Last week on my Facebook page I posed the question, “What’s my generation’s skinny-tie equivalent?” Most responses were of the “Uhhh, wouldn’t that be the skinny tie?” variety, but I dunno. I tend to associate the look with adults: the Buggles-era Yes, f’r starters, or The Knack, or the band-shot sleeve in REO Speedwagon’s Hi Infidelity, or the upwardly mobile cast of The Big Chill. It seemed more of a post-adolescent sartorial affectation, an irreverent comment on and defiance of grown-up conformity. The skinny tie was too informal for the office but perfect for a casual night at the club. It was a wearable symbol of limbo — something our generation lacked in the transition between our freewheeling twenties and close-cropped thirties.
And, yeah, I had a skinny tie as a kid: a clip-on job suitable for the middle school functions I deliberately avoided and the weddings I couldn’t escape. Being well-heeled, my mom naturally loathed the clip-on aspect and made certain that I knew how to handle a real tie. Better halves were always astounded that I, a hopeless savage in most respects, could on a humbug Windsor-knot myself without intervention.
As a result, I enjoy wearing ties and dressing up when the occasion allows. It used to bug me, those dudes who’d cluck, “I don’t do ties, man, that ain’t me,” as if angling for commendation from the Indie Haberdashery Commission. Relax: it’s just a limp length of fabric to twirl around your neck.
These days I wear ties in moderation. But there was a time, years ago, when I was consciously developing a signature look that I was rarely seen without either a tie or a cardigan sweater over slacks and dress shoes. Sometimes — what the fuck — I even combo’d that shit. I wanted onlookers to regard my dapper passing form with a low, admiring whistle and whisper, “There goes Cory Frye, that self-made man. Such poise, such confidence.”
I dressed this way for the better part of a year-and-a-half, until my then-girlfriend snapped a covert shot of oblivious I in our community college newspaper office. One morning I walked into the space and there I was in grim black-and-white, thumb-tacked to a wall under the felt-tipped headline “DOES CORY FRYE DRESS IN THE DARK?” “STRIPES! STRIPES!” thundered a damning Post-It, drawing attention to an apparently offensive clash between my shirt, tie, and sweater. The signature line was at an end; back I went to classic tees and jeans, where I didn’t have to coordinate a goddamn thing.
Offensive T-Shirts I Have Known & Owned & Worn with Pride
1. Two pooches of undetermined breed gossip quietly about a third. “She’s so popular,” one whispers to the other. “What’s her secret?” The answer: a massive bottle of that miracle elixir, “Gee, Your Butt Smells Terrific.”
2. A disgusted baseball manager admonishes his pitcher as he busily fiddles with his clothed nether-regions. “I don’t care if it relaxes you, Tompkins,” the manager spits, “we’re on national television!”
3. Five pairs of flattened legs protrude from under a block of cement. A pool of blood forms around the bodies. Legend: New Kids Under the Block. Freshman girls hated that one. Oh, well.
Apparently, I kinda liked weed, despite rarely partaking or indulging. Truthfully, I haven’t so much as hiccoughed a suspicious intake since the spring of 1993.
Among my armor: a Ren & Stimpy knockoff called Red & Pimpy, depicting the cartoon dog and cat as skank and seed-plyin’ john, respectively; a Peter Tosh Legalize It tee that earned me scores of curious followers in urban downtown areas (“Sorry, man” was all I could sell); da Vinci’s Mona Lisa chilling with the most gargantuan doob ever rolled; and Bob Marley shrouded in pillows of contraband cumulus. I felt duty-bound to obsess over reggae, proclaim the greatness of Lee “Scratch” Perry, and refer to myself as a steppin’ razor when I wasn’t feeling irie. Igziabeher, let Jah be praised. Couldn’t rock the dreadlocks, though — I was too suburban whitebread. Even my highs were ivory-white, melting in friends’ apartments under David Letterman’s curious glow. One time he seemed to return after every commercial break for the better part of four hours.
Another night I walked home in increasing paranoia that I was being watched, and that cops were waiting to leap from trees and bushes to finally collar my ass for good. I tried to stroll steady, concentrating on a central line in the sidewalk in observance of those childhood swimming lessons where you learn to focus on a rafter as a backstroke guide.
When I finally reached my door, I realized in horror that I was ravenously famished and in serious need of immediate sustenance. But the only store open at that hour (1:30 a.m.) was the 7-Eleven three blocks down, in a neighborhood crawling with cruisers. So I panicked and paced, paced and panicked, shot glances out my window into the deceptive blackness of night, my palate hard-core jonesing for a Big Gulp, a Hot Pocket or nine, or a Big Bite embalmed in chili hills the size of camel humps and leveled with hot, goopy cheese. Then, excelsior! “Hell, man,” I sniffed, “I’m a WRITER. I can create a legitimate back story to explain why I’m visiting a 7-Eleven at two in the morning.” With that I buckled down and fashioned a concoction of fabulist beauty.
