Thursday, April 16, 2009

Absolute Cool

The other day I walked back into the lounge area here at the Retrodrome looking for a snack. The fridge held all usual workplace items, abandoned brown bags, clear to-go containers from three weeks back, a leftover meat tray from last Friday night's dress like a pirate party. Everybody went Somalian, not so much Caribbean, stupid bandwagon jumpers. Anyway, I overheard Tim, Sandra, and Steve talking about what was the coolest hippest thing they'd ever seen. It could be anything or anybody, but it had to be hip. I jumped over the couch and joined in on the discussion.

Steve said he once saw a guy wearing a backpack made of old cassette tapes all woven together, he was cruising down the sidewalk on one of those really long wood skateboards, and he had an iguana riding on the front. He was wearing a kilt and a plain white T-shirt, with tattoos all over his arms, even up onto his bald head. The guy was "Uber Cool" according to Steve. The rest of us agreed it seemed a little mid-90's and a little forced, but ok.

Tim decided to share. One time, he said, a Japanese Elvis stole his vintage Ray Bans while he was at a restaurant called the "El Pee Cafe". The place serves sushi-mex fusion on plates that are old record albums. '80s hair metal blasts and the waiters only speak pig-latin. The Japanese "Elvis" was at the table next to him and took the sunglasses when Tim went to get a fresh chipolte soy sauce bottle at the condiment turntable. He said the whole experience was a hip overload, so he went home and watched Little House on the Prairie (the later Albert episodes) to calm down. He said that was the coolest day ever, and shuddered when he said it. We all thought about it, yes, that did seem pretty hard to top.

Sandra said she thought it was cool when her boyfriend came over and they watched American Idol together snuggled up on the couch. They would fill a big bowl with Combos and drink Vitamin Water, all while pretending to be judges themselves. ...the sound of crickets stopped the conversation cold, we demanded that she leave the room. I think she was crying.

I decided to unleash a story of unparalleled hipness on my remaining coworkers. I was just outside Vancouver BC at a small organic fair-trade chocolate shop called "Brown" (with umlauts over the "O") picking out some huckleberry creams to take home. I couldn't believe it but...Rob Zombie parked right in front of the place driving a primer black 1967 AMC Marlin. He walked in, didn't even look at me, and said he wanted 44 acai berry truffles stuffed into the burlap sack he was carrying. The guy behind the counter got them and put them in the bag. Rob tossed a wad of 100 dollar bills at the cashier, said he hated us, and drove off fast leaving a patch of rubber behind. We looked at each other (me and the cashier) and said "Sweet!". It didn't get much cooler than that...

A sound came from the doorway. Randal the janitor had been listening to us, and he gave a disapproving huff.

He said, as he leaned on his broom, he hadn't always been the guy that sweeps up our filth. He was quite the up and coming artist in Beverly Hills back in the '70s and early '80s. He told us of an installation piece he did in a warehouse right before he went mad. He painted it all white, just a huge open 8000 sq ft space, every inch white. Then, dead center on the floor, he placed a single cinnamon roll. He finished it by somehow getting the famous Paul Lynde, coincidentally just days before his death, to record a voice over that said "Spiral Agony". He played it on a loop through unseen speakers in the warehouse, over and over spiral agony...spiral agony...spiral agony. Randal said he went crazy after that, but it was considered one of the great installation art pieces of the 1980s.

That was hard to top, I mean he went crazy for his art. We all agreed, wow, that was the ultimate hip, and our stories paled in comparison. Randal stopped us right there, he said absolute cool was impossible to achieve. It's like a water skipper on a pond, it looks like you can grab it...maybe if you're quick, but you never will. It's elusive, the more you try, the more you fail. Cool only happens in the absence of trying, and absolute cool, almost never happens. We all realized Randal was right, all those things we mentioned were contrived to be hip, making them more lame than anything.

That little boutique with industrial fixtures and a bare minimum of "designer" items all displayed like the crown jewels, isn't cool. That guy with blue hair, rings in his face, and iPod headphones hanging down, isn't cool. Some guy painting urban hip-hop boombox designs on alley walls, isn't cool. T-shirts with offset art nouveau scrolls and European graphics, aren't cool. Cupcake wedding cakes, venison meatloaf, and Icelandic coffee drinks, not not not cool. They all try, and in trying they fail.

Randal continued sweeping, and Tim, Steve, and I all sat quietly. I turned quickly with a sudden thought hoping to prove Randal wrong, Frank Sinatra I yelled over the couch. Randal pursed his lips and shook his head slowly in a no. I got up, grabbed an apple out of the fridge, and went back to work.

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