It’s amazing how eager guys are to tell me why they don’t need any clothes.
“I’m not going anywhere,” goes the typical remark. I smile blankly from behind the cash-wrap, trying to think what to say in response. Then he’ll quickly add, “With this Covid thing we never even leave the house.” Except here he is, in my store; here to pick up a pair of pants we altered six months ago, wearing sweatpants, a tee shirt under a fleece with his kid’s college logo, and some gym-weary trainers. Is this an apology? An explanation? Or just something to say, out of awkwardness?
The need for comfort I understand; believe me. I’m sitting here as I write this, in my house at 7 AM, wearing slippers and pajama bottoms, a Derek Rose T-shirt and a “Bloomberg For President” hoodie my kids gave me. There are two important differences, however, between me and my imaginary customer. First, I would never, ever, go anywhere further than the kitchen or the garage in this outfit – not even to the mailbox. Second, I think it’s neither necessary nor polite to tell a butcher that I didn’t want any meat, thanks, because I’d become a vegetarian. Guys seem to feel as though they have to apologize; it just makes it worse.
You folks, I see you there, smiling in the choir stall. I know you’re reading this because you care – about how you look, about clothes. You know what I mean. (This is an age of preaching to the converted, isn’t it? Strengthening our “position” with our “base” by talking trash about the opposition?) Please understand. I’m not dissing this guy. I’m actually sympathetic. I know he feels bad about going around like a kid in a college dorm. I am not saying it’s a contest, like Us: Looking Good Guys vs. Them: Sloppy Joes. I believe that the guy who’s trying to explain how carelessly he’s dressed is not a perpetrator of sartorial sacrilege but rather a victim of a nationwide, or maybe worldwide, psycho-pandemic. Let’s call it the 2020 Blues.
What I’m saying is this: the pandemic has affected us at a deeper and more profound level than simply fear of contagion. The fear itself is a disease. A constant, inescapable, media- and state-sponsored phobia, a dread of intimacy, of people generally; a proscription of the holiday and family rites and rituals that are the milestones of our lives; a disease of disorientation and distraction caused by the facemasks and the social distancing and being on our guard all the time. Civilization is supposed to bring a reduction of fear. Here we are, in an age of technological wizardry, waging war against an invisible, ubiquitous enemy. Oh, and did I mention the riots, the storms and wildfires, and the problematic presidential election? My friend here at my front desk is dressed in psychological battle fatigues.
The answer? The emotional vaccine? The future. When I asked my customer if he’d given up on looking nice ever again he answered, “I’ll wait until the future gets here.” Not wanting to offend, I didn’t point out that that is not likely to happen, as the future is kind of stubborn, but I smiled, handed him his pants, and said, “Have a nice day,” wishing him a bright outlook for the small space of 24 hours. A bright outlook. Hope. Optimism. Cheerfulness.
Perhaps a more confident salesperson would have said, “If you change your outfit your day will go better.” Right? A clean pair of jeans, a nice shirt, maybe a cashmere sweater, some good-looking shoes. Take a look at yourself looking good. A simple cure for what ails you, emotionally. The future is up to you. It starts right now.