Revisited: Taking pride in my Slob heritage

I declare today that I am a Slob-American. I say it loud, and I say it proud.

As enthusiastic as I might be now, I wasn’t always so respectful of my heritage. We Slobs were too frequently lumped in with the Lazy, the Listless, the Shifty and the Shiftless. I don’t deny those groups any less right than I have to view their ethnicity with pride, it’s just not who I am. We Slobs have a history of making an overt statement that we don’t care how we look, whereas other groups have not always had the same self-assuredness.

I can trace my Slob birthright back several generations before its carefree attitude toward dress showed up squarely in my wrinkled lap. One of my earliest ancestors was Maryland patriot Charles Carroll of Carrollton, an original signer of the Declaration of Independence. Documentation of his personal style is understandably scant, though there is a lithograph in the National Archives showing the Founding Fathers gathered around the hallowed parchment that is our nation’s charter, with Charles shown wearing a pocket t-shirt.

Almost a century passed before I could find a similar record of my later forbearers, and this time it’s Jebediah Stephen, posing for a Matthew Brady photograph on the eve of the Civil War’s Battle of Gettysburg. Stephen is just a kid, his unease with military life apparent in the way he stands apart from the other Union soldiers. You can’t tell it from the photo (Brady was of the minimalist/realist school and disdained the use of color) but Stephen is dressed in a green uniform. It’s only through later records that we know the confused young border-state native forsook fighting for either the Blue of the North or the Grey of the South, and instead insisted on defending the “glory of the East.”

Fast-forward to the 1950s and there’s a picture of my maternal grandmother. Vertie Wolfe was a proud Pennsylvania farm wife who raised eight children after her husband died. She’s shown in the only picture of that era still in my family, wearing a calf-length polka-dot dress, her grey hair in a bun, looking over the rims of her grandmotherly glasses. No botox, no blonde rinse, no fashionable pumps, the poor woman is a fashion no-show.

My earliest years were not particularly notable for their lack of fashion-sense. My baby pictures show a happy little boy. Sure, he’s wearing a rather frumpy diaper and has one sock pulled higher than the other, but at least there’s a doggie decal on his shirt. When I headed off to first grade a few years later, I’m wearing a plain shirt made by my mother and a pair of jeans that were meant to last at least through my teenage growth spurt. Their excess length is folded outward into white denim cuffs that reach almost to my knees.

More overt displays of Slobiness were not permitted in public schools at that time. We didn’t have uniforms per se, but there was a fairly strict dress code requiring long pants (not THAT long), tucked-in shirts and, inexplicably, shoes. Growing up in the subtropics of south Florida, I spent every moment I could romping through life in bare feet. You’d think the presence of scorpions, poisonous toads and giant roaches known for crunching underfoot would’ve offset the lure of constantly warm weather, but I loved to go without shoes. We played stickball in the street, rode our bikes through the neighborhood, even played tennis, and came to be proud of the thick calluses we constructed for ourselves. To this day, my big toes are each a full four inches wide.

It wasn’t until free-spirited seventies when I went off to college that I was able to “let my Slob flag fly,” to paraphrase David Crosby from his Slobian anthem “Almost Cut My Hair” and the lesser-known follow-up “Almost Took a Shower.” With no dress code whatsoever in place, I attended classes in frayed cut-off jeans, faded shirts, long curly hair and a scruffy half-beard. Even when I became editor of the school paper and a student leader, I clung to my carefree look, once interviewing the university president in his ornate office while wearing no shoes. I considered my slovenly appearance to be a political statement against the establishment; I imagine he saw it otherwise.

Now and for the last 35 years I’m out in the real world, dealing with real-world prejudices against my people. I live by the rules of corporate authority when I have to for the good of my household income. At work in the office, I wear business-casual black slacks, usually a grey or blue dress shirt and a black belt. I’m still a rebel below the ankles, though, opting for bright white running shoes and white socks, mainly because I thought they looked cool on Jerry Seinfeld 15 years ago. (That’s about my timeframe for keeping up with the few fashion statements I do agree with.)

But away from the corporate world, I exhibit all the Slob attributes that my people have proudly shown for centuries since they emigrated to the New World from Slobenia. My preferred winter attire – what I’m wearing at this very moment, in fact — is voluminous Hammer-style sweatpants, a tank top I found in the road in 1999, a worn synthetic overshirt with more pills in it than Rush Limbaugh, and a pair of penny loafers circa 1986. I only bother with the shoes because I’m writing in what is technically a restaurant/cafe that has no spine in standing up to plainly discriminatory health and cleanliness laws. Also, it’s 17 degree outside.

When warm weather arrives in a few weeks, I’ll again be able to break out the attire of my youth. The baggy cotton gym shorts, the vintage wear that includes a rare race t-shirt from the 1984 AMC Pacer 10-K (in which the Pacer famously finished a close third behind a pair of Kenyans) and a generic corporate t-shirt lacking the company imprint that was supposed to go with the words “technology, innovation and customer focus.” And perhaps my proudest possession of all: underwear briefs where virtually all the cotton has worn away and what remains is the elastic of the waste band and the seams of the legs, a sort of proto-thong I’ll still wear beneath my running togs.

My son and I were watching one of the Star Wars movies the other evening, and he commented how awkward it appeared for the Sith and the Jedi and all the rest of them to be laser-fighting in outfits that so severely limited their movement. Between the hoods and the robes and the long dangling belts and the extra-loose sleeves, we thought any of them would be easy prey should an invading civilization come along that dressed in jeans and sweatshirts. He propped his shoeless feet up on the couch as we laughed, and it was then that I knew that the Slob heritage would live on for at least one more generation.

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2 Responses to “Revisited: Taking pride in my Slob heritage”

  1. Paul Dixon Says:

    I think I remember the blue T-shirt you’re wearing for your FB profile photo from 1971. Either that, or you’ve replaced it 4 or 5 times over the years, ’cause it looks like it’s in fairly decent shape.

    The proto-thong thing was entirely too much information, but thanks for sharing…

    Speaking of “Almost Took a Shower”-do you happen to remember the “Take a Shower, Don” committee? This was an ad hoc group that spontaneously formed in early November of ’71 in order to assist the Slob next door in his personal hygiene efforts. His participation was mandatory, and Don went down fighting all the way.

  2. Ministry Fox Says:

    I definitely have Slob genes myself, and would carry a passport around with me, but I can’t be bothered to carry anything. I find wearing black all the time stops people noticing how infrequently I change my clothes. Any other slob hints out there?

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