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Contexualizing Cool

There’s 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?

’Course, I don’t remember ever seeing Johnny Ramone with a pen.

—John Rodat

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