Rage Against the Cubicle – Fiction

Rage Against the Cubicle

Stylin’ and Profilin’ – Your Cheat Sheet for Cool School

Because everyone really needs magazines to teach them how to live.

by Matt Sullivan
illustration by Michael Corcoran

Q: I have a job that requires me to wear a shirt and tie, even suits (I don’t know why, because all I do is answer phones and staple things, but I digress). Now I don’t mind getting dressed up – I actually like it – it makes everyday feel like the day I got my First Communion. The problem is, I ride the subway, so on my way to and from work, I have to walk by an assortment of hipsters, hip-hoppers, and hippies hanging out at the train station. When I pass by the kids with the baggy pants, wallet chains and Airwalks, I feel so self-consciously bourgeois. How can I let them know I’m no sell-out, yet still conform to dress code?

A: Luckily for you, we live in a time when “corporate alternative” isn’t an oxymoron, it’s a redundancy! But seriously though, if you want to say “Trust me, my penis is pierced,” there are ways to fight the power subtly, while killing the fashion police softly. Aside from simply changing into your corporate uniform at work after commuting by skateboard, you can try out the following suggestions.

First, ditch the heavy suitcase and opt for a sporty backpack. We recommend the faux-bohemian Dolce and Gabbana backpack (at finer department stores, $450). Appealing to hip-hoppers, ravers, and nature freaks, they’re available in a wide array of colors and styles. If your commute takes you to Cambridge, be sure to decorate that backpack with leftist pins and bumper stickers (Revolution Books, $3 to $12). See-through backpacks also up the coolness quotient – you can pretend you go to one of those schools where they check your bag for weapons!

When it comes to hip-hoppers, ravers, and skateboarders, it helps to remember one rule regarding pants: more fabric, more props! Another crossover trend: you can’t lose with tattoos. Ubiquitous as they are, “tats” (to use the insider’s parlance) still carry that vague sense of danger. A temporary tattoo mourning “B.I.G. R.I.P” (SoulShed, $15) has gotten me through many a stressful trip through Mattapan. Firearms may also help to give you that bad-boy appeal.

If it’s the hippies you’re trying to impress, let’s face it, it’s going to take more than a tie-dye tie to get the peace sign from these cats, even if that tie is a Jerry Garcia design (Macy’s, $36). Why not walk the subway platforms with no shoes on? Whatever damage the slivers of glass and concrete do to your feet will be made up threefold in peace-lovin’ credibility. As you do this, it wouldn’t hurt to smell like incense. Another groovy scent would be that peculiar mixture of pot and patchouli.

It also helps to have a good sense of the ironic. Why not replace those tasseled loafers with size-labeled bowling shoes? Why not wear monogrammed shirts – with someone else’s initials on them? Clip-on ties worn with a pajama-top also send the message that you don’t take yourself too seriously. An ill-fitting vintage suit can also help you achieve calculated wackiness.

Though not exactly “hip,” a trip to the Warner Brothers Store couldn’t hurt you. After all, would a conformist wear a tie featuring the devilish Taz?

Remember, a li’l peroxide in the hair can punk up and/or funk up a beauty school drop-out like yourself. And don’t forget to accessorize. Used paperback books make handy accessories. Who could doubt your authenticity with a battered copy of Catcher In The Rye? Or how about the graphic novel Ghost World by Daniel Clowes (Newbury Comics, $12)? And though you may think it’s hard for a multi billion-dollar industry to be subversive, trust us, hardcore porn (Video Expo, $4.95 to ???) on the subway always seems to provoke some outrage. Still, nothing says “I’m insulated, isolated, and any band I ever listened to sold out before the likes of you ever heard of them” like ‘zines. (Note: Pronounced “zeens,” it does not rhyme with signs. Bret Easton Ellis once lost hipster points he couldn’t afford to lose for pronouncing it that way on Lauren Hutton’s old talk show.) We suggest the quarterly Lollipop (not-so-fine stores, $4.95).

“Heroin chic” may be passé/cliché in the big city, but heroin’s obituary has yet to run in the suburban newspapers. So why not evoke Trainspotting while riding the train to work? Some rubber tubing twisted on your arm, complete with a syringe needle, and you’re well on your way out of Squaresville. After all, could Kurt Cobain, Lenny Bruce, and Charlie Parker all be wrong? I doubt it.

Remember, it’s all about one upsmanship when you’re dealing with hipsters. When they’re “ironic,” you’ve got to be “ironic.” Try to convince them that your whole job is really an elaborate, 40-hour a week, Andy Kaufman-esque comedic stunt. Years after your death, it’ll be hilarious!