My hometown has yet to receive a Wal-Mart, so shopping at one is still kind of exotic to me. I never would have thought I could buy underwear, motor oil, frozen shrimp and a crossbow all in one place. Brooklyn, far behind on the mega-store curve but catching up quickly, still has none. In northeastern Pennsylvania, where my folks bought a house a few years ago, there is the first and only Wal-Mart I have ever visited. The store is monumental in its banality and sublime in its material abundance. I remember the first time I crossed its threshold. It was akin to visiting Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. At both places the scale is daunting, the visual stimulation overwhelming, and one gets the feeling they each represent only the knife’s edge of a massive complex of economic and cultural influences.
My family had gone to Rome in the summer of 1990. My late brother Michael at the time had full blown AIDS and was involved with ACTUP, the direct action AIDS advocacy group. Although far from proletarian he was greatly disturbed by the opulent wealth and power represented at the Vatican - it didn’t seem to have anything to do with the image of Christ that we were raised with, the simple man whose treasure was in heaven and his heart. He was also disturbed by the contradictory stances the Church took with regards to the disease. The Church, through Saint Vincent’s Hospital, provided him, and my brother Vincent who also died of the disease, with excellent and compassionate care. At the same time they lobbied against the use of condoms for its prevention and in general the frank discussion of human sexuality that was necessary in a time of epidemic. The conflict pitted ideals against practicality. In life and death matters it was not that hard to choose.
It’s easy to knock Wal-Mart, and most of the time I think it is justified. They are an aesthetic blight on our landscape, their presence in a community often threatens small business owners and Main Streets all over the country, they have questionable employee benefit practices and aid and abet spurious Chinese trade and labor policies. Like all commercial behemoths they dumb down and homogenize our culture by reducing choice and access through their goliath reach that obliterates all other outlets for products, cultural as well as material. Unfortunately they are also really cheap.
There were five of us brothers in my family and my folks raised us on city employee salaries, the Board of Education specifically. I am still stupefied as to how they pulled it off, raising us as well-fed, educated, intellectually inquisitive, more or less happy young people. My mom is a veteran bargain hunter, as well as a devout Catholic. We’re not getting back to Rome any time soon, but, much to my chagrin, the mega-store is quickly proving to be her other pilgrimage. Had we grown up in the Pocono’s instead of Brooklyn I don’t doubt that we would have been Wal-Mart babies. The New York native in me recoils at this thought of course, but how else to provide for a large family on a modest salary?
Strange then that something “good” is something “bad”. Can we have it both ways? Can we have the convenience of a vast, modern economy and still preserve a daily life that hasn’t had the originality, autonomy and authenticity marketed out of existence? Can we provide affordable goods without wreaking havoc on other sectors of our lives and other parts of the globe? I hope the answer is yes.
Saint Peter’s Basilica is a triumph of human creativity. No matter what it represents, it is still among the most beautiful and transporting things created by mankind. Wal-Mart, while no beauty, is also a triumph in its own right, a product of the most advanced part of our global economy and technology. Neither is perfect of course, and both in many ways are still works in progress. The world is full of triumphs - complicated, imperfect, ever improving triumphs. Whitman said that America is a poem constantly rewriting itself. The bright spot of hope in that thought is that we are all the poets of that great work, so the responsibility for change lies in ourselves, and who better to do it? Whitman also said, “Do I contradict myself, very well then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.” I think we have to embrace these types of contradictions if we are truly going to make changes in the world.
This is no apologia for the monster retailer. Rather it is a call if not to arms then to consciousness. If you really want to change the world, to make it better, you’d better be prepared to have an open mind, to accept some very surprising facts, and to face opinions and attitudes that you might not have expected to have. That’s half the battle, recognizing it is ourselves who hold the power, especially in a consumer society. Yes, our choices have been limited and often we seem to be exempted entirely from the grand marketing and development schemes of the biggest players. But the bottom line is we still control our pocketbooks. Gandhi famously said, “You must be the change that you wish to see in the world.” What is the Wal-Mart you wish to see in the world? You need only lift your voice to make it happen.
