Since it’s summertime: This was first published in Portland’s illustrious pinball rag, Multiball, way back in the ’90s.
There are few sights more ridiculous than a grown man wearing a pair of shorts. Back in my day, grown men simply did not venture outside clad in shorts. Anyone choosing to appear in public in such outlandish garb would be laughed off the streets. Scorn would be heaped upon them. If shorts were to be worn at all it would be indoors, in private, or while engaged in some form of strenuous recreational activity. Nowadays, of course, the situation is completely out of control. The mania for shorts crosses all lines of race, class, age and climate. There are more shorts being worn today than ever before, and if this insidious trend continues at its current rate trousers will soon be a thing of the past, a quaint anachronism, gone the way of the frock coat and the chamber pot. Shorts are almost aboriginal, they reek of the primordial ooze. Throughout history the drift has been towards transcending one’s primitive physical state. As the ancients understood, clothes should cover as much of the body as possible. Nowadays, it seems, most people are bent on reverting to a state of near-nakedness. Apparently it is alright to throw on any filthy rag with scant regard for such niceties as condition or cleanliness, as long as it covers the privates. Clothes, as it has been noted, are the outward sign of the inner man, or, as Joe Strummer once observed, ‘like trousers, like brain.’ If the pioneers of the Western Territories could return today and witness the crass beshorted manner in which their progeny are carrying themselves abroad, they would foul their buckskins with disgust. Fluminis ingentes fluctus, vestemque cruentent. It is only recently, with the craze for casualization that is killing much of the spirit of this country that shorts have achieved such disturbing predominance. Stonewall Jackson, Casey Jones, Wild Bill Hickock, John Henry, Minnesota Fats, Peg Leg Howell, Funny Paper Smith, Little Hat Jones, Furry Lewis, Big Boy Cleveland, Mooch Richardson, Chicken Wilson, Bogus Blind Ben Covington, Daddy Stovepipe, Hambone Willie Newbern: none of these great Americans would be caught dead wearing a pair of shorts. There is a large category of people who simply do not belong in a pair of shorts: roughly 99% of the population. Preferably they should not be worn at all. But there are a few exceptions to the rule. During first or second childhoods shorts may be tolerated. Shorts behoove a toddler. Neither are they out of place on an old man. Indeed, shorts may even achieve a felicitous effect when sported by an old timer, especially when accompanied by long socks and garters. Such a spectacle is a pleasure to behold for even the most virulent shorts-hater. Shorts of the neatly pressed and starched variety are appropriate wear for military personnel stationed in sweltering climes. Shorts are sometimes acceptable on women, depending on the leg. As a rule shorts should be worn approximately three inches above the kneecap. Anything higher or lower borders on indecency. Shorts should never be worn to promote slovenliness of lifestyle or as a sartorial embodiment of mental shabbiness, as they so frequently are in this day and age. Shorts are vulgar and immodest. Cut-off jeans are particularly repulsive, flaunting as they do an attitude of insipid smug defiant sloppiness on behalf of the wearer. Any combination of shorts and sandals is, of course, beneath contempt. The store-bought variety are also reprehensible. It is difficult to imagine entering a store and actually selecting a pair of shorts from the rack: the nice denim pair with the neatly trimmed edges or that wind-sock-like garment that reaches almost down to one’s feet or that flour-sack masquerading as an article of clothing. They strain credulity. Shorts are nearly always disproportionate to the wearer’s figure. Baggy shorts on thin men, short shorts on baggy men, long shorts on short men, ad nauseous infinitum. Shorts are not only a sign of low character, they look stupid. Some people are proud of the well-defined musculature revealed by their shorts. They are ludicrous enough in their own right. But more often shorts expose mysteries of the flesh that would be better off hidden: flab, pallor, blotchiness, pock-marks, wrinkles, encrustation, festering sores, morbid growths and silly tattoos protruding in an ungainly manner from millions of pairs of ill-fitting shorts. The shorts crowd cannot wait for summer to come to town so they can contaminate the avenues with mass brazen displays of unsightly beshorted flesh. But the bane of shorts, unfortunately, is not limited to summertime. More and more, shorts-wearers abound during the most inclement winter months. Presumably they relish the sensation of an icy blast of wind coursing around their privates. They are out to prove their virility, and they fail miserably. Shorts represent the ultimate triumph of utilitarianism over aesthetics. There are some men who defend their shorts on the grounds that they are comfortable; others insist that shorts bring them into closer harmony with nature; while others claim that they are above considering such trifling matters as personal attire. But neither innocence, ignorance or indifference can exculpate the tastelessness of the shorts-wearer. There are two kinds of men: those who wear shorts and those who would not be seen dead in them. It is as simple as that.