Before It Was Cool
The last time I was in New York, I went to a store that specializes in vintage glasses. A couple of friends went with me, and they both checked out the frames, too. The male half of this couple tried on a pair that was thick—think Buddy Holly or Woody Allen—but rendered in clear Lucite. They were really quite perfect. They were assertively geeky but not overwhelming. They made me think of superannuated visions of the future—you know, not a future in which the nearsighted get Lasik surgery, but a future in which glasses frames are made out of clear plastic instead of black plastic.
I really tried to talk my friend into these glasses, and his girlfriend liked them, too. But he was hesitant. He left the shop saying he’d think about them.
It turns out that his hesitation was caused by the fear that every hipster in the city would be wearing them before his prescription lenses were ground. It turns out, moreover, that he was right: He is seeing clear Lucite frames all over the place, and he is happy that he’s not wearing them himself.
I know what he means. My own purchases on the shopping excursion described above were two pairs of decidedly Velmaish frames. I have received several compliments on them, but many of these compliments include the word “retro”. This causes me to have a little, tiny stroke, because what I want to say is, “These glasses are not ‘retro’. They are actually old. They have been rescued from obscurity and obsolescence by me. They are one-of-a-kind and wonderful in ways that you clearly cannot comprehend.” But I know—and the tension between the aforementioned desire and this knowing is what causes minor explosions in my brain—only a complete asshole would ever say that (and not just because said glasses have been rescued from obscurity and obsolescence from an East Village shopkeeper who’s totally got my number and, then, purchased by me.)
And now my friend is wondering, what does it say about him that he didn’t want to like those glasses because he was afraid that everyone else would like them, too? “Now and then,” he writes, “I get the awful feeling that people think I grew a beard to be trendy and I want to say, ‘I had this beard before it was cool.’… What sort of person feels that way and why?”
Here’s what I think. I think that the dynamic that accounts for his anxiety and my aneurysms is a particularly Generation X phenomenon. When we were growing up, we were fond of things that were weird and unlovable, largely because we, ourselves, felt weird and unlovable. Now that those things have been appropriated and repackaged for mass consumption, we instinctively want to reject them, even though we still love them—just like we mostly kind of hate ourselves, even though we inspire ourselves with something like the affectionate pity one might feel for a broken crayon, or, say, a tattered copy of Pac-Mania! The Official Pac-Man Joke Book.
That, in any case, is what I think. And if, sometime soon, it becomes popular to think this, I will assert—inwardly, at least—that I was thinking it before it was cool.