I fear my glorious content for this post may have been somewhat anticipated by my friend Colleen’s enthusiastic comment to yesterday’s segment. (Go back and read what she had to say; she expresses the wonder for an innocent Iowan of the original Banana Republic’s exotic gallery of travel couture exquisitely.)
I, too, somehow received a catalog from the original Banana Republic some time in the middle or late Eighties, and like Colleen something about the drawn images of their products combined with the really interesting anecdotes of the Zieglers’ travel experiences (was this the company being satirized by Elaine’s self-important boss J. Peterman on Seinfeld? —No, the real J. Peterman ripped off the Zeiglers) gripped me with excitement. That and the fact that all their men’s clothing featured plenty of pockets…
It was in the pages of that catalog that I first encountered a photojournalist’s vest, and my destiny, as I am sure multitudes of students have mocked me for ever since, arrived. Unfortunately for me, the photojournalist’s vest was really rather expensive, up toward one hundred dollars! I really couldn’t afford that. Still it looked wonderful, and I knew I had seen its like on actual journalists on the evening news, usually in places like Africa, Afghanistan, Nicaragua or Southeast Asia. I know Dan Rather wore one when he sneaked into Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion that provided the Regan-era CIA opportunity to train and arm the Taliban, including Osama bin Laden. (Oh, the irony, the genuine sorrow. And we couldn’t even learn the lesson of history from the Soviet experience, or possibly in our arrogance we believe their humiliation in Afghanistan was entirely our doing. Regardless it has all come home to roost, sadly.) My fantasies of an exciting alternative career aside, I really wanted a photojournalist’s vest. I just couldn’t afford one.
Eventually, however the lure of Banana Republic’s exotic and practical travel garments overwhelmed my caution at ordering through the mail clothing I had never actually seen even in a photograph, and I determined to buy something. Fortunately, when the next catalog arrived a sale was occurring. I found an interesting olive-green pair of traveler’s shorts, which were only about $25 and featured—excitement of excitements—two large button-down pockets on the outside of each leg. I know that such things have become really popular since, but back in 1985-6-7 or whenever, I hadn’t seen the like. When the shorts arrived just ten days later, I was delighted at how well they fit (then, they are a size 34 waist) and how practical I thought those pockets on the sides were. We were off to Hawaii that year, I think, and I dreamed of jamming those pockets with all sorts of wondrous things. In truth, they’ve only been used a few times, but I still love that pair of shorts. And I still own them all these years later, dreaming of someday being able to fit back into them. Unfortunately that dream day is not yet today.
But visions of that wonderful, exciting photojournalist’s vest tickled my mind and troubled my imagination. I began saving. Eventually, maybe a year later, I placed my order. My delight with the shorts paled to insignificance when the vest arrived. Although that original item passed long ago as an honor to a fellow director in Peace Pipe Players who at least said she believed my constantly worn vest was the mark of a true director, the garment lives forever in my memory. It had at least 15 pockets (contemporary versions from other companies have even more today), and I found a use for every one. Even for the little plastic upper chest pocket, clear in front to hold my press pass (what a joke), where I secured a laminated copy of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, I guess as my unique insignia.
I wore that vest constantly and everywhere. Except during the day at school. Students got to know it very well, however, as I always donned it for play practice. It went to the mall, it went on vacation, it never hung in a closet. I kept that same vest for five or six years, as I gradually acquired other Banana Republic garments. And I don’t exaggerate: every pocket was filled. I could carry more than one paperback book, more than one notebook for writing or notes or addresses, my Swiss Army knife, a highlighter, Chapstick, Kleenex, a calculator, extra strings or pieces of rope to tie big things to myself… I forget all the things I carried in that first vest.
Eventually, perhaps predictably after the constant wear, it started to wear out. So I saved again and ordered a new vest; it was somewhat different from the original, lacking in particular the plastic pocket for my identification. But that was actually a relief: more than once even I was a bit embarrassed at the attention my Kabbalistic insignia attracted. Once at the Minnesota Renaissance Fair it seemed as though every person among the thousands when we passed or bumped into kept staring at the tiny black-and-white Tree of Life. I think perhaps the only person who really appreciated the emblem was beloved brother-in-law Brian, about whom I told you earlier. It certainly wasn’t my much-beleaguered but long-suffering, beloved wife, Janet, who’s been gracious enough to tolerate the vests for 25 years.
But I’m afraid I shall have to extend this entirely too long disquisition on garments with pockets for yet another day. I got the opportunity to substitute at Andrew again on Tuesday, and once I got home, a strong, weary exhaustion or lethargy overwhelmed me for the rest of the evening, and I got absolutely nothing accomplished—definitely no worthwhile writing, not even a start on today’s blog. Then on Wednesday, as the house was getting cleaned, I had to clear out for my now-usual biweekly lunch in Dubuque with Janet. I still didn’t feel particularly well, and upon returning home and trying to write this post through dictation, the damned MacSpeech Dictate software insisted on mishearing nearly half of what I would say repeatedly, particularly the word vest, which it interpreted as fast, best, past, over and over with other exotic inappropriacies injected. To get these thousand words as accurate (or inaccurate) as they are took more time and energy than I wished. So the saga will continue, probably tomorrow.
I know I already riffed on politics inappropriately above, but in working out the links I got to thinking about the wonders of capitalism (oops, pardon me—how wongheadedly “liberal” to use that perfectly correct word, according to the nut-hut Right and Fox News; I mean “free-enterprise” system—talk about jaw-crunching jargon!). A true capitalist (like the Zieglers) invents something new, interesting and worth buying; but the way the system really works is: others and more others imitate and get imitated. Little or no originality or invention or commercial value (thus the need to endlessly advertise). And what’s worth buying then?
Much does remain to get off my chest, clearly — freedom, the wacko Right and its dupes and stooges (and its hidden Masters unseen behind the scenes, dishing out the cash), capitalism, how it’s our government since we chose them (not our enemy, regardless what the wacko Right believes), group identity (and how that’s not freedom), the pointlessly strident polarization of American political thought…
All to come. Later. Pockets are so much more pleasant.