an old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon in which Calvin becomes
cool, by donning a pair of black sunglasses and looking completely
listless and disaffected. His tiger pal, Hobbes, points out
that cool looks an awful lot like bored, which Calvin flatly
confirms: “The world bores you when you’re cool.”
This strip was running through my head the other morning when
I stood at my living room window—a little listless myself—watching
some dorks shovel themselves out of a snow bank.
Now, by “dorks” what I mean are people clearly less cool than
I. I am, of course, the standard of measurement: I’m informed,
with it, in the know, media savvy, etc. I’ve been around the
culture block, you know? I’m a now kind of guy. So, why shouldn’t
I be the yardstick? (This is a bit like the old Carlin routine
about any driver slower than you being an asshole, and any
faster a maniac.) And these poor slobs, who were busily swarming
over their plowed-in SUV like little winterized tick birds
on a hippo, were clearly less cool than I.
They were, though, I’ll admit, better prepared than Shackleton’s
expedition. They were brightly Gore-Tex’d to a zealous extent,
and with their no-foolin’-around boots (advanced Sorel prototypes,
I’d guess, purchased on some sort of dork black market) they
looked like a strange strain of sub-zero neon Clydesdales.
And, man, the tools and gadgets and knick-knacks they had
at hand to combat the snow: Swiss Army window scrapers on
telescoping poles; no-scratch, chamois-soft snow brooms for
painted areas; heated fold-out chain panels for better traction;
Spring Fresh-scent spray de-icer—all deployed with the artful
confidence of ninjas’ nunchackus.
Took ’em all of 8 minutes to extract a 7-ton vehicle from
an intimidating mountain of snow, and off they went, all smiles,
a happy team—of dorks.
I mean, can you picture them, cozying up by the fire dog-earring
the pages of Preparedness Magazine or Tidy Living
Journal or Fastidious Monthly, covetously oohing
and ahhing over the scientifically advanced, upscale equivalents
of items as indispensable as the pocket protector? High-performance
pillow cases, say, or glove-compartment storage “solutions.”
A couple of hot beverages later, I was ready to get my own
day started, and pulled on my warmest jacket and headed out
to my car. My warmest jacket, as it happens, is a thermally
lined leather racing jacket; it’s styled to look older than
it is—to the extent that it’s got scuff marks in places I’ve
never once scuffed, and some silver (sorry, “chrome”) streaks
placed strategically to suggest, I guess, that I had to “lay
it down at 60,” or something, taking out a guard rail in the
process. It’s a Steve McQueen jacket. If we’ve not met and
you hadn’t already guessed, I admit, I’m not a Steve McQueen
guy. (Steve McQueen would not likely have started this column
with a Calvin and Hobbes citation, for example.)
I’ve taken shots from friends and coworkers for the faux-butch
coat. That’s alright. I can stand it: The coat’s freakin’
cool, man. Granted, when the mother of one of my daughter’s
daycare classmates asked me where the jacket was from, noting
that her own husband raced at Lebanon Valley Speedway, I felt
slightly foolish responding, “It’s from somewhere that makes
it to look like it’s from somewhere,” but, seriously, I can
take it. After all, cool.
That being said, the short, hoodless—hell, essentially collarless—MC
jacket, in the context of shoveling a car out of a glacier,
well, it sucks. It so sucks. And so, too, do my boots; which,
though fully hipster-vetted, have a design flaw such that
on any surface other than carpet they regularly attempt to
rocket to the level of my chin (this is otherwise known as
falling on one’s ass). And that piece-of-crap scraper, which
I purchased in a convenience store as an afterthought, along
with a Nutrigrain bar and a can of Starbucks’ espresso drink.
And my tires, which have about the same traction as my boots.
And can somebody please, please, explain to me why a car manufactured
in Sweden should be constructed in such a way as to fishtail
if someone so much as whispers of bad weather? My car goes
into an uncontrollable spiraling skid, leading with its ass,
if a child sings “Jingle Bells” in the same area code.
Don’t get me wrong: I like my car. It suits me. It’s a cool
car. It’s just that it sort of sucks in almost all the weather
that we have in the place I live all the time, is all.
What seemed like hours after I began the extrication process,
raw-knuckled and vulgarly muttering, I pulled away from the
curb. I wasn’t bored. I wasn’t listless. And it dawned on
me that, even when donned for less-functional purposes, the
jacket was quite a bit more affected than dis-.
I realized that I was coveting knowledge of the most effective
route from point A to point B, and the gadgets—the preparedness—to
help get me there. I didn’t want cool, I wanted useful. I
didn’t want hip, I wanted helpful. I wanted comfort and convenience,
not cachet. I was coveting the trappings of dorkdom.
The space-age underpants, the battery of arctic implements
in the trunk of the family truckster, the pocket protecter—these
things aren’t cool the way the leather jacket is. I mean,
you never saw Johnny Ramone with pocket protector, did you?
I don’t remember ever seeing Johnny Ramone with a pen.