Hey Jack-ass-Joe, who the hell dressed you, Helen Keller? You look like a damn fool."
Those hurtful words are not something to say to a person you have just met. Plus, the guy I was tempted to direct that critique to was so young he might not know who Helen Keller was, I would have to amend the phrase to Stevie Wonder.
That same fashion appraisal was one my father used, over the years, to my siblings and I, often in reference to clothing such as bell bottom jeans, hippy shirts, short skirts, boots and flamboyant hats; my brothers and sisters and I joked about it for years after.
The first time he said it to me was after an awards banquet my sophomore year in high school. I came to the event alone from my after-school job. My folks were in the audience and the first they saw of me was when my name was called. Leaning heavy on the influence of my two favorite movies at the time, 'A clock Work Orange' and 'Midnight Cowboy' I thought I was on the cutting edge of fashion. I walked to the stage wearing white pants tucked into black engineer boots, a fringed jacket and a derby.
It was during an otherwise silent ride home when my Dad read me the riot act over my outfit. I was outraged with his lack of fashion sense. He mentioned that my mother was so ashamed that she told all those sitting nearby that I was adopted. I knew that not to be true, she and I looked too much alike for that to be believable.
It was a few days and after much reflection that I could admit (only to myself) that I unnecessarily embarrassed my parents. That was just another of a long list of times where I wish I could go back and behave slightly less stupidly.
The young man who I was tempted to offer the fashion observation of, "You look like a damn fool," was no relation, and I certainly was not embarrassed by him. I am sure he would have felt about me as I did my Dad when he suggested I was dressed by a blind woman.
I was with a crew shooting video at an out of town event. The kid in question was also shooting video. He was from a Denver station he was there bagging some 'B-Roll' which might be used on the evening news. Our gear was similar and he graciously lent us a short cable saving us a walk back to our vehicle.
When he turned around to reach into his gear bag I noticed he was wearing a pair of those blue jeans with a waist that sags down to the thighs and causes the wearer to walk like a penguin. About 6 inches of his underwear was visible and his back pockets were just above his knees.
Now again, the young man in question was doing us a favor. He seemed articulate and obviously talented but I just wanted to say, "Hey Jack-ass-Joe, Who the hell dressed you, Helen Keller? You look like a damn fool."
I can only speak for myself but it seems that life is a constant process of doing stupid things that you think are not stupid at the time only to look back and decide they most certainly were. It also seems that is the case in society. Just in my lifetime the dangers of smoking were not widely acknowledged or recognized, minorities and woman were deemed intellectually and emotionally inferior, sun tans were considered healthy and safe sex meant setting your parking brake.
I often wonder at what age I will have to get to before I stop doing stupid things. Like many people my opinions and sensibilities evolve with time as does my awareness and common sense but mistakes are still made.
My high school outfits were not my last fashion faux pas-20 years ago I was married, on Martha's Vineyard, in a batik shirt, cowboy boots and mullet haircut.
Just as I can look back and shake my head at my past (and quite possibly current) folly, will our country do the same? Fifty years from now will we feel shame when we recall that some considered marriage confined to only a man and a woman and thought homosexuality a choice? Will we sheepishly recall when our nation actually had concerns that we couldn't afford to provide healthcare for all and that feeding hungry children could lead to a life of government dependence. As we ponder the ravages of global warming will wish we could go back and treat own planet with more respect?
Is it possible that a hundred years from now man-kind will feel as incredulous over the thought of war as we now feel about slavery and Native American genocide? We can only hope.
I can only assume that the kid with the penguin-pants will someday look back and shake his head over his choice of trousers. As for me I'm getting smarter every day I hope to have it all figured out about 20 minutes before I die. Giving me plenty of time to get my mullet trimmed ...
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on TV-8-Summit and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.