You’d fall in love with me if you saw me wearing my scarf. At first you wouldn’t know what it was that you were feeling. Just some vague sensation of desire. Then you’d say, “Oliver, I never say stuff like this and I do not know what’s come over me, but can I… touch your scarf?” And I’d say: “…No.” Then I’d say: “Ahahahahaha, I was only kidding, you silly! …Of course you can touch it. Touch it for as long as you want to — or need to.”
I wear the Unisex Tri-Blend Scarf from American Apparel. Item number TR445 in the catalog — 50% Polyester, 25% Cotton, and 25% Rayon. …I wear it in the “Tri-Coffee” color shade. It cost 18 bucks.
Sometimes I feel as though the scarf is the best thing to ever happen to me. Kittens have grown into cats and then died. Girls have gotten sick of my passive-aggressive over-intellectual routine and then dumped me. …Brightness has fallen from the air. Queens have died young and fair. Everything changes. But still, my scarf remains.
I saw it in an American Apparel store and love just happened. Sparks flew. Fireworks. I felt it all. I didn’t want to like anything in an American Apparel store. Usually when I enter an American Apparel store, I scream something like “JESUS CHRIIIIIST THEY’RE SELLING SILVER LAMÉ LEGGINGS FOR GUYS I AM TOO OLD AND FIVE PERCENT TOO HETEROSEXUAL FOR THIS STORE GET ME OUT!!!” I was in the store because I was bored as f-ck in Manhattan while waiting for my girlfriend to meet her idiot friend to discuss her idiot friend’s engagement. …Words like “discuss” and “engagement” make me itch and want to throw things. When I meet my friends, I meet them to, say, get drunk. I don’t meet them with a set topic of discussion. And if someone’s getting engaged, I say something like “Greeeeaaat you’re getting married yah moron.” But anyway.
I walked into the American Apparel store — since I wasn’t allowed to/ didn’t want to discuss the engagement — and there it was. The scarf of scarves. Ultima Thule. The last scarf that I would ever need. I had been OCD-ishly looking for the right scarf — online, in stores — for about three months leading up to this moment. But more than that, I’ve been searching for the perfect scarf for almost my whole life. …In college, I had a scarf that approached greatness; it was a vintage taupe number from Brooks Brothers that I found in a thrift store — it was almost the right scarf but not quite the right scarf. It was missing something by about, say, two percent, and this made me sad.
I picked up the Tri-Blend scarf and put it down again, as an inevitably sexy salesgirl approached.
“Do you need any help?”
“Oh, I don’t…. k-nnnooow.” I was still fingering the f-cking scarf. It was like seeing a stranger on the subway and falling in love with them. You see them, fall in love, and go through your imaginary first date, first f-ck, first fight, move-in, marriage, anger, children, divorce. Infatuation like this can be exhausting; going through it all in your mind like this. That girl on the subway is just sitting there, and you’ve already had to endure a 30-year mental relationship. Probably if the stranger girl got up to talk to you, you’d say something like “Oh, what is it now?” …So exhausting. I was enduring the same thing with the scarf. I had known it for years.
“…Okay,” the salesgirl said.
“Ha ha, I never usually shop at American Apparel; I dunno, I feel too old!” I said, and shrugged.
…This fell into the me over-explaining while the other person doesn’t give a sh-t category of conversation that I often fall into with service-industry employees. Like if I’m at a bar, and I randomly order a vodka and lemonade for some reason, I say something like, “Jeez, I usually just get Jameson on the rocks, I don’t know what my deal is today.” …I say these things because I believe in my head that if I don’t, the bartender will rush straight home after work and say to his wife, “Honey, this guy came into the bar today, and for a second I thought he was kind of cool, y’know? …Like he seemed like he was a regular whiskey-drinker; a regular guy, y’know? …But then he ordered the lamest drink ever. It was such a crushing disappointment. What a world; what a world.”
The salesgirl blinked at me.
“I guess I’ll have to think about the scarf!”
