Should the clothes we wear have some connection to the people we are? Should someone who wears a T-shirt that reads "Built Ford Tough" be required to: a) feel some intimate bond with that brand of automobile; b) have a physique reminiscent of a crew-cab truck; c) be named "Ford" (or, alternately, "Built" or "Tough")?
Okay, most people are going to fall into the first category, and we accept that. But I think we should be more discerning. If someone wears an "I'm With Stupid" T-shirt, that person should be required to walk around with someone at his or her side. (And if that person wears a shirt that says "Stupid," so much the better.)
Of course, the Golden Age of the statement T-shirt is long past, having faded sometime during the first Reagan administration. You do see the occasional brief renaissance, though, which is why I will someday get my act together and submit a grant proposal to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. (And why the specificity of those middle initials anyway? Is there some other John and Catherine MacArthur handing out piles of cash?)
With the money, I will study the interface between the wearer and the worn.
My proposal is to travel to Myrtle Beach, S.C. -- the Ground Zero of statement T-shirts -- and ask people why they chose to wear that shirt on that day. Why, when they got dressed, did their hands alight on the shirt that read "One Tequila, Two Tequila, Three Tequila, Floor" and not, say, on the one sporting a likeness of a popular, macrocephalic cartoon character?
Last summer in Myrtle Beach, I saw a young man in a shirt that said something like "Official Hot Chick Inspector." I wanted to know if, as he pulled the T on over his sunburned neck, he really hoped that some young lady would be impressed by it. Was he hoping for a woman to say: "I'm a hot chick. Inspect me."
Then again, the shirt was probably the perfect expression of his, uh, mindset. Any woman he did hook up with couldn't claim not to know what he was all about.
I'm not saying that we shouldn't use T-shirts for more than just covering our nakedness, just that we should be mindful of what we're doing and be able to justify our choice. I send my own message every year when I go for my annual stress test, a legacy of the time my heart, for reasons known only to it, tried to kill me.
The funny thing about a stress test is that the thing it's trying to determine -- whether you're likely to have a heart attack -- sometimes actually happens. You can be walking there on the treadmill and all of a sudden -- oh, delicious irony -- you start having a heart attack.
Since my first stress test was a mere five weeks after my heart attack, this possibility was toward the front of my mind. And although there are probably few better places to have a heart attack than in a cardiologist's office, the same sort of rules apply as in any medical situation: You want an edge.
An edge. Something that sets you apart from the other infarcting schlubs. Modern emergency room medicine has become like the rope line outside a trendy nightclub: You want the bouncer to notice you and let you in.
But how to catch the attention of the cardiologist if I did have a heart attack? And how to catch the eyes of the folks at the hospital emergency room next door? A T-shirt that said "I'm Not as Think as You Drunk I Am" didn't seem right. Better would be a T-shirt from a prominent medical malpractice law firm, but I hadn't really researched that.
Then I hit on the perfect choice. One of the good things about T-shirts from colleges is you don't have to have actually attended any of them to wear them. Which was a good thing for me. On the morning of my stress test, I put on a gray and red T-shirt that I bought in Cambridge, Mass., that said "Harvard Medical School."
After I was shot up with radioactive isotopes, passed with EKG leads and directed to the treadmill, the doctor walked in.
"Ah, Harvard," he said. "That's where I went."
The T-shirt's a bit ratty now -- frayed around the collar, letters fading -- but I wear it at least once a year.
Is there a big difference between being 12 and being 13? I tell myself no, but maybe that's just because my daughter Gwyneth makes that jump today. Gwyn finally gets to be in actuality what she's been in temperament for a while: a teenager.
I don't mean that as an insult. I'm happy when I see a bit of me in Gwyneth -- a certain arch opinion, a catty turn of phrase -- but I'm even more delighted when she surprises me, infuriates me, impresses me, reminds me she's always been her own person and becomes more of one each day.
Happy birthday, Gwyneth.
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