Older Chests

The early ’80s were tough for my family.

My parents were recently divorced. My mother moved Chris and me one thousand miles away from my father. They both spent inordinate energies spewing venomous comments at one another. Money was tight. My mom and I shared a pair of Nikes. And my jeans were rejects from the thrift shop down the hill.

This was a problem in the affluent Philadelphia suburb in which I spent my adolescence. Social lives were won and lost on a shirt’s embroidery. At the time, Lacoste was waning, Polo was rising, and Le Tigre was ghetto. As in, uncool. Le Tigre was JC Penny. And, you guessed it, I was stuck in Le Tigre.

Being the new kid is never easy. I did it a number of times in my life, but it was especially ruthless in Devon “90210” Pennsylvania. I was eleven years old. It was the beginning of sixth grade. Where I came from, sixth graders were singing the theme to “The Greatest American Hero” in talent shows, playing tetherball, and writing love letters to the cast of “The Facts of Life.” At Devon Elementary, sixth graders were rounding second base, sneaking beers, and smoking pot. And wearing all the right clothes.

I tried, but my hands were kinda’ tied. Not only did we have no money, but I had no taste. I should’ve known better, then, when I found a puffy, bright yellow Ocean Pacific ski jacket on the sale rack at Wannamaker’s. But I didn’t. It was OP! And it was colorful. It had a rainbow wrapped around the chest, for God’s sake. I LOVED it! And my mother, God bless her, bit the bullet and bought it for me, even if it meant no Dry Sack from the state store.

I was soundly mocked when I walked into school. Of course. It wasn’t warm. And it fell apart in short order.

I was reminded of the jacket this morning as I surfed through Defamer to “hipster party photo site” The Cobra Snake. Not because it would be hella’ cool to wear to the LES nowadays, but because now, just like in sixth grade, I am light years from wearing the “right” thing or hanging with the “cool” kids. In fact, I’m pretty sure I missed my that whole thing completely.

I like the Lower East Side. I was there before the boutiques. Before Pianos, or Schiller’s. Before The Living Room got a face-lift. Back when Arlene’s Grocery was an oasis of alternative cool in a sea of gated corner stores and second-hand clothing shops. And I like it just fine now. But I don’t belong there. And I would look like an imposter performing at Pianos, even though I told Rina in complete seriousness that I wish I could be “the hipster’s singer/songwriter.” The difference between me and Damien Rice? Nominal. So what gives? Why not?

I’m wearing gray cashmere and pink gingham today. And black and kelly green sneakers. I may not fit in at Pfizer or Conde Naste, but I’m totally age appropriate here at The MTV. Still, sometimes I wish I could wear makeup, or pleather, and have spiky blue hair. Sometimes I wish I were hip, and fabulous, and had the energy and the inclination to stay out all night drinking, drugging, and dancing. And when I woke up in the afternoon, my face would be splashed all over the party pages.


I’ve had my adventures. I’ve worn nail polish and vinyl. I’ve woken up in a puddle of vomit. But in the end, I’m just not that alternative. I’m just not that hip. I’m just a happy kid, and that’ll have to do.

Related Posts