The best thing about the last year is the re-election of Sen. Raphael Warnock. The worst thing is that I don’t have the clothes to attend his swearing-in ceremony. This is one of the many nightmares of growing old. Your body, your temperament, your priorities, the black shrouds you hang over your mirrors – everything portends existence as nothing more than a handful of ashes like those of friends I dissolved in the lake in Piedmont Park during the early AIDS epidemic.
In other words, how am I supposed to dress this twitching corpse?
When I was a kid, I was sent every year to either Muse’s or Buckhead Men’s Shop to get fitted for a new suit or blazer. I was super skinny and always looked like a contortionist inside a wool bag with sleeves. I went to college in 1967. I wasn’t two hours in my dorm before I was smoking my first joint with a sockless hippie jock from DC who flicked the ashes into his loafers and told me not to tell anyone he thought Mama Cass was hot as fuck. He de-groomed me. When I flew home for Thanksgiving, my father found me in baggage and yelled my name. I turned. He was in full golf regalia – pants embroidered with little clubs and balls, a huge white belt, shoes with big white flapping things. I was born anew in jeans, an anti-war t-shirt, and a denim overshirt, sporting near-shoulder-length hair and a clavicle-length beard, reeking of tobacco smoke. I was dragged to the airport barbershop.
It got crazier. Halfway through my freshman year, I was awarded a fellowship to Yale. It required that I spend the summer teaching literature to genius-level Black children. This was a year after the New Haven riots. I was the recipient of white affirmative action! The fellowship program required exactly two white boys, along with maybe ten Black guys. My parents and the other white guy convinced me that I needed to clean up before going to orientation. My mother sent me a checked sports coat with the requisite cashmere sweater. When I stood up to introduce myself – by far the youngest and whitest in the program – a wave of hysteria swept through the room. “This is not the real me,” I later told someone. “Be your white ass,” he said. I like to blame my clothes for fleeing Yale, but it was for a much sadder reason.
Then came the cosplay. I got married to a woman at 20. That’s when I upgraded to twill, not denim, bell bottoms and sweater vests while editing newspapers in camo-clad rural Georgia. After five years, we divorced. I began to leave the closet in the wrong clothes. I went to discos in Augusta in metallic shirts, dressed like I was “stayin’ alive,” and picked up chicks – except when I was wearing 501s and flannel shirts at a dive bar to pick up guys. There was this day in Augusta when I called my parents and said I didn’t want to work anymore. I had never been without a job since I was 15 and I paid most of my college expenses. They put me on the dole. I went to my closet and literally carried everything except the jeans and tees to the dumpster, along with every photographic record of my life. If you ever do that, I suggest you burn all of it, because for the next six months I constantly saw neighbors wearing my clothes. In the ‘90s, the high school yearbook I junked that day turned up at a coffee shop whose manager invited customers in to see the glowering Twiggy I once was.
I never got better dressed. Never mind that I’ve always (until now) obsessively inhabited gyms, locked in the body dysmorphia that literally made me feel more comfortable oversized (whether fat or muscular) than skinny. I wear shorts most of the time. Friends used to sometimes delicately suggest that I might want to dress my age instead of my shoe size. I haven’t owned a suit in decades. I have one nice tie that a dying friend gave me 35 years ago because he wanted to be sure he wasn’t wearing it at his funeral.
When do I buy clothes? Since COVID-19 and decrepitude descended, practically never, and only online. They never fit. My Facebook feed constantly urges me to buy stretchy jeans that won’t “crush your nuts.” I haven’t worn jeans in two years. This holiday sale season, I decided: “Fleece. Flannel. Joggers. Shapelessness. So fine!” I ordered a ton of stuff from preppy brands, including one sweater from J Crew that could easily function as an area rug and another that is so sheer, I can shoot pictures through it.
It sucks that old age demands a certain formality even though cremation doesn’t. No, I’m not invited to Sen. Warnock’s swearing-in, but, hey, I get invited to free lunch at Buckhead “independent living” facilities, and I feel I should look my best if I happen to go. But WTF? I am poor by the standards of most people I know, despite the scorned privilege of my youth. My sloth reflects not just the future of diapers and death, but the failure to reach self-acceptance of whom my first psychiatrist called “the most entitled socialist” she’d ever met. It really annoys me that the people my age who clean up best are usually dressed sleek and dark like vultures, but the people I actually love usually look like mid-century cartoons of old people – tricksters whose job is to turn everything upside-down. Somebody fix my closet!