Believe it or not, the first time I ever thought about the word, cool, was when I was a young captain in the Air Force, just stationed at Yokota AFB, Japan. It was early morning and I was taking my old dachshund, Dingo, for a walk and a little fuzzy-headed kid of about seven or eight rode up in front of me and stopped.
His name was Chase. I’d seen him around. He was riding an old junker of a girl’s bicycle. It was Pepto Bismol pink and it had a wicker basket on the front with pink and white plastic flowers. I said, “What’s up?” I was just getting into the sculpting at the time and had set up a tiny little welding area behind our quarters. He hopped off and pointed to a bracket that held on the rear fender which had rusted through. Quite matter-of-factly he asked, “Think you can fix it?” I said, “Sure,” and we walked back and I cranked-up the welding tanks. It took all of three minutes. But afterwards I said, “Chase… It’s a girl’s bike.” He looked up at me. “Yeah?” “Well…it’s pink. It’s got flowers on the front… Do you really want to ride a girl’s bike? I’ve got some Rustoleum Red and some black paint. We could trick it out…” He climbed back on and shrugged. “It’s just a bike. It runs good,” and with that, he pedaled away, doing a little miniature wheelie. I came away thinking, That was weird… And yet, here we are, decades later, and I’m telling you about it.
Okay, that’s on one side of the cosmic scale of coolness. Here’s an image I’m going to toss on the other side. We live close to an infamous little town, called New Hope, PA. It’s a destination for many tourists and also many, many bikers. 99% of these bikers ride big black noisy Harley Davidson motorcycles. They wear black leather jackets, insect-like sunglasses, and little black skull-cap helmets. About 80% of them also sport a little goatee just to complete the image. To a one, they modify their exhausts so that when they come to a stop sign and rev their engines, those around them have to put their fingers in their ears. Looking at them from afar, about the only deviation from this cookie cutter image, is someone might wear a grungy white t-shirt instead. That’s pretty much the range of individualism allowed. Intimidating as they may appear, I see twenty or thirty guys who desperately want to appear macho…or lethal…or tough. Rebels without a cause, if you go back to where it all began. This is one of the most extreme forms of….conformity. Thirty guys in leather astride their identical black bike, looking like a bizarre subset of…sheep. I ask you to judge for yourself. The thirty identical guys, not daring to stand out…at all, or one little kid, who way down deep, just didn’t give a shit what anyone thought of him?
Here is where I’m in very real danger of succumbing to the ego-trip pitfall of chronicling to you things which in retrospect show, if nothing else, at least that I really wasn’t worried about what others were thinking…(didn’t really give a shit). I’ll try to keep it short, and feel free to plug in your own anecdotes here.
First Car: ’46 Plymouth Coupe. Bought it for $40.00 at the tender age of 11 …no back seat, no second or reverse gear (you learn to plan ahead where to park) and a real junker…chalk-grey and rust. First item of business: I hacksawed a strut or two in the cavelike area between what would have been the back seat and the trunk, and shoe-horned in a….. (care to guess)… a double bed mattress and spring, complete with bedspread and throw pillows. Seriously. If I ever met the right girl…or got my license, I was prepared! I also smeared glue on the large horn button on the steering wheel and sprinkled silver glitter. Looked…pretty cool, though every time I hit the horn I got glittery. Bought a Rexall spray gun for $9.95 (this was a while ago) and sprayed the whole car..and small portions of the chrome, windshield and tail lights…black. My first car was pretty neat and I sold it at the end of the summer for…$150. Never once thought about what anyone else might think of it, but…I got away with it. Okay, I got that out of my system.
Suffice it to say, this gene for reinventing…everything…never went away. And I can say, in all honesty that it never had anything to do with wanting to be cool…just…making something my own. In retrospect, if I’d actually had that car in high school, it most likely wouldn’t have caused any girl to get on the phone and call me up.
