Middle age is about becoming uneasily comfortable with who we are and with who we are not – that we change simply by staying the same. That is, our tastes, our very beliefs that we once thought – and which may have been – so original, so refined, so progressive, so eclectic – have now become, with our own middle age, middlebrow, stodgy, even offensive.
150 years ago, Alexandre Dumas introduced two minor characters to dinner at the Count of Monte Cristo’s, dressing them perfectly for the occasion in brand-new clothes from the finest real-life tailors and outfitters, and then immediately set their fellow dinner guests to criticizing them.
It was time. Like some death cart from Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, which my morbid ass had reread at the beginning of confinement, I made the rounds, from room to room, over and over, slowly, wrenchingly, prising out each single condemned charge one by one from its temporary resting place in closets, under beds, at the back of drawers.
Anyone today who has made a conscious choice to order custom clothing is doing so for the self-indulgence of the ritual: the inefficiency of paging through fabric books, the odd choreography of measurements and fittings, the fetishistic control over details, colors, trimmings and the strangely masochistic wait for the damn thing to be finally finished and then delivered. Indeed, the inevitable length of time between order and delivery of custom clothing is perhaps the greatest argument against its convenience in a time-constrained world.
To quote the great Takeshi Kaga, “If memory serves me right, Christmas is just around the corner.” And with it, a tightening of the tension between cocooned self-indulgence and the ethereally transcendent.
Inside us, our better angels, those attempting to persuade us to better ourselves by looking outward, improving our surroundings, or even getting a real damn hobby, constantly struggle against the voice telling us that each new article of clothing we do not yet have is an essential piece of the puzzle that would complete a picture of the real us.
It is easy to write about gestures. About a particular pose that readers can infer stands for sincerity or that authenticity. In that manner, I could write paragraph about paragraph about John Fetterman, the 6’8” tall, imposing and intimidating lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania.
It’s amazing to realize the joy that can arise simply from the removal of crushing despair. Nonetheless, this year continues to inexorably grind out reminders of its awfulness, most recently with the announcement of the death of Alex Trebek.