I left the store. The salesgirl knew I would be back, and so did the Tri-Blend Tri-Coffee scarf.
I’ll spare you the suspense. Reader, I went back to the store and bought the scarf! And ever since then, things have been Good, more or less. …Except for the one time that I lost my scarf in a cab. Oh, but that was a hard moment for me. I lost my messenger bag, a notebook, my scarf, and a bottle of vodka in a cab. I could have used the bottle of vodka to get over the loss of the scarf. What happened then was that I had to go back to American Apparel and buy the same scarf again — meaning that I paid $36 in total for two single-ply sheets of polyester/ rayon/ cotton. When people talk about the impending decline of the American Empire, they are probably thinking of me. Somewhere in the Third World, a child-laborer is making a 35 cent sheet of polycottonrayon. And then there’s me buying it for a 1,000% markup. And then the terrorists get us. Or something. Anyway, where was I?
But it’s all worth it because I look great in my scarf. Without my scarf, I am… not very much. I’m a pale standard white person who looks vaguely Irish. But with my scarf — looped casually over a t-shirt, or pressed beneath the collar of my Kenneth Cole duffel coat — I am so much more. The scarf looped over the t-shirt says; I am slightly twee, I have hidden depths, I enjoy the music of Death Cab for Cutie and you would enjoy sex with me; I am probably a writer for a trendy website with 22-year-old fan-girls who send me sexy emails; my scarf says all this and more.
Unfortunately, however, my scarf did not survive my move from the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Well, it did, but it didn’t, in a way. Post scarf-purchase, I left New York and went to rehab for alcoholism in a small post-industrial Pennsylvania town; it’s the kind of town with a river with rusty bridges over it, and abandoned businesses that could have never made sense to begin with: Al’s Oxygen Supply, Kim’s Flags and More, Levittown Rubber Factory.
My scarf made the move with me, but in this working-class town, wearing a casually looped Tri-Blend scarf over a hipster t-shirt says something a little different. It says, hey, I AM A SUSPICIOUS-LOOKING ‘PUSSY’ WHO YOU MIGHT ENJOY BEATING UP. In fact…
In point of fact, I was wearing my scarf the other day, while walking back from my secondary, non-writing job. It was about 5 p.m., twilight around here, at this time of year. The world not yet totally dark, but blue-ish.
[T]he violet hour, when the eyes and back
Turn upward from the desk, when the human engine waits
Like a taxi throbbing waiting…
At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives
Homeward, and brings the sailor home from sea…
I passed a 7-11 as I headed home from work; this 7-11 is right next to the bridge to Trenton, New Jersey, and thus serves as the locus for most of the town’s homeless people. Some dude asked me for money as I walked past; we were a couple blocks past the 7-11 proper, near a sort of pointless drainage ditch area. The dude asked for money. He said he had just gotten out of jail, and he needed money for a hotel room. “Yo man can you help me out?” No comma in the sentence. This seemed like a uniquely bad pitch with which to ask for money, in my humble opinion. Back when I was briefly homeless in New York, I certainly didn’t attempt to stay in hotels, and I certainly didn’t ask strangers for money so I could stay in a hotel. “How about staying in a shelter and asking for money for f-cking food?” I wanted to say to him, but didn’t.
Instead, I rummaged in my pockets for change. This involved unzipping my duffel coat and readjusting my awesome Tri-Coffee blend scarf. Such a nice scarf! I came up with fifty cents, which I handed him.
“‘S’s all you got?”
“You ain’t got nothing more?”
“Come on, man, help a brother out.”
Saying help a brother out never really encourages me to do anything.
“Sorry.” I shrugged.
“Come on, guy.”
Oh, this was becoming fun.
“Nope; can’t help you.”
“Fuck off then, faggot.”
I said the next part instantly without thinking: “Screw you, white trash asshole.” I said it in a resigned tone, too. Like, great, this guy’s a jerk. That was when I got punched in the face, which happened really surprisingly quickly. I had time to think, Wait — is he? and then, lo, he did. Ow.