Last night I was pleased to see the “Retail Activist” tote bag in the window of my local Housing Works Thrift Shop. I am on the board of directors of the shops, a not for profit agency which provides a variety of services for the homeless /AIDS population in New York City and beyond. We raise money by operating over half a dozen thrift stores in New York. Primarily the money comes from the sale of donated goods. Housing Works focuses on better gently used items. We are a “luxury” thrift after all. On the street they call us Salvation Armani. The tote bag is part of new initiative, creating now our own branded products to raise funds.
I admit I take special pride in the verbiage. I wrote it. For five years I was the Visual Director for the company – creating window displays for all our shops. I must have done well because I was recruited shortly thereafter by Donna Karan to fulfill the same role at her company. I joined the Housing Works board after I left the thrift shops, consulting on merchandising issues for our ever fashion forward efforts. The company expanded rapidly during that time (we have almost doubled the amount of stores in five years) and I put my hat into the ring to design a West Village thrift boutique, a smaller, more high-end business model with a big emphasis on in-store environment and personal service. On the fitting room mirrors there we emblazoned the phrase “Retail Activist”, so that our customers could get a look not just at what they were buying or trying but what ultimately their business with us made them, namely activists, whether they thought about it or not.
There are many ways to make the world better and activism no matter the cause comes in many forms. Is it really a surprise that in a consumer based culture such as our own that shopping would be one of them? In fact in a culture like ours being a consumer might be the most powerful position of all – that is of course if we are aware of that power. Now in a stalled economy the point is driven home. People are feeling the need to reclaim their authority over their spending. Their money seems ever more a precious and limited resource, one however that is more and more in demand as the increasingly sophisticated and pervasive advertising apparatus finds ways to cajole us into buying. It seems that we are offered more and more stuff to buy, but we are actually given less choice: products are designed for obsolescence, large franchises smother independent retailers and designers and amounts and sizes of products, especially foodstuffs, are surreptitiously made smaller.
The one choice that remains however is what and where to buy…or not. Withholding our money is the one thing that the great forces of commerce and fear. We all know the adage – Money talks “etcetera etcetera” walks. It’s not easy though. The homogenization of retail compels a lot of people, especially people outside of big cities, to shop at large franchises where product offerings are determined in anonymous corporate offices. They don’t really address the needs of communities or individuals. They aim instead to shape them. And for years now retailers have appealed to the better parts of ourselves. Breast cancer’s pink ribbon campaign is probably the most well known of such efforts. Of course these efforts are as much about the good public relations they generate as they are about aiding their respective causes. At Housing Works the model is perhaps reversed. Our mission was in place long before we opened stores and our goal was never profit in the traditional sense. Nevertheless since our inception we recognized the importance of savvy marketing and benefits of taking advantage of all the for profit methods of appealing to customer’s desires.
Preserving our resources of course has become a very timely cause celebré. Fashionistas parade down the sidewalks with the “I am not a plastic bag” bag. Recycling is derigeur. Green materials pop up everwhere from fine furniture to wedding announcements to coffee cups. Locavores crow about the destructive “food miles” our eating habits create. In a way Housing Works was a green company long before anyone ever thought about it. Our entire business model is based on recycling, on stopping the flow of waste, on giving products a second chance, and of course giving the individuals who we help their second chance as well.
I hope these simple canvas totes can broadcast the same message – to change the world with the change in your pockets and to shop as thoughtfully with as much consciousness of its power and consequences as possible.
Just a short rant this time. If you live near the Brooklyn waterfront like I do you know what a treasure the New York skyline is. Most cities are known by a single building or monument – think Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, even the Hollywood sign in L.A. New York, too big for any one thing to ever represent, is symbolized by the city itself, the cheek by jowl mishmosh of its architecture as much as its citizenry, its denizenry, its ever changing expanding center. Now that most of us have made the leap to Brooklyn we can gaze upon that emblem of our metropolis just as we dive into it everyday for work play love and life.
