Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Long ago, after having lived immersed in the hermetic world that is New York City for all of seven months, I boarded a bus to go snowboarding upstate. I still remember the utter shock I felt as we crossed the bridge and drove out of the city--that the ordinary world of parking lots (!) and untended expanses of ditch grass and trees that grew there simply because they wanted to could be driven to, that it was that close, all this time.

I have not lived in New York since 2003 and my relationship with it since then has been sort of burdened and quarrelsome. It's like:

ME: You think you're so great.
ME: Well, you're not, you know.
ME: I guess I do kind of miss you sometimes.
NYC: Hm? Were you talking to me?

After a week of fall break spent cramming in art, music, performances, a world of food options (beyond Chinese and bar!), time with loved ones, and a glorious close-down-the-house night roaring showtunes at a hole-in-the-ground piano bar (more on all this later, if I get to it), I have reconciled with the city. The relationship is now like, casual fist-bump. I like it. I appreciate it. I'm glad I don't live there. But I'm glad to hang out.

A previous misconception (mine) that I have corrected is that New York is where trends originate. Last time I traveled there, I fretted that I would look like a frontier bumpkin, flying in from provincial Portland, hopelessly backwater. Eager to update, I headed for the stores and boutiques and found... that everything looked like it had come from Seaplane or Motel, and three years ago at that. Birds, deer, wood and silver, raw-edged fabrics, reconstructed pretty things in muted colors. The Northwest influence is still mighty this fall: braving the wilds of Williamsburg in buffalo plaid and a beard to your nipples.

(Not to mention the New York Times is still bedazzled by real espresso and the ancient barista art of a fern drizzled in your foam.)

New York seems seized by a growing? perpetual? both? trend of longing to get back to the land without actually getting back to the land. I see more mustaches and beards per capita in Williamsburg than in my northwoods hometown (where the newspaper even holds an annual Jackpine Savage beard contest.) You'd think these dudes were all headed back to their log cabins to split wood and gnaw venison jerky; since the old pickup's on blocks, they had to take the L train. You could argue this is just fashion, but the Times and various lifestyle mags seem to carry articles every week about some well-heeled Upper West Siders or hip Brooklynites who quit it all to go raise heirloom pigs upstate.

I suppose what drives this urban fetish for the country is threefold: One, the woods are awesome, and I think a primal part of us wants and needs to be out in the real world (funny how we tend to refer to the entirely human-made constructs of work and urban life as the "real world.") Two, a nostalgic yearning for authenticity--it's disorienting to work in a universe where words and money and drawings and photos and mail and even voices are usually digitized, intangible, deletable. It's sort of wistful, these homespun sweaters and lumberjack getups. I am not exempt--I'm a devout champion of the Paul Bunyan jacket and furry winter boots, with only a Minnesota birth certificate and Oregon driver's license to my feeble credit.

Three, I suppose it is unfair to overlook that all that hair and wool really keep you warm.

If I could grow a beard, nonetheless, I would not. A blond beard looks weird at worst and ABBA at best. (On second thought...) A blond mustache looks salacious.

The Brooklyn Bunyans I can understand. But these next two deathless trends I cannot. At this length, I suppose they are no longer trends, but sadly forever embedded in our culture, like pleated Dockers and children named Madison.

UGGs. Why are these glorified bedroom slippers not over yet? (I suppose because they feel like glorified bedroom slippers.) They just keep flourishing like the mold they must foster deep in their sweaty toes, growing taller and ever more appallingly cotton-candy-colored and ubiquitous.
Whenever my normally reserved and soft-spoken friend Brock sees them, he is moved to holler, "UGG!" Which I think is an utterly appropriate response.

Maternity Wear For All. Why is every shirt and dress designed in the last three years shaped to grip the collarbone and/or bust before billowing forth in a vast tent, turning us all into either prospective mothers or sexless children? I wore a dress very much like this when I played Helen Keller in my high school's production of The Miracle Worker. (A star turn, I was told by my grandparents. Unfortunately, video exists.) The reason I had to wear it was because it made me look like I was eight.

I am neither pea nor pod. I just want something that has been cut for a human, not a pyramid.


├ůsa said...

or - on the beard issue - maybe something to do with band of horses, fleet foxes, bon iver, etc. the beard is funny and relevant again, somehow.

Donal Mosher said...

heartbreaker - I wasn't going to shave till you returned to portland just to impress you with with wooly, though oddly elfin, woodland manliness. I'm off to by clippers now and shiver the whole rainy winter through.

miss you