She said her name was Savvies. One of the papers did some digging and found out that she was from Long Island and that she had a degree in studio art and that she was an only child and that she was twenty-three. This may have all been accurate but none of it was true. People like her don’t have a past. They barely have a present. I know that because, for a while, I was like her. We all were.

She showed up at Davis first, working register at some scarf-and-legging place that was owned by an investment consortium and run by Recent College Grads working for minimum plus tipjar. She didn’t stay there long. She turned up next on the sidewalk at Central selling clothing from a pile on a table. She’d just sit there, her little body sprawled on a folding chair, looking through big sunglasses like they were microscopes, in front of her a big mound of clothing all tangled together, none of it priced, none of it matched or sorted.

And people would stop. And people would stare or laugh or soberly shake their head. And people would rummage through the pile. And people would hold up a piece of clothing and then, and then, invariably then, they would look to Savvies for approval. She’d nod, they’d buy it – whatever price she named – and they’d start wearing it. Simple as that.

A few months of this and she’d made enough money to put down for a closet of a storefront off of Harvard Square. The store was pretty much the same as her sidewalk-shop. Clothing thrown over racks. Clothing in boxes. Bits of clothing here