Picture then the subtle heartbreak, the pebble in the shoe one experiences standing on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. If you’ve never been there just think back to Woody Allen’s Manhattan. No other filmmaker has laid out his love affair for the city as knowingly as Woody. No surprise he chose the location - the view from the Promenade, one of Brooklyn’s closest points to Manhattan, adjacent to the elegant and historic Brooklyn Bridge, is one of the best for skyline gazing anywhere on earth. It reminds us why New York is the center of the world. (Every Teutonic tourist with a Michelin guide and a half dozen megapixels apparently agrees). What then is up with the Verizon sign?
At magic hour, or the “gloaming” as it is sometimes called, the perfect moment before the sun sets, when light seems not to lay on things but to radiate out from them softly, the cluster of building in lower Manhattan swell with an other-worldly blue glow. The magnificent bridge that soars out from Brooklyn to touch Manhattan seems to float on air, the East River merging with sky before both are obliterated and all the lights come on, E.B. White’s “diamonds on black velvet.” How’s that for some Hollywood magic? At this hour even New Jersey doesn’t look half bad. Then look a bit to your right and see the fifty foot high illuminated Verizon logo on the blank facade of the windowless Verizon building. To cop the Los Angeles parlance, “Grody to the max!”
For the record there is no other logo anywhere else on the skyline like this. It seems like Verizon has gotten exclusive branding rights to New York….Huh?
There was a day almost seven years ago when a stroll on the Promenade provided the best vantage point for one of the darkest events in this country’s history, an orchestra seat for a giant tragedy. Today one is still not without that peculiar quiet sense of loss when rstanding in Brooklyn egarding the wounded skyline, trying in that absence to feel whole again. Nevertheless, it is with stoic pride that many of us go there, with tender optimism too and no small dose of a sense of sacredness. I am sure for many foreign visitors here the motivation is the same. What then, I ask again, is up with the Verizon sign?
The streets of New York city are rife with advertising. The industry itself is headquartered here. How many different pitches are we subjected to in a single day?
We can live with one less. We can value the simple pleasure of looking at this country’s greatest city (the globe’s even?) – the messy, imperfect, loudmouthed jumble that represents us to the world more than our nation’s capital. Some things are sacred, or at the very least special. We can look upon bits of our world that way, in fact we should make a habit of doing so, but we can do it with out a brief message from our sponsor.
Patience, patience, my sweet friend, patience, slowly
recall all the memories of the days when
we ran blindly unconcerned with grief, dying -
our current partner.
We stand in a river that flows not away
also not towards anything - also nothing
is here nor there - all is just something
remembered my friend.
Recall recall those old days my friends and then
they will return be assured - again nothing
has happened that hasn't happened also
has never happened.
Sweet friend recall joy is upcoming to you
if you wait and memory's former promise
will have been fulfilled in anticipation -
in future perfect.
I am blinded by the spell of words. The make me forget my brothers.
Jake will die.
Fading in Rhode Island
Seeing men long dead
telling Michael on the telephone.
I am in love with the thought of words. They let me know my brothers.
Jake will die
an anagram in his veins
one in his eyes
another in his brain.
I am comforted by words. They create things from monstrous truth. Words make handbags from dragons.
Jake will die,
and when he does his obituaries
will carry different names.
One his mother's son.
Another his own.
Babies cry, evidence would suggest,
at slight changes in atmospheric pressure,
at the tap of an insects legs on carpeting,
the rustle of a virgin's hair,
pencil shavings settling at a Montessori school,
a spore alighting on Camembert,
brown leaves dropping in a memory.
The Earth would have to crack,
Levantine mountains conflagrate,
God's angry voice boom dark...fate!
My brother says.
It's not at all
What I imagined.
Clouds and trumpets.
