One morning back in August a rainbow drew me out onto my porch but what caught my eye instead was an old van parked on my street. It was brown and cream and built like a worried rectangle. A dirty canvas bag hung from a spare tire on the rear door.
I’d seen it park the previous night because I am constantly peering out of my windows like I’m prequalifying to compete for the title of Bitterly Nosy Neighborhood Crone. Under the golden sodium-vapor glow of the street lamp I’d watched someone inside the van jam a sun shade in the four corners of the windshield and climb over the seat to go to sleep. Now, in the light of day, I was able to see a website url written on the window. Forget about a dumb rainbow, I had some googling to do!
Turns out the whole thing — a van, a blog, a 4,000-word About page that reads like a personal biography got mixed up with a value proposition — is a 30-year-old man’s special vision quest. And you know what? Good on him. But on the other hand, woof. But on the other other hand, I was totally obsessed. It helped that he was writing peripherally about my neighbors around the corner, with whom he was spending his time, and with whom I was equally obsessed. I saw them in their front yard earlier this year; a woman wrestling a push mower as a baby about Vera’s age lay nearby, gumming the grass. I kicked myself for not making introductions right then, because I haven’t really seen them outside since. Now I was learning about them via a stranger’s blog. They live literally around the corner! I mean this less in the sense of “the modern world is sad” and more in the sense of “the modern world is fucking amazing.” I mean, before the internet you had to learn about your neighbors the old-fashioned way, by peering in their windows at night. Today, you just have to wait for a self-styled creative entrepreneur to dig up an unlocked wifi network and do it for you.
Even still, I am not sure that these are neighbors I want to get to know after all, not least because they were hanging out with a dude who pitches himself like a startup actively seeking investors. They are just too intimidatingly cool! They run small independent businesses of the ampersand-between-two-nouns variety and they named their kid something that I suspect is going to be a character-building experience. The guy’s beard is full and plush and just a sheer physical entity you could probably trip over if you’re not careful, like a velour tracksuit someone dropped in the middle of the floor. In contrast, the beau’s beard has to be kept trimmed and neat according to THE MAN’S standards, for he works for THE MAN. He wears button-down shirts and slacks to his job as THE MAN. Meanwhile I wear yoga pants and garbage sweatshop-sourced Target tops and schlep a baby around in a $100 soft-structured carrier like a yuppie SAHM because it’s true, my god, we are the yuppies of our neighborhood. “I CONTAIN MULTITUDES,” I want to shout at all my edgy neighbors, sunning their PBR tallboys on their front porches, but they probably can’t hear me over the sound of my basicness.
Before this post turns into hipster jokes, which are such low-hanging joke fruit they’re practically resting on a Mexican blanket next to a pack of American Spirits, I want to explain that I’m totally not serious. But then again, I totally am. I feel fine about not fitting in, while also feeling deeply unsettled about not fitting in. What’s that thing I was just saying about multitudes!
My main hangup is my dumb wardrobe, and how dumb it is. It goes against my core clothing philosophy, which is to wear only clothes that make me feel like this:
Last year about this time I dumped a bunch of my clothes that weren’t bringing me joy, and that was great. For a handful of months I wore a virtuous glow and held the pristine space around my hangers in a close embrace. I resolved that from then on I was going to do clothes the “right” way, by hand-selecting only the ones I loved after a careful vetting process. But then, three days before I had a baby, I had a significant mishap involving a panicked trip to a Target. Panic At The Box Store! I hear they’re releasing a new single called “A Pile Of Shitty Clothes You’re Already Bored With Three Weeks Later.”
It was a crime of passion and convenience swirled into one soft serve cone and topped with little chocolate jimmies of chaos. That day in December I burst through the automatic sliding doors shouting, “The baby is coming! The baby is coming!” and dashed straight through Women’s Intimates knocking packs of granny panties and nursing bras into my cart. I zoomed around Junior’s Clothing plucking cheap leggings and chunky cardigans from the racks at will. I guess I thought I would never leave my house again. Did a lady with a new baby need seven new cardigans? I didn’t want to take just three home only to find out the answer was yes!
Surprise, I hauled all these clothes home only to find out, three weeks later, that they bored me and I hated them. And as much as I would love to chuck everything and replace it with only the baddest of the baddest-ass clothes I am stuck doing penance. I did that crime and now I have to do that time. I am riding these clothes out until I die. Or until I cross some arbitrary finish line where I figure I’ve worn them enough to offset the original cost.
Or, like I said, until I die.
Something might have to give soon, though. Case in point, I am right now as I type this wearing one of those aforementioned seven cardigans and it’s the shitty kind that makes you itch wherever it touches your skin. Luckily for me, I’ve paired it with a tank top. I keep frantically pushing up the sleeves to claw desperately at my forearms and then snaking a hand in through the armholes to get the upper spots I can’t reach. I’M THE MORON WHO SPENT MONEY FOR THIS EXPERIENCE. THIS IS WHY I MUST BE PUNISHED.