All of which was provocative enough, but then I got punched six more times in the face. Ow? Not the face, dude. Man, I’m certainly not walking near this drainage ditch area again, I thought. It didn’t hurt very much, not right away — because I was in shock, or it was happening quickly enough that my pain cells weren’t having enough time to react. I’ll say this for me: it never remotely occurred to me to hit the guy back. No, that would only occur to me fifteen minutes later, when I was sprawled on the grass. I didn’t even feel mad: I felt sad and afraid and angry with the guy for punching me, but I wasn’t really mad at him. I didn’t hate the guy, somehow.
The seventh and final punch smashed against my face. Suddenly I decided to sit down on the grass for a while. Yes, the grass. This would be good. Here on the grass, in a slightly crumpled heap. This would be a good place to be; to rest, for a while.
…It might be edifying here to pause for a second with a short note about movie violence versus real world violence. Like, the last action movie I saw on TV was Watchmen. Now. In that movie, as I remember, there’s a brief scene where one guy tries to punch another guy, misses, and instead smashes his hand through a solid marble wall. And then just resumes fighting. Now. It might be good to mention here that if you smashed your hand through solid rock in real life, you would be in almost indescribable amounts of pain, and might, in fact, faint. I have been in — let’s pause to count — two fights in my life, and during both of them I have been highly struck by this difference. In an action movie, action heroes routinely suffer through bouts of heavy violence, but one percent of this violence in real life would cause you to probably die.
Which is to say that after getting beaten up, I decided to stay on the ground for a while, instead of, say, giving the guy a karate kick to the head like you would in a movie.
…Here is what I then said to the guy; to my attacker:
“Wow. That hurt… quite a lot more than I thought it would. Asshole.”
The problem is that I said it with style. I glared defiantly at him; I chuckled ruefully like I was Harrison Ford. The problem is that in real life, I believe that I am Indiana Jones. Though action movies are not realistic, I have this problem where I secretly believe that I’m in a movie. Maybe it’s the scarf’s fault. Maybe the scarf makes me feel extra… dashing. Movie stars and actors wear scarfs, and often I am just acting out my life, playing the role of “me.”
“Screw you, white trash asshole.” …Why’d I say that, even? It was the thing I felt I was supposed to say. In real life, I am a coward, and I hate pain. (“…I’m not like other people,” Daffy Duck once said. “Pain hurts me.”)
But the problem is, I’m a scarf guy. I see myself from the outside, not the inside. I see myself with my scarf fluttering in the wind, and I think I am brave and exceptional.
“Yeah that was really pretty painful,” I said to the guy, and then laughed again.
Then I passed out for about fifteen minutes.
When I woke up, strangers were standing over me. Not homeless people but normal small-town people; kindly good Samaritan people. A man and a woman.
“Hey dude, are you okay?” the man said. He helped me up from the ground.
“…Nooo, I’m fine, fine, sorry,” I said; my chronic, pathological politeness reasserting itself. For all I knew I was suffering from a massive bleeding internal brain hemorrhage and was going to die within fifteen seconds. “No… worries. Sorry to t… rouble ever…y…one,”I slurred.
“Are you sure?”
I patted myself down, as if after a long journey through freakish weather. My wallet was still there. My jaw was swollen, my ear and cheek bleeding, and apparently, one of my teeth had been knocked out; there was a windy gap in my mouth where one of my teeth no longer was. Something else was missing too.
…Where was my scarf?
It wasn’t on my neck.
…Still there? Was it? Where?
It was still there. It was on the ground; crushed into the mud, somehow having been knocked off during the fight. I lifted it. Muddy, but not torn. Still intact. Machine-washable poly-rayon. No problem.
Everything was still fine. Everything was as it should be. I did a halfhearted sixty-second search on the ground for my tooth. Nope. Couldn’t find it.
Then I looped the dirty scarf around my neck. Its coils were wet and heavy and muddy. Squared my shoulders. Re-thanked the strangers. (“…You sure you okay?”) Straightened my jacket. …And then I started on the long wobbling walk back towards my home.