Being at peace. All that.
It's okay. Sometimes
it's sunny, it's Paris.
Sometimes it's not.
He worries for his mother,
For a delicate ex-lover.
To Will his sofa to.
And tax returns.
He chants it-
Ends, Loose Ends.
His pursuit has
Always been the truth.
None of this
Conforms to that.
And he gets
A little miffed
At bland pasta
And cheap flowers
A Catholic Hospital.
Juan De La Luna by Demetrio Korsi (translated by Matthew Aquilone)
Moon's light mixing -
Comes back - leaves of polished gold before each alley,
and any old broken glass, scattered on the street,
make like coronation diamonds...
The harlequin moon,
the high-wire moon
on a loose wire,
laid out on the sill;
One step, it's bound to happen -
end up in a bucket of water.
Ah money, no sense wasting it on rum!
'Cause more drunk am I on the moon than shots,
'cause for us dipsomaniacs the moon's a stiff one
but sniffed -
little by little
till no more shine can ride the brain...
(And there I was,
that night downtown,
of talking out my ass;
boogied from my anguish, the anguish that hid
-in each fruit a worm-
my own heart.)
A World Series for Emily!
An answer for Emily, late October is coming
Michael too, honking out the
last AIDSbreath while you what?
Drank a pale ale
a spandex girlfriend with AA medallions
reclining in your lap.
Schenectady mourns you.
Poughkeepsie mourns you.
The great counties of the Great State of New York
dim their headlights.
Everyone freezes in a game of statues -
then goes on shopping, sweating.
I shrug at the ceiling, Catholic me
would get great comfort if you were up there
watching me write.
Anarcobuddhistpothead sees you in every mote
in the sunlight
in the dyke sportif of Eighth Avenue-
Michael's first death day
He turned gray in Saint Vincent's
and it was over and we were thankful
but this, Emily, just confuses me
and all the time I say is it true
not seeing you for years
and then never being able to
see you again still with visions of
the platinum future you and me
driving high in the valley
and me killing myself to impress you
and your highest opinion.
It's a cold world, the cliche runs,
the River is cold, these rooms are cold -
My coat is threadbare and the matches are soaked.
It's Day For Night (for day for night for day for night)
-up in the cold world,
I'm low in its apertured hem.
This is every day, then this is every day then.
The River is close,
just beyond the men,
beyond all ten avenues.
These rooms are near the river, they're filled with matches.
I'm High day and night and low:
(and I'm so afraid of my cuffs and)
Lo! What is that on the river?
Matchless barge of Cleopatra's age?
This river runs, rheumy and cold -
I am high, despite my load,
bright in the night light the shape of my coat
Isn’t it finally time for a compassionate medical marijuana policy? For too long the issue has been held up by cultural prejudices and long held political grudges. It’s the old hippie/square square-off and its time now to get over it and act like adults when it comes to health care. In a country where there are still open wounds over the Civil War, and in a world where millennium-old grudges are still at play in the Middle East and elsewhere, it’s no surprise that irritations over Jane Fonda and burned draft cards still ring loud and clear in our politics today. What a travesty however that they can insert themselves into what should otherwise be a sane medical policy. When it comes to health care we need to have a cold-eyed pragmatism, a respect for science, and most of all respect for the experiences of the patient.
Sadly this is often not the case. A lot of people with power and voice can’t seem to separate the cultural history of the drug from its benefits that we can see today. A lot more people don’t seem to have the courage to bring this unpopular but extremely simple issue into in a national dialogue. There is a lot of talk of morality in this country, but what morality is there in making political hay from an issue that denies relief from people who are suffering? Opponents claim that there is not enough medical evidence for the safety of the medical use of marijuana. Remember that the next time you hear about a Viagra heart attack, or a Paxil induced teenage suicide.
The truth is, the evidence does bear out marijuana’s efficacy for a number of ailments.
