When I wore them in the ’70s, distressed jeans were a do-it-myself project.
I’d buy a new pair of jeans and wear them until my Mom and Grandma showed obvious signs of distress that my Dad hadn’t burned them yet.
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By then, the jeans were accessorized with holes and rips, while threads sagged like a tired spider’s web over the places where the knees once had been.
For my Grandma Salli, who spent the years of the Great Depression mending so her family’s clothes wouldn’t look like mine, it was particularly distressing.
From her vantage point in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, my distressed jeans were part of the same cultural decline that had caused boys to grow their hair as long as girls and led my Mom to snatch a milk can out of Grandma and Grandpa’s barn and put it next to the fireplace in the family room of our home in suburban Detroit.
I don’t know the words for “Fall of the Roman Empire” in Finnish, but I’m pretty sure Grandma did.
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“What could be next?” she surely asked herself while obsessing over the milk can. “Cow manure air freshener so that nice new house they paid so much for can smell like a barn, too?”
Let’s see, where was I?
Right, distressed jeans.
I still like them and wish I could wear the modern version. But at my age, it’s not in the cards.
For starters, my Grandma would crawl out of her grave and join the cast of the Walking Dead so she could grab a shovel and hit me with it. Then someone would see me staggering around afterward and call up a map on their smart phone to give me directions.
“We’re standing right here, sir ….. The Dumpster is right here, just around the corner …. Let’s get you there …. And, if you’ll do me the honor, I’d like to give you a little something for a sandwich.”
Since I’ve never been able to convincingly say, “God bless you, sir,” with a downcast face, it’s a situation I hope to avoid – and which I now know I can.
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One morning not long ago, while looking through the flossing spatters left on the mirror the night before, inspiration struck me. I realized that I had something that will let me hang at the cutting edge of distressed fashion with all the young adult males with higher disposable incomes because they live in their parents’ basements.
At 63, distressed jeans may be in my past, but I have distressed genes – genes that give me a more distressed look every day on a retiree’s budget.
For years now, distressed genes have been causing little hairs to grow out of me in every direction off most parts of my body. If I let them have their way, my body will soon sport the newest thing in distressed fashion: The equivalent of a dozen sets of out-of-control eyebrows spread all over my body.
Those hairs are only the beginning of this distressingly creative process.
I woke up about a month ago to find a little knoll had grown up overnight on the front knuckle of my right index finger. It’s like an evil fairy had slipped into my bedroom overnight, made a slight incision and slid a kernel of corn beneath my skin.
If I give it time, a huge, black hair likely will grow from the center of it, giving me the chance to be a hand model for the villain in an animated children’s movie. As I point my finger, the camera pans and rises behind the knoll on finger to look at the face of a darling child as huge as a moon on the horizon.
With the child’s face divided by the thick and curling hair, I could waggle my finger slightly, collect my Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and collect royalties on the T-shirts displaying that memorable moment.
My distressed genes also will make me a natural for a Broadway revival of the Rudyard Kipling’s classic “Just So Stories,” playing the title role in “How the Leopard Got its Spots.”
It’s simple. Like me, he just kept collecting birthdays.
As this point, my body is looking more and more like a canvas from paint-flinger Jackson Pollock’s brown period, if he’d had one — or like any leopard skin garment from a dollar store that fades in the first washing cycle.
For the “Just So” marketers, I’m a gold mine.
A decent tattoo artist could connect my spots into dot-to-dot pictures of the leopard and all the other “Just So” characters or to create mazes for the children’s activity books spun off from the play, movie and eventual cartoon series.
Just think of the free publicity that will roll in when the tabloids tell the story of some nut case who sees the images of Jesus or Elvis in the spots on my back.
Really, at this point, the only thing left on my success list is coming up with a name that would fit me as snugly as John Legend’s fits him.
Distressed Gene is the obvious candidate.
It’s just an s away from the name of my future fashion empire, Distressed Genes, which will, of course, be the title of the Museum of Modern Art’s fashion retrospective, “Dressed for Distress.”
If you’re not thrilled with the whole idea of this, please just give it time.
Because it will grow on you.
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