During the Inquisition that was my high school days, now way back there in mythohistory along with Achilles, the Battle of Thermopylae and all that other stuff I’ve forgotten about ever since, I remember being puzzled as to why the grownups, in the microseconds I gave it any thought, were so revolted by my super-slick D.A. haircut with rat-tail, my cherry-red sweater-vest with the black-gray-and-white-striped border over my knockout black shirt with the gold front panel tucked into my supercool slim-belted 14-inch pegged white flannel slacks with rat-tail comb in the back pocket and cuffs breaking perfectly on my high-sided ox-blood cordovan ducks with a diamond shine. The attitude of the nearly dead was a closed book to me. But in the fundamental certainty that unites all teenagers I was sure that anyway the old was gone forever and the new was here to stay. This was it. The style was set in stone.
I’d be wearing pegged pants and cordovan ducks and a DA haircut when I was 80, and my kids and their kids would too, all the way to the end of time, because who would ever need more than life requires, which is this: to be the coolest of the cool for as long as you live? And when one light-years-distant day I had miraculously reached the ancient age of 65, I wouldn’t have to go through all these weird reactions toward the familiarly cool duds of the new era.
But now that I’ve passed that half-century mark once so far away, the hair’s a bit thin for a DA and rat-tail, even if I had the desire, not to mention the time, the grease or the warped sense of history to create one; and pegged pants, I’d have to let them out at the waist and thighs, probably even the ankles; and red sweater vest over black and gold-panel shirt, forget it, I haven’t got the time, let alone the interest, to defend clothes like that. Besides, I haven’t seen a pair of cordovan ducks for nearly 50 years now, and anyway what the hell would I want to look like a 50’s teenager in my 60s for? And who would know but other 60-year olds from Elm Street, which is also gone?
Besides, now that I’ve passed my Achilles equivalency, and had hands-on experience with the Thermopylae factor, and having realized all too clearly that I myself am now one of the nearly dead– in other words, now that I perceive (as only the nearly dead can) the fingerpoppin’ transience of things, especially teenagers, and teenage fads, I stop and look at the teenagers grungeing along around me, the girls with hair like they’ve just been saved from drowning, and the guys with hair like somebody stomped through wet concrete, their bodies layered in sweats to here, hanging out of these pants you could catch a cow in one leg of that end cuffless just past the knees, and wearing shoes my great-grandfather for godsake would have thought the ultimate in style and I can’t help it: I want to say something corrective to the daughters of today as they sag along like 14-year-old bag ladies, I want to say something dissuasive to the sons as they slag down the street like the ultimate rag men, but what for? Teenagers can’t hear.
So instead, like King Lear I cry to the darkening sky, ‘Whatever happened to coolness?’ Of the rains and the winds I ask, ‘Where is the cool of yesteryear?’ But the weather does not answer, any more than it did for Lear or my father or his father before him, when they too stood stumped on the doorstep and watched their kids fade out of reach in some incomprehensible fashion, and it comes to me that each new group, in stepping out thus, flares then in its one bright brief moment of flaming youth before growing into age, which in its turn carries the torch of the one true cool to eternity; that maybe only great-grandfathers in the great beyond can look at what kids wear nowadays and smile, smile at how it has all come round again, just like they’d always known it would, to one the true style, the cool that is in heaven.