Cacao Shinel is, as previously mentioned, our municipal pundit on what to wear in any situation, a position for which she receives an annual stipend from the city’s recreation department and all the peanut brittle she can eat, and has been ever since her first arrest for assault and battery; most folks in town agree that no one looks as good in those orange inmate jumpsuits as Cacao. Her expertise in the realm of fashion is extensive and her knowledge of the right thing to wear under any circumstances, including a polar bear hunt in either summer or winter, is positively encyclopedic, the product of years of extensive study and rote memorization of the contents of GQ and Vogue magazine. Cacao has studied fashion ever since she was Larry Spielmann, the son of Dr. Herschel Spielmann, who was my family’s dentist for years. Dr. Spielmann still lives here in our happy little burg, in the big house on Grant Street that tooth decay helped build, although he’s been retired for years now.
But once a dentist, always a dentist, as the good doctor likes to say; he still hands out dental floss dispensers to everyone he meets. In fact, having gone through the usual pleasantries and such, he will immediately ask if you floss, how long have you flossed, and if you’ve stopped flossing then you are in for a detailed lecture on why you should start flossing again immediately. I think he even votes based on whether or not he thinks the candidate flosses. He likes the current mayor, but I’m pretty sure he has Mr. Mayor marked down as a non-flosser, which is the electoral kiss of death as far as Dr. Spielmann is concerned. Don’t get me wrong, Dr. Spielmann is a very nice man and a very good dentist, but I have to wonder sometimes if his obsession with flossing had anything to do with Larry’s decision to become Cacao Shinel. He is proud of his son, though, even if he would prefer that Larry go back and get that degree in podiatry he’s been working towards for years.
In any case, Cacao dropped the fashion bomb on me last Halloween. I came to work at the egregious mold pit in the guise of a librarian, thinking that no one would notice me if I blended into my surroundings. This idea immediately came to naught, where it complained bitterly that the toilet facilities on the bus were entirely inadequate, and then I had to answer questions about whether or not the Middle Ages happened after World War II. Still, no one has ever complained about what I wear to work before. I realize that black running shoes are never the equivalent of spit-shined black oxfords, and that I often come to work without wearing a tie, a definite no-no for the white-collar worker in any work situation. On the other hand, my co-workers don’t really care one way or the other, and let’s face it, for librarians every day is casual Friday, more or less. So I didn’t spend a whole lot of thought thinking about my clothes until Cacao came in and immediately announced that I was a fashion pariah of the first water and stained my clothes by hurling anathemas and imprecations at them, staining them beyond the ability of club soda to remove. Cacao, by contrast, had gone trick or treating with her various nieces and nephews in her best Jacqueline Kennedy outfit, complete with the pillbox hat, which, to be honest, I always thought looked kind of stupid, even on Jackie Kennedy, but what do I know, after all? I’m a master of fashion disaster. Ask anyone.
It’s true that I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my clothes—I generally assume that the purpose of my wearing clothes is to avoid embarrassing myself in front of strangers and to keep my ass from freezing off during the winters here. I have no special animus against those who keep track of what’s in and what’s out from year to year; it gives them something to do, I suppose, and keeps them off the streets and out of the bus stations; but I don’t see why I should spend large sums of money buying clothes I wouldn’t wear if my life depended on it. I would wear some of the things I see on television once and then instantly and permanently consign the thing to the closet to feed the moths, and since I don’t regard the moths as pets, they can live without my feeding them, especially since they haven’t finished with my high school gym shorts yet.
I should pay more attention to what I wear, I guess; the ruthlessly utilitarian mode in which I usually approach the purchase of clothing denies me a chance to express visibly (you’ll notice, just as a grammatical aside, the way I didn’t split the infinitive there, much as I wanted to) my inner self and get compliments from co-workers and passersby on my new-found fashion sense. I’ve noticed that women will often compliment any change in a man’s wardrobe simply because it is a change from the usual run of sweatshirts and blue jeans. It’s always nice to receive compliments, especially when you are absolutely positive that all that new stuff you’re wearing makes you look like a first-class dork, but then again, if people didn’t like it, what could they say? That you look awful? That's nothing, really. I’ve been called worse than that by a would be podiatrist in women’s clothes; you’ll get over it, take my word for it.