Orlon, one of the Four Musketeers of sportswear along with Dacron, Ban-Lon and Rayon, will breathe no more. (Or stretch. Or wipe clean with a damp cloth. Or whatever it is that synthetic fibers do.)

The Du Pont Co., which created Orlon 40 years ago, said the other day that it will shut down Orlon production "as soon as possible."

Bubba, acrylics are history.

I'll wait while you get a tissue.

(And while some of you clean out your closets.)

Orlon -- chemically, it's polyacrylonitryl, and by the way it is not, repeat not, melt-stable (I could explain this to you, as a Du Pont chemist explained it to me, but what's the point? How many of you are going to MIT anyway?) -- is found in many things, all of which escape me at the moment.

"You won't particularly miss it," the Du Pont chemist told me.

And that's the truth. We won't miss it. We wouldn't miss Ban-Lon or Dacron or Nylon either. They're made-up fabrics. One day they're a shirt, the next day they're a landfill. They look like something else. They feel like something else. They act like something else. And in no case are they as good as that something else.

We won't miss them.

We don't need them.

We ought to celebrate their passing.

Orlon's gone.


Though sexless and dull in that utilitarian way of fabrics that were designed to act like other fabrics -- only cheaper -- Orlon was distinguished as the only synthetic blend to give its name to a rock-and-roll group. We remember the Orlons of "Don't Hang Up" and "South Street." But we'll never remember the Dacrons, the Lycras or Danny and the Naugahydes.

Alas, poor Orlon, we knew you well. Once you defined our existence. Once you were our future. Once you were the only miracle fabric we had. (Well, okay, we had Nylon too, but it's all in the family, isn't it, Nylon, Pylon, Longylon) And now, what? No one even remembers your washing instructions.

Wash in Woolite.

"No, that was Rayon."

Tumble dry.

"No that was Acrylan."

Do not bleach.

"No that was the dog."

As a fiber, Orlon was somewhere between Qiana and Doubleknit, in the same way that Iowa is somewhere between Pennsylvania and Colorado (Qiana being the scariest of the miracle fabrics, it's so clingy it's almost alive). Orlon was slippery, although not as slippery as Teflon.

Fabrics and Politics for $800.

Who was the Orlon President?

Fabrics and Geography for $400.

True or false: Burkina Faso used to be Upper Orlon?

Lightning Round: Name four uses of Orlon.

(1) To polish Zamfir's pan flute.

(2) To coat the tiles on the Space Shuttle.

(3) William Shatner's hair weave.

(4) Miss America evening gowns.

Orlon actually was a major component in sweaters in the 1950s, '60s and '70s. You could recognize Orlon sweaters by how limitlessly they stretched. They stretched so much you'd think that Jackie Gleason sneaked into your closets late at night while you were asleep and tried them on.

"Ever buy anything made of Orlon?" I asked someone.

"Not knowingly," he sneered.

I thought I owned an Orlon golf shirt, but on second thought realized it was Ban-Lon. And I thought I had an Orlon windbreaker, but maybe it was Dacron. Could I have owned Orlon shoes?

Oops, Corfam.

It's so hard to keep the miracle substances straight. You never know which is which. You use one to fasten your shoes instead of laces, another glues your shoes to the ceiling, another lets you hang upside down in your shoes from the ceiling while firming and toning your abdominal muscles, and still another will convert your shoes into a playroom while-u-wait.

Orlon, of course, has become as much a part of America as sugar in the raw and diet chocolate fudge soda. It's virtually impossible to conceive of a world without Orlon. I can remember as a kid when my mom sang to me about "the train they call the City of New Orlons," chugging out of Arkansas with a new crop of Orlon from from the plantations, bound for glory and the Milan fashion shows.

Du Pont hasn't announced what it will do with the remaining supply of Orlon, whether it will be donated to the Synthetic Fibers Museum in Reno -- and displayed next to John Travolta's three-piece disco leisure suit -- or sealed in a cylinder, and buried at sea. (It can't be put into the ground; it's not biodegradable.)

It's funny how things happen. Just the other day I overheard a conversation that started with these words: "They're not making Orlon the way they used to." And now they're not making it at all.