Inadvertent Message Shirts for Grandmothers
Ways that we signal to our fellow townsfolk that we are welcome to start a conversation with a new friend.
Sometimes we wear a message T-shirt to proclaim who we are or what we want to say, while sometimes we wear such a shirt to invite others to tell us who they are.
Take my daughter Geneva, for example. She has a bunch of gay and witty T-shirts. One says, “NO ONE KNOWS I’M A LESBIAN,” which, I suppose, pits the wearer’s introversion against her extroversion, like a modern LGBT version of the logician’s enigma known as the “liar’s paradox” or the “antinomy of the liar.” As someone said to Geneva in a college dining commons one day, while she was trying to enjoy her egg breakfast before rushing off to class, “Actually, now we DO know that you’re a lesbian. Ha ha ha!” Nobody found that guy funny.
Geneva has another shirt that says, “SOUNDS GAY. I’M IN.” I love how this colorful shirt co-opts the standard ignoramus insult that I heard in high school in the early 1980s: That’s so gay. Almost everyone I knew back then wanted not to come off as gay. These days, by contrast, some of my UC Davis students use inclusive pronouns to show an ally’s solidarity with their LGBTQIA+ classmates, saying with love in their hearts that they are all in with anything that is gay.
Like my classmates, I myself was not allowed to wear T-shirts that depicted any images or words in the Washington Waldorf School that I attended in the 1970s. On the one day a year, Field Day, that we were allowed to wear colorful and representational shirts, I remember wearing a fancy shirt that was decked out across the front, back, and sides with panels from a comic book. Amazed at the sight, kids from school would gather around me as if I were a visiting alien, sometimes lifting my arms if I were inadvertently blocking one of the panels they wanted to read.
I’m sure my dad approved of the Waldorf policy on silly T-shirts, for he had high wardrobe standards for himself and, indirectly, for his sons. I believe there are no photographs of my father in a T-shirt. I don’t think he owned a pair of jeans. When everyone started dressing more casually at Antioch College in the early 1950s, my rebel dad made sure to wear a tie and collared shirt to every class. Arriving at my dad’s house on a late Saturday afternoon for some board games and dinner, I remember wanting to ask my dad why he was all dressed up. One thinks of exasperated Liz Lemon asking Jack Donaghy why her 30 Rock boss was wearing a tuxedo. His response, as you can see in this seven-second YouTube clip, is “It’s after six. What am I, a farmer?”
Careful what I advertise, even today I will typically still not wear just a T-shirt out of the house, even on a hot day, choosing instead a collared shirt. My son Truman follows the tradition established by his “Grand-Davey,” for he has also decided that a T-shirt is too informal to be seen in except at bedtime. An avid reader and a film buff with an encyclopedic mind, Truman agrees with Oscar Wilde: “You can never be overdressed or overeducated.” Once I teach him how to tie a tie, there will be no stopping him!
Despite my family’s formal wardrobe proclivities, I’m grateful for two notable times that I wore T-shirts out into the world. About a dozen years ago, I was wearing the well-preserved T-shirt that marked the sesquicentennial (150 years) celebration of Boston University, where I earned my undergraduate degree in English, and where I was studying (abroad) when I met my wife, Kate. Because our graduation speakers included the sitting president of the United States (George H.W. Bush) and the President of France (Francois Mitterrand), we graduates were all given special T-shirts to mark the occasion. (Senator Ted Kennedy, whose politics more closely resemble mine, was also on stage that day.) Anyway, because of that shirt, my favorite baker, Trudy Kalisky, reached out to me at the Davis Farmers Market for the first time to say that her son Lorin also went to BU, and did we know each other. The conversation that started that day has been continuing intermittently ever since, with highlights including my treating Trudy, Lorin, and their entire Pub Quiz team of six to a complimentary meal at our favorite former restaurant. During the time of our fruitful friendship, for Trudy is a great conversationalist, she and the Kalisky family have treated my kids and me to perhaps 1000 chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies from the Upper Crust Baking Company, which gets my vote for the best such bakery on the West Coast.
And then this past Saturday, a prominent Davisite and her mom were walking the UC Davis Arboretum when they noticed a familiar guy walking his French Bulldog with his red-headed wife and son while wearing a black T-shirt with three words written in the largest possible white letters: BLACK LIVES MATTER. That was me! The Davisite, who happened to be LeShelle May, probably resolved to strike up a conversation with the BLM supporter and ally and introduce him to his mom, now a resident at Atria Gardens in north Davis. What a delightful meeting that was – we covered topics such as grandchildren, poetry, and the joys of taking a walk on an October Saturday afternoon! Coincidentally, Kate and I had just talked to LeShelle and UC Davis Chancellor Gary May the night before at Thai Nakorn, one of several restaurants we are trying out as our new weekly haunt now that my weekly in-person pub quiz has been suspended. LeShelle joked that she might just run into us the next day while out for her daily run.
Both Kate’s mom and my mom have moved to independent living facilities in recent years, so we have heard how disorienting it can be to be living in new digs after having grown used to living more independently for so many years. It turned out that LeShelle’s mom and I had a good friend (another Atria resident) in common, and that, as her daughter already knew, like Lorin Kalisky, LeShelle and I both attended Boston University at the same time (though we didn’t know each other). I helped to welcome LeShelle’s sharp and loquacious mom to her new hometown, and I was reminded how much I love walking the streets and paths of Davis. You never know who you might meet here, or who might feel compelled to meet you.
This week’s Pub Quiz will feature questions raised above and on the following: Cars in California, iPhones, Evanston, Ottomen, Chinese food staples, three-word titles, rogues, Ethiopia, email histories, kitchen paychecks, cycles, nuclei, musical wonderous nights, people who quarreled with their stepfathers, furniture in art galleries, princesses, Oscar-winners, central parks, TV-MA examples, the gardens of Cordoba, Muppet Shows, European countries, Encyclopædia Britannica, pearls without swine, salads, menageries, cowgirls, hosts, statutes for wrenches, midpoint meetings, Saturday Night Live, current events, and Shakespeare.
I send special thanks to everyone who supports the Pub Quiz, and thus subscribes to all the pub quizzes, including the one I finished today. I would love to add your name to this list as a new subscriber. Find out more on Patreon.
Enjoy this blustery week and the cooler temperatures. Perhaps I will see you out there during one of our overlapping walks!
P.S. Here are three questions from last week’s Pub Quiz:
Mottos and Slogans and Taglines. What 1978 horror film used the tagline “The Night HE Came Home”?
Newspaper Headlines. The United States recently expressed “concern” about China’s incursion into the defense zone of what country?
California Islands. Avalon is the only incorporated city on what Southern California island found in the Bay of Santa Catalina?
I remember that star-studded sesquicentennial commencement. I was a rising sophomore and budding student journalist at the Freep. We were editorializing that the university’s security budget for the event was more than they had spent on student services during the previous decade, or something to that effect. It’s funny to think about that now, how consequential we felt, taking such stands! Thirty-something years later, I sometimes feel making oatmeal cookies in Davis can be at least as consequential. Anyway… honored to be featured in your column, Dr. Andy! And thanks for the plug.