I lost two of my brothers to AIDS. The both suffered a relentless sequence of opportunistic infections and an exhausting regimen of treatment. AZT, one of the first retroviral drugs approved by the FDA for treatment of AIDS had previously been developed as chemotherapy and then shelved as being too toxic and intolerable. Along with this drug they endured chemotherapy, radiation, biopsies, blood tests, spinal taps and countless pills on top of pills on top of pills. Combine this with a host of other new and experimental pharmaceuticals, military strength antibiotics, anti-fungals, anti-nauseals, anti-depressants and you have one big sick cocktail with a lot of side effects. There was of course no other option. AIDS patients found themselves not only sick but trapped in a system with no choices. It was the vocal, activist wing of the AIDS advocacy movement that actually moved our national discussion of healthcare to acknowledge greater patient autonomy and industry accountability. That impulse, especially in the drone of vague health care proposals in this year’s election cycle, is exactly what we need to realign medicine with its original purpose, health and compassion, and not to serve as tool of politics and profit.
It was no secret back then, nor had it been for years before that that marijuana use reduced nausea and stimulated appetite in cancer patients. It is also proven to help sufferers of glaucoma. My late brother Michael smoked pot during his illness. He had suffered for four years though Pneumocystis pneumonia, Cryptococcus Meningitis, Thrush, Lyme Disease, Kaposi’s Sarcoma and numerous other opportunistic infections. Using marijuana was the only thing that brought him temporary relief from nausea, the discomfort from the combined medications, the aches and pains from his ailments. It also held at bay the aggressive wasting that withered otherwise “healthy” AIDS patients down to unsustainable weights. I witnessed it first hand, across the kitchen table in my parents’ house. The joint was smoked, the water put on the boil, soon there was a big pot of macaroni and a bowl of ice cream to wash it down. Also, since marijuana is a mild sedative and can be a mood elevator in many of the people who use it. I watched my brother transform from a depressed, sick person, to a relaxed, funny, smiling fighter who could finally eat.
Michael had previously been prescribed Marinol, the synthetic pharmaceutical THC replacement approved by the government, but its soporific effects were too strong and it did not stimulate his appetite in the same way as the herb in its natural form. In this case the plant was illegal but the product was not. When I was in college I was hospitalized with a pretty fierce tonsular abscess. (I say that when I am embarrassed to say “tonsillitis”.) Sure it hurt, and I was dizzy with fever for a while but there was never any real threat to my life. I couldn’t eat with a swollen throat and was given IV antibiotics. I was also given Demerol, every four hours, at my request. The antibiotics took care of the abscess, the swelling and therefore most of the pain. Still I had on demand access to one of the most powerful narcotics available for pain - a drug unlike marijuana which is dangerous and has tremendous potential for abuse and physical dependency.
Lots of prescription drugs are similarly dangerous and together account for almost one hundred thousand deaths a year in the hospital. There are to date zero deaths caused by marijuana on record, and don’t wait around for that statistic to move very much any time soon. Oxycontin, the bull in the china shop of prescription painkillers, quickly took the lead in a deadly epidemic of addiction and abuse in this country. It is still produced, still legal for prescription, and still dangerous. And what of my Demerol “lost weekend”? I wonder ultimately how much that cost.
Towards the end of Michael’s life my mother realized the positive effects that marijuana had on his quality of life. She could see it just as I had, everyday in the house where she lived, her son, across the kitchen table. And you know what they say, a mother just knows. It wasn’t long before she was driving him to meet a friend of mine who could get marijuana for Michael. For the record lets just say that between hippie and square my mom is definitely more of the latter, more at home in the minivan, at Key Food, at a Wednesday Matinee with her theatre group, or in church where she attends Mass every morning. Drug runs just aren’t her style. In this case however she was that well-needed cold-eyed pragmatist, and that brave, big-hearted activist, taking things into her own hands and moving the country, one son at a time towards a more compassionate marijuana policy.
