Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
6. The Dream of Finding the Person Who Gets Your Cockeyed Take on Life
I'm known at times to wear less-than-flattering clothing. This is because I wear a lot of hand-me-down items from friends and family that have a story behind them that I like. In the winter, in particular, I enjoy wearing a certain black ski hat with neon orange, pink, blue and green stripes on it, which my mother wore in 1983 skiing with my father and me. This clothing does not make me look ironic or vintage or retro. As long as I'm not looking at myself, however, I feel terrific. I feel like I'm my mom on one of those crispy, snowy days when I looked up at her and she seemed to know all there was to know about joy and freedom and ski poles. One evening in 2004 in the great city of New York, I went into a bank to apply for a mortgage. It was a fancy branch. There were suits and pantyhose all over the place. One particular man was sitting in the customer waiting area, his legs crossed, a briefcase on his knees that, by the look of its alligator skin exterior, had to hold various secret Swiss bank account codes within its interior. He stood up. "Hey," he said. "Great hat!" I looked around the bank, though I needn't have because there were no other customers with a 30-year-old, totally tacky and out-of-date ski hat on. Then he came right up to me and shook my hand, pumping it the way powerful people do to other powerful people. "Your hat made my day!" he said. "That hat is terrific! My dad had a hat like that!" He started laughing—not at me, but with me, because at this point, I was laughing too. I was pretty sure that this guy had not grown up at the small, broken-down ski resort (also known as Artic Valley) in which I'd grown up in rural Alaska. But I was also pretty sure he had loved his dad and missed that feeling of absolute child-parent worship on a dazzling snow day when school and work comes to a standstill and you get to go sledding or skating or snowball fighting with your family. He went off to his world of corporate finance; I stayed in mine with my never-to-be-realized mortgage. But it was zestifying really, to have this thought: They are out there—and often where you least expect it—the people that see life through the same scratched, nostalgia-fogged lens.