From the Greek sarkasmos, meaning to sneer at or taunt (and derived from a term for rending the flesh), sarcasm is one of the building blocks of civilization. The ability to express an unwelcome observation in a wickedly passive-aggressive manner is, at the very least, a great alternative to old-fashioned fisticuffs, or rape ‘n’ pillage. When I think about those ancient Greeks and the carte blanche they enjoyed to say horrid things to one another, I get quite jealous. For example: If you were strolling through downtown Thebes and you ran into a pal who was looking particularly soiled and unkempt, you might say, “Going somewhere special?” to which the other Greek might good-naturedly reply, “Oh! You and your flesh-rending ironic observations!” It’s sad to think that such a remark would, in our squishy and oversensitive age, be met with accusations of “hating.”
Back in the day, heft was associated with gravitas and power, leadership, and trust. Fat blokes, by their very physiques, projected monumental indestructability. Even when they were rotting with syphilis (Henry VIII) or prone to decapitating their spouses (Henry VIII, again) they were somehow preferable to those malevolent skinny fellows (Richard III). Obese monarchs and porky politicos loomed large on any podium or battlefield, and one imagines that when they delivered speeches their words boomed and reverberated to tremendous effect. Enough to make your jewelry rattle.
It’s hard to imagine a scrawny geezer having the same kind of impact. Imagine if Winston Churchill, instead of looking like Falstaff, were to have resembled Igor Stravinsky, or a Giacometti sculpture. I cannot help feeling his we-will-fight-on-the-beaches addresses to the nation would have been much less comforting.
In the current everything-about-me-is-fascinating age of Twitter, acquiring those Pierre Hardy porno-pumps, Tabitha Simmons peep-toes, Reed Krakoff slingbacks, Alaïa ankle booties, and Givenchy stilettos is the ne plus ultra of achievement. Shoes are the new Nobel Prizes, or they would be if people were allowed to Nobel laureatize themselves.
How did we get ourselves into this seemingly ludicrous position? When did the vaunting and flaunting of designer shoes, shoe closets, and shoe collections become so vital to any gal in pursuit of social currency?
It all started back in the late ’90s with Carrie Bradshaw. Of course, much has been written about Carrie’s fashion influence, but a key component of Carrie’s idiosyncrasy was her surprising and mysterious interest in footwear. She could just as easily have had an obsession with vintage brassieres, bejeweled Hungarian snoods, Victorian butt plugs (they exist!), or Bakelite bangles. But, no, it was Blahniks or bust for Carrie.
Whenever there is perceived oppression, the world pulls out that yardstick—and I do mean yardstick—and starts measuring the oppressor. OK, I understand there are some unfortunate short-equals-bossy precedents. Hitler was dinky, Mussolini was too, and Bono is not exactly the tallest person on the planet. But these examples do not mean that every male under average height is hell-bent on establishing a tyrannical global brand. Yes, the Marquis de Sade was petite. But so was Gandhi.
From my vantage point—an admittedly low one, since my passport says 5 feet 4½ inches, and I just measured myself and I have lost half an inch in the last 40 years, which is actually a relief since I thought it would be more—the picture is by no means a simple one. The truth of the matter is, there are all kinds of little dudes. Yes, some of us are megalomaniacal, rage-filled Hummel figurines with Napoleon complexes. But only when the situation calls for it! And not all of us have such maniacal tendencies. We short guys are a spectrum, a rainbow. Let’s start at the darkest end.
Give an average bloke a room key and a mint on his pillow and suddenly that person turns into a rule-breaking, wild-eyed, Charlie Sheenian sexual outlaw. Stick an average broad in a hotel bar and she turns into Rielle Hunter. (More about her hotel antics in a moment.) A friend of mine who works in the hotel industry keeps me abreast of all the latest trends in anti-social and revolting guest behavior. According to my “hospitality insider,” nefarious guest activities are only becoming more foul and disturbing. My pal’s job involves the design and refurbishment of soft furnishings in the rooms of gracious hotels. Though he enjoys his work, he has started to feel somewhat constrained, specifically in regard to fabric choices. Whether for upholstery, drapes, or bedding, every textile he selects must now be BCP-resistant, by which he means resistant to—drumroll—blood, cum, and poo.
Nobody ever cops to it. Admitting to being narcissistic is like acknowledging that you have BO, or that you are a colossal bore. Can you imagine Kim and Kanye, or Kim Jong-un, or Mitt or Newt, or any celeb for that matter, opening up to Barbara Walters or Oprah about his or her private struggle with self-infatuation? Bold-facers will confess to murder before they will own up to being narcissists.