Just a note: My brother Vincent did not use marijuana during his illness. He exercised that choice in his treatment, as my brother Michael exercised his, albeit illegitimately. Should my mom go to jail for supporting him?
Fashion is all about innovation. The history of fashion is the history of change, and over time the cycle has accelerated. Yearly changes have become seasonal and within each season are now three or four deliveries, bringing the impetus for wardrobe renewals to every few weeks. Granted it is only the most fashion obsessed and financially secure of us who can hew to this accelerated clip, to actually purchase the merchandise and reinvent ourselves at this rate. The rest of us with more reasonable pocketbook resources who are fascinated by the rag trade can follow the developments in magazines, blogs, television spots etc. And of course as a man I am necessarily relegated to sideline vicariousness, appreciating and admiring the developments in women’s wear, which overwhelmingly dominate the market and the creative field. For guys the width of a lapel, or the width of a trouser or the width of a tie are as seismic a shift as our wardrobe seems goes through. Women get to explore a vastly broader range of color, shape, texture, fabric etc, just as they are freer to reexamine historical and cultural associations, revisit old styles to make them new again. And newness again is the order of the day, everyday.
It makes one wonder then what could possibly come next, what after the great philosophical accomplishments of the modern world, where art, the natural handmaiden to fashion, had developed into pure non-objectivity, to pure conceptualism, to historical/anti-historical post-modernism – where nothing had to actually look like anything else, where paintings became objects, where light became art, where absence became form and so on - what could possibly come next? We have seen the obliteration of history and decoration through our best minimalists, Armani, Sander, Halston, we have seen reinterpreted historicism from Europe by Mssrs. Galliano and McQueen and we have seen pure visionary insurrection from Commes De Garcon, Hussein Chalayan, Martin Margiela etc. The Germans have brought us pure utilitarianism, and we Americans have elevated sportswear to meet the unpretentious ideals that our society (once) held dear, just as from our streets has bubbled up anti-style – reactions to a market driven consumer based fashion –thrift shop couture, the “pretty ugly”, a studied disregard for everything.
So then what next? Well a trip to the costume institute at the Metropolitan Museum laid bare for me the next imperative. Let it be said, I am a Met junkie. As a native New Yorker perhaps my prejudices come forth but I believe it is the greatest museum in the world. No other institution of its kind combines the breadth and depth of the entire world’s cultural output in the way that it does. There Davinci sits comfortably with Donna Karan, Breughel with Bill Blass, suits of armor with Giorgio Armani. The most recent exhibit at the museum’s Costume Institute, “blog.mode: addressing fashion” is clearly one of those transitional exhibitions between whatever blockbuster ended and whatever comes next. The result is a wonderful assortment of pieces selected from the Institute’s permanent collection. The word blog is tossed in to make it seem au courant as do the cluster of computer terminals in which visitors can record their reactions to the show.
The show is bookended by history. Starting with early American and European gowns, replete with bustles and voluminous skirts, balloon sleeves, corset tops and Georgian décolletage. It ends with exquisite McQueen and Galliano historical pieces as well. They feel remarkably new as they unapologetically embrace history in order to explore it.
It’s a fashion endgame that nevertheless opens another door – a revolving one however? The cycle could go on endlessly and I believe one can innovate endlessly within a form, that there is to Xeno's axiom, infinite space between things, always a half step to be taken and a half step of that step too. So if history doesn’t matter, if dressing like Marie Antoinette can be as relevant today as it was three hundred years ago, if we can reference a roman sandal, or Greek draperies, an ipod, or even directly reference nature as in the work of… then what territory can we now explore? The answer I think is to move beyond the sources of our inspiration. We can make anything look like anything after all, and all things, nature, history and culture are at our disposal to interpret as we like. The time has come to expand the reach of fashion, or no, to expand its relevance beyond how we look and how we express the lives we live. We must now look into our souls, into the seat of compassion, and dress ourselves accordingly.
