Wednesday, 26 November 2014

How Not to be American by Todd McEwen

collection of pieces from various dates, published 2013


extract from Thoughts on the New American Uniform



I was sitting in the parking lot of Walmart, wondering how I was going to feed myself, when I suddenly realized that everyone in the parking lot was wearing the same thing (except for me, of course, still ludicrously togged out in plus-fours and Inverness cape). What they were wearing was this: a baseball cap, a T-shirt, shorts, and what I was brought up to call tennis shoes but are now called running shoes, or in Europe, trainers. This is what the poorest people on earth are wearing right now, I thought. Reaganomics has foisted the third world upon us…





You can spot my countrymen in Europe by this
uniform of T-shirt, shorts and cap. The American used to be spottable by a crisp new Burberry acquired in London and… a very silly hat. And for my older fellow Americans this is still true - but if you get underneath the Burberry (yeccch!) this is what they’re wearing. So I think of this now as a uniform – the New American Uniform.




observations: Todd McEwen has given us two very memorable clothes moments on the blog – the hilarious Killer Barbie from his collection of stories, Five Simple Machines, and the curious case of Cary Grant’s suit, a way of looking at the Hitchcock film North by North-West. Just thinking about either of these two McEwen pieces makes me smile a lot. (The Cary Grant is included in this book too.) When he is on form and on target he is unbeatable: unique, hilarious, clever, thought-provoking, provocative, rude, and with a great use of language (and, evidence above, italics).

These pieces vary enormously, but the book is well worth it for the good ones. You can get an idea of this piece from the title, and the extract above. There’s another one, called Curse of the Sand People which also deals with clothes and appearances:
Everywhere you looked, people and their possessions were getting paler and paler. It must surely be counted a signally black day in the history of wester domestic ecology when people started to buy clothing that was already half washed away, half DESTROYED, by big machines, in the name of fashion, or to put it more bluntly, in the name of making themselves disappear.
He certainly has his own way of looking at the world, and he simply doesn’t resemble any other writer. He writes here about his childhood, about Thoreau, about bluegrass music. And he has a nice piece called When I Become King! – we could all write our own diktats, but I did enjoy his.

My only complaint about the book is that it doesn’t tell you where the pieces originally appeared, nor does it give any dates of writing – I’m guessing this one, featuring Reaganomics, is quite old.

I really must read one of his novels next.

Although I’m quite happy to read Todd McEwen on the subject, It seemed unfair to find a picture of some casually-dressed US citizen just to mock him. So the big picture is a very unobjectionable advertising image. However it is true that men in the t-shirt/shorts combination do look like boys, so Charlie Brown seemed an appropriate image too, and so would Calvin of Calvin & Hobbes - but I explained in yesterday's entry why there can be no picture of him...

8 comments:

  1. My son briefly had a position at an American designer outlet (unnamed) that sold plain t-shirts and leggings and tops for extortionate money in an outlet in Notting Hill. Blander than bland - like above but good quality - £100 a tee.
    A certain F1 mogul's daughter used to come in every other week or so (plus bodyguards and accompanying paparazzi) and drop a few grand each time.

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    1. Oh that's good gossip! I feel myself turning into my mother when I'm asking young persons how an item could possibly be worth that much, and why a nice cheap t-shirt or pair of jeans wouldn't do....

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  2. Moira - That 'uniform' is still out in full force in some places... The stories do sound like observant and witty looks at life, and I'm glad you enjoyed them. Sometimes that 'observations on life' kind of story can work really well.

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    1. Yes, this collection made a nice easy read. Made a change from fiction.

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  3. Other than your blog pieces I have not heard of Todd McEwen. I will try this one if I run into it.

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    1. He's very funny, and you really don't know what direction he's going in next.

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  4. Moira, I like writing something like this. It's personal and yet it isn't and gives you the freedom to explore your subject. I don't know the difference between tennis shoes, running shoes, sneakers or canvas shoes although if I'm buying a pair I always ask for canvas shoes, which, in India, are actually very different from all other kinds. Canvas shoes are made of thin canvas fabric and they come with laces. They also get soaking wet in the rains and so do you feet. I wore them in school.

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    1. I don't think anyone really knows the differences. WE have something we call trainers in the UK, but they're not called that anywhere else. And there's something I call tennis shoes - which might be like the canvas shoes you describe. But no-one has worn them to play tennis in, in years, because of the smart designer sneakers.

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