with dreadlocks playing paddle ball with a child while a boisterous group of ZZ Top beards came lugging giant boards out of the water. There was what looked like an Abercrombie model chatting with some little guy who was wearing what looked like a beret, and a striped shirt that matched his striped board. It was some sort of intergenerational utopia based on a shared vision of riding on waves standing up.
My childhood aspirations came flooding back and I did not like it. It made me loathe myself.
Here I was standing right in front of what I had always wanted and the thing I felt the strongest, was that I did not fit. It looked like everyone was welcome, this feeling wasn’t coming from them- it was coming from inside me. My mind defaulted to this excuse making checklist of practical reasons why I could not join in. Not just right then, but forever. I live more than an hour away, I do not own a board and do not have any extra money to invest in a hobby that I could reasonably only think to dabble in, and I am fat. I am a poser. I remembered that I always wanted this and I do not belong. The list came so quickly and so naturally that I disappointed myself.
I am grown and capable. I can find solutions. I can learn. I have lived a life standing just outside closed doors and have nearly a half century’s practice of picking locks, borrowing keys, or kicking the door down. If I really want this, I can have it. Knowing this made me tired. I felt lonely.
I could save up money and buy a board. I could set my pride or awkwardness aside and ask someone to teach me. I could make some arrangements and over a period of time, maybe years, I could carve out a schedule allowing me some beach time. If I want it I can do it.
So the question is always whether it is worth it. Do I want to be on that side of the door bad enough to do the work? What will it cost? What will I gain? When you pass through previously closed doors, you inevitably leave something back on the other side. Often you leave someone. What if I am not trying to leave anyone? What then?
Traffic made the trip home take 2 ½ hours. Sitting in my car in my long pants and wingtips, thinking all of the things I just typed out above, I came to the conclusion that I think too much.
I should knock it off and just surf.