I was about to post a musing on my tumblr (yes, my tumblr is where I go to write about subjects even more inane than those I write about here) about how pleased I was with the neat little Oertel umbrella with a cute tiger maple handle that I got to replace a baby Brigg I left on the bus. Then the juxtaposition of posh umbrellas and the bus made me think.
Now more than ever we live in what I think of casually as the Instagram instakop culture, a world of easily captured moments of pretension and superficiality: photos of complicated meals in trendy restaurants and prefab drinks in airport lounges, checkins at exclusive addresses and place-names, all have become a currency of current status on all of our social media. Topical exclusivity (of airline lounge, address and recipe) through status update has become the new status, a willing denial of the everyday, the prosaic trudge through the drudge.
The bus is everyday, worse than everyday, common, dirty, never on schedule: the press of humanity crowding it and overflowing the seats (and never, ever, moving back), a slow grind subject to unexpected and uncontrollable open-air wait subject to the vagaries of the weather and the demands of the workday. It denotes, rightly or wrongly, suburbia, disconnect, dependence on inefficient public service, in a way that the train does not, quite. Trains still supposedly run on time, their subway tunnels the arteries of a metropolis. Even if the Duke of Wellington did protest at the outset that those new railroads “encouraged the lower classes to move about.”
The bus is drear routine physical movement, a confrontation with the uncomfortably real in almost all senses, right down to the whiff of stale pee or the texture of the indefinable stain on a seat, like a Rorschach blot of all that disgusts us. That assault on our perceptions tends to force out of our pretentious daydreams, the ones that are so much more easily indulged when we can tune out, and into the virtual world. The Internet gives many of us a forum to chart our virtual movements through a series of exalted points (the aforementioned meals and drinks, luxury addresses and so on) between which audiences are invited to presume similarly exalted trajectories.
On the Internet no one knows you’re a dog, the old The New Yorker cartoon went.
Everyone suspects you are, however.
I read that Larry Flynt opened the first issue of his magazine with “Anyone can be a playboy and live in a penthouse. It takes a man to be a hustler.” Today’s hustlers are pretending to be those playboys in their accommodations, online, pretend gentlemen pretending to frequent a different type of gentlemen’s club than that which gave rise to Hustler. Even if the content of their posts, in their pretension and strivings, is as crass as the content of that magazine though. It is easy to be a gentleman in a fantasy world of artfully cropped pictures, and canned captions, a cropped existence…
I once wrote, be a mensch, not an imaginary gentleman. The intersection of our fantasies of elegance and our reality are more interesting and touching than posturings online. No Man Walks Alone is, I think, about dressing for oneself and living in a real world, a real world where we may wear a bespoke suit or a quaint Casentino coat, but the streets we pound are not some tourist’s dream of 1930s Pall Mall clubland… the streets of a real world where we may iron our own shirts, wrestle with school lotteries and… bus schedules. A real world that is not the staged 1% reveries pictured in those lifestyle supplement ads for UBS wealth management or Patek Philippe (although the latter did spawn a very entertaining recent meme. After all, today we wear tweed because we like the pattern and the warmth, not because we are planning to stalk and gralloch a deer in the Scottish highlands. I bought my lost umbrella not because it was the putative scepter of empire (as Thomas Girtin once called it) sported by Guards officers who would never unfurl theirs, but because I wanted a damn good folding umbrella that would never, ever turn inside out. I hope its new owner enjoys it. I found a humbler replacement with a less famous name that so far has proved just as nice and as well made, as well as just as portable on the bus.
We live for today, and in the current day. Much better to engage with it in all of its dross, sliding our #dadcore bods into the clothes we wear for ourselves, regardless of whether we’re stepping out of the HON Circle lounge into a chauffeur-drive Porsche on the tarmac at Frankfurt Airport or into the sleepy, rickety freshly-cleaned litterbox miasma of the downtown bus. Possessions are fleeting, but experiences are too, and if you care about clothes, they’re another tool to face the day and its trials. Like an umbrella, whose functionality we always argue in order to justify having a silly nice one that can make us feel good even when it’s not raining. Provided we don’t forget it somewhere.