Monday, July 26, 2004

A T-Shirt Tale

There is a tale told of an all but forgotten time, a time now spoken of by people who remember only the hearing of it. The story goes that then, as now, the vast variety of our planet was divided into what were casually referred to as "places," but with a critical difference. At that time (and do please try to remember that this is merely a story; it may well have no more basis in actual events than that of, say, the blind men and the elephant), there were two types of more-or-less distinct places. One type was a place in which people simply lived. The other type of place existed primarily to sell t-shirts to visitors swinging briefly through from the first type of place.
All of this is, as I say, only something I’ve heard, and is probably apocryphal. It’s hard to imagine a world without t-shirts commemorating visits to every place, and even places within those places! Why, even International Falls, Minnesota has its own t-shirts. "International Falls, Minnesota," they say. But if your time at the Int’l Falls Sportsman’s’ Paradise or, say, Coffee Landing of Int’l Falls was particularly warming and memorable, why then, there’s a t-shirt to tag that memory, too.
I’m glad this is so. It makes a Someplace Special of everyplace, and who would want to live just anyplace? Sure, I miss Boston--the squirrels in the Common, the choirs at beautiful Trinity Episcopal Church, the colorful Unitarian and Fundamentalist demonstrators colliding delightfully in front of the statehouse, the Democratic National Conventions-- but clad in my Int’l Falls t-shirt, I can strut from my house through downtown and to work not only in about half the time it took me in Boston, but secure in the knowledge that I’m living Someplace. Even if it’s not so prominent a place as to flatter its citizens with random searches on the subway. Even if there is no subway. Even if there aren’t all that many citizens . . .
But let me tell you what is here. A 24 ft. sailboat named the Irish Mist, and hundreds of miles of boundary waters coastline along which to learn the ways of the wind. From the gleaming coffee roaster in the front window of the Coffee Landing espresso shop, there are clouds of bitterly fragrant steam that loiter in front of the store like old men over a checkerboard. There’s the Adams Family, a fairly young, fairly bohemian family with whom I produce local radio dramas, discuss poetry, and watch "Mystery Science Theater 3000." Tonight there will be a lakeside potluck supper and baptism service to which Gomer* and I will be chauffeuring them. There’s my neighbor, an old man who sits stripped to the waist on his lawn, palms and legs flat to the earth in a summertime trance as his cat bats at his long, white beard.
Oh, and there’s me, and my sort-of celebrity. I wonder how fame works itself out in the lives of guys like Don Imus, Howard Stern, or even Click n’ Clack, the "Car Talk" brothers. For me, in a (very) small-town market, it means being blushed at by the sixteen-year-old girl behind the video counter who tells me, "I, uh, enjoy listening to your show." It means being taken aside by middle-aged women at church, and told that my joke about bulimia really wasn’t very amusing, then being high-fived by jr. high guys who insist that, on the contrary, they and their dads had almost thrown up laughing, themselves, it was so funny. It means just enough over minimum wage that I buy humus instead of refried beans, but not enough that I can stop using the radio station’s computer and buy that Powerbook. It means hosting a nightly chatroom in which terse, poorly-spelled conversation turns again and again to topics like hopelessness, ennui, cutting, sexual abuse, and of course, suicide.
It means that for the first time in some while, I am part of a community, a Someone among many Someones all consenting to wear the same t-shirt, even if some of us look downright goofy in them. For some reason, those shirts don't usually fit me well. They’re too roomy or they’re too tight, or the tag’s in the wrong place, or maybe the color makes me nervous. I suppose this one will start to itch after a while, too, but for the time being, it’s the one I’ve chosen to wear, and I don’t know that it looks half bad.

*My faithfully unfaithful car, named for an unfaithful woman, q.v. in the Old Testament. book of Hosea.


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