I got wolf-whistled at the other day. …Catcalled at? Wolf-whistled at? I had to call my friends to ask for the correct terminology. No one could give me an answer. Anyway, two girls were driving past me in a car, and one of them did a long, low, sharp whistle, like Audrey Hepburn hailing a cab in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. …Wheet-whooot! Their car was yellow; a yellow sports car.
They were cute. …College-age? They looked like townies though. Sweatshirts, smoking cigarettes, driving around nowheresville Pennsylvania in their hot yellow car. “…I’ll be here until the day I die,” Samuel Beckett once said, when he was a young person, slumming his way through rural Ireland. “…Riding along empty roads on a stranger’s bike.” That’s pretty much what rural Pennsylvania is like; I grew up here, and now I’m back here, fifteen years later. There’s nothing here. You either get out or you perish.
The passenger’s-side girl whistled at me and I could not have been more surprised. In fact, I was shocked into coolness. What had just happened took a second to register, and so I reacted without processing the experience, giving them a subtle head nod, like I was walking down the corridors of my old high school. “Hey, ladies. Checking me out, eh? …Don’t worry, happens all the time; happens all the time.” It was one of the more suave moments of my life, although there’s only been about seven or eight suave moments in my life, so it’s not really tough competition.
The whistle complete, the two girls roared off, trailing a cloud of probable menthol cigarette smoke. …I continued to trudge along. And so we all continued in what we were doing, nihil sub sole novum.
Except that I called up my friend Tiffany: “Hey I think I just got wolf-whistled at.” No comma.
“You did?” she said. “…Guy or girl? Where were you at?” Tiffany has a way of driving to the heart of the matter like that.
“Or is it cat-called at?”
“I think both.”
I explained. “Girls. It was probably ironic, though.”
And Tiffany sighed in response. “Not everything is ironic, Oliver.”
“…I know that, but how can I tell?”
“They probably weren’t being ironic with their whistling. …I mean, who does that?”
Oh this modern age that we live in. Oh, the era of irony. We discussed the wolf-whistle — cat call? — for a while longer: who what when where why? And then we talked about some other things for a while.
The thing was, I looked like sh-t at the time. This in itself is not surprising; I often look like sh-t. In college, I majored in English Literature, and minored in Classical Languages and in Looking Like Sh-t. The thing was, I was wearing a duffel coat and a torn sweater, and a scratched digital watch, and my jaw was swollen up from my first-ever toothache. Have you ever had a toothache before? I haven’t. I’m too poor to go to the dentist at the moment, so I was dosing the infection with a home-brew remedy suggested by one of my roommates in my halfway house: hydrogen peroxide mixed with water, plus lots of aspirin. Doing this, swilling basic chemicals around in my mouth, made me feel as though I had been cast back to the year 1423, before dentists existed. And minus the digital watch, that’s what I looked like: a medieval peasant from the year 1423, with my hooded coat and my torn shirt made of wool.
Not having a car really casts you back in time. Not back into pre-historic time, not like The Flintstones or anything like that. It casts you back in time to being fourteen and longing to one day have a car. Oh, the sadness of it all.
Intimations of the end, but one by one. I am heading towards the finish of something. …My clothes were worn out when the girls hooted at me. This is because all of my clothes are worn out. …It’s the end of irony. I was wearing my Urban Outfitter jeans with my touching black Calvin Klein sweater with the leather packets on the elbows with my black Casio digital watch. But my jeans have holes in them, and not prefabricated holes. They have holes in them because they’re worn out and have holes in them. The leather patches are ripped and torn. The watch is scratched. …I’m a hipster hobo. My friend came up with that term for me the other day, and I like it. “A hipster hobo.” I have third-world problems, but a first-world attitude. My clothes were designed to make me look poor, because I had money when I bought them. My watch was meant to be an ironic, a fifteen dollar 1980s joke of a watch. But now it just makes me look like every poor person ever.
I kept on walking. I have seen, while walking, in other journeys, other hobos and homeless men; not hipster ones, but real ones. I have seen old black men, sitting on street corners — wearing their one suit, their one dress shirt, and their one tie. Their wing-tips with the holes in the soles. And I thought: Why? Why bother to dress up? Now, after being checked out by the townie girls, the obvious revelation came to me: because homeless people don’t want to look homeless. So simple, and so very, very duh. Rich people can afford to look poor because they’re rich. So very very duh. But I’ve been having a lot of obvious revelations now — now that I’m a hobo, and I feel like having obvious revelations kind of suits me. Truths that are so close to the surface that they are verging on cliché. We live so close to truth that it becomes a permanent blur in the corner of our eyes.
The girls were long gone now. Tiffany had moved on to talking about her divorce. It started to rain, to drizzle, because of course it did.
The girls weren’t being ironic by whistling (probably). And I wasn’t being ironic by wearing sh-tty clothes (probably). The sky darkened, and I continued walking through the rain. The age of irony was at an end. …But was there anywhere else to go?