Monday, September 26, 2016

Slaves to Fashion

Well, I made it to and through the wedding. I had a good time, but I’m telling you, getting there was not half the fun. On the trip down I made a couple wrong turns and then ran smack into Friday-afternoon Philly traffic, so a drive that should have taken roughly two hours ended up taking four. Good thing I left the house early. As a test I took the same route back, only this time there was no traffic and I knew where I was going. Time elapsed: a little over two and a half hours. Sure, I could have taken the turnpike, but I’d rather take the scenic route and not pay tolls. Though it turned out a lot more scenic than I could have done with. Sure hope my other nephew elopes.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about clothes. I ended up wearing the dressy top with a pair of decent slacks. My aunt was there with a friend of hers. Both of them wore slacks. In addition, the friend and I both wore flat shoes. Everyone else had a dress on, but so what. We’re over 50. Screw fashion, we’re gonna be comfy. Besides, women over 50 don’t matter in our youth-obsessed society, so nobody gives a crap what we wear. I know my feet didn’t hurt at the end of the night, and I could sit without worrying whether or not anything was on display. That’s all I care about.

Best of all, I only paid $2 for the top, and another $2 for the knee-high pantyhose. The rest was leftover office wear I had in the closet. I didn’t pay a bundle for some dress I’ll probably never wear again, which was my intention.

The bride did have a lovely wedding gown, and I’m sure she paid handsomely for it. Ditto for the bridesmaids. They might be able to wear their dresses to another venue, though I can’t think of one, unless one of them gets invited to the Oscars or something. I doubt if those dresses came cheap, either. They’ll probably sit in the closet now, unless or until the bridesmaids donate them to Goodwill for use as a prom dress. What other function can you wear a bridesmaid dress to? You can’t even wear it to another wedding.

The men, in contrast, simply rent a tux. They don’t give a damn how many sweaty guys wore it before they did. Women, for some reason, aren’t given the option of renting clothes for special occasions. They’re compelled to buy an expensive dress they’ll no doubt never wear again. Does anyone else see a double standard here? A very costly one?

It’s been proven that clothing, grooming products, haircuts—anything having to do with appearance—costs more for women than it does for men, even if it’s performing the same function. On top of that, fashions change with the seasons because clothing designers and manufacturers want to make a living too. Let me rephrase that. Women’s fashions change. Men’s clothing may offer minor changes here and there, but on the whole they can get by day after day with a few shirts, some slacks, and a sports jacket. A woman builds a nice, functional wardrobe and then all of a sudden her dresses are pronounced too long/short and her slacks are too roomy/tight and her blouses have the wrong kind of sleeves. She has to buy a whole new set of clothing—at prices higher than what a man pays—whether she wants to or not.

Here’s a true-life adventure from several years ago. I was about to start yet another office job. I decided to get a new skirt to kick off my new employment. Guess again. That was the year skorts were in. A pair of shorts disguised as a skirt. Nice, but I didn’t want a skort. I wanted a skirt. You think I could find one? Not a chance. Nobody was selling skirts. One of the most basic items in a woman’s wardrobe and they were nowhere to be found. It was buy a skort or go naked.

So I went to “Bloomingdale’s” (my mother’s name for Goodwill) and found exactly what I wanted, at a fraction of the price. So there.

The following year skirts were back on the racks. You couldn’t find a skort to save your life. Not that I cared, since by then I wasn’t at that job any more. But how many thousands of women were stuck with unwearable skorts in their closet, because the fashion changed and then changed back again?

Who decides these things? And why can’t we kill them?

If you think this is bad, pity the poor moms trying to find decent outfits for their pre-teen daughters, and the only thing available in the stores are what’s generally referred to as “slut clothes.” Why, exactly, does a six-year-old need to bare her midrift? Or own a T-shirt that says “Sexy Beast”? Yet the mothers complain they can’t find age-appropriate alternatives. But this is what sells, cry the store owners. Of course it’s selling. It’s the only thing you’re making available. Since public nudity is frowned upon in the United States, we’re stuck with whatever you offer us. A vicious circle, indeed.

I think the Amish still make their own clothes. I know we’ve got a lot of fabric stores in my neck of the woods. Their fashions don’t change much from year to year. Or century to century, for that matter. Or we could go the Madonna route. She dressed herself from thrift stores because she couldn’t afford new stuff. Then she got famous and started setting trends. Imagine if women all started dressing themselves from second-hand stores. Would used clothing prices go up?

Not that this really affects me any more. I’ve hit the age where comfort trumps appearance, and fashion can take a flying leap. But hey, if anybody sees a skort on the racks anywhere, let me know. I don’t even see those in thrift stores. I’d love to know what happened to them.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Consequences of Your Inactions

I know, I know. It’s my own fault. I knew this was coming almost a year ago. I could have done something about it then, but I didn’t. Now I have to pay the price. I have no one to blame but myself.

