We Are Swept Up In Fads Without Ever Realizing It

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If anyone asked me how I feel about fads, I would no doubt say something dumb, like “Are you kidding? I hate fads. Never had a thing to do with them. Not a cotton-pickin’ thing!”

I’d be stuffed clean full of blueberry cupcakes, of course.

It is amazing how insidious fads are, especially when you’re a teen. Fads sneak up on you when you’re a teenager. You haven’t got the faintest clue that you’re part of one, but you are.

The result? Us old folks look at a batch of high school kids and think someone has slipped a bunch of Martian sweetlings in on us. I had that experience just last week when I drove to Payson on my weekly put-another-link-in-my-chain day.

I was sitting at the 87/260 intersection headed south, and doing the usual thing I do at traffic lights — staring vacantly into space — when I saw five high school boys crossing in the general direction of the Golden Arches. Two of them looked like any other high school kids (and don’t ask me to define that), but the other three...?

The first one wasn’t too bad. That he was of the “sagging” persuasion was obvious by the fact that his shirt was at least a foot longer than necessary, and that under its backflap was a lumpy line showing that his pants ended just below his tailbone. 

He could at least walk, so I took little notice of him.

But the other two...?

They looked like a pair of spastics. I watched as they walked and talked. It was: Say a word, reach down, grab your pants, haul them up; say a word, reach down, grab your pants, haul them up; say a word, reach down, grab your pants, haul them up; say a word, reach down, et cetera ad infinitum.

I’m telling you, if either of them had missed grabbing his pants he’d have been sprawled out in the intersection, most likely with tire tracks on his back. I watched them cross the grass into the Land of Golden Arches. The walk-talk-grab-haul, walk-talk-grab-haul, walk-talk-grab-haul routine continued without a break.

As the light changed, I shook my head, asking myself, “How can anyone wear pants that won’t stay up on their own? How could anyone put up with that kind of annoyance? Why would he?” 

What would those two do in a baseball game? They couldn’t possibly get a hit; they’d be hauling up their drawers as the ball sailed by. And if one of them did manage to get a hit, he’d never get to first base. A three-legged ant could outrun him.

But there they were: Walk-talk-grab-haul, walk-talk-grab-haul, walk-talk-grab-haul, walk-talk....

Naturally, I drove off feeling all wise and superior.

Trouble is, when you’ve been around as long as I have, you have a lot of life to look back on. And since you’re no longer capable of doing much else, other than maybe chewing your cud, you do a lot of looking back.

So return with me now to the days of yesteryear, when men were men, and women were women — a very handy arrangement.

I arrived in New London, Conn., just in time for the last half of the 7th grade, and found myself in Nathan Hale Junior High, a two-story brick school on a grassy hill. I paid little attention to how anyone was dressed at first, but I eventually noticed that I was the only kid in my class who wore knickers. I have no great recollection of how I felt about it, but since knickers were what everyone wore back in New York City, I suppose I thought that the kids in my class were a mite strange.

Then I discovered that the whole school, an all-7th-grade school by the way, was “strange.” Nevertheless, I was so used to seeing kids my age wearing nothing but knickers and knee length stockings that I still thought nothing of it. Little by little, however, I noticed that while I thought nothing of it, the other kids did. They didn’t say much, but they sure stared a lot. No bullying, though. Nobody so much as frowned at me. For some reason I never discovered, they did not fight in New London. 

I did see two kids standing toe-to-toe one day. One of them said something. The other one said, “Oh, yeah?” And the first one answered, “Yeah!” 

That being that in New York, I leaned back to enjoy the fight, but it never happened. They stood there saying, “Oh, yeah!” and “Yeah!” until we went back inside.

That was fine with me. I’d used up my quota of fistfights for the next half century anyway, and peace and quiet seemed like an attractive change. And guess what? I not only never had a fight in New London, in all my years there I never even saw one.

However, when it was time to move to another school, an 8th-grade-only junior high, I had a firm conversation with Mom. “If you don’t buy me some long pants, I’m not going to school.” 

That solved that, but it wasn’t until years later that I learned that knickers were a fad of the 1920s and 1930s that had faded away everywhere except in New York City. In fact, before the Mets were the Mets, they were the New York Knickerbockers.

Fads are insidious. A kid grows up, looks around, sees what everyone is doing, and —naturally enough — does the same thing. I started out with my hair combed in a pompadour. Why? That’s what everyone else was doing. We used to laugh at people who parted their hair down the middle, or combed it straight back. We called them old fashioned. Little did we know that they were normal and we were — what else? — part of a new fad. 

I was still combing my hair that way when I no longer had anything to comb. And if you look around at old folks? Pompadour! Unless they’re wearing it in a ducktail or crew cut, which we called “stupid fads” as they were coming in, just as we called the Brylcream “a little dab’ll do ya” mess a fad. They’re all fads — except to kids who grow up when they’re the normal thing to do.

I see that it is now sock fad time. It is impossible to buy “normal” white acrylic socks anymore. You either have to wear cotton things that go up to your calfs, or short things you can’t see inside the shoes. I don’t get that. Is the hidden sock thing supposed to show that it’s manly to pretend you don’t wear socks, thereby making feet and tennis shoes smell even worse? 

If so, we have news for them, haven’t we, Johnny? 

Most feet need no help.

And the kids who stick size 7 feet in size 11 tennis shoes? With the extra space stuffed with paper? What’s with that? 

Hey, kids! Women are not interested in the size of your feet.

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