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I used to be cool.
Is it even cool to say cool any more? Am I uncool just by using that word? Because I know I used to be really cool. Like beer-commercial-worthy cool. I was a beacon of coolness.
However, something happened recently that has shaken me – no, grabbed me like a rag doll, flung me off my pedestal and questioned my coolness. My daughters became teenagers.
The revelation that I am not cool didn’t creep up on me slowly, but head-butted me full force like the Titanic striking the fateful iceberg.
Everything I now say, watch, read, wear, listen to, don’t listen to, eat or do is measured against what they think is cool. Or whatever word they are using these days that means cool.
As I mentioned before, and I believe it does deserve repeating, I was pretty cool once. I accepted that responsibility stoically. I had to know which fads to follow, and which ones to ignore. It took all my survival instincts to keep up.
The torso-hugging, powder-blue, mid-seventies Jaws T-shirt? Cool. To this day the movie is considered the first-ever summer blockbuster.
The Where’s the Beef T-shirt? Eighties consumerism with sexual undertones. Not so cool.
Television’s Happy Days? Cool, especially since one of its episodes is still used to identify when a TV series has run its course.
Joanie Loves Chachi? Uncool. It had run its course by episode 2.
Elvis Costello: chameleonic cool. Huey Lewis: here’s news for you – too goofy to be cool.
Seinfeld: water-cooler cool. Arrested Development: cerebral cool.
Breaking Bad: warped-and-broken cool.
I was cool enough to know that Crocs were a gelatinous misstep, and to stay away from things that were meant to be cool – words like “gnarly,” finishing sentences with “not.”
Sure, I admit I made some errors on my way to perennial coolness. That perm job on my head in Grade 11 comes to mind, but at least I could quickly grow out that uncool phase.
I think I have been a judicious barometer for what was new and notable, and continue to keep up as best I can. So when did the uncoolness start seeping in?
From what I can determine, like all things that unravel (rotting tree roots, foot and mouth disease), it started low and worked its way upward. My own fall from grace started in my sock drawer.
Things used to be simple there: coloured socks, typically of a dark hue, for work and casual attire, and white socks for anything of an athletic nature. But somewhere along the way, the rules changed on the courts, fields, pitches, gridirons and bowling alleys of the world. White socks started to come in an assortment of lengths.
Gone were the days of the multipurpose white sport sock that enveloped your calves up to your kneecaps like plastered casts, with a vivid horizontal stripe. They crept lower, like a tide receding from the shoreline, and were replaced with mid-calf-level, all-white socks without any defining stripe. At first this was manageable. I had only two lengths to consider: high or low.
But looking back, I realize how naive I was because once again the sports clothing manufacturers, in a flash of innovation – but realistically in a move to save money with less material – started making socks that traversed our calves downward until they stopped just above the ankle. They were no longer socks, but ankle tourniquets. And to confuse things even more, they were no longer just white. They also came in black. Black socks on the court? That was heretical in my youth.
From there it only got worse. At some point the sock went from what looked like a bandage – now in a multitude of colours – to a sliver of fabric that just peeked out from your sneaker, tempting people to guess if you were actually sockless.
Like the cable industry giving me access to channels I didn’t want to watch, it became unmanageable. It literally stopped me in my shoes.
And sadly, that’s where I am today: with a drawer full of socks and a flummoxed look on my face when I have to put on my sneakers. So, like a magician reaching into a hat, I pull out whatever I can and put them on. Vanity has been replaced by the “c” word: comfort. And this is not just for socks, but for drawers full of shorts that are really “shorts,” and shirts from bands that now can only be seen at a casino concert.
David Byrne said it best: How did I get here? I’m not sure, exactly. But let this be a warning to all new parents: Enjoy your coolness while it lasts, because its demise is inevitable.
It will spread slowly through your cupboards, closets and drawers, then into your crawl spaces, garages and attics. And when your kids become teens, it will spring out soundlessly like a tiger pouncing on you from behind. And all will be quiet.
Except for the sound of your teen’s voice asking: “You are going to wear that? Really?”
And that is what the death of cool sounds like.
Massimo Sartor lives in Oakville, Ont.
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