My nephew’s wedding is at the end of this week, and I have nothing to wear.

Back around the beginning of the year—yes, resolution time—I thought about trying to lose weight. I knew the wedding was set for September and I’d probably end up wearing a dress. I preferred not to think about that. I’m not a dress person. I’m also not an exercise person. All that heat and humidity this summer made it easy, even safer, to stay sedentary.

I honestly can’t remember the last time I wore a dress. Back in the Dark Ages, when our school eased up on dress codes and finally let girls wear pants, I was among the first to make the switch. I pulled on a pair of jeans and never looked back. When I moved into the work force and offices eased up, I soon traded my skirt-and-blouse combos and to blouse-and-slacks. What can I say? To me, Ellen Degeneris is the height of fashion. Besides, if Hillary gets in this November, pants suits will become all the rage.

But I still decided I was going to wear a dress to the wedding. Call it a nod to traditionalism. Or my last hurrah. I also decided, last minute, that I wasn’t going to spend a lot on my wedding outfit. After all, I don’t go out that much, and pants are accepted everywhere. No point in spending a bundle on something I’ll probably never wear again. That’s supposed to be the bride’s problem.

So last weekend I went to the local Goodwill to check out their offerings. Found some nice ones, too. I must have tried on at least half a dozen, all perfect for public appearances.

Except for one little problem. None of them fit me.

Here’s where that sedentary lifestyle of the last eight months came back to bite me in the ass. And the hips and thighs. And especially that bulging stomach. Picture Jabba the Hut frantically pawing through the plus-size racks and you’ll have an idea of how I must have looked.

Okay, then. Plan B. Off to KMart. They were bound to have a better selection anyway. And they did. Of tops, blouses, shorts and slacks. No dresses that I could see. None whatsoever in plus size. Once you get past size 16 you’re not supposed to leave the house, I guess.

Walmart’s inventory was much the same. The dresses they had weren’t intended for anyone over the age of 12, or over 100 pounds. The pants-and-top combo idea was starting to look better and better.

Back home, on impulse, I dug into the back of my closet. I used to own a dress or two from my days doing office work. Of course, that was several dozen pounds ago. Maybe I still had some nice tops I could pair with a new set of slacks. Elastic waistband, of course.

Right in the back of the closet, I found it: an old interview outfit. A simple black spandex sheathe with a green jacket that covered the bulges quite nicely. And wonder of wonders, it fit. I even found a matching pair of shoes. See, it pays to never throw anything out.

Experimentation time. The dressy tops I had looked fine with it, but they were a little tight. So it was back to Goodwill. I got a pair of oversized, colorful tops to dress up the basic black. Thursday night I’ll do a fashion show. Whatever looks best and fits best over the sheathe will become my wedding outfit. All I need is a pair of pantyhose and I’m ready to rock.

Sue Grafton, speaking through her detective character Kinsey Milhone, was right: all any woman really needs is a basic little black dress.

Though everything would have fit even better if I’d dealt with my weight in the many months leading up to this moment. If I’d lost even ten pounds I could have fit into any one of the decent dresses I tried to try on. Yeah well. It’s only for a couple of hours, in front of family members I don’t interact with, some of whom I haven’t seen in ten to twenty years. I haven’t even seen or talked to my nephew since Mom’s funeral six years ago. (To which I wore slacks, by the way. Mom would have understood.) Do I still have to get him a gift?

Just as a backup, I’m going to hit Target later this week and see what they have in the dress department. Or if they even sell dresses any more. Maybe you can only get dresses at Sears or Penney’s or specialty stores. Screw that. I’m not going to the mall for this. It’s not worth it.

Guys have it easy. They just have to rent a tux. One or two suits last them for life. Women get socked in the wallet for wedding dresses, prom dresses, bridesmaid dresses, cocktail dresses, work, casual wear, formal wear—geez. And you have to sit up straight with your legs together in all of ‘em. No wonder I gave it up.

In fact, this whole thing may be moot. This morning I tried on the dressy purple top with my pair of black slacks. The outfit does't look that bad. Better than it does with the dress. Fits better, too. And the pants are roomy enough to hide that multitude of sins below my waist, as well as the waist itself. I guess that settles that.

So much for dresses and weight loss. Look for me at the wedding. I’ll be at the bar, having a drink with Ellen Degeneris.

Friday, September 16, 2016


Next week this time I’ll be headed out to mid-state New Jersey for my nephew’s wedding. It’s about a two-three hour drive for me, more or less. From where I am, it’s about an hour’s drive to Philadelphia, then another hour’s drive to get through Philadelphia, depending on the state of the Schuylkill Expressway. Under normal conditions I’d drive down for the wedding and reception and then just come home, but the nephew’s getting married at 5:30 in the afternoon, so I booked a hotel room down there. No way in hell I’m facing Philly traffic in the dark after a full day of revelry.

