dispatches to and from

nathan f. elmore

Dispatches to and from faith, culture, and things in between

Holiday Catalog, p. 156

When humor goes, there goes civilization.
— Erma Bombeck

Man is a many-humored thing, according to this man, who is really finding it all very funny.

In light of Ms. Bombeck's elevated quotation, I introduce you to the Drifter.

Not that he would ever give himself that moniker. "The Drifter" is a label bequeathed to him. His name, like his image, is not his own. Nonetheless, you will find him saving civilization one bemused moment at a time on page 156 of the Lands' End holiday catalog (2013).

The Drifter takes us into a more ethereal yet still earthy realm of catalog—the kind of realm that goes way beyond unusually white ropes (on page 35), which are not for sale or for nautical use but for sitting.

If we are to take this image as some measurable reality, the Drifter is a full-grown adult. But no singular man—especially arrayed in sweet Bordeaux, dark cedar or Ginkgo leaf—can be expected to imbue (fully, that is) the sublime maturity that is drifting. Not after the Western world's standard was set by Clint Eastwood in 1973. 

Probably inhabiting his early- to mid-30s, this white male in a sweater undoubtedly takes his name from a copy writer, who, taking her cues from marketing, is chatting-up "The Drifter Sweater." If you must know, it's a "midgauge knit perfect for all-season wear." Because, as any drifter will tell you, paying careful attention to craft a wardrobe that is all-season is of the utmost priority.

Unfortunately, the model—the actual person in the catalog—has not realistically drifted anywhere since that one time back in college. He only slightly remembers it. But on page 156 he becomes "The Drifter" because, well, you are what you wear. Which is annoyingly cliche until you consider the alternative: being dragged onto this show and castigated for your clothing tastes and proclivities.

However, the burning question—with civilization hanging there in the balance—remains: What is so damn funny?

One distinct possibility might be: the Drifter's education has totally failed him. He knows it. He has known it for a while. He is trying to accept it. For years he had confidently spelled "midgauge" (above) with a hyphen.

Upon second glance, maybe his laughter emanates from a place of utter disbelief. As in, They told me this sweater size would fit, but also be a little short in the sleeves, on purpose, to channel my inner yuppie-hipster. These people continue to amaze me.

A third option involves his flannel-lined cuffs. Simply put, they are cracking him up.

When combined with the flannel shirt-collar popping out and the snatch of flannel that is showing inconspicuously from his too-short sleeves, he realizes that, indeed, he is warm and cozy—in that perfectly luxurious sort of way. That way that makes him better than those poor people who go a lifetime without flannel. Not to mention, flannel-lined cuffs.

Speaking of class struggle, maybe it's the globalized economics of imported cotton. It sneaks up on a person like a good joke. In his case, it reminded him of the Dartmouth motto: Vox clamantis in deserto. "The voice of one [drifter] crying out in the wilderness." You have to say it with a smirk, of course, which is always very funny to anyone on the inside.

But still more likely is this explanation: The Drifter has found it ironic (genuinely; not in that post-ironic way) that he has come to the point in his life where he is sitting on a chic stool while the civilization around him sits in ruins. And there is nothing anyone can do about it. Except laugh.