In the middle of my teenage years, back in the day, I was a high school student. On the other side of the city where I grew up, our state university provided education for thousands of students who had already matriculated to the college level of learning.
Here is a picture which I lifted, by iPhone helicoptering technology, from a book that I recently perused. The image depicts a campus walkway, circa 1965, where students are going into and out of the LSU student Union building. A few years after this photograph was snapped, I became one of those students, 1969 version, who traipsed from class to class on the campus of LSU.
The book from which this image is lifted is linked here:
This morning, while viewing this photo as part of the research for the novel that I am now composing, I found something interesting about it. Take a look at the apparel that these students are wearing. Most of them are clothed in solid colors, which, in this photo, registers as either black or white. On almost every student whose garb depicts this black/white arrangement, the black is on the lower half of the body–the pants, or skirt part.
Considering the way Americans dress nowadays, this seems to be a boringly plain, regimented arrangement. It is, however, perhaps a little more dignified than what we might see at a typical 2016 visit to, say, Walmart, McDonald’s, or any college or university.
Notice, however, that six of these students in the picture are wearing a clothes motif that stands apart from the black/white pattern. And in every one of these six individuals, the fashion statement is the same:
Six students are wearing plaid.
This was a new trend in youthful clothing during the mid-1960’s. It was, however, the beginning of a virtual tsunami of color that would be be flaunted in the coming years, in the clothes and fashions of young people. By the end of the decade, this small bursting forth of crisscrossed chromaticism would metamorphose into a riot of self-expressive color displayed uninhibitedly on our young bodies. Thus would we baby boomers strive, in our own threadish way, to find and establish own generational identity.
My memory of this elaborative fashion development began in my eight-grade, 1964-65. The pattern retained in my mind from that time is a certain kind of plaid:
The Madras plaid came from India, specifically a city there named Madras, which has since had its name changed to Chennai.
What was really groovy for us back in the day was that Madras plaids had an earthy, handwoven look. The fabric itself had curious little irregularities in it. . . little clumps in the thread, and variations in the weaving. The look and feel of it was a departure from the American stuff, which was obviously machine-made, bland and boring.
So we started wearing the Madras plaid in–I think it was–about 1965. This photograph seems to have captured the very inception of that style-shattering sea-change in our thread preferences.
A very attractive feature of the Madras was this: it bled.
When you washed your plaid shirt, or pants, the colors would “bleed.”
With each washing, the threaded pigments would migrate slightly out into the white regions of the fabric.
This was way-cool.
It was groovy. All that color was leaping out of the grooves of regimented style, testing the compartmentalism of society, violating the tick-tacky of conformity, even setting the stage for a fading American resolve to retain our post-WWII position as policeman of the world.
But this fashionable Madras bleeding was but a small shriveling on the torso of the American corpus writ large.
At the same time, in the mid-1960’s, America was bleeding real, red blood, and it wasn’t cool.
It was hot blood, 98.6 degrees.
America was bleeding in Vietnam.
America was bleeding in the ghettoes of the cities.
America was bleeding in Selma.
America was bleeding in Watts, in Detroit.
America would bleed in Orangeburg, at Jackson State, at Kent State.
But that was nothing new.
America had bled at Lexington and Concord, at Yorktown.
America had long been shedding blood in the cotton fields, and at the trading blocks in New Orleans, in Charleston.
America had bled in Kansas, and at Harpers Ferry, Fort Sumter, Antietam.
America bled at Gettysburg and Appammatox.
America bled at Little Big Horn and at Wounded Knee.
America bled through the hands, the arms and backs and feet of thousands of immigrants who drove steel stakes into the railways that stretched all the way from Boston to San Francisco.
America bled at Haymarket, Chicago
America bled prolifically at Verdun, Amiens, Flanders
America hemorrhaged at Pearl Harbor, at Normandy, at the Bulge, at Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal and Okinawa.
And America continued its bloodletting in Korea, at Inchon.
America bled at Ia Drang, at Khe Sanh, at Saigon and Hué and Danang.
America wept bloody tears at My Lai.
America bled from Kuwait to Baghdad
America bled in Beirut and Mogadishu, and in Kosovo.
America bled at the Word Trade Center on 9/11.
America bled at Fallujah, and in Helmand, Qandahar and Kabul.
America weeps for the blood shed at Mosul and Aleppo.
America weeps, America bleeds in millions of D&C’d in uteri.
We have always been bleeding somewhere. It is the way of all flesh.
And America is still bleeding; she is bleeding now.
As to which way we will be bleeding tomorrow, that remains, until 11/9, to be seen.