Saturday, February 23, 2008

Threads, Lost Or Do You Remember The New Yorker Cool Hunter Article From 1994?

So last night around 6:30 there were two guys on the Gold Line, each taking up a little two-seat row and leaning over and talking to each other. I don't know exactly how to describe them -- they were kind of rocker guys, not the verging-on-derelict type, but the day-job-as-a-file-clerk type. One was older and he wore a pin-striped suit jacket and had a set of kind of pirate-y earrings and the other was younger and all-right looking and he had on an army jacket.

I got on and sat next to one of them which caused him to move over next to the other guy, so that they were now talking to each other in a single row, which struck me as an improvement. I wasn't planning on listening to their conversation; I had my headphones on and everything, but then the older one started talking about how his girlfriend stabbed herself in the wrist with a fork, which was a little attention-getting, and then he said, "I'm not with her for her looks."

He said, "I mean, she's cute, but not as cute as I can get, but she loves me and that's a great feeling."

So at that point I was kind of stuck on them and their conversation and I heard how the older guy and the girl he was with the last time he ran into the younger guy got into a screaming fight that night and he wound up chucking a taco at her face and this was all because they couldn't score. And the younger guy said that he had taken down his profile off of MySpace because he got over it.

"Dude, I told you, I'm getting over everything." It was the kind of conversation where they would be talking about somebody and they'd say things like, "That's when he was a Scientologist."

It reminded me of something which I try as hard as I can to forget, which is that I have lost the goddamn thread. I have no clue what's cool and what's not.

Let me be perfectly clear. I myself was never cool. I tried, from 15 onward, to be cool, which is the least cool thing you can say about yourself. In everything, by which I mean in Conde Nast publications such as the New Yorker or W, I hunted for clues, and tried to put it all together. What I learned is that living in shitty New York apartments that you pay nothing for is cool and will always be cool, and that I will never be as cool as Chloe Sevigne, and that there are professional cool hunters out there, which is, I guess, about what you should expect if you are taking your cool guidelines from the New Yorker.

Obviously, again, I never succeeded in making any use of this information. Nevertheless, there was a brief shining moment, not so much coincidentally taking place in my college years, where I thought I knew what cool was. I was capable of making very precise gradations, and I was confident in those gradations.

Let's leave aside whether I was right or wrong; it's probable that I was getting it all wrong even then, and all the cool kids were really playing hacky-sack, which is something that I would have been prepared to describe as a crime against humanity.

The point is, somewhere around the time of the rise of Britney Spears, I completely lost the thread. Things that the New Yorker had never prepared me for were, it turned out, cool. And now I don't have a goddamn clue what is cool and what is not. Maybe that's just age -- maybe I adopted an aesthetic of cool back in 1995 and have never adapted since then. Likely. Maybe it's age in a different sense -- as I do more things just because I have to or want to my aesthetic judgments get blurry and diffuse. Maybe I was just wrong all the way along.

My point is this. I used to look at people on public transportation and feel like I knew what their story was. I could take the way they walked and dressed and talked and reconstruct a little world for them. That makes me sound like an asshole -- let me clarify that I was aware that there were limitations to my ability really to imagine other people's lives.

But I can't do that anymore. I'll be perfectly honest with you -- those guys on the Gold Line were not people that I would classify as cool. But that's probably my limitations talking. They thought they were cool. Maybe other people would think they were cool. I don't know.

The older guy got off, in goddamn Highland Park, and he stood there and made a jokey noise in the back of his throat at the younger guy, a like "rrrr" noise. What do I know.


Noko Marie said...

Actually one of the things I love best about living in Toronto is that there are many kinds of cool that are completely impenetrable to me and always will be.

I, too, experience this most often on public transportation. I'm always running into groups of people, often from other parts of the world, but not always, who have a cool outside my range. What they're joking about, what kind of event they're on their way to, what kind of music they like, I have no clue whatsoever.

It always makes the city feel all full of possibilities.

Is that New Yorker story the one where the guys were hunting down cool in order to advise the shoe company? Was it Nike? That story was awesome.

Captain Colossal said...

That's exactly the New Yorker story, only I think it was Reebok, which was kind of in eclipse then. I just remember the cool hunter going all nuts when some kid described one shoe as "butter".