Since I’ve been appearing in public more often to meet the massive demand for readings as a result of The Bleeder’s astonishing popularity (more than a dozen copies sold in the last month alone), people have been asking me how I achieve my distinctive middle-aged writer “look.”
At first, I thought these requests referred to the weary look I get on my face when people ask about the writers who influence and inspire me. It’s a ridiculous question, hence “the look,” because no one has ever influenced me, and I get inspiration from a can of Red Bull, not other writers. Other writers are the competition, after all, so why would I encourage them by buying and reading their books? From a business standpoint, it makes much more sense to burn other writers’ books, and you can burn a lot more books if you don’t slow down to read them.
But then I discovered that what people really want to know about is my singular fashion sense. Where do I shop? What sort of clothes do I buy? How often do I bathe? That sort of thing. People are idiots, it turns out, because they seem to think they can look like me if they just shop at the right stores and buy the right clothes. Sorry to disappoint you, idiots who read my books, but nothing could be further from the truth.
First, the haircut. It’s important, because I have maintained precisely the same hairstyle for more than forty years, a model of consistency that ensures I look my best in public. You don’t get hair like mine by getting impatient and messing with the style just because you’re bored with it. No, you go the same barber—Ray at The Sportsman’s on Cleveland Ave. in St. Paul—ask him to “trim it up,” and he gets you in the chair and out the door in under eight minutes. Do that every four weeks for the rest of your life and maybe, just maybe, you’ll have hair like mine.
Likewise, I’ve been wearing the same short-sleeved, single-colored, logo-less Polo knock-offs since I was two years old. I’ve been wearing these shirts for so long that it’s hard to tell if the shirts conform to my body or my body conforms to the shirts. As far as color goes, I favor grey and black, but have been known to wear dark green on special occasions. Most of the shirts I own are five to ten years old, and have been washed more than a hundred times, which helps break down the fibers for maximum comfort. And before I wear them, I usually leave them in the dryer for a day or two to get the proper amount of “crumple.”
The same sort of care goes into my choice of pants. In the summer, I wear a pair of aggressively faded brown cargo shorts with several large pockets on each side. I keep my phone, wallet, rabbit’s foot, tic-tacs, medications, inhaler, hand sanitizer, and a Power Bar in these pockets at all times, and cinch my belt up an extra notch if circumstances demand that I get up off the couch and stand for more than five minutes. In the winter, I wear long, beige cargo pants with precisely the same pocket arrangement, to avoid the confusion of where to put what that inevitably comes with other, lesser pants, like jeans or slacks. I use the same rigorous wash routine on my pants as I use with my shirts, except that the pants are only washed every third shirt cycle, extending their wearable life to more than a decade.
But what most people really want to know about are my shoes. Their obvious comfort and elegant practicality is the attraction, I think. They are size twelve Nike Air Monarchs, which have a classically minimalistic blue Nike swoosh stripe on the side and wide, cushioned soles to make it feel as if you are walking on, well, air. I would never wear a new pair of these beauties in public, however. The shoes I wear outside of the house are at least six months old, and their gently-used patina is achieved by going to the dog park in them five times a week, mowing the lawn and gardening in them, and traversing the occasional mud puddle when it rains. Oh, and my socks are white, cotton crews, which I buy in packs of eight from Target.
There’s a lot more to it than this, of course, but I don’t want to delude people into thinking that if they just do what I do, they can look like me. Decades of neglect and apathy have gone into what people now perceive as my “look,” and I’m not about to change, because then I’d be somebody else. And none of us wants that.