Since I don’t have a cell phone or GPS, my next step is to figure out a route to the place. I’ve been to Jersey plenty of times, but not that part of Jersey. It’s supposed to be right across the river from Philly. When I asked the nice lady at the hotel registration desk for an easy route from Philly, she told me to use the Ben Franklin Bridge. “It’ll bring you right here,” she assured me.

Good thing I doublechecked on a paper map. The Ben Franklin Bridge takes me into Camden. The bridge I want is the Tacomy-Palmyra Bridge, which meets up with Rt. 73, which runs right by the hotel. I can pick up Rt. 1 from the Schuylkill, which should bring me to the bridge and get me into Jersey with no trouble.

I should know better by now. You should never ask anybody for directions. I’ve driven across the country with nothing but a map, and believe me, nobody is capable of giving directions. Not men, not women, not people at information desks whose job it is to help you out. Not nobody, nohow.

I’ve been the ignorant tourist in places all over the country. I’ve asked locals how to get somewhere. Talk to four people and you’ll get four different sets of directions, one of which might be correct. I’m not looking for some obscure place. Most of the time I’m trying to find someplace well known, like a WalMart or a tourist attraction. Usually I get blank looks. “WalMart? Never heard of it.” With the WalMart sitting right across the street. “Oh. I’ll be damned. I never noticed that before.”

I don’t know if people just don’t want to be bothered and are trying to get rid of me, or if they honestly have no idea where they exist on the planet. I’m not constantly thinking about where I am at any given time, let alone how to get somewhere else. It must be jarring to have strangers walk up to you and demand, “How do I get from here to Point B?” And then you have to stop and think about it. Not only do you have to figure out how to get somewhere and then pass this information on to another human being, but you have to stop and think. That right there can ruin someone’s day.

Here’s a few of my adventures delivering flowers for Mother’s Day earlier in the year. It was raining, for starters, so I wasn’t in the best of moods. I had deliveries to make at a retirement community. I couldn’t find one address on my road atlas, so I asked at the information desk. The woman at the desk didn’t know where it was. “I’m a temp. The person who really does this job is at lunch.” I asked if she had a map of the community; most of these places do. She was sure they had one, but she didn’t know where it was. I walked into an office and asked a professional. The girl got me a map of the place and found the home I was looking for. Why is it people with no information are always sent to work the information desk?

Then I had to find an address on Farmersville Road. Pretty straightforward. Except there are four Farmersville Roads, one for each compass direction, and my address list didn’t specify which one. I picked the closest at random, but the house numbers restarted before I found my target. So I asked some people. They’d never heard of that house number. “Ours is 522,” the woman told me. Five minutes later she said, “Oh wait, our house is 225.” She didn’t even know her own address, let alone the one I was looking for. Her son consulted the GPS on his cell phone, then sent me down the road to ask somebody else. So much for helpful technology.

That’s just receiving directions. It’s no better when you’re giving them out. I was having lunch in a restaurant when some woman asked me how to get to Dutch Wonderland. That’s a well-known tourist destination out here, located on Rt. 30, just like the restaurant. “You go out on 30 and turn left,” I said. Others nearby said the same thing. “That’s 30 outside. Turn left out of the parking lot and go about half a mile.” No sweat.

Yeah, right. A woman asked for directions, but it was a man—husband, brother, I dunno—driving the car. We watched from the restaurant as the car pulled out of the parking lot—and turned right. Sure, 30’s a busy four-laner, and making a left is tough. He might have gone up to a light and turned around. However, it was all women in there giving him directions. To this day I believe he thought we didn’t know what the hell we were talking about, so he automatically did the opposite. Hope he enjoyed sleeping on the couch.

This is why, when I’m doing a major road trip, I stick to highways. They’re straight. Hard to go wrong. Unless you miss your exit. I’d better get printouts from MapQuest before I head for Jersey. I don’t want to have to call my nephew from Connecticut and apologize for missing his wedding.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Peter David Moment

Here’s how a writer’s mind works. My current WIP involves a comic book writer/artist who needs to come up with a new superhero concept. Which means I had to come up with a new superhero concept. Name, background, origin story, superpowers, secret identity. Lucky for me this is prose, so I don’t have to design a costume too.

Which got me thinking about what superpowers are out there already, the good as well as the bad. Top of the heap, of course, is Superman, who has all the biggies—flight, super-strength, super-speed—as well as an impressive array of secondary powers, like super-hearing, heat vision and X-ray vision. I’m not that sure about icy breath, but I suppose that would come in handy if he’s cooking you dinner and it catches on fire. I don’t think “culinary skill” counts as a superpower.

