The Green Hills of Manhattan
I've never read Gentlemen's Quarterly, and I've never really liked anyone who did--they always struck me as people who thought Stamford, Connecticut was a hell of a lot closer to Milan than it needs to be. So, in the end, the whole business seemed silly. With its reports on New Wave, and the latest ways to dispose of one's disposable income, reading GQ seemed downright unneccessary.
Still, the damn thing has nearly half a million readers who pay two dollars for the magazine-and even though it calls itself a quarterly, it still comes out 12 months a year. Right there, that should tell you something.
"Africa, Just the name; Africa; Kilamanjaro mountains. Just the name..." --Ernest Hemingway
An inopportune thunderstorm. Too burnt to boogey. Driven into Nini's Corner, and if you don't feel like talking about the puppies out at wonderland with the man behind the counter, you end up scanning the racks. And there, past. The Boston Review and before Esquire, sits the "Fashion for Men," magazine thick and glossy and magnificently overproduced. On the cover is a wind-blown, rough-and-ready type nuzzling what appears to be an independently wealthy woman, Beneath the logo is the word "Adventure!"; further down, "Summer Stvies on Safari."
Adventure. It's a good word, adventure. There's not much of it in the Square anymore, except for Father's--and even that's closer to falling out of a moving car than it is real adventure. Hell, Father's isn't even around anymore. Now it's some archery place. The guy behind the counter smirks openly at you. Buy the magazine. And you're not even anywhere near the biker and pornography rack.
It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent, pretending that nothing had I appened.
"Will you have a lime juice or a lemon squash?" Macomber asked.
"I'll have gimlet," Robert Wilson told him.
"I'll have a gimlet, too. I need something." Macomber's wife told him.
I suppose it's the thing to do," Macomber agreed. "Tell him to make three gimlets."
The mess boy had started them already, lifting the bottles out of the canvas cooling bags that sweated wet in the wind that blew through the trees that shaded the tent.
"What had I ought to give them?" Macomber asked.
"A quid would be plenty," Wilson told him. "You don't want to spoil them."
Will the headman distribute it?"
"Absolutely." --Hemingway, "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber."
Maybe it was Hemingway, or maybe it was Conrad, but the vision conjured up in my mind by the phrase "African Safari" has a lot to do with blood and thunder and hyenas. That and impenetrable forests and magic.
Marlin Perkins can go to hell. I saw him once at the Boston Aquarium, looking rather pathetically frail in a business suit, pouring water from all seven oceans into a large vat in one of those symbolic gestures of ecological good will. Some newsman asked him if he felt ridiculous working for an insurance company, and Marlin (sans Jim) just smiled and said that, well, he really liked animals more than anything and Mutual of Omaha let him do his work.
I Was glad, five years after the fact, that I'd never put much stock in the man as a kid. Next to Hemingway and Conrad, he was nothing. The closest the poor guy would ever come to Hemingway was his first name. The animals, I had been convinced from the age of nine, were probably fake anyway. Still, I always wanted to go on safari even if it was only a defensive maneuver. I figured if things got worse than they had ever been, I would grab a steamer to Kenya and go out fighting. I would either emerge from the interior grizzled and cured, or I just wouldn't come out at all. Others I knew would go ski jumping. Or sky diving. Some would try to bring Marxism to Somerville. But I've always put more faith in lions than Lenin. anyway. They've been around a lot longer.
"Africa!" reads the copy. "A continent spilling over with adventure, mystery and the lure of "hatari"--danger. A haven for two million animals. The thunder of a thousand thirsty antelope scurrying across plains as wide as oceans... Teddy Roosevelt was one of the first Americans to journey into this wilderness wonder," it continues. He arrived "with his 'big stick', dashing, serviceable safari wear and a hundred bearers in tow, all dressed in Alice-blue sweaters,"
I swear to God, this is taken verbatim from the pages of GQ. There are also a bunch of improbable photos: six fashion models in khaki landing a hot air balloon amidst a herd of giraffes; six fashion models waving from on top of a jeep. Breaking down into couples, the six alternately hug, slice meat, look tough, read maps through glasses of Chablis, practice foreplay, wade in rivers, listen to New Wave on a tape recorder, and become good friends with the Masai tribesmen, who obviously know a smart buy when they see one. As the caption reads: "The magnificent Masai Africa's warriors of the ancient plains now live by and for their cattle. Below left snap-front cotton shirt by Reminiscence...etc. etc." Or as it says in another caption, "The clothes of the Kilamanjaro."
Which doesn't say much. There's enough ridiculous trash out there to make anyone despair over America, even if it is only the persiflage. It's not just the media, either, though that is the prime offender. T.V., fake food, all of it is enough to get on your nerves. Yet, to get too obsessessed with the trash is probably as bad as actually taking your laundry seriously--you're still only working with superficialities. People like McLuhan never seemed to know that.
