Sunday, February 28, 2010

Trail Blazer

It's one of those eternal questions that every member of the human race finds themselves pondering at some point. You know, the kind of heavy duty question that inspires more in-depth soul searching than "What's it all about, Alfie?" and prompts greater self-reflection than "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" As down-to-business inquiries go, it's even more in-your-face than "Do Ya Wanna Funk?" Of course, I'm referring to the ultimate sixty-four dollar question that everyone from Gandhi to Michelle Obama has undoubtedly asked themselves at some point in their lives. Namely: "What the hell am I going to wear?"

Next week, I'm off to the Museum of Modern Art's Film Center as I've been invited to pay tribute to my cinematic super hero...the incomparable Vincente Minnelli (who helmed such sumptuously produced movie masterpieces as Meet Me In St. Louis, An American in Paris and Gigi). Now if one were honoring a distinctly urban auteur (like Martin Scorsese) or some cutting edge hipster (say Robert Rodriquez), you could get away with wearing a mad bomber hat and some faded denim. However, when one is paying homage to Hollywood's "master of the decorative image," this requires some serious spiffing up.

The trouble is I reside in southern Maine and let's just say that there isn't a Bergdorf-Goodman on every corner (hell, there isn't even indoor plumbing on every corner). Nevertheless, I was determined to find an elegant ensemble for my forthcoming appearance - one that was truly worthy of my favorite filmmaker. Due to a constrained budget, my dream outfit also had to be affordable while somehow evoking MGM at its most luxurious (think: Ziegfeld Follies or the spectacular fashion show finale from Lovely to Look At). My dear friend Keary, who is angelically good-natured and willing to put up with yours truly (in all six shades of diva) agreed to accompany me on a strategic mission to find the appropriate get-up (alright, cards on the table: I ordered him to drive me all over the state without stopping for so much as an oyster cracker along the way).

While Keary took on the turnpike, I laid down the ground rules. The obligatory navy blue blazer - far too savings and loan for our purposes - was immediately ruled out. Khaki, serge gray and beige were all instantly disqualified as none of these selections would have been invited to appear before Mr. Minnelli's Technicolor cameras in 1948. It was clear that some kind of hypnotically-hued garment was required...though certainly not the kind of Palm Springs pastels favored by those on the PGA tour.

I had visions of a one-of-a-kind blazer drenched in what set designers at MGM used to refer to as "Minnelli red" - a super-saturated shade of scarlet that turned up time and again in Minnelli's movies - most notably in Hermione Gingold's snug sitting room in Gigi (1958). When I marched into the first J.C. Penney we spotted and demanded to see whatever they had in "Minnelli red," the haggard, spinsterish sales clerk peered over her granny glasses and treated me to an incredulous look that simultaneously said, "You've got to be kidding..." and "Baby, when did you leave Uranus?"

Go figure but none of the local retailers we visited had anything in Minnelli red - not out back, in the warehouse or even stashed in the storage locker of the only out and proud transvestite employed in southern Maine. I began to despair - not only was Wal-Mart fresh out of Minnelli red smoking jackets but Keary's overburdened snow tires were now worn down to the size of Necco wafers. Things looked pretty bleak. It was not unlike that moment in The Band Wagon (1953) when Fred Astaire thinks he's washed up and all over - not realizing that a stunning comeback and a stunning Cyd Charisse are just around the corner.

At my lowest ebb, my nephew Ryan suddenly recalled renting a most becoming cummerbund from the one haberdashery in the entire godforsaken state that Keary and I (though mostly Keary) had somehow overlooked. As we sped off toward the establishment that my nephew had recommended, I decided that we should alter our approach. Perhaps the term "Minnelli red" was throwing people off - especially sales clerks who clearly considered Marley and Me (2008) some kind of landmark achievement in contemporary cinema.

When we burst through the doors of our Absolutely Last Chance, I gathered the entire sales staff together and proceeded to pit the over-anxious clerks against one another. "Okay, now listen up," I said, doing my best to sound as bullish and NFL as possible. "The first person who finds me something totally smoking in aubergine gets one humongous tip. Now get cracking, team!" They zipped off in different directions like guppies.

After the floor had cleared, a pleasingly plump assistant manager approached. She told us that her name was Rola and in the course of ten highly informative minutes, we also learned that she was Lebanese, the mother of two, a former short order cook and an organ donor. After we were thoroughly briefed on Rola's entire existence up to that point, she pulled us close, prepared to share some kind of highly classified insider secret with us. For the first time since we'd been introduced, Rola did not speak. Instead, she pointed toward an enormous rack of business suits and blazers. Everyone in the store suddenly gasped in unison. There in the midst of apparel so conservative that Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele would have cleaned house, was a sliver of color - and a glimmer of hope. Could it be? Was it possible that buried beneath all of those bland Brooks Brothers knock-offs, there was $245 worth of MGM glitz sitting on a plastic hanger?

Keary and I exchanged astonished looks as Rola cast her eyes heavenward and muttered a Lebanese prayer (or an epic-length, obscenity-laced tirade for all we know). Here it was! After countless miles and innumerable descriptions of Gigi's living room, we had finally hit paydirt. We had found it...the motherlode. The holy grail of budget men's wear. And as though Minnelli were directing the entire scene from his own Culver City in the sky, my Technicolor blazer fit perfectly and it didn't require even the slightest bit of alteration. As Rola bid us goodbye (after telling us all about her aunt's homemade remedy for scurvy) we walked out of the store with irrefutable proof that miracles still exist in modern times.

"I can't believe what just happened," Keary said as he struggled to carry the mountainous stack of coordinating accessories that I had just purchased. "I can," I answered. "It's called divine providence. Besides, at MGM they used to say that insurmountable challenges always made for a better picture."

"Well, if that's the case," Keary responded as he kicked a slightly deflated front tire, "we just called it a 'wrap' on a four star classic."

No comments:

Post a Comment