When I used to live in Boulder, Colorado back in the early 2000s, I would hang out at a bar there called the Sundown Saloon (more affectionately known as The Downer). This was pre-hipster days but it was very clear to me that there was a certain faction of regulars there that went out of their way to look and act different. All manners of strange dress, hairdos and behaviors were the norm, but frankly, none of that was “normal” to the people putting on these farcical facades. An air of inauthenticity often filled the room. I imagine it still does. My buddy and I at the time said that the unofficial motto for The Downer should be: “The place where it’s cool to be weird.” Not weird like the guy who used to dribble a basketball all over my hometown and if you tried to steal it he’d do some sweet juke move, but weird like you’re trying too hard to be different. “Not cool” would be more accurate, perhaps. And that isn’t to say that people cannot express themselves in whatever manner they want or feel like doing, or that they have to follow some social code; it’s just that you shouldn’t try to fit a square peg in a round hole. It won’t fit. We all develop our own eccentricities as we age. When we have kids they inevitably think everything we do is weird, boring or embarrassing. So, have no fear, your time for weirdness is coming. When you creep past youth and the next generation evaluates and creates their own manners of presentation and interactions, weirdness will then come naturally to the older generation. At that point you might not care. But to force weirdness upon yourself, and indirectly others, is to say: “I’m not comfortable with who I am. I care what others think too much.” Maybe if we’d all settle into ourselves a little sooner and more easily, we could create an authentic weirdness. Boulder has this shirt that reads, “Keep Boulder Weird.” I think they may have actually stolen it from Austin, Texas. That proves my point. Case closed. But I won’t knock on Boulder too much more here, there’s other forced weirdness to expose.
I recently relocated from one self-proclaimed weird town (Boulder) to another (Portland, Oregon). I’m sure most have you have seen, or at least heard of, a show called Portlandia, a skit show based on the oddities that make up Portland, weirded out to the max. It has, unfortunately, become a parody of itself, but in its earliest stages it was funny. It was authentically weird. Now it is in-authentically weird. The very first episode has a song/skit called, “The dream of the 90’s is alive in Portland.” In the skit they refer to Portland as, “the place where young people go to retire;” and one of the actors asks, “Remember in the 90’s when they encouraged you to be weird?” Yeah, that’s true here. It’s only fitting that Fred Armisen is one of the creators and main actors in the series, and here’s why: I was sitting at a brewery called Hair of the Dog in Portland the other week. Most of the names of their beers are singular, proper names like Bob, Joe or Karen. I was asking the ornately and oddly dressed bartenders who each name is attributed to. One was for the guy that grows the hops, another for the guy that made the taps and another for the girl who did the art for their shirts. Then I got to Fred. The response from the pseudo-weirdo was, “Oh, that’s Fred Armisen. He’s kind of a beer god around here.” Barf. Check please. Really? You do realize that you’re making yourselves look like complete fools, right? I don’t think I’ll be returning there. And their beer was actually decent, too…
I should say that I don’t actually live in Portland; I live in Beaverton, the first suburb southwest of Portland, but still only a few miles from the city center. Yes, it’s the burbs, and the burbs are a whole other different kind of weird that is much less appealing than forced weirdness, but circumstances dictated this as the best option for now. Having said that, whenever I meet someone in the city and they ask me which neighborhood I live in, I tell them Beaverton. I always get a look of “What? Why?” or they say “Sorry” and give me a sad face. This is funny because I’m staying with friends and before I moved in with them I always used to make fun of them living in the burbs. I gave Beaverton the motto, “It ain’t great.” And here I am, suburban warrior. But it’s funny how people think where you live somehow dictates what kind of person you are, or perhaps more accurately, what kind of person you aren’t. By living in the burbs I cannot be their brand of inauthentic weirdness (thank god), and that prevents me from engaging in some social possibilities, I think. And I’ve been guilty of this myself. When I lived in Boulder there was no way I would have ever wanted to live in the East County (Louisville, Lafayette, Superior, and god forbid, Longmont). I don’t think I came down on those who lived in those areas, but I sure did feel sorry for them when they tried to rationalize that it was okay to live out there. Umm, sad face.
I was at a bar having a few beers and watching a band a few nights ago. Sitting next to me was a guy with a Kangol golf cap, a burly Scandinavian cardigan white as snow, red pants and what appeared to be elf shoes. At least that is what they looked like to me. He didn’t wear this with the slightest bit of irony, but it was written all over him that he had bought in to the manufactured weirdness of Portlandia culture… Thank god the mustache phase has all but trickled out. For years those ridiculous mustaches that people wore just to get on the bandwagon of what was “cool” caused me to live with a constant grumbling under my breath of wonder as to why people engage in such purposefully stupid behaviors. Yes, stupid. There are only three types of people that should ever have a mustache: cowboys, male porn actors (not stars; how did it ever come to calling everyone that “acts” in pornography a star? Not all stand-ins in Hollywood blockbusters are stars. But I digress…) and dads over 50. But the mustache craze slowly turned to the beard craze, and eventually, well who knows what’s next in the evolution of intentional weirdness. I hope I don’t fall into it by accident.
Being weird is something that most people don’t ask for or invite unto themselves. Being weird is something you get picked on for being in grade school, middle school and high school. Being weird steers you to subcultures composed of other people that fall into that same group of weirdness. Weirdness breeds individuality and hopefully friendships. Intentional weirdness is a mockery of those that are different through no fault of their own, whether it be personal psychology or circumstance. As our society has become more PC (and this is a bad thing, trust me), I’m actually surprised we haven’t started to chastise those that are intentionally weird. They’re (perhaps unconsciously) taking advantage of a minority group’s indigenous qualities and attributes, and gentrifying them to meet their desires. The ironic appropriation of weirdness from those that are truly weird is nothing short of a modern day manifest destiny; the privileged take what they want from the people who aren’t powerful enough to protect it, and then they use it to their hearts desires until it is no longer wanted. Then they discard these appropriations and the original weirdos are left looking as parodies of a phase, when in fact it was they who unintentionally started the trend because they were what the copycats could never be: authentic.