March 12, 2012

On the question of apparel

Filed under: books — theresaurus @ 7:33 am

Last week for a few days it was so warm you could practically go out in a T-shirt. Last night and this morning it snowed. Sam had already made the switch from winter coat to a new lightweight spring jacket and got pretty cold on the weekend. We ended up outside with the car most of Sunday morning and everyone spent the rest of the day chilled and sneezing.

We went back to Sam’s hometown, stopping in Toki city where his best friend’s Nissan dealer is to sign the papers trading in his Fairlady Z for a new car next month. I like hanging around the dealer because I can look at fashion magazines like With and More and get a head’s up on how out of fashion I’m going to be in the coming season. This spring things look extremely conventional. No hippie tunics or hooker high heels or knee socks with sandals. The friend always slips me more than one free gift: this visit’s haul was a case of canned fruit drinks, six packs of gum, and two handkerchiefs with hearts and bears on them leftover from Valentine’s Day. I warned Sam that Fairlady is going to be very angry with him, she’ll feel rejected, it’s like you’re divorcing her. Indeed, the next morning she refused to start. Sam thought it was the battery and tried to jump start the engine with the neighbor’s little mini car. That didn’t work so he tried with the neighbor’s other, larger car. Nothing. Mr. Nissan finally came over and Lady needs to go into the shop. We had to borrow the neighbor’s car to get home. “Vengeance is mine!” quothe the Fairlady.

Sam dithered over what color jacket to order. Khaki, navy blue, or orange. I voted for navy blue. Any color as long as it’s dark is my motto. No, it’s spring and he wanted something lighter, dark colors are fine for people like you. Khaki? Wouldn’t he look like a sales guy in an electronic store or something? All he’d need was a name tag: Hi! My name’s SAM, how may I help you? Orange it is. The jacket came and since it’s an American company and apparently nobody there wants to admit needing an XL or XXL, they just make everything larger. He had to send back his usual medium size for a small. Last chance to reconsider the orange. More dithering. Orange it is.

Sam’s been wearing his orange jacket and is obsessed with orange, suddenly orange is everywhere. Look, the jacket is the same color as the elevator, when he stands in front of it he blends in — where’s Sam? Look, the jacket is the same color as the paint used for median strips on the street. Look, the jacket is the same color as these traffic cones. Look, the jacket is the same color as this bag of oranges. He thinks he looks like one of those guys who directs airplanes for take-off on the run-way. It never ends. I wish I would’ve insisted on navy blue.

Osamu Dazai, On the Question of Apparel:

“Once a friend of mine looked at me seriously and said, You know, if George Bernard Shaw had been born in Japan, he would not have made it as a writer. Equally serious myself, I pondered the extent of literary realism in Japan and then replied — Yes, you’re right. Our approach to writing is quite different here. I was going to mention several more ideas when the friend laughed and said — No, that’s not what I mean. Isn’t Shaw seven feet tall? A writer like that couldn’t manage in Japan. He was quite offhand and took me in utterly. I couldn’t really laugh off his innocent joke, either. Indeed, there was something quite chilling about it. If I had been just a foot taller … ! That was too close for comfort.

“While I’m on the subject, I should mention that I haven’t worn foreign clothes in the seven or eight years since I quit school. It’s not that I dislike them, far from it. Since they’re light and convenient, I’m always yearning for such clothes … . Since I’m five foot six inches tall, a suit ready-made in Japan wouldn’t fit. And to have a tailor make one would surely cost more that a hundred yen, with the shoes, shirt, and other required accessories. I’m stingy about my needs; I’d rather hurl myself from a cliff into the raging sea than throw away over a hundred yen on a suit of clothes. … For now, I have no choice but to go around in the Japanese clothes I have on hand. … Anyway I’m comfortable in the poorest kimono, the sort a student might wear, and I would gladly spend the rest of my life living like a student. When I have a meeting scheduled for the next day, I fold my patterned kimono and place it under my mattress for the night. I feel somewhat edgy, as though I were about to take the college entrance exam, but a least the kimono will appear to be pressed. It’s fine garment, one for special occasions. As autumn deepens and I can begin going proudly about in this kimono, I breathe a sigh of relief. It’s the time between seasons that’s really troublesome — especially between summer and autumn.

“When I walk about, the hem of the silk kimono rustles pleasantly. Unfortunately, it always rains if I go out in that garment, a warning perhaps from my dead father-in-law who once owned it. I’ve encountered veritable floods in that kimono, once in southern Izu and again in Fuji-Yoshida. … The next time I hear of even a rumor about a drought, I’ll put on the kimono and set out for the affected area. I’ll take a stroll, and the rain will come down in torrents — an unexpected service from someone so generally incompetent.”


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