Artifacts

My mom and I were talking recently about the resurgence of traditional names in American culture: Eva, Hazel, Virginia, and Ida are back! As I gushed about how sensible it is to hold on to your dated clothes for the next cyclical trend and ranted about the cinematic remake of every good movie from my childhood, my mother got quiet for a second: “Yeah, all the names have come back — except mine.”

Yes, it’s true: Doris seems to have resisted the redux. My mom complained but also understood: she’d never really liked the name Doris. I was shocked when I was a kid staying at my grandparents’ house when I found my mother’s old high-school yearbook: “It’s been great to know you, Dottie!” her classmates had scrawled in the autograph section. I knew even then that my mother had never really liked her name and had done what she could to escape it.

“Bertha hasn’t made it back either,” I offered weakly.

So it goes the ebbs and flow of what’s hot and what’s not.

It got me thinking about other fashions that have fallen by the wayside. Recently at work, a photographer sent us a thick envelope of images that were clearly all from the seventies. I appreciated the grainy quality of the film, the large hair and sunglasses, and the preponderance of stripes. Among these gems were several photographs of men with mustaches. They looked so normal! When a guy sports a mustache these days it’s like a joke for Halloween that he shaves off the next day. But for these guys, and for most of the men I knew growing up, including my father, the mustache was a critical part of their eternal and dying quest to look good. My dad’s mustache was so ubiquitous that when he shaved it off we squealed “Ew!”

Occupy Upper Lip!

What else has gone wayward? Surely the smoky bar, which disappeared the day California passed the first anti-smoking ordinance, bless her heart. I certainly don’t miss coming home from a night reeking of cigarettes I didn’t inhale. But I do miss the cultural reference: the smoky bar was a place where anything could happen; where reality was obscured by slants of smoke and adults cavorted in some sort of divey harmony.

Last night, as I rose to clean the kitchen after Annie had cooked me and Rio a stellar meal, I flashed for a second on the mid-century man: “I’ve worked all day! I don’t need to do a thing!” I fantasized about  standing up from the table, walking out the door, and making a beeline to my friend Jeremy’s house to watch basketball and drink beer. Yeah, damnit! Dinner, clean-up, bedtime, dog care: why should that be my concern? Surely Annie could handle it. I thought of my mother in law, who’s always been impressed that I even know how to do the dishes, let alone iron shirts. But then I came to my senses, remembering that cohabitation and shared duties actually build collective freedom because all parties are invested and passing the baton and finding time to sit on a chair and do nothing, which these days I consider the closest thing to nirvana. So I cleaned the damn kitchen. Well. And then I recalled Annie’s standards and wiped a few extra corners. I had a wifebeater on. And a goatee.