‘I have of late (love to say that) taken to wearing a black t-shirt every day. It’s empowering. Of course it conveys mystery and an air of non-threatening bohemianism. Blearily pawing through my murky closet every morning for the ill-fitting nondescript equivalent of a unibrow is no help to either id or ego. Some 4500 light years from here is a vivid yellow star ensconsed in the most ridiculous lemon-like cloud of celestial stuff you will ever see. This in deep space. I won’t say deepest space. Naturally we have named this distant thing The Lemon Slice Nebula. And why not? It may be an odd-shaped thing viewed from any other vantage but ours, but like the other nutty deep space objects out there (the Clown, Parrot’s Head and Thumbprint Nebulae, The Cartwheel Galaxy, the Wild Duck Cluster) this one is facing us straight on with an impossibly earth-bound theme that must make no sense to viewers elsewhere who know neither lemon slices nor ducks. Why is the asymmetric mess that is the Horsehead Nebula shaped so like a horsehead from this particular, pitifully specific vantage? A horsehead? Really? For God’s sake, it’s maddening! The Horsehead and Lemon Slice mock our shirts and shoes! Why use such deliberation picking out one’s sorry clothes in a universe this achingly insane? Do you understand?’ He’d been gesturing with his hands, palms up. He now let them fall to his sides in a signal of what seemed mild defeat. ‘Do you? Understand?’
‘I think so.’
‘What difference can it possibly make what clothes I wear?’ His conviction was already fading. He made a move to begin moving his hands again, then visibly calmed himself. ‘I’ve elected to do what Batman and Jackson Pollock do; adopt a uniform and wear it every day. My uniform is a black t-shirt and trousers. A black t-shirt says everything and nothing. It’s a black blank slate onto which touchingly envious passerby can project their sadly constrained little dreams. You see that the black t-shirt is giving me Big Thoughts. It seemed to help Pollock.’
‘Yeah.’ I pictured an inebriated man teetering dangerously on a ladder, drizzling paint down onto a canvas.
‘But I’ve earned them, earned the Big Thoughts.’ He fixed me with that stare, angry. He was pointing at me. I said nothing. His forefinger had the same flaw as Miss Stuart’s in 5th grade. She, a possibly authentic harpy, would single out the unfortunate object of her wrath and point, often with foam on her lips. But her forefinger, viewed straight on, strayed left, owing to some deficit in the phalangeal structures. Miss Stuart would be screaming spit at you and pointing at your neighbor. I haven’t forgotten. He now took what seemed a cleansing breath. He lowered his accusing finger. He continued with a more pedagogical tone, teaching me; a man having his patience tried. ‘The black t-shirt conveys savoir faire, artistry, a hint of danger, a bit of whimsy’, he lectured. ‘I’d been moving in that direction. Boldly. It takes not a little courage to tear free from convention this way. People will wonder at and then discuss my black t-shirt and its ubiquity, or omnipresence. A black t-shirt worn for several days in a row is something co-workers and friends will turn away from with some embarrassment. They will change the subject, exchange bemused meaningful glances at one’s expense when they think you aren’t looking. Who gives a shit. Period. I am Bruce Lee, Cary Grant, and Anne Francis as Honey West. All in one. Who can stop me now? Do you remember Honey West?’
Good God. Did he say Honey West?
‘I have successfully come through the fire, I can comfortably wear a tight black t-shirt every day. I’m in. I’ve done it. I have joined the pantheon of unself-conscious black t-shirted icons. I like a tight black t-shirt. Do you remember Honey West?’
‘Yes! I just told you!’
‘What is it about a blonde in a black turtleneck?’ he mused. Then he spun inelegantly into the transition and raised his hands again. He’d practiced this, it seemed – this explication; the deconstruction of his t-shirt. He moved his hands to palm-up position. Very stagey. The heat was gone, though. This was a mild and inept choreography of despair. Real despair, mind you, but choreographed. ‘Without warning! No pumping of the brakes! No doomsaying shriek of Firestones on tar macadam _ ‘
‘doomsaying’ I thought.
‘- an unbiased and unrehearsed mirror check undoes the whole game! Advice; if you are passing an unforeseen mirror take great care not to catch an unfiltered peripheral glimpse of your Self there. You’ll see your Self as others see the damned thing. In my case you’ll see an aging spritely dentist on vacation, or the swinging treasurer of the local Rotary chapter, or the devil-may-care Lionel Train obsessive with a bald spot like a beige hurricane seen from low orbit.’
I said nothing. I was thinking of coffee cake. 20 minutes, tops.