The fine workmanship!

The fine workmanship!


“I just wanted to remind you of the standards of dress expected of teaching assistants in the Communications Department.” That’s all the professor who ran the Introduction to Public Speaking course I taught a section of at the University of Michigan. That’s all she had to say. I knew to what she was referring.

And she wasn’t referring to my habit of teaching while wearing mismatched Converse Hi Tops on my feet.

It was the pants incident. I blame Jerry Garcia for the pants incident.

Early on in my final undergrad year at Wittenberg University, I blew the crotch out of my favorite pair of 501s. All throughout my life, the epicenter of pants failure has been the crotch. The combination of giant thighs and an ample berry farm (mostly Pick-Ur-Own, sadly) has proven too much for various bits of denim, khaki, and wool.

I am a sound believer in the notion that a person’s environment affects his or her actions. Wittenberg in 1987/88 was in the patchouli and pit sweat throes of Grateful Dead fandom and all the sartorial and aural crimes involved in that “lifestyle.”

I will not mince words: I hate the frakkin’ Dead. They got lucky because they got to play at early LSD parties thrown for rich white kids. This in turn damaged the both the neurons and the chromosomes of said rich white kids, and in turn, a nation’s ears and nostrils suffered for generations.

The Dead were everywhere that year. Due to the placement of my room in the Beta House and the fact that I owned a pair of kick-ass Cerwin-Vega speakers, it often fell upon me to provide music for parties. I took this responsibility very seriously, and I would make a nice mix tape from both my CD collection. [Insert private joke that only around five people will get: “Hey baby, wanna come upstairs and see my compact digital disc collection?”]. And so the playlist didn’t just represent my tastes alone, I liberally borrowed songs from others.

I even would put on “Shakedown Street.” It’s like the Dead’s one stab at a disco beat. Therefore, it is not wretched.

But invariably, halfway thru every party and usually, for some odd reason, during a Blondie song, I would find three or four Deadheads trying to put a bootleg tape from the 1973 Salinas Asparagus festival into my tape deck. Upside down.

“Hey! Leave my shit alone!” I would yell.

“Blondie fucking sucks! Everyone wants to hear the Dead!” Thanks to what can only be attributed to white privilege (and drugs), Deadheads always assumed everyone wanted to hear the Dead all the time.

“I just played ‘Shakedown Street’ fifteen minutes ago.

“’Shakedown Street’ fucking sucks!” “Shakedown Street” is like garlic to Deadheads. “This jam is like the best. I think you can hear Mountain Girl playing the tambourine on “Dark Star!” I would shoo them away and spend the rest of the party guarding my room.

Now, what would you rather hear at a party? Blondie’s “Rapture” or a hissing eighteen-minute tambourine jam? I rest my case.

Shakedown StreetThe situation was so pervasive that our class president was disinvited to speak at graduation because he felt it necessary to skip out on Spring term 1988 to follow the Dead and sell tie-dies or bracelets or drugs or something. Moreover, the Deadheads were so entrenched in the halls of power that our official senior class t-shirt featured the Zoot Suit Guy on the steps of Myers Halls, the building on all the school’s letterhead. For those that don’t know, Zoot Suit Guy is from the back cover of the album Shakedown Street –which, if you remember, apparently sucks. The Deadheads assumed everyone wanted to dress like them.

But, it worked. I began dressing like them. Wittenberg was a small liberal arts college existing in leafy isolation inside the thirteenth largest city in Ohio. To put it mildly, I was surrounded by ripped jeans, sundresses, and ratty tees. And I look odd in a sundress. (I know this because I had to wear one for a part in play junior year.)

Because I lived in such a fashion hegemony, I didn’t think twice about putting patches on my jeans, even though I more than had the means to head to the mall to get a new pair. So, I took bits of boxer shorts that also had their crotches blown out and figured out how to use a sewing machine to create the fine pants you see above.

I actually loved those pants and wore them even after I left Wittenberg and started grad school at Michigan. People actually wore somewhat decent clothes at Michigan, but I hung on. These pants were cool weren’t they? Right?

I got a gig TA-ing a few sections of Introduction to Public Speaking, a natural fit because I had majored in Speech at Wittenberg. In the class I taught there was definitely a section on making sure one presented themselves with authority. I no doubt delivered this lesson in the above pants and with a green Converse on one foot and a pink one on the other. One does not alter one’s everyday dress overnight.

One of my sections was filled almost exclusively with freshman nursing students aged seventeen to nineteen.

The material they make boxer shorts from is much weaker than denim. It is not a suitable material with which to patch the oft-blown crotch of one’s 501s.

I was one of those instructors who, in a bid to seem profound, would put his right foot up on a chair when he needed to impress a point to his charges about what constitutes a prima facie argument.

One day I was putting the pink Converse on a chair next to the desk, maybe a foot from the front row of desks. Because I was making such profound mouth noises about prima facie arguments, I didn’t hear the ripping.

I didn’t feel the breeze until after I noticed an underage nursing student in front row meekly and shakily pointing to something –well, two things –about twenty inches from her face.

There’s an old truism that the only way to re-can a can of worms once you’ve opened them is to get a bigger can. The next thirty seconds operated in much the same fashion. I ended up ripping a much larger hole in a effort to re-can. I spent the last twenty minutes of class –prima facie was an important cog in the syllabus –with a coat tied around my waist.

It wasn’t my coat. Everyone got an A.

But at least I was free from dressing like a hippie for the rest of my days.

Now if only someone would free me from the tyranny of cargo shorts.





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