2008-05-29 / Sam Bari

Clothes do not always make the man

You can't beat a system you can't understand
By Sam Bari

Mark Twain, my favorite author, humorist and teller of tall tales, wrote about clothing and the advantages of sartorial splendor on more than one occasion.

He wrote: "Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society."

He also wrote: "Strip the human race, absolutely naked, and it would be a real democracy. But the introduction of even a rag of tiger skin, or a cowtail, could make a badge of distinction and be the beginning of a monarchy."

A certain amount of grass roots wisdom is in both of those statements. They remind me of a time when I was a boy. I was with my erstwhile group of adventurous friends, and we found ourselves at Pookie Grossberg's house for some reason or other. If my memory serves me correctly, I believe we were waiting for the rain to stop so we could play baseball. We were all around 12 or 13 years old at the time.

Anyway, the subject of clothing was brought to the forefront when Pookie announced that he was really glad he wasn't a girl. He started ranting about how much time his older sister spent trying on clothes, looking at her reflection in the mirror, and applying and re-applying makeup so she could impress the "dork of the week" she was dating.

Kinky Boswell said he had six pairs of jeans and about a dozen Tshirts. As far as he was concerned, he was set for life.

Pookie was getting all worked up and said, "Don't go away. I'll show you what I mean."

While Pookie was gone, Nicky the Brain said he'd commit suicide before he'd put on stockings and gooey stuff all over his face every day. Louie the Lip said the perfume and powder his aunt wore made him sneeze.

"If they smell that bad, why don't they just take a bath?" Chilly Mac asked. None of us knew the answer to that one. We continued to comment on the perils of womanhood until Pookie walked through the door and rendered us all speechless.

Pookie loosely resembled Marilyn Manson doing a cheap imitation of the 1920s screen siren, Greta Garbo. He was wearing his mother's high heels, a gauzy shoulder wrap that ladies wore with strapless gowns, a dome-crowned, widebrimmed hat that was popular in the Flapper era, and generous globs of eyeliner and lipstick that dramatically changed his facial features.

He swung a small, jeweled handbag on the end of a chain as he sauntered like a model strutting her stuff with exaggerated hip action on a fashion show catwalk. The only items missing were the long cigarette holder and elbow-length gloves. I clearly remember the vision through tear-filled eyes brought on by uncontrollable laughter.

Pookie was stumbling along in the high heels and just about made a spectacular exit out the door on the other side of the room when who should walk in? You guessed it - his sister.

"Pookie, you are so gross!" she screamed.

"That's Gross-berg," Pookie pointed out emphatically as he whipped around and attempted to run in the opposite direction. Well . . . Pookie Grossberg running in high heels is just not gonna happen. No-way, no-how, and certainly not in this lifetime. Nonetheless, he was determined and kept stumbling along as his sister followed, pummeling his back while she shrieked at him.

We cheered him on, and he almost made it out the door on the other side of the room when who should walk in? You guessed it - his mother.

As soon as she saw Pookie, her first words were, "AAAAAAAAAAGGGGGHH!

To which Pookie replied, "AAAAAAAAAAGGGGGHH! Together they sounded like a herd o' wild parrots fighting over the same peanut.

Pookie's sister was still pummeling his back when Pookie turned around again to make a feeble attempt at getting away. As soon as he faced her, she bopped Pookie squarely on the nose.

Blood splattered all over his mother's best high-heel pumps, her gauzy wrap, and her bejeweled handbag. And the solid punch knocked Pookie right off the high heels onto his backside. The scene had the makings of a Freddy Kruger nightmare, although Freddy had yet to be born.

The next words spewing from Mother Grossberg's mouth were not suitable for publication in a family newspaper, but the sentence ended with ". . . your hoodlum friends."

We may have been young, but we were not stupid, and we knew that was our cue to make a fast exit. However, cue or no cue, nobody can run anywhere when they're laughing so hard they're afraid of peeing their pants.

I suppose that was the first time we realized that making fun of ladies fashions is not a good idea when you live in a system you can't understand.

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