I was clean and free, with one potential setback: my voice. Once I opened my piehole to speak, any fool would intuit that I was baked off my nut. “LISTEN to him!” Officer Indignant would sneer to Lieutenant Balk. “You can practically HEAR the cottonmouth! Cuff this Tone Lōc prick before I KILL him!” “I’m glad you nabbed him before he found the doughnuts,” the 7-Eleven clerk would sigh. “Imagine, getting high and coming to a convenience store in the dead of night. My God, good Christian FAMILIES shop here!”
That scenario would not do, so I began practicing my enunciation — but not to the point of sounding self-conscious. “HELL-LO!” I greeted my miniature tape recorder. “HOW MUCH WAS THAT A-GAIN? HA HA. HELL-LO! Do I sound STONED? Do I sound STONED?” When I played it back, I may as well have been a fuckin’ Cheech & Chong record. I was gonna be so arrested, dude, popped on a munchies charge.
Thankfully, the story has a happy ending. I patrolled the aisles with meta-aware purpose, hesitating not a nanosecond among the foodstuffs. Cheetos. Pluck. Pepperoni-pizza and ham-and-cheese Hot Pockets. Nab. Nab. Nab. And … nab. Then I watched a stream of Cherry Coke as it burbled from spout to ice-laden cup, filling so sweetly, fizzing so crisply, glistening under fluorescent witness like a river of diamonds. How high’s the caffeine, mama? Thirty-two ounces and rising…
I lugged my quarry to the counter, flashing upright citizen blinks at the clerk. He glumly packed my groceries and muttered his salutations, then returned to his Auto Trader. Well, fuck you, too, man. Four outlined notebook pages for nothing.
Back home I unloaded the Hot Pockets directly into my mouth — no oven, no microwave, and brother, they’re still the best I’ve ever tasted. The stiffened cheese and clumps of meat paraded about my tongue, grateful lovers caressing my taste buds. Then I popped the floodgates and dumped the coldest, most electric reservoir of carbonated soda down my hatch, reveling in a mad gallop of cherries dancing with syrup in divine synchronicity. On that night I could not have loved the Coca-Cola Company more.
Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah: shirts.
The most offensive in my collection remains my Negativland Christianity Is Stupid tee. Hard to imagine, but there weren’t enough Negativland fans in my hometown to grok the reference to a cutting musical commentary on religious hypocrisy. Reactions were so hostile that I’ve worn it in public only four times, so it still looks new even 15-16 years later. My first confrontation took place at the local movie house when an elderly woman marched up and jabbed a finger into my breastplate. “THAT, young MAN,” she hissed, “is the most DISGUSTING thing I have EVER seen. How DARE you!” In a later incident I was accosted by a drunk outside a Circle K. “Do you rebuke your savior Jesus Christ?” he demanded to know. “YES!” I said, and beat it.
My Sub Pop LOSER t-shirt was way more popular. Once I was followed through a department store by two tittering preteen girls. When I finally turned to confront them, they chorused, “Loser!” Others would ask if I was that down on myself. Honestly, I reckon you’d have to be of an opposite mind to invite that kind of scrutiny. I exhume it on occasion; the kids still dig it, even though its evocation of the long-gone “grunge” era likely eludes them.
Other outer garments beloved by sprouts:
All all-black number except for what appears to be the Nine Inch Nails logo just under the collar. Upon closer examination, however, it reads Nine Inch Dicks. Oh, and it glows in the dark, so it’s hilarious even in citywide blackouts.
Hilarity abounded the night I arrived at my newspaper sports gig to discover that I’d been assigned to cover a high school wrestling meet. Did I mention I was wearing a jacket over a tee emblazoned with FUCK YOU YOU FUCKING FUCK? Que professional!
I didn’t have time to go home and change, so I buttoned up, hijacked a notebook, and observed two hours of strategic grabass. Afterward, I approached the two high-school girls running stats and went into reporter mode when I noticed one of them staring at my chest. “What’s your shirt say?” she asked, reaching for a button. “Oh?” I stammered. “Um, it’s just, y’know, laundry day, so, ha ha.” She smirked, finished unbuttoning my jacket, and opened it. Eyes and three FUCKs met, dropping a teenage jaw. “Wow,” she gasped, almost admiringly. “I can’t believe you got away with this.” “I didn’t — I couldn’t — there wasn’t — y’know,” I attempted. “It’s cool,” she said. But that night I wore my LOSER brand in spirit.
Most of these shirts have gone to meet their manufacturers. Others simply became drawer-meat. The Mona Lisa lost its sleeves for workout purposes, FUCK wore down to dry-rag oblivion, and I believe Red & Pimpy faded from vibrant purple to permanent opaque. Christianity Is Stupid is strictly bedtime wear—no one in dreams gives me shit — and I break out LOSER whenever I’m feeling feisty and nostalgic. Right now I’m in blank, oversized, monochrome cotton: sensible, comfortable, statement-free. But I’m this close to accessorizing with a skinny tie or scrawling FUCK across its middle, anything to give it some added punch.