The great promise of modernity was to liberate the human condition from the drudgery of manual labor, to conquer disease and hunger, to eradicate poverty and the economic disparities of class and to protect ourselves as much as we could against the caprice of nature. Surely the material and technological accomplishments of this world have achieved quite a bit of this - even if it is not yet universally enjoyed the potential is nevertheless still there. The fashion industry has already begun exploring new and innovative methods materials, laser cutting, fabric fusing, digital sintering among them. It has turned to technology, the hero of the twentieth century, and of the current one as well, for answers to its persistent question – what next? Stylistically we will have to see, next year’s genius is on the horizon, still in art school, still playing on his mother’s sewing machine in the basement, and we wait for him to stun us with another beautiful idea, another unexpected, inspired revelation. Technology aside however can we meet the challenges now of our newest philosophical developments, mainly our newfound concern for our planet and all its inhabitants?
I go back to the Met. Perhaps one of the most impressive pieces in the show was a red gown by John Galliano. It was a stunning sexy piece, placed high on a pedestal at the entrance to the show. Constructed of a mosaic of crocodile skin on a lace framework. What an accomplishment and what a terrific failure. The fashion industry of late has begun to congratulate itself on its newfound compassion and concern for “wellness”. Through its stewardship the consciousness of breast cancer has been raised to new heights, cosmetics companies are compelled to test and develop products in a “cruelty free” environment, organic materials and processes are now a mark of quality. Yoga, meditation and other wellness modalities have also been elevated to high status and been translated to marketing approaches as well. But what, we might ask, does that crocodile think of all this, or the bullfrog, the sable, the cow, the peccary, the stingray/shagreen, the lamb?
I need a new pair of black dress shoes but in all honesty I have been holding off. Some years ago I stopped eating meat. It wasn’t easy to do and to this day the smell of bacon is a bitter tease and the thought of a juicy rare steak sets my stomach grumbling. Not all appetites should be indulged however and my own yoga practice has been an exercise in the show discovery and control of the mind. But this is not another rant from an angry vegetarian. In fact the yogi’s abstention from meat comes from the yogic concept of Ahimsa, or non-harming. It basically is the precept of compassion. So the impulse to not have to kill or cause an animal to suffer to eat or clothes ourselves is the same impulse to extend compassion to all people and things. In short – splashing red paint on someone’s fur coat is not a nice thing to do. For a vegetarian it is a hypocritical act, an Orwellian parlor game. Another yogic imperative is to not judge. Whatever karma I might accumulate from living free of meat does not negate the good karma a carnivorous neonatal intensive care nurse might have, or a hot dog loving fire fighter, or a McNugget chomping neurosurgeon. None are better than others.
My teacher always said, “Try.” Try to live a vegetarian life. And the Buddha believed the only real sin was laziness – to think that all of this wasn’t worth it, that life, compassion, joy was not worth the effort. Why then doesn’t the fashion industry try to do better? Like I said, stylistically the field is wide open. I’m a design and style addict as much as the next guy. The next great idea spurs me on to discover my own, and to take great joy in the incredible human capacity for invention and the infinite expression of ourselves. People knock the fashion world as superficial and capricious. Yes it moves at a rapid rate but so do all our neurological impulse, ideas are born and die in an instant. Fashion is like fireworks, and who hates fireworks? There is no valid criticism for an honest idea and a little hard work. Try, my teacher said. If you fail, try again.
I still need dress shoes and as anyone can tell you for a man a good pair of shoes is a sartorial imperative, the figurative and literal foundation of the presentation of himself. I don’t think I want my shoes to have once been part of a cow’s leg or back or shoulder. I don’t think they need to be.
What a world we have created, what a triumph of human creativity and power and intelligence. At this moment in the developed world there is no real need to participate in the suffering and death of millions of sentient beings to satisfy our hunger, or worse, our desire to look good. Fashion moves at a rapid clip. Humanity often at a snails pace. I have faith though that it will happen and I am waiting here, barefoot.