I’m reluctant to interrupt my ongoing hand-wringing over clothes and being cool, but something else happened that I want to tell you about.
I was coming home from a walk, my thighs encircled by active wear and a baby strapped to my midsection, when a different neighbor pulled up on the street. It was one of the girls living in the house next door, who are all very very cool art students. I was an art student once but then I went on to become a person who carries a baby around like a little diapered lord. Anyway, as she parked her car a song poured from her windows like pancake batter, browning in the thick late summer air. I liked the way the song sounded. When she got out, I asked her who it was.
“Mah Blah Bah Rarbargazz,” she said.
“What,” I said, because I couldn’t hear her over the summer happening between our porches at the time.
“Benny The Jet Rodriguez,” she repeated.
“Benny And The Jets, Rodriguez!” I parroted, smiling like a buffoon. In my mind I saw Beastie Boys covering Elton John and then A-Rod came tottering onstage for an impromptu duet.
“You can borrow the tape,” she offered.
“I don’t have, uh, I don’t have a tape player,” I stuttered, which I realized later was incorrect because I have a cassette deck in my car that I’ve only ever used to play an adapter for my Discman until someone smashed my passenger side window and stole both items for a net worth gain of, I don’t know, $5? Still, FIST BITE she listens to cassettes! So cool!
“Oh,” she said. “Well, I’m sure they’re online or something.” FIST BITE she doesn’t actually know if the band has an internet presence! So cool!
I went inside and did a google. DID YOU KNOW that “Benny The Jet Rodriguez” is a direct reference to character in the film The Sandlot? I never saw it, not because I was too clever to engage in pop culture, but because I was 13 the year it was released and had already moved on from coming-of-age films to trying to style the front part of my hair into the tallest, crunchiest hairspray-buffered wave possible. Anything to fit in amongst my peers!
Some days later as I was coming home from yet another walk, I caught all the roommates smoking on their porch. “Hey, thanks for introducing me to Benny AND The Jet Rodriguez!” I called, awkwardly stumbling over the name again. “Yeah, they’re pretty good, we saw them at Bluh,” someone replied.
“Bluh,” I echoed, rearranging my face so my panic didn’t show. “Where’s that at?”
“Oh, it’s a little club up on Brighton. You’ve probably never heard of it,” they said.
I haven’t! And I probably never will. Not least because I genuinely can’t remember the name, although remind me when I launch my own private venue that Bluh is an ace moniker if there ever was one. No, I’ll never go because I have nothing to wear. Can you imagine pushing your way to the front of the crowd while wearing a garbage Target shirt? Those kids would eat me for brunch and Instagram that shit.
Anyway, I bought the album on mp3. Recommend! It sounds like that point in a California summer when the sun has faded all the colors down to brown and gold and that point at the house party when everyone is demonstrating feats of strength. You could do much worse, in terms of sounds.
But what about the guy with the van and the blog?
Well, August turned to September and he and I kept on crossing paths. Once I passed him on the sidewalk as he scowled at an iPod in his hand. Another time I spotted him taking pictures of flowers in someone’s yard. Another time I happened to glance out my living room window as he and a friend walked by in the alley. Every night I refreshed his blog to find a new post about the previous day’s happenings. Went out for a run. Stopped to take photos of these cool blooms. Walked over to a brewery with John.
We were like pulsars in orbit, emitting bursts of visible light at each other, except he couldn’t see mine. I knew he’d eaten vegan donuts two mornings in a row, and he had no clue I existed! Yet I kept following along like the creepiest shadow. I scoffed and wondered why anyone would put matter like this out into the world, yet I was unable to look away.
Then one day the beau and I walked by as he was sitting alone on his epically bearded friend’s front porch. He looked up from his book and said hello, and we said hello back. That was all. But it weirdly humanized him, for me. I mean, who was I to know what he was like behind his online veneer? Unless he had a thing for kicking puppies he was probably, at worst, trying to live his best life just like the rest of us.
So where are our studly heroes of summer now? Well, blog boy finally packed up his brown and cream van and moved on, north through Wyoming it would seem. I still check his blog occasionally but it’s less interesting now that I can’t use it to spy on my cool neighbors.
I finally broke my moratorium on buying new clothes and set myself loose with $30 in a consignment store. The deal is that I still have to wear the old clothes but now I get breaks from my misery. It’s a far cry from the wardrobe of my dreams, but surprise, my mood about myself has improved!
I spent the very last night of summer listening to Rage Against the Machine’s Battle of Los Angeles with my conservative ex-military Fox News-loving dad, who happened to be in town on a business trip. “It’s not as good as Evil Empire,” he sniffed when the album was over, and my world slid off my lap and into my wine glass. My dad is a little bit cool! That fact got carved out of the memory I had of him; a little more whittled away with every political argument we had over the last several years. In my mind he was a wooden figure arguing back at talk radio on his drive into work. My dad, actually, contained multitudes.
Most of us do.