Not me. Like Miss Piggy, I am completely in the thrall of moi, and I happily acknowledge the fact. When she said, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it may be necessary from time to time to give a stupid or misinformed beholder a black eye,” Miss P. spoke for us both. There are two pink follow spots up in the sky: one is pointed directly at Miss Piggy, and the other one is drenching yours truly in flattering light.
I have a whole battery of excuses for my narcissistic delusions. A bizarre childhood during which I was constantly upstaged by the madness around me—you try growing up in a rooming house with a bunch of certified loonies—left me feeling invisible, which, in turn, left me with an unquenchable thirst to be recognized. Hello! I’m over here!
However, just because I am honest about my neurosis does not mean I allow it to rampage, expanding to engulf people and entire cities like The Blob. My narcissism wears Spanx. I control it and I contain it. Policing my own narcissism in an honest way has enabled me—though I do bray it myself—to avoid the extremes of assholism which are so often to be found in some of today’s great narcissists, by which I do, of course, mean John Edwards. By facing the beast head on, and dissecting its various components, I feel I have managed to avoid Howard Hughes-ian extremes of grandiosity, isolation, and persnickety paranoia.
The Most Fashionable Woman in the World
Regarding Queen Elizabeth’s sense of style: Vivienne Westwood once dubbed her Majesty “the most fashionably dressed woman in the world.” Upon reflection, I think Viv may be onto something. In an era when the fashion landscape has fragmented into an infinite archipelago of conflicting trends and incomprehensible ideas, the only thing that really matters is to have your own signature look. Who has accomplished this if not QE2? Those boldly-hued matching dresses, coats, and hats—plus contrasting what-the-hell-does-she-carry-in-them handbags—positively scream “Brenda!”
Having no desire to get eaten by a hyena or to concertina my vertebrae while attempting to parkour across Manhattan, I found myself scraping the barrel for some meaningful bucketlistobilia. After hours of brain-ransacking, and a long one-way conversation with my dog Liberace, I managed the following meager assemblage:
First and foremost I would like, before I die, to nuke the blotch of toe-nail fungus which afflicts my right big toe and which has proven resistant to every product on the market. Out damned spot!
Second, I would like, one sunny day, to run up to the Russian Embassy, knock on the door and shout, “Hello! Is Len in?”
And lastly I would like to go shopping at Forever 21. For some reason this fashion discount outlet features on many teen bucket lists online, and I want to find out exactly why. One day I will walk proudly through the doors and … (gurgle, gurgle, death-rattle) … too late!
Once upon a time, fake hair looked real. This period did not last long. Around the turn of the century—I’m talking 1990s here, not 1890s—hairdressers had begun to deploy those now-ubiquitous fake hair extensions, but they always worked with a certain amount of subtlety and restraint. Realness was paramount. Wigginess was verboten. Women relied on extensions—strips of hair that often originate on the scalp of a cash-strapped lady in a developing country—to subtly augment their ‘dos. These delicate rafts of hair, in shades matching the woman’s own, were cunningly glued to either side of the head, enhancing the existing follicle count. A light bouncy ’70s tressiness was the goal. Think Charlie!, as in the perfume hawked by Shelley Hack.
Cut to now. Women are boldly sporting more mega-tons of fake hair than Lady Bunny. Instead of Charlie!, it’s more about Charles II. That’s right, I’m getting historical on your asses, because today’s shoulder length mega-tresses have only one precedent: the man-wigs of 17th-century Europe. Instead of trying to look merely healthy—just naturally lustrous—women now strive to look as much as possible like a bewigged aristo of yore. Every gal is coiffed with the powerful pompous abundance of the Sun King. Grab your periwigs, girls, because the Duke of Marlborough is totally back!
Why have we shoved all today’s accomplished people onto the back burner? Yes, we have Adele, but I am looking beyond the popular-music realm to the broad areas of accomplishment alluded to above and asking where, fer chrissakes, are the glamorous neurophysicists? Where are the charismatic, overachieving innovators and inventors? Steve Jobs? A unicorn! A lone example. You are going to have to do better than that if you wish to upend my hypothesis.
After extensive conversations with my inner Bertrand Russell, I have, of course, come up with a theory about the origins of this dire situation. Et voilà!:
We are living in an everyone-is-special-and-there-are-no-losers society. As a result, we are fearful of accomplished people because they can do stuff that we cannot do, and giving them the spotlight would un-level the playing field. We are, as a result, much more comfortable with the famous-for-nothing paradigm, because then, we, the great unexceptional masses, still have shot at celebrity.
P.S.: The one exception in this situation appears to be sports stars. Today athletic prowess seems to be more celebrated than ever. However in order to be really, really, really über-celebrated even a big-name dude needs to attach himself to an audacious woman with an impressive rack.