Illustration by Bob AulI grew up in an era—not long ago, mind you—when gender differences were rigidly enforced by name-calling and, if necessary, by a steady diet of knuckle sandwiches. Fascinated by the Pet Shop Boys? That's an ass-kicking. Might want to become a writer? That's an ass-kicking.
Are you fucking kidding?
And yet the 17-year-old kid who lives next door to me—the shapeless, backward-ball-cap-wearing, suburban, Wonder Bread white boy with the rap-inflected speech—now that kid has announced he wants to become a fashion designer. And he is fearless about this. He is not worried about the Queer As Folk thing.
Is this a New World Order? Or is it just Orange County, California? And so I've got to ask him:
OC Weekly: Did you tell anybody about this at school? Neighbor Kid:Everybody knows. Everybody?
Everybody. Yo: I've got two partners, got the backing and this idea is chill. [Typically, italics indicate an emphasis in the speech; in this case, italics also indicate an idiosyncratic physicalization of the speech: the thumb and first two fingers of each hand are extended gunlike and—as the speaker rises on the balls of his feet—driven down forcefully toward the earth to underscore the word; i.e., the body is italicized as well as the speech.]
So you're not afraid of announcing that you're going into fashion?
[. . .]
I mean, when I was a [long explanation follows about gender-difference reinforcement winding down with lengthy catalog of punishments rendered for violations of strict sex-typing] and if I had said, "Hey, everyone! I want to be a fashion designer!" they'd have absolutely beaten the crap out of me.
Maybe it's because we're not going [hands thing] into fashion.
What do you mean?
We're just making shirts and walking shorts and hats. Maybe sunglasses.
And that's not fashion?
It's not like sewing or nothing.
So sewing and cutting patterns: That would get your ass kicked? Shit. Dude. That is so fucking lame. We're going to be clocking the Benjamins [he really talks like this, as if George Bush the Elder had just entered the White House] and paying po' folk [!] to do the cutting and sewing. How will you sell these hats and shorts?
We just get the chill crowd to wear 'em, you know, the people like me and my partners; we're like celebrities.
And when other kids see you wearing these hats and shorts, they'll . . .
They'll want them, too, and they'll pay anything for them.
AN. KNEE. THING.
Because they like dope.
What'll make your clothes dope?
We won't sell out.
I don't understand.
Shit. [Exhausted.] Dude, we're not in this just to get popular.
What about all the Benjamin-clocking?
You said you'd be making Benjamins while other people did the actual production.
That's not a sellout?
[. . .]
And you'll be selling clothes to people whose only reason for buying the clothes is that they want to become popular. Are they selling out?
Sure. No. I mean. . . . Shit. No. Our clothes are about keeping it real. [I know I've said this before, but it bears repeating: he really speaks this way. He really says things like "chill," "shit," "dope," "Benjamins," "yo" and "keeping it real"—this latter phrase being especially intriguing because he is himself so obviously the product of a suburban culture that merely reflects sartorial directions dictated by urban kids, most of them black, and communicated to the suburbs via the mass media. There is likely nothing less real than this. I can say—without revealing too much here, and without causing much neighborly mistrust—that his mother and father are both college-educated, articulate and forgiving people whose fascination with their son's career choice at this point seems anthropological.]
So, I know you've asked me not to reveal the selling point of your clothing line. . . .
Don't want to get ripped off. . . .
You said something else last time we spoke, about how you didn't want the logo to go big-time.
It's got to stay underground. You know? It's, like, if people are reading about it in your paper, and then people are, like, wearing our stuff everywhere, then it's like we sold out. We don't want to become too successful.
Right. But it's fair to say, I think, that you're not going to be competing on the basis of things like finer fabrics or better production or unusual design, and that . . .
No. Design. Design is where we make a difference because . . .
Okay, right, "design," but not "design" like a T-shirt with three arms, or pants with a single leg, but a logo— a graphic design.
That's right. But I don't want . . . I can't say too much about that.
Of course. But you've said I could say that the graphic design is basically the company name rendered as a logo.
[. . .]
Why would someone pay for a basic T-shirt with your logo on it?
Because it's like saying, "I'm not selling out. I'm independent. Nobody tells me what to do—nobody."
And popularity? Like maybe the logo says, "I'm part of the popular crowd at school"?