David Carr believed in my work before I believed in it myself and he let me know by contributing a story to Worn Stories before it was even a book. To honor his memory, here’s his story. –ES
I live in the New Jersey suburbs where the morning weather often bears little or no relation to what the weather might be like in the afternoon in New York, where I work. Many days I have miscalculated my clothing needs for the day—in part because I work in Midtown in a forest of tall buildings, and if there is a chill in the air it is multiplied by the wind that becomes amplified and focused by the canyon structures around me.
I generally deal with the dissonance by refusing to go outside or by grabbing a fake cashmere scarf for five bucks off the street vendor tables in Times Square. I think there is a direct relationship between what you pay for an item and how long you hang on to it, so those scarves tend to come and go. (Though I do have a watch that I bought on Canal Street almost a decade ago for five bucks and it is still with me. I wear it every day and replace the battery every few years for more than the cost of the watch. But that’s a different story.) Even if they last, I am a spiller, so they become a sort of napkin-cravat after a while and my wife quietly retires them without telling me.
On a very hot day last summer, I had the opposite problem. I left for work dressed for a rare television shoot, which means that I had put on a sport coat and a dress shirt with a tie on top, and wore the usual black jeans and sneakers on bottom. After work, I was meeting a pal at the Frying Pan, which is a bar on a no-longer-seaworthy boat off of a pier in Chelsea.
The bar is aptly named. On a sunny day, the sun and heat reflecting off the water mean that the people on the boat are slowly sautéed. Yes, the sunset on the Hudson is an amazing thing, so spectacular that even my home state of New Jersey looks majestic, but it can get very hot out there. It’s also worth mentioning that Manhattan itself throws off a fair amount of heat because of the so-called heat island effect.
It was still very hot when I left my office and the end of the day, and even though I left behind my sport coat the sun immediately absorbed into the dark dress shirt I was wearing, so I walked down the street to the tourists’ shop in Times Square for any old T-shirt that I could wear. Even at six bucks a pop, they were hideous, all of them swaddled in the announcement that the wearer was in fact, or had once been, on a particular island off the coast of America called New York.
I was just about to give up. My fading hipster cred—already suffering many hellacious blows because of advancing age—would not allow me to wear a shirt suggesting that “I ♥ New York.” You can’t wear a shirt like that ironically unless, say, you hate New York, which I do not. I still have an immigrant’s ardor for the place, having come here a decade ago for a job. Before my family joined me, I lived in Tribeca for a few months. My second day in New York, I rode my bike into a fence at Broadway and Canal because I was looking up at a pair of tall buildings downtown. Those buildings are now gone, but the wonder, the sense of awe at traveling through one of humankind’s greatest creations, remains.
And then I saw one—extra-large, thank god—in which the classic New York script had been printed upside down. I knew what to do, I turned to the guy running the shop and said, “This one is a misprint. I’ll give you three bucks.” He said nothing, but nodded. I paid in two crumpled bills and quarters, ducked behind a rack, and put it on. As soon as I stepped out on the street, people stared. I got on the C train to 23rd, and a kid next to me stared at the logo over my burgeoning middle-aged midsection and said, “I like your shirt.”
“Thanks, man. Three bucks.”
Whenever I wear the shirt in New York, waitresses, bartenders, cab drivers, they all say nice things about the shirt and ignore the fact that the rack it’s hanging on could use some work. When I travel, which is fairly often, and wear the shirt, which is less often, nobody ever says anything. I like that about my shirt: it is something that is intuitively understood in the City, as we insufferable locals call it, and is baffling to others, akin to many other aspects of living or working in New York.
I daydreamed for a while about getting some pals of my wife in the clothing business to crank out a few hundred. I even had a slogan for the back: “Turning New York upside down one shirt at a time.” But then someone in the business explained to me that you couldn’t trademark of turning lettering someone else created upside down. So I just wear mine instead.
It won’t last. It’s white, for one thing, and a series of small food and beverage disasters have already begun to dapple its surface. One day, it will accumulate enough stains and history so that it will mysteriously disappear from my drawer. I will miss it.
Photo by Ally Lindsay