Honey Badgers: What? Henry, are you losing your mind? What’s a honey badger and what does it have to do with…anything? Pour yourself a cup and let me clue you. There’s a short You Tube on the subject that provides a clue. Pound for pound, honey badgers are perhaps the bravest creatures on the planet. They look like rather large skunks and amble around like football jocks. They like to eat poisonous snakes and..well…anything. They’ll go after a cobra…bite it and get bitten. They keel over and “die” for a few minutes, then they wake up and eat the head off the cobra. A honey badger walks up to a rhino…or a lion, a Zebra, even a giraffe and every one of them runs like hell…seriously. The honey badger edges around to the back and goes for the cajones. In another short video, they tried to build a containment area to house honey badgers…they seriously couldn’t do it…amazing video by the way. But then…just for the hell of it, they’d break back in to the “prison cell” just to show that they could. Definitely not sheep.
Really????? Before writing this, I tried to come up with one single thing, some item, some car, some fashion statement, some material object that could be universally classified as cool. Ya can’t do it. There is no such thing. There is no universally cool car, (though in my opinion an old ugly-as-hell Citroen 4c comes pretty close). There is no universally cool dress. There just isn’t. If you remember Ricky Nelson from way, way back, he came out with a very pissed-off song called Garden Party. Everyone was trying to keep him pressed into a mold. The final lyric is, “You can’t please everyone so ya gotta please….yourself.” That’s the answer. No one is watching you. No one really gives a shit what you’re doing. You won’t (can’t) be cool trying to be something you aren’t. Just…do whatever the hell you’re going to do in your life and let the chips fall where they may. That’s what’s cool…and the most fun.
P.S. Though the word, cool, has been around for many decades, it seems to have survived the generations attempting to hijack the term. Won’t bore you with a chronology of synonyms, but share with you a short anecdote: We hired a guy, named Johnny Walker to work in the studio and looking a bit like Johnny Depp, his name was as cool as his image. One day, I had accomplished a small welding feat and he came over…looked me straight in the eye and said, “Know what? You’re SICK, man!” I stopped, considering whether a quick right jab or a left hook would be more appropriate…and he seemed to sense this. He quickly added, “No, no, man. Sick means you’re Cool. You’re cool man. You’re…sick.” With that squared away, I suggested that this new term needed to be disseminated quickly to the other generations.
Like to hear what your coolest moment is thus far. I bet there’s a whole rainbow of cool…sick. Just click on the link below to respond right on this site. H.
Henry, I had no idea you are a Harley fan. That’s a great shot of Rolling Thunderers, each of suitably stern “look at me” visage, individualists, all. A variant of the herd I enjoy is the guy who sets the handle bars so high he actually hangs from them, as an ape in a tree. You also know, I’m sure, the fraternal sign used by H-D riders – left arm fully extended at 45 degrees down, fingers forming the Vee sign. Yes, non-conformity is a grand thing.
Even though I really appreciate and enjoy fine automobiles and sports cars, I could never fathom the illogic of just sitting there revving your engine. That or holding on the brakes and hitting the accelerator…..just to destroy your tires. Is that what makes a man a man???????
I always thought the definition of a man was something like: A guy who truly takes responsibility to protect, love, and take care of his wife and family.
You are cool!!!
I think that sort of statement is left to others. Whenever I meet someone who says, “I AM COOL.” I instantly start to wonder.
Do you get 1000s of replies? Do you have a chance to look at any?
Attached is a photo of a couple of my bike sculptures. One was based on a soft tail Harley. A mate made the rider – the description of which matches yours…
My favourite car was a 2CV. Only car I’ve made money on. Huge fun to drive although a bit worrying on the motorway. Fastest way to travel was to sit right on the back of a truck and draft it. If a faster truck came along then you moved out as it overtook! This was fine unless you followed a truck that wanted to shake you off, by pulling back into the inside lane right on the front of the vehicle just past – leaving me with nowhere to go!
Keep up the good work!