Cool vs. Style
When I was about 17, I would ride my Schwinn Varsity ten-speed to the East Side of Providence and visit Thayer Street. It was a totally different place from my hometown with lots of college-town characters and local color where I’d scope the scene and check out the cute Brown University and RISD girls who were light years out of my league. There were bookshops, coffeehouses, restaurants, and little boutiques. There were shoeless hippy guys with tie-dyed shirts, baubles, beads, ear hoops and beards. There were peasant-dressed girls with long hair and dreamy looks on their shiny and bright, young, make-up-less countenances. The smell of incense and patchouli oil hinted the spring air.
One day I wandered into a small boutique on Waterman Avenue called Joan Pasha’s. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen. The place sold rigs for guys and girls along with leather sandals, which the growing hippy demographic was quite fond of. The place’s owner, Joan Pasha, was rather exotic looking and very pretty; she looked sharp, too. (Twenty-five years later I’d see Joan boarding the Block Island Ferry to visit some island friends.) One day in this boutique I heard a guy say something that is still in an active file in my head. It will never be deleted if I can help it, because the guy was delusional and
erased all doubt to what his deal was all about in this changing world of ours.
While I walked around the shop checking out all this new stuff I’d never seen, I noticed these two guys who looked to be my age. They were holding a pair of leather sandals with authority and purpose. These guys, with long hair styles weren’t curiously browsing like me. They had some scoots and were shopping - I was scoot-less.
One of the guys then said in all seriousness while holding up the sandal, “I’ll be so cool if I have these sandals, oh man, these are cool. I’ll,be, so, cool.” The guy’s subservient sandal-ogling buddy agreed by casually nodding his head in affirmation to his alpha dude pal. When the guy said, “I’ll be so cool,” out loud, with an audience of Joan Pasha, and a guy like me who didn’t even know what the word cool actually meant in pretty much any context, there was an alarm that went off in my teen-aged brain; something about this guy was just all wrong.
As I turned my head toward these guys as slowly as a Galapagos turtle with the mien of a Galapagos turtle, I made a note to myself to never, ever, say that I, Joey Houlihan, was cool at anything. I intuitively knew that this was without question, the most fatuous thing I’d ever heard come out of a person’s mouth. I’d said enough nonsensical and dumb stuff already in my coming-of-age years and I just knew I was dodging something really stupid to say because this needy guy said it for me. (I dare you to say you are cool to someone with a straight face and see what happens. Go ahead, I dare you.)
The lesson learned in Joan Pasha’s boutique that spring day in 1967, was to never say the word cool in regards to one’s sense of value in oneself. On
the other hand, the wiseass that I was and still am will at times use the word cool in regards to how cool I am with my tongue protruding into my cheek like there is a small plum stuck in there. For example, someone might say to my wife, “I love your hair style, it’s so pretty,” and I’ll say, “Yeah I know, it’s nice huh, I’m a hair stylist who studied in Paris and do it for her. I know, I’m cool.” Then, my wife whacks me and says, “Don’t listen to him, he’s fresh.” I also tell people I design my wife’s clothes and that I’m a cool guy. And, she whacks me for that, too. I’m not cool and neither is my wife. We’re just very corny.
What the hell is cool anyway? This is quite an existential conundrum to ponder regarding a culture that has the word baked into its national lexicon along with many connotations.
This is a culture that gave us the ducktail from the 50s, long hair and sandals from the 60s, platform shoes and bell-bottoms from the 70s, and a hairstyle called a mullet from the 80s. The aforementioned were all considered cool during their run throughout their respective decades; however, I must say all of these things were questionable.
Let’s take the mullet as an example. First of all, who in god’s creation came up with that horrific hairstyle? Google the word mullet; and ask yourself if that was a cool hairstyle. If you think that was cool, then what was not cool? Hey, maybe I missed the boat completely and all of the aforementioned were actually cool. I’m joking, these things are not what makes a person cool. They are just things; cool is a deeper thing based on attitude, style, self-awareness, introspection, intuition and intelligence.
However, if we happen to possess these qualities of cool, we do not announce our coolness like the sandal guy. It’s like saying, “I’m a very humble person and I’m also quite brilliant. Just ask me.” If we think we’re humble and cool, we might want to keep these elements of greatness to ourselves. Moreover in the media-driven and self-absorbed age we are currently living in, we probably know or have heard of someone who thinks he or she is cool and brilliant as they blast out their message to anyone who will listen. Self-proclaimed cool people are exhausting. Just sayin’.
Style is a more concrete human trait; some people have style and some don’t. It’s an innate sense of what works intellectually, and aesthetically. My wife has a simple take on style and clothes that makes sense. Since she was a kid she just chose to wear what she liked and suited her. She’d make her own rigs. Last March a Vineyard friend of ours told me something regarding the various get ups my wife likes to wear. “Joey, guys need plumage for attraction,
and to show their stuff and get some attention,” she said. “Cindy wears her get-ups and you don’t have to do anything.” This made perfect sense.
Unlike my wife I have very little clothing; we’re talking minimums here. Many people compliment her on what she’s wearing while I’m somewhat presentable; however it doesn’t matter how I’m rigged out because they’re looking at my cool and stylish wife. People might think that I must have something going for me because my wife cleans up really good. And, that by association, I might actually be cool!