Before I met The Great Love Of My Life I dated a psychotherapist named Dr. Joan who had a lucrative practice on Philadelphia's Main Line. Every time I showed up at her house for a date, she appeared in perfect fall elegance. Fuzzy wools in earth tones. Dark tweeds and cashmeres. Long alpaca and mohair scarves, loosely knotted just so. Gold earrings, bracelets, rings. Her preferred designers were Valentino, Fendi, Dior, Marc Jacob, Prada, Gucci. Early on she vowed that common cotton or synthetic fabric underwear would never cover her skin, only the most well-made and expensive black silk would do. What's more, she would discard these undies at the slightest sign of wear. They had to be, and remain, pristine.
I thought Dr. Joan's clothing obsession was very nearly pathological, perhaps a reflection of her relationship with her stern, grim, unsmiling, never-to-be-satisfied father. Why should costumes play such an important role in her life? It was obviously all about poor self-esteem. An incomplete self-acceptance.
Now, I've always considered myself indifferent to what I wear. Jeans, sweat shirts, and loafers or running shoes suit me just fine. I'm a writer, a photographer, after all. We artists prefer to look casually rumpled.
But then last weekend at the laundramat I noticed that the high temperature of the dryer made all my t-shirts look a bit brownish at the crew neck, as if they weren't washed properly. Not good, I thought. Time for a fresh batch.
At Sears I was surprised to see that six crew neck Jockeys cost $40. Jesus H. Christ! I didn't recall them ever being so damned expensive. So I decided I might try soaking my old ones in a wastebasket half-full of Clorox bleach.
After 24 hours, they looked perfectly white, like new.
I felt compelled to photograph those shirts as they hung to dry in the bathroom. Click, click, click. How about a few closeups of the crew neck?
Yes. Click, click, click.
A few days later I looked at the photos. They didn't please me at all because they didn't really convey what I wanted.
Which was what, exactly?
Answer: The special look of a new, clean white t-shirt's crew neck. Like the one that Bobby Quinn--the most popular boy at St. Casimir's school-- used to show up in every day. Unlike the filthy garments I was obliged to wear because my aunt consented to wash my father's and my clothes only every two or three weeks.
Ah, a bright flash of insight.
These days, sixty years after my envy of Bobby Quinn, I insist on the perfection of whiteness. A pathology, exactly mirroring Dr. Joan's. Yes. It's all about incomplete self-acceptance. Poor self-esteem. The whole thing never occurred to me until now.