Status symbols. Fitting in. They are of critical importance to many young people preparing to return to school. No to this shirt or that backpack because they aren’t “in.” Yes to this (usually more expensive) item of clothing or accessory because it is what (they hope) the cool kids in the crowd will be donning. If only we knew what this year’s status symbols would be….
As a teacher and a parent, I shake my head at the trendsetters. Trends come and go like the wind, and the setters always pay full price. I remember the days of students’ (parents’) paying top dollar for anything with the Tommy Hilfiger logo that you can now get for relatively bargain basement prices at Marshall’s. Hush Puppies and Crocs have come and gone and come around again. (For the record, I like Crocs…for fishing and yard work.) Only a few status symbols have stood the test of time–I see you, Polo and Nike.
A little brush-up work on my first book, Lines in the Gravel, reminded me that I was not immune to trying to fit in. Back in my day, the little alligator stitched on the left chest of your shirt was one of the main status symbols of choice. The Izod was not my first choice, however. One of my most memorable status symbols died an agonizing death before it had a chance to become a reality.
Enjoy “Status Symbol of Choice,” an excerpt from Lines in the Gravel.
Status Symbol of Choice
For the better part of ten years of school, most of the shirts I wore had a number on them. The ones that didn’t were mostly generic team shirts from my favorite teams from all sports. I couldn’t have cared less about fashion trends. Somewhere in my tenth-grade year, though, that began to change. I’m sure my burgeoning attraction to the opposite sex had everything to do with my fashion epiphany.
For many in my generation (Class of ’84-ish), the clothing status symbol of choice was the Izod shirt. The Polo had not yet gathered enough momentum—at least in Star, Mississippi—to supplant it yet. I eventually owned a light brown Izod, but I must confess that the shirt was secondary to a much greater clothing status symbol at my school, one that I had earlier longed to attain: Levi jeans with a circle imprint on one of the rear pockets.
I longed to be one of the “in” crowd with the circle-pocket jeans. These jeans couldn’t simply be bought; they were more of a process. The easy part was to buy a pair of boot cut Levi’s. The ring itself required months of carrying a can of Skoal (or Copenhagen for those who could go hard core). This was a problem for me, as I did not dip snuff. Sure, I could have carried a can just to get its imprint; however, a poser would have certainly been exposed, and I had my pride.
One day on a whim, I decided to cross over into coolness. I was hanging out with my friend Greg Bordeaux when he finished one can of Skoal and stopped by the store for another. He knew my predicament (except for the jeans envy part) and offered to let me take a pinch of his tobacco to see if I liked it. Well, that was polite on his part and certainly intuitive, but I reasoned that the sooner I started carrying my own can, the sooner I would have my own imprinted jeans.
Bordeaux and I were standing in front of my dad’s shop when I opened my brand new can of Skoal. Because it was a new can, I could not yet learn that nifty shaking-the-can thing that dippers do to pack all the tobacco tightly against the edge of the can. Bordeaux, now firmly entrenched as my dipping mentor, could teach me that later. Now, it was time for me to go all in.
I reached into the can to get a fairly sizable pinch of snuff. Bordeaux cautioned me that I might want to start a little smaller. I had previously experimented with chewing tobacco, and I didn’t see the difference between the two except packaging, cut, and the obvious cool factor. You can see where this was going….
For a few moments, I was able to bask in the glow of my newly established “habit” and dream of my full range of jeans and their future ring imprints. Then, the world began to shift, ever so slightly at first, then more rapidly as the seconds lengthened into minutes. I excused myself and moved quickly toward the house before the earth could give way underneath me.
This would be a good time in the story to tell you just how much I have always hated throwing up. I knew I was on the verge of vomiting on this day, and the thought was about as dreadful to me as the tsunami churning in my stomach. I sat on the couch with my head in my hands between my knees for about a solid hour before I dared stand up or even open my eyes again. The nausea finally passed and with it, my desire for circle-pocket jeans.
Bordeaux went home that day with a practically full can of Skoal in each back pocket of his Levis. I, on the other hand, would go on to buy a light brown shirt with a tiny alligator on the chest and form a mild addiction to Jolly Ranchers and sunflower seeds.
Dear Younger Me
I laugh at Younger Me’s overreach to fit in. However, I haven’t forgotten the feeling of wanting to be included. We never really get over that to one degree or another, do we? I find my identity in Christ these days, but a little affirmation still goes a long way.
Andy Andrews says, “Everybody wants to make a difference, but nobody wants to be different.” I’m not sure everybody gets to the point of wanting to make a difference, but I see the “nobody wants to be different” part played out year after year. Even the so-called free spirits all tend to look about the same as one another.
If I could send a message to Younger Me, I would say, “Hey, fella, quit worrying about finding the right status symbols and just be you. You have some unique, creative ability that is lying fairly dormant right now but will one day awaken a part of you that you can’t even see right now. The world is so much bigger than what you see in front of you right now. You will find your place in it; you’ll see. Be patient and keep taking advantage of the opportunities in front of you. You’ll get there, I promise. Just learn to be comfortable in your own skin.”
To which Younger Me would probably respond, “Could you please be quiet and turn off the lights. I don’t feel so good.”[bluebox]
Al Ainsworth is the author of six books:
Coach Dave Season Four: Travel Ball[/bluebox]