Apr/May 2020 Nonfiction

New Blues

by Bill Capossere

Multimedia painting by Janet Bothne

Multimedia painting by Janet Bothne

When I went out this year to purchase a new pair of blue jeans, it was with no small sense of defeat. Those pants of mine with drawstrings or elastic waistbands have proven the long-term loyalty of expandability, but button-down jeans, I've learned, are not so forgiving. A 31-waist means exactly that, and I, my Levis were telling me, was no longer a member of the club.

I'd been a 31 for over a decade. Before that I was a 29, and before that was seventh grade, when I didn't wear jeans. It being the mid-'70s, the less said the better.

I still remember my last pair of 29s. The knees had disappeared in the '80s, somewhere between the Police / Flock of Seagulls outdoor show in Rochester and the Grateful Dead in Buffalo. Meanwhile, the thighs wore ever thinner until I could no longer make out the names once written there by which one could have traced through time the threaded webbing of my adolescent love life. Now all gone, dark ink adrift on a denim sea of frayed regret. The jeans eked out the decade, but by 1990, even the second generation of patches were going. They were 14 years old when they finally hit the trash bin, a bit of bittersweet symmetry since I had been 14 when I bought them.

It was 1976, the country had just celebrated its 200th birthday; our town was festooned in red, white, and blue; my father had been dead for two years; and I was entering Minerva Deland Junior High. Old enough to know I was not finished with death, but who would have guessed the Straight-Leg Levis purchased with my mother that August at Sears would outlive her by 13 long years?

They outlived as well my grandmother, who moved in after my mother's death, and I'm sure she rued not being there the day I finally threw them out. At least twice I had to rescue them from the garbage cans she'd tossed them into, her voice following me through the door of the garage as I rummaged amidst the trash: "What, you got no money, you got to go around like a hobo? I'll give you the money. Go out and buy some new ones." Which I'd done already, of course. These weren't my only jeans. But they were the ones I clung to as tightly as they hugged my own body, for all the reasons I could not have enunciated back then but that seem so obvious now.

Although this was only my second change in waist size in nearly two decades, walking into The Gap, I was hit with a vision of myself crossing that threshold again and again over the coming years, the store gradually elongating until it looked like the warehouse that closes Raiders of the Lost Ark—a cavernous space filled with parallel shelves of stacked, crisply folded jeans meeting at some distant point of perspective while giant placards bearing ever-increasing sizes receded into the storm-blue horizon.

Looking at my choices didn't help my mood, as it became apparent the jeans industry had, in my time away, transformed itself from the simple options I recalled into a dizzyingly baroque collection of esoterica, arcane shades of size and shape I couldn't even begin to elucidate.

There is something humbling about trying on pants labeled "Relaxed" or "Easy Fit," a sense of public surrender to the widening tide of middle-age flesh. Which is why when the very young, very slim, and very blonde salesgirl snuck up behind me to ask if I wanted to try on the pairs of Relaxed Fit and Easy Fit 32 x 30s in my hands, my immediate thought was to tell her they weren't for me. I was, you know, holding them for a friend. But instead I swallowed my pride (helped by the proximity of my wife) and let her lead me to a dressing room.

When I exited both times though, it was with a sense of tentative relief, bolstered by my wife's confirmation that the jeans were not just too long, as all are on my 5'4" frame, but also clearly too wide in the waist. The salesgirl agreed, and my esteem for her expertise only increased when she suggested stepping down not to a 31, but a 31 Slim Fit. The girl clearly had an eye.

After several trips between the shelves and the dressing room, it came down to the 31 x 28 Easy Fits (good length, a little loose) and the 31 x 30 Slim Fits (too long and admittedly a bit snug). While the salesgirl checked if Levis made 31 x 28 Slims, in which case she'd call other stores, my wife whispered a comment about the girl's odd enthusiasm for such a tedious job and her "gushing" endorsements of how the jeans looked on me.

Once, I would have walked into the store just at the sight of such a girl. Drawn simply by the beauty and promise of her as she folded jeans, snapping them outward, then bending to crease them sharply against her tensed thigh, the golden ends of her hair splayed out against dark blue fabric so if you looked only there you might think of how fire looks at night, just around the edges, where its own light burns the night's black a paler blue.

When she returned to say they didn't make the Slims, I shrugged and told her I'd take the Easy Fits, thankful for that bit of cover.

Thankful too for her easy smile, the sway of her hair across her shoulders, my new denim's blue before the inevitable fade, and my wife's small whisper as we walked away—"she sure liked you." Thankful even for the bittersweet knowledge that it wasn't true, but could have been once, when she or I would have inked her name on my thigh, blue on blue, sea on sky, all the bright-lit world between.


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