And a cape. Nothing says superhero as impressively as a cape. Capes look so cool when you’re flying. Or if you’re trying to scare the shit out of criminals, if you’re Batman.

Then there are powers that aren’t as flashy but can be just as impressive if the hero knows how to fully utilize them, like agility, stretching (Mr. Fantastic, Plastic Man), elemental powers (flame, water, wind), psychic powers (telepathy, telekinesis), magic, shapeshifting, and the like. And brains, probably the most important superpower out there. Ask Batman, the world’s foremost powerless superhero. Spider-Man isn’t as strong as Superman, but he could probably use his scientific knowledge to whip up a batch of kryptonite webbing. Let’s see you break out of that, Supes.

As you move down the list, the awesome factor starts to fade. Poison Ivy controls plants. She shouldn’t be as deadly as she is—a little weed killer should put her out of action—but her knowledge of her subject and how she applies it are what make her a threat. The Invisible Girl (now Invisible Woman) used to be a waste of space until societal attitudes towards women’s abilities matured. She leads teams now. She probably only keeps her nerd scientist hubby Mr. Fantastic around because of the advantages of his stretching powers (heh heh). (Side note to DC: you want to make a popular R-rated superhero comedy on a par with Deadpool? Go with Plastic Man, and consider all the ramifications of a hero who can stretch, harden and enlarge any and all of his body parts. I guarantee you’ll have a winner on your hands.)

At the bottom of the barrel we have the Legion of Super-Heroes, which at one point included members like Bouncing Boy and Matter-Eater Lad. Or Bwana Beast. The less said, the better.

Which for some reason led my brain to Aquaman.

Okay, he’s got some spiffy powers. He’s the King of the Seven Seas. He can breathe underwater. He’s incredibly strong—he’d have to be, to survive the pressures at the bottom of the ocean. He can telepathically control sea creatures. Piss him off and he’ll throw a shark at you. He’s had a few different incarnations over the years. Previews for the upcoming Justice League movie look like they’re going with the surly badass version.

I’m not sure how well he’s going to work out. Take him out of the water, where his powers mean something, and … then what? What would happen if the King of the Seven Seas found himself stranded in landlocked Kansas? Does he have control over fresh-water fish? What exactly could he do with an army of striped bass, or sunfish? How deadly are minnows en masse?

Alligators or snapping turtles, there you might have something. Or water snakes. Or some of the larger wading birds with those big scoopy bills. Now you’ve got yourself an army.

As all this was running through my head, I realized I was having a Peter David moment.

Peter David was/is (not sure what he’s been up to lately; I’ll have to check) one of my favorite comic-book writers, mostly because of his sense of humor, and because his mind would go off into these odd what-if tangents. Mr. David wrote some of my favorite Star Trek tie-in novels, including the epic meeting between Lwaxana Troi, the ultimate meddling mom, and Q, the ultimate meddler. While writing Spider-Man, Peter had Spidey take a trip to the suburbs. In the city, Spidey swings on his web from Point A to Point B. No tall buildings in the ‘burbs. Peter had Spidey rushing to a crime scene on top of a car. What else was Spidey going to do? Run? It’s like the Flash foiling a scheme at the DMV, but first the Fastest Man Alive has to wait in line while Patty and Selma take their smoke break. Those were the kind of plots Mr. David came up with.

He also, in one story, devised a logical way for Amazons to reproduce without men, kidnapping, or recruitment drives. No idea how he slipped that one by his editor. For all I know, Peter David may have written a story similar to my Aquaman idea above. I was never a big follower of Aquaman.

The point is not to always go for the obvious. Figure out who your character is, what his/her greatest strengths are. Then put that person into a situation where their biggest assets are useless and see what they do. Comic books aren’t always about the powers. At their best, they’re about the people in the capes, and how they respond to a situation where all their powers can’t help them. That’s the true measure of a character.

Let’s get back to Superman. Thanks to all the movies, YouTube has a fine selection of fan-made video mashups between Marvel and DC characters. They always pit Supes against Thor or the Hulk. You ask me, they’re going in the wrong direction. Superman has two major weaknesses: kryptonite and magic. Supes needs to battle Dr. Strange. What would he do against an opponent who can banish him to the Ditko Dimension with a flick of his wrist? To a world where his formidable powers don’t work and the laws of magic apply? My guess is, Superman would learn to use magic, or at least enough to get himself home, while fighting magic-based enemies coming at him from all sides. I’ll bet that’s the story Peter David would write.

I hope some YouTube fan is reading this. With a Dr. Strange movie coming out, we might get to see a Superman/Strange matchup after all.

And if mondo mashups are your thing, some fan did a series of shorts matching DC, Marvel and Star Wars. Imagine this if you will: Batman. With a lightsaber. Fighting Darth Vader. I know who my money’s on.