Still, fashion--for all of us who are victims of fantasy--is a very deliberate choice. And it's a choice everyone makes, if only by omission. In a time when it's impossible to stay current with anything, fashion is surprisingly stable. You may not know what is coming next, but at least you always know your source. One always knows where one stands. Try to deny it--somewhere in the recesses of your cortex you've adopted a personal style, and whether your source is GQ, Tom Swift, the '60s, the JayCees or Starsky and Hutch, we're all in the same damnable boat.
Thirty-five yards into the grass the big lion lay, flattened out along the ground. His ears were back and his only movement was a slight twitching up and down of his long, black tail. He had turned at bay as soon as he had reached this cover and he was sick with the wound through his full belly, and weakening with the wound from his lungs that brought a thin foamy red to his mouth each time he breathed. His flanks were wet and hot and flies were on the little openings the solid bullets had made in his tawny hide, and his big yellow eyes, narrowed with hate, looked straight ahead, only blinking when the pain came as he breathed, and his claws dug in the soft baked earth. All of him, pain, sickness, hatred and all of his remaining strength, was tightening into an absolute concentration for the rush. He could hear the men talking and he waited, gathering all of himself into this preparation for the charge as soon as the men would come into the grass. As he heard their voices his tail stiffened to twitch up and down, and, as they came into the edge of grass, he made a coughing grunt and charged. --Hemingway. " The Short Happy Life..."
Call it perversity, but I call up the main offices of GQ on Madison Avenue in New York. I ask a succession of people at swit-chboards to describe GQ's readership to me. The first woman tells me they're gentlemen. Righto, champ. And quarterly fans too, no doubt. The next tells me they're, you know, fashion-conscious. Finally someone gives me the whole rundown out of a book. It is, as she says, "A lifestyle magazine for the young urban male." More specifically, 'although its coverage is centered on current men's fashion developments it also features fitness news, grooming tips, audio rundowns, features, etc. etc." Originally founded in 1928 as a fashion booklet displayed in men's clothing stores, it became a full-fledged magazine in 1931 under the auspices of Apparel Arts. Inc. Apparel Arts eventually became so successful that it started Esquire, which in the late 1950s, turned around and swallowed GQ altogether. Then in 1979 Conde and Nash bought the operation, and they run it to this day. Conde and Nash also publish Vogue, House and Garden Glamour, and Mademoiselle. Of course, they publish Bride's, Which can't be all that popular anymore,but to hedge their bets, they also publish Self--obviously figuring that even if there aren't a whole lot of people who want to be brides anymore, everybody wants to be a self.
They make a lot of money. "No figures, please," they say. With a good thing going, they certainly aren't about to give it up.
In the latest issue of GQ, senior editor Peter Carisen even goes so far as to say, in all seriousness, that "fashion is anathema to radicals of both the right and left, who posit an unchanging social order once utopia has been reached. Fashion is ultimately anarchistic, since it delivers endless change. What, in fact, could be more subtly seditious than a process that regularly heaves the existing order upside down, informing its constituency that what was black yesterday is white today."
Which is true enough, one has to admit--a young urban male is pretty hard-up for revolution these days. Carlsen then goes on to talk about the new Western fashion sensibility, a new "heroic" look that the fashion safari epitomizes, "It is," he says, "a massive return to romantic values." He's probably right. You have to find romance somewhere. The alternative is simply to dreadful.
He waved to Helen and to the boys, and, as the clatterer moved into the old familiar roar, they swung around with Compie watching for wart-hog holes and roared, bumping along the stretch between the fires and with the last bump rose and he saw them all standing below, waving and the camp beside the hill, flattening now, and the plain spreading, clumps of trees and the bush flattening, while the game trails ran now smoothly to the dry waterholes, and there was a new water that he had never known of... Then they were over the first hills and the wildebeests were trailing up them, and then they were over the mountains with sudden depths of green-rising forest and the solid bamboo slopes, and then the heavy forest again sculptured into peaks and hollows until they crossed and hills sloped down and then another plain, hot now, and purple brown, bumpy with heat and Compie looking back to see how he was riding. Then there were other mountains dark ahead. --Hemingway. "The Snows of Kilamanjaro"
Hell he is right. In the photographs, one of the women models is smiling ridiculously to a Masai warrior. She looks vaguely surreal here, like an orange tree might, or perhaps a Scandinavian child. She seems to be saying something to them,though doubtless she doesn't know the language. Just as doubtless, the Masai warriors don't know what is going on. She seems to be saying: "Beauty is only skin deep... But then again, so am I."