NOTE: My name is Mike Calahan and Le Clown asked me to write a post for him as part of his magnificent Week of Back Pain. His only request was that I discuss 1950′s America in some form. I decided I would show it to him first hand, instead.
Vintage clothing becomes harder and harder to find as time goes on. With each passing year, the supply slowly withers in comparison to its ever-growing demand. I can acquire a piece here and there, but mostly have to make do with what is already in my closet. I don’t bring this up to showcase how much of a primadonna I am (although an argument can be made for that) nor do I want to paint myself as a vintage snob. I point this out because it was my initial (and continued) motivation for inventing a time machine.
My time machine and subsequent time travelling are things I keep relatively under wraps because I don’t want to come off as a braggart. Also, once people know you have a time machine, it is just a matter of time before you’re being asked to go back and kill Hitler or jump ahead and find out which sports scores to make high wager bets on. My time machine isn’t for the greater good of mankind; my time machine isn’t for securing financial independence for others. My time machine is my way of shopping for clothes and nothing more. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I did once go back to 1949 in an attempt to flirt with Gene Tierney at a party, but she was not impressed by my inability to speak in complete sentences or my stammering when trying to compliment her.
Recently, after a not so subtle suggestion that I would be assaulted by carnies if I kept my secret any longer, I decided to share my time machine with Le Clown. I invited him to my secret location where my secret crew works on my secret time machine. Immediately upon arrival, Le Clown tweeted: Arrived at 3499 Buchanen Way in California, USA. #secrettimemachine
Le Clown was introduced to the time machine and its controls by Heinrich Gottfried and Dortmand Ulrich, two aged Nazi physicists whom I’ve kept hidden from justice in exchange for their know-how.
Le Clown had nowhere in particular time-wise that he wanted to go, so I asked if he’d want to tag along with me while I go back to 1957 for a new suit. “Mais oui!” said Le Clown. Immediately, a small trickle of blood ran down the side of Dormand’s mouth where he’d bitten his lip in an attempt to hold back his anger at the very sound of French. Noting this, as we stepped into the time chamber, Le Clown raised his hand at Dormand and shouted, “Viva le resistance!”
“Remember, don’t do or say anything to draw any attention to us,” I warned Le Clown as we stepped out of the vortex into 1957. “You’ve seen Back To The Future, you know that if anything gets messed with, we’re looking at a whole mess of misunderstandings and close calls that, frankly, I don’t have any interest in because, well, to be totally honest, I don’t know how to skateboard and that’s the best part of the movie.”
Waving me aside, Le Clown looked around at the 50+ years ago that was now our present. Each passerby was greeted by this loud, French Canadian with a “Wazzup!” or a “Yo, bitches!” every one of whom responded with a look of detest.
Before I could direct Le Clown toward Pickerman’s Tailored Suits & Habberdashery, he was walking through the front door of a diner. Worried he might ask for the wi-fi password or try to pay with a debit card, I hurried after him. As I sat down across from him in the booth, he was ordering coffee. “A double half-fat mocha latte with extra foam.”
The waitress, Janice, paused mid-chew of her gum. “Come again?”
“Oh, I’m sure we will,” Le Clown said. “But let’s first finish this visit, shall we?”
Janice looked at me. “He’s, uh, he’s French,” I explained.
“French?!” someone shouted from the back kitchen. “Who’s French?”
“This fella out here is French!” Janice yelled back.
A burly man in white shirt and white apron came out from manning the grill. “You’re French?” he asked me and I pointed to Le Clown. “I served in Patton’s 4th Armored Division. Got wounded at the Battle of Arracourt. We saved your French asses.”
Le Clown explained that he was actually French Canadian, but that he appreciated any effort this man had made. He stood and saluted the man as a thank you. When the man saluted back, Le Clown reached for a bottle of ketchup, emptied a healthy portion on the forefinger and began to mime eating the man’s hand like a hot dog. I waited for clown make-up to be smeared on every wall of that diner, but the burly man let out a hearty laugh, instead. “Your people may be cowards, Frenchy, but, goddammit, you’re funny. You boys go ahead and order whatever you want. It’s on the house.”
As we sat over cheeseburgers and french fries, Le Clown looked around at the other patrons and wondered, “Here we are eating American junk food, but there are no fat Americans. Where are le morbidly obese?”
I explained that the burgers weren’t yet laden with antibiotics or hormones like the corporate farms of our time, the buns weren’t made from genetically modified grains and the condiments weren’t infused with high-fructose corn syrup. Le Clown immediately called to Janice, “Hey! Le Clown’s giant mono-ab can haz more cheezeburger!”
Eyeing the jukebox, Le Clown got up and walked over to it. For safety purposes, I followed him. Reading the selections, he said, “This jukebox is full of le crap. Pat Boone? Debbie Reynolds? Where’s le rock ‘n roll? Where’s the soundtrack to Le Grease?”
I explained to him that, while a presumed acceptance of rock ‘n roll has been insinuated by contemporary movies and television depicting the 1950′s, the music itself was seen by many as not mainstream. There were crossover hits that made it onto the Billboard 100, but these were often outnumbered by the Paul Anka’s or Tab Hunters. In fact, some communities outlawed the music entirely and most radio stations played the more white bread-type music found in the jukebox. For the R&B influenced rock or anything that wasn’t mainstream (i.e. rockabilly or blues), Le Clown would have to buy records from a store that had a section for “colored music” or order directly from the labels themselves. “That le sucks.”
As I filled Le Clown in on the race relations (the violent backlash that resulted from the Little Rock Nine, the story of Emmett Till) and rampant inequality of 1950′s America, he began to laugh. “These people’s heads will explode when they hear about Barack Obama!”
“Who broke what?” asked Janice, hurrying over.
“I was talking about Barack Obama,” Le Clown explained.
Janice turned to me again for clarification. “It’s French for, um, cheeseburgers. Yeah, he was saying that these cheeseburgers are better than the brockobama’s in Canada.”
Janice smiled. “Well, that’s sweet.”
Some time later, I was able to drag Le Clown to Pickerman’s store, the whole purpose of my visit to 1957, in the first place. As we began shopping, Le Clown ran his fingers acros a few racks, then scoffed. “These aren’t 1950′s clothes.”
“Of course they are. I mean, it is 1957, so these clothes…”
“These are old man clothes. I want 1950′s clothes.” Le Clown reached over and grabbed a passing tailor. “You there, Tinker Tailor Swift. Where are your 50′s clothes?” The man shook his head and I saw a bead of sweat roll down his bald head. “The leather Fonzie jackets, the t-shirts with Elvis on them and not Fat Elvis, I mean young, sexy Elvis. Where are les bowling shirts, les motorcycle boots?”
Taking Le Clown aside, I explained that those things were made iconic because of television and movies that glorified the juvenile delinquent image of the 1950′s, that the term ‘greaser’ wasn’t even part of the American lexicon until the late-60′s and early-70′s. While these types of clothes certainly existed, they were more representative of a counterculture style of dress and not at all mainstream. As an example, I said it would be like walking into a store in Canada and asking where they keep their Mounties uniforms. Not everyone in the 1950′s had pompadours and leather jackets, just as not everyone in the 1960′s was a hippie or danced disco in the 1970′s.
With the promise that my new suits would be done within a week, Le Clown and I left Pickerman’s and got ready to return to 2013. Before we stepped into the funneling time warp, Le Clown paused and looked around disappointed. I asked him what was wrong. “Le Clown thought the 1950′s would be clean and happier and perfect.”
“Even 1950′s television whitewashed its own reality. Back then, no one wanted to watch reality television. They wanted idealized people living in an idealized world, one that was a wonderful escape from the reality they knew.”
“Which was what?”
“Which was the same reality you and I know. One of wars, famine, serial killers, horrific accidents and storms. Where we live with the fear of global warming and HIV, they worried about polio and the atomic war they saw as inevitable. The people here are living their lives exactly as we do: buying a little distraction and happiness while the world spins out of control.”
“Les 1950′s are as much of a downer as 2013. That le sucks.”
“The clothes are great, though.”
“And their crap food is better for you than 2013 crap food.”
“And they have the polar ice caps, still.”
With that, we stepped back into 2013 and, well, here we are. It’s good to be back.