On One Hand

August 10, 2007

Finding Neverland

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 8:08 pm

In California, it is considered appropriate to wear costumes until age 30.

By “costumes,” I mean what young people wear; they are the uniforms that identify someone as part of a fashionable group. They are articles of clothing donned for none other than vanity – but unlike wedding rings or business ties, they are also extremely impractical.

For example, if you have an eyebrow ring or your earlobe pierced with a hole big enough to slide a pencil through, that is part of a costume. If you have a mowhawk or wear tight jeans 4 sizes too small so that your belt can go only as high as your thigh, leaving your ass (or in most cases, lack thereof) hanging out, this is part of a costume.

In California, it is not uncommon to see 25-year-olds wearing wrist bands pierced with safety-pins, college-aged women with red fishnet sleeves, the morbidly obese with Hello Kitty belly-shirts, or grown men presenting themselves with backwards white baseball caps, cotton tee-shirts big enough to make tents out of and enormous denim shorts that stop where their white socks begin, about 6 agoraphobic inches from the ground.

Here in Colorado, to contrast, it is appropriate to wear those things until age 20, then you must stop wearing them unless it happens to be Halloween. They are things it is widely considered you must remove if you ever want to get a job. It is still thought to be OK to wear tee-shirts with band logos or kitschy corduroys you might find in a thrift store, as long as you are in college, but they must be utilitarian, comfortable articles of clothing, or will stand out as bizarrely juvenile and make you more likely to be stopped by cops. Most Coloradans will even wear knee-length shorts, weather permitting – and it often does.

To tread dangerously near cliche high-school-clique-movie territory, when I was in high school, there were “jocks,” there were “skaters,” there were “goth kids,” there were “punks,” and there were “band kids.” Each group had its own distinct costume, in a system that was established and reinforced by daytime television, by teen girls’ magazines like Cosmopolitan and Seventeen, by evening shows like Freaks and Geeks or Dawson’s Creek, and by 1980s high school movies including, especially, The Breakfast Club. But what these mediums failed to address is how the costums evolve. I learned that at other high schools there were “homies” or “gangsters” that had existed in my own middle school but died out before freshman year. Later on, “skaters” and “punks” referred to the same thing, and you didn’t have to actually use a skateboard to qualify. It was a bastardized representation of the 80’s punk, synthesized into a market economy; Good Charlotte and Blink-182 were both considered punk bands, and most self-described “punks” could neither describe an emblem of “the corporate establishment” nor find the United Kingdom on a world map.

The year after I graduated from high school, a new group called “emo” emerged. I was already gone for college, but I knew about the group through friends a year younger than me who teetered dangerously close to the threshold of being trend whores, calling themselves emo as soon as the concept was available in the community. They were people who wore the aforementioned extremely tight jeans, liked the Postal Service or any nasally-singing music group, until the moment said group would sign to a record company, when they would henceforth be referred to as “bastard sellouts.” A favorite CD among them was the “Bright Eyes Christmas Album,” a recording of lovely Christian seronades to the Baby Jesus sung in breathy, irregular vibrato by an angsty black-haired 23-year-old agnostic for the pleasure of pill-popping 21-year-old athiests who consider themselves “artistic.” A year later the “emo” group branched, or at least the younger ones did; the tight-jeans-wearers distinguished themselves as a distinct group, called “hardcore,” which evolved via the Internet to “hardXcore,” then to “hardXXcore00,” and finally, through a website called Myspace, to “XXXhArDXcoreXOMG(-:!!!<3!!XXX!"

The group we called "jocks" in high school has since remained "jocks," and I imagine they have been "jocks" since the very dawn of high school culture, and will be until its inevitable, terrible, leather-and-lipstick coated end. Meanwhile, "goth" kids fizzled into ignonimity; it was discovered by a rueful anthropologist from Washington State University that they were actually just band nerds trying to disguise themselves with makeup.

I recently took a 10-day trip to San Diego, a city in California. Not the California of Berkeley and redwoods, not the California of joshua trees or warehouses of fermenting grapes, not the extended L-shaped blue-tinted California you see on the left side of a map of the United States, but the distinct, contained, universally-recognized California of endless suburbs, palm trees, shiny cars, freeways and backyard swimming pools. I'm talking about the California that is the fairytale land of tabloids and doesn't know it's actually part of a desert, with sprinklered lawns so green and perfect that they put the clear blue sky to shame for being blotchy.

I noticed that in this California, that simultaneously exists and does not exist, that you can still be "XXXhArDXcoreXOMG(-:!!!<3!!XXX!" until you are in your late 20s, or even longer if you happen to play a musical instrument. You can still watch MTV religiously, which I suppose is why you are not shunned if you audition for American Idol or Date My Mom or think Paris Hilton is only misunderstood.

This California, this hidden Neverland, has a mysterious allure. I found myself wishing I could stay there, among the perfect tan and waxed surfboard bodies, the shamelessly exposed bulging bellies, the sundress-wearing middle-aged tan women with big sunglasses and pristine white wide-brimmed hats. I can now attest that this place is real – I have seen it, and have known its open secrets.



  1. Yes, it’s real. I lived there for eight years. Although living there you do get to know the parts that are less fantastic and less perfect. And more real.

    Comment by erinya — August 11, 2007 @ 10:17 am | Reply

  2. I think California is truly the exception to the rule. It’s so obvious on the East Coast when someone in their 20s is from California because.. well.. they really look like they’re stuck in high school.

    Comment by usp121sgn — August 11, 2007 @ 11:45 pm | Reply

  3. I’m only talking about Southern California, though. San Francisco, Sacramento, and anything north of that is a little different.

    Comment by ononehand — August 14, 2007 @ 4:27 pm | Reply

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