There comes a time in each person’s life when they reach a crossroads. Rather, there are many overlapping, intersecting, superseding crossroads that spider across any life journey, but I am twenty six, so I have only faced a few. Which version of myself should I present? What school should I attend? What career should I seek? Sometimes, if one leans toward the masochistic or thrill-seeking, they might indulge more peculiar, subordinate struggles (liberationist or postliberal? Dr. Pepper or Mr. Pibb? Angel or Spike?). For a neurotic like myself, these predictably open the door for a chain of ever more specific and pointless dilemmas, until one stupidly short-sighted revelation catalyzes the move back up the ladder. This is a lousy habit to retain at twenty six, because twenty six is the age at which potential starts to curdle. Having promise or being able to balance multiple projects simultaneously becomes less cute and more troublesome when projects start to acquire adult implications. And each breakdown of focus during which I warp through these kaleidoscopes of pointless decision stalls the commitment process further and just makes more trouble for me and everyone involved.
For months, I tried to find the perfect pair of pants. Well, not the perfect pair, mind you, because I’m too cheap (on principle) to buy exactly the pair I want, so I needed to find the perfect pair to compromise with myself on—depending on the cost. "Cost" is a vague term, but I knew what an acceptable price felt like, so I tabled the specifics for later. Also, I wasn’t sure if I needed new pants, but I guessed I could have used some. I only wore two pairs of pants regularly—actually the same pair in two different colors. I was lacking variety. Besides these factors, I only had a few criteria. They should be 1.) comfortable, 2.) low maintenance, and 3.) presentable. The search began in fall 2018. My pants arrived today. It is August 2019.
I identified the ideal pair pretty quickly. They were beautiful, yet slacker: a pair of “easy chinos” which were 100% made in the USA by unionized workers and came highly recommended by most of the internet. If you do not know what easy chinos are, then you are missing out. Easy chinos look like regular khakis, except they have a drawstring waistband. They’re the office equivalent of wearing pajamas to class. On a casual Friday with an untucked shirt, no one would know I was rocking neither button nor fly. They reflected me in a way that felt deeply intimate; they said “the wearer probably shouldn’t have left the house, but here he is, anyway.” I needed them. I had too many cool colors in my wardrobe for a Floridian, as it was (my time in graduate school taught me to dress like it was always March in Chicago), so it was time for me to join the more earthy-paletted crowd. And so I visited the webpage for these pants. Again and again I visited. And the dread set in. What if they were cheaper at some retailer I didn’t know about? What if they would tear right out of the bag? What if they were too thick for the Florida heat? I grappled with the crippling fear of not exploring other options first, and eventually eliminated them from the running on economic grounds—like a good consumer.
Another pair drew my admiration soon after, but they seemed too utilitarian or sensible, so they wouldn’t do at all. Another fit my criteria but didn’t have the color I was looking for. Another, the wrong size. Soon, my search for pants was relegated to the backburner. I would poke around online retailers or daydream about them to distract from work or worry, but never with serious intent to buy. I would mourn the entirely arbitrary and self-imposed barriers between myself and the useless thing I wanted, then I would chastise myself for paying it any mind whatsoever.
Months passed. I read whole books and made major life decisions while still worrying about the pants. They became for me more an abstract, guiding principle than a garment. My sartorial predilections, my workplace restrictions, my prioritization of rent over new pants—these seemed irreconcilable. And so they came to represent a life I could never have, an alternative version of myself that had gone in on what he wanted. He was probably stable and sure of his direction. He mocked me across the multiverse.
But, as with all important moments in life, revelation broke forth on a day like any other. Sure, the pair that presented themselves on that Wednesday when I was in a buying mood weren’t exactly the right color, but they were on sale. They may have been delayed in the mail, but they looked nice on me. They may have been a little roomy, compelling me to flirt with returning them, but when I cut the tag, a euphoric contentment washed over me. It was as if my capabilities, my desires, and the world’s offerings, for the briefest moment, aligned. Yet through the relief of a long ordeal concluded, I sensed a distant melancholy approaching. An actual life traded for the symbolic was demanding its due.