We calculate time by different methods, beyond the persistent ticking of a clock. Some measure it by seasons, when autumn leaves turn to rainbows and fall from the trees; some by the growth of their children with height marks that rise steadily up a kitchen wall; and some by the longevity of their favorite jeans.
I see time’s relentless passage in the dying of my Levis 540, whose condition of disrepair has surpassed even the studied rips of designer jeans that lure the rich to downward chic wearing $22,000 diamond encrusted watches and walking around in $800 shoes.
I do not pretend that the condition of my Levis represents a designer’s skill. They are simply, as I am, tattered beyond repair, weary of the life that has taken them across the continent and to places in the world that few jeans ever see, even those that cover some of the cutest behinds in Hollywood. They were my traveling pants.
Stone-washed and softened by time, the denims were molded to my body with the warm tenderness of a woman’s embrace. They do not squeeze, they do not sag, but perfectly conform to the physiology that is me, for better or for worse. I feel good in them.
But the time has come, as my observant Cinelli has pointed out, for me to bury my pants. They are a decade old and beyond repair.
“Look at you,” she said the last time I wore them, “rips in your knees, rips in your thighs rips in your butt and a potential rip very near your…”
“You can patch them for me!” I cried.
“They’re beyond patching, stitching, gluing or any other form of adherence,” she replied. “They are dead. Bury them, Elmer.” She calls me that because I often mumble, leading telephone callers to believe that I am saying my name is Elmer Teenez. She thinks it amusing.
“I don’t have the heart to dispose of them,” I said. “Will you do it for me?”
“I’ll throw them in the garbage,” she said, “but I’m not digging a burial hole.”
“The garbage? Must you?”
” Take ‘em off, Elmer, I’ll get rid of them in a respectful manner.” She smiled impishly.
I slipped them off and handed them to her, attempting to look solemn in my baggy Boxer shorts.
“Even your underwear is ragged,” she said. “What have you been up to?”
“Nothing very interesting, but I’m not removing them in any case.”
She winked and went off with the Levis. I felt like David Caruso in an episode of “CSI Miami,” trying not to cry while watching them carry off a dead partner, taking my sun glasses off and on, and then off again in an acting class gesture of quiet despair.
I didn’t attend the disposal of my 540s, but trusted Cinelli to say a few last words over their inert and ragged remains. Dead jeans, like dead shoes, require solemn rituals of departure from those who loved them, or at least tolerated them.
As far as I could determine, they don’t make 540s anymore. I couldn’t find them at Sears, where they carry a large supply of Levis, and couldn’t reach anyone at Levis Strauss world headquarters in San Francisco who knew anything. When I told the person who answered the phone what I wanted in precise and simple terms, she replied, “Could you be more specific?”
I ended up buying two pairs of Levis 510 for $40 each. They’re white with buttoned flies. Or flys. I don’t know which is correct when it comes to the plural of the fly in my pants. I’m not even sure I like a buttoned fly but the lady who alters my clothes assured me that the buttons could be replaced with a zipper if I so desired, adding, “but it’s a pretty big deal,” meaning it will cost me. Altering a fly is apparently labor-intensive.
Even if I look a little dilettantish in my white jeans, I’ll get used to them, I guess, but I’ll always miss my recently departed 540s. Time is neutral in its erosion of men and mountains, and now it has taken my pants. Requiescat in pace, 540s.
Al Martinez is a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the Los Angeles Times, author of a dozen books, an Emmy-nominated creator of prime time television shows, a travel writer, humorist and general hell-raiser. Try him. He’s addictive.
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