Cool Kid Clothes

When I was in eighth grade I grew more quickly than our family budget, so faced the dreaded question: “Are you waiting for a flood?” My jeans were shorter than my shoe tops.

As I write this, I can still blush. Safe to say, I was never one of the cool kids. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, we did not just have to endure disco, gas lines, and Jimmy Carter, but designer jeans.

My family bought sturdy clothes, but we did not realize that jeans that looked good were no good if they had the wrong label. My social status was helped when my Mom discovered Second Hand Rose, a used clothing store, where I got my first pair of “cool kids jeans.” That was the uniform my peers created for us and I wore it when I could.

Even then, though, my doubts about this system were there, nagging me. Mom helped, because Mom liked to discuss everything and when she heard my shame, she was happy to help me get the “right” clothes, but also wanted to discuss my heart.

When brave men like my cousin Paul wore our nation’s uniform to beat Hitler on D-Day, he did so to create unit cohesion. Our boys looked like our boys. On formal church occasions when Dad wore his clergy robes, he did so to honor God and the church. He looked the man of God he is. My teachers wore their regalia to graduation in the colors of their Alma Mater, the community that showed them goodness, truth, and beauty. They were standing in a long line of masters (Rush Rees of Rochester!) who made our education possible.

These were uniforms created for a purpose.

What were the cool kids doing? They were creating unit cohesion: transgress, and you heard cruel words. They were honoring the dictates of ABC, the number one network at the time (“We are still the One”), and the teen magazines—how quaint that is today!

The cool kids were serving masters they did not know, men—they were almost all men—who decided what should be put on our bodies this year.

We were marching to the mall in the cause of consumerism.

Mom did not mind my fitting in, of course, but she also did not want me buckling under to petty tyrants. The cool kids were not even that cool—we were a nerdy Christian school. She wanted me to be liberated, and that meant serving proper causes: country, family, community.

The community of cool was false, because cool was always changing so we would buy new product. Yesterday’s Levi’s had to become tomorrows Calvin Klein’s.

When I put on my academic gown to teach the college students here at The Saint Constantine School, I honor Deborah Modrak, who taught me Aristotle, and Al Geier, who fathered my dialectic. All my teachers are with me.

When I put on the school tie, Constantine’s eagles, I join all four houses in a community that stretches back to the education in the Great City, Constantinople. There in that place both theology, philosophy, and all the sciences flourished.

I am still not a cool codger, but when I stand with Ann, mother of Mary, Lucy, martyr for Jesus, Helen, mother of an Empire, and Elizabeth, patroness of the poor, I am in better company.

I am waiting for a flood—when justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

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