While shopping recently I met another car in a mall lot lane. I could see the driver and passenger plainly. They looked Middle Eastern, and I didn’t know them.
But the driver smiled and gave me a little wave. I waved back, puzzled. I knew he wasn’t responding to my friendly face. My self-delusion doesn’t stretch quite that far.
I figured it out at last, I think. He and his friend were wearing suits and ties. I was wearing a tie too, and my weekend fedora (the older one, a Christy’s Foldable).
His greeting had been the salute of one civilized man to another. Accustomed to more gracious attire back where he came from, he’d found even a threadbare specimen like me a welcome sight in a land of barbarians.
I think we’ve got it all wrong about clothes in this country. I think we’ve had it wrong ever since the cultural petit mal that was the 1960s.
We revered something called “authenticity” back in the Sixties. Dressing neatly, grooming ourselves, even basic hygiene — all such activities were condemned as “plastic.” Conformist. Hypocritical. Real beauty sprang from the heart, we told each other, and anyone blind to such beauty had, like, no soul, man. The really authentic thing, of course, would have been to wear no clothes at all, but where that wasn’t practical (like in February in Minnesota, where I lived then and live now), decency demanded dressing like a Biafran refugee and smelling like a dog’s bed.
It never occurred to us, in our innocence (no, let’s be honest — our arrogance), that inner beauty might also involve some small concern for the noses of others, and that cleaning up, smelling good, and covering ourselves with attractive clothing might also be a way of striving for greater peace and universal consciousness in the world.
Of course we were young then, our generation, and some of us actually did look good without clothes on.
Not as many as thought they did, though.
Certainly not me.
IN ANY CASE, TODAY the “Now Generation” of the Sixties is entering its own sixties, and the percentage of us whose bodies bear close inspection has… well, I just had supper and I’d rather not think about it.
Many are the duties a responsible culture (if there were one around) would lay upon us, its elders. We’d be expected to keep the fires of reason and tradition burning in the home and the public square. We’d be expected to act as a damper on the political and social passions of our youngers, counseling against complacent pacifism on the one hand and obnoxious aggression on the other. We’d be expected to provide a little free babysitting for the grandchildren when the kids needed a weekend in Tahoe or St. Thomas.
But no duty of elders, it seems to me, is more vital to the common weal on a day-to-day basis than that of simply dressing decently. An old man in a neat suit (preferably with a hat. Extra points for a cane) is a walking civic improvement. By contrast, an old fart in baggy shorts and a Budweiser tee-shirt is a sight from which small children should be shielded. By force of law if necessary.
About old women I shall say nothing at all (mostly out of fear).
Throughout history each generation has heard the complaint, “Young people today have no manners! They don’t respect their elders!”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?