Jeff Spevak, Writer

Welcome to a Chronicle of Culture.

Category: Personal grooming

Setting new standards in American fashion

I understand. The clothing and accessories we see on fashion-show runways are not for human consumption.

But when I stumbled across a photo of a model wearing blue jeans that had been reduced to little more than a set of belt loops, pockets for her apartment key, a zipper and the seams, I paused: What is the outrageously paid designer of this outfit trying to tell me?

High-end concepts frequently reach for extremes. Some of the vehicles you see at car shows never hit the streets. New buildings never seem to meet the swooping grace of the architect’s drawings. Your dog will never look like Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club competition. These are unattainable standards. In your attempt to reach for this high bar, it is expected that you will fail. This is how the Fabulous People keep the Great Unwashed in our place.

A dog, maybe.

Those disintegrating runway trousers? Likely an inside joke by its creators. They’re laughing at us, that we might take this seriously. Or perhaps this was a Halloween costume, Jamie Lee Curtis from one of her scream-queen films.

Americans in general are not terribly cognizant of the truths that their outfits speak about them. Or the lies. I see people wearing sweat pants to dinner in a restaurant, as though they think it makes them look like a famous athlete. “Look at how much weight LeBron James put on in the offseason!”

We don’t think deeply enough about the important meaning behind fashion. Like the inherent sexism in this model’s tattered runway moment. Because as far as I can tell a guy wasn’t asked to put on this ridiculous outfit as well. Although I know several who would.

Yet sometimes we also think too much about clothing. On my bus rides into the city, out of sheer boredom I evolved into a careful observer of what people wear. I noticed the jeans that had been carefully sliced along the thigh with a razor and then run through the washing machine, producing a feathery effect. I saw calculated cuts exposing a knee. And the occasional slash high on the back of the leg, revealing a crescent moon of buttock.

You can do these reconfigurations yourself. But mostly, Americans pay lots of money for people in other countries to do it for them.

I seek the middle ground when pondering my personal wardrobe, and prefer to remain silent rather than make a fashion statement. Ripped-out jeans mean I’m sealing the driveway or it’s laundry day and these are the only pants I have that I can wear upwind from you. The holes in my jeans are honest, a combination of brushing against exposed nails and careless handling of chainsaws. Age plays a role. I keep my clothing for a really long time. I have flannel shirts that have gone through several cycles of fashion, from Nirvana to the Brawny Paper Towel Guy. It is a carefully cultivated realness.

All good relationships come to an end, of course. And so it was a couple of weeks ago. In a moment of couture self-evaluation, I realized it was time to put down my distressed jeans, threads stretched to the limit, fabric crying for me to end its misery. And into the trash receptacle they went. Three or four of them.

Where they were obviously discovered by a leader in the fashion industry, desperate for a new idea. My old blue jeans. Torn, caked with coffee grounds, smelling of shrimp tails, but remarkably close to what you see on runways today.

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Outsider media: Mother’s little helper

Mom misses Art Bell.

I’m spending a few days with my mother. She’s doing all right for 87. Losing her vision, so she’s living in an assisted-living facility in Cleveland. A really nice one.

So how’s it going, Mom?

“I need a harder toothpaste. The one I have is too soft, I use it up too quick.”

The television’s usually on all day. She watches only one channel. Like I said, she’s 87, so it’s Fox News. I have one rule when I visit. The moment I step in the door, the TV is turned off.

They’re lying to you, Mom.

“Oh, but I like the people.”

Mom, Fox is a culture of sexual harassment. The former CEO, Roger Ailes. Eric Bolling. Bill O’Reilly.

“Oh, Bill O’Reilly, that doesn’t surprise me.”

She goes into her bedroom to take a nap. But first, she turns on the radio. Mom doesn’t like silence.

It’s a right-wing station. And apparently a pretty low-watt station, because the host of the talk show has to shout to be heard.

“Maybe we’re going to see this Trump tax-cutting bill passed after all,” he says. “Maybe you don’t like the guy, but low taxes creates jobs. Who doesn’t like jobs? That’s a good thing, right?”

“He’s lying to lying to you,” I tell my mother. There’s no evidence that giving money to rich people has ever resulted in job creation. Demand for goods and services creates jobs, not a rich guy looking for something to do with extra cash in his bank account. “They just keep the money for themselves.”

The guy on the radio has heard me. “Have you ever worked for a broke person?”

Probably. And a lot of people who have worked for Donald Trump have worked for a broke person as well. He’s filed for bankruptcy six times.

A few years ago, my mother was seeing people walk through her house. Strangers of normal size, and lots of little people. Three little girls in particular. They didn’t say anything, just smiled and moved on. My mother has Charles Bonnett Syndrome. It’s found in elderly people with limited eyesight. The brain isn’t getting enough visual stimulation, so it starts feeding on stored images. The strangers, the torn curtains and the mountain with people sledding on it that she saw when she looked out her window in the middle of Ohio farm country in June were hallucinations. She knows that now, and after a while the odd images disappeared. But they do return on occasion, although much less intensely. Like during Game One of the World Series. Instead of seeing Dodgers and Astros, Mom said she saw pink flowers.

More from the radio. “Scientists have discovered a 21-year-old woman who sweats blood,” says a perky-voiced woman newscaster. I guess we’re expected to say, “Ewwww!” Presented with another person’s distress, rather than compassion we’re supposed to be entertained. Stay tuned, she’ll tell us more in a few moments.

She doesn’t talk about them much, but Mom is drawn to odd stuff and conspiracies. She was into Art Bell, the host of the overnight radio talk show Coast to Coast. Talk of UFOs, aliens. That’s where she heard about the Dyatlov Pass mystery, where nine Russian winter hikers were found dead in 1959 in very strange circumstances, with inexplicable injuries. The last book she read, before her eyesight had deteriorated too much, was about whether the victims died in an avalanche, experienced panic attacks due to infrasound, were accidentally killed by Russian military tests or were murdered by a wandering group of yeti.

Late night, early-morning talk shows are also where my mother hears about great, life-enhancing products. Fruit juice mixes, cleaning products and My Pillow. I mentioned My Pillow to My Friend Sarah. “I got one of those,” she said. “It was a disaster.”

My brother, who lives just five minutes away from Mom, has managed to discourage her from investing in My Pillow. And that excruciatingly expensive skin cream.

Mom’s actually quite intelligent. She just tends to believe anything she hears on TV or the radio.

I hear the muffled radio voices from her bedroom again. The 21-year old woman who sweats blood has an extremely rare condition called hematohidrosis.

Mom misses Art Bell, who has retired. But others are eager to help. I’ve found four scraps of paper around her apartment with “Smart Mouth” written on them. It’s a miracle mouthwash she’s been hearing about on Coast to Coast. She wants some.

I’m thrilled my mother is so interested in personal hygiene.

Yeah, Mom’s doing all right. Thanks for asking.

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The Critical Mass

The homo-erotic nature of facial hair

Cyanotype PhotoA previously unknown photo of the Russian “Mad Monk” Rasputin has just been uncovered, apparently depicting the corrupt spiritual adviser to the Romanovs in the Czar’s hunting lodge….

Oh, wait. I am mistaken. That is actually a photo of me, apparently examining a vinyl record album at Java’s at the Market, as suggested by the moose head in the background. It’s a cyanotype done by my friend Margaret, who spent the summer in Maine learning how to master this photo-printing technique that dates back to 1842. She has heard of the digital revolution, for sure, but what kid wouldn’t want to spend the summer up to her elbows in potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate?

It gives me some reason to believe that the future of mankind is secure. When one of the Apocalyptic predictions turns true – and it will take only one – the humans

who retain  primitive skills will ultimately survive. Boy Scouts, mostly, who know how to start fires by rubbing together two sticks. Your local high school track team’s javelin throwers. Sushi chefs. And young people like Margaret, who still mess with chemicals.

The real Rasputin.

The real Rasputin.

But the cyanotype did alert me to an issue: I’ve looking pretty scary. Have been for a few years. It was time to clean up, just a little.

The long hair, that stays. I worked too long on that. And the mustache, too. But the beard? I had it for years. I first grew it because I thought I looked too young. Immature. Now I was looking too old. Real scruffy, like a chewed-up dog toy. Gray. Time for a makeover.

The beard came off easily. It was too tired to fight. That left me with a full goatee. I believe it’s called a Van Dyke. Johnny Depp favors that look, but it seemed too… contrived. I cleaned off my chin. Better. Not great, but better. So I still have the mustache. And that little hunk of hair below the lower lip.

I remember an unnecessarily long conversation a few years back with friends over what to call that hunk of hair beneath a man’s lower lip. Thumbpatch was one. Soul patch. Flavor saver. Sax player’s mustache.

Chin pubes. Oh, I’m not liking this at all. Douch tag. Ball brush? Absolutely not.  What’s that? A Dick Van Dyke? Grow up. Your undeveloped sense of humor will be of no help as this week’s asteroid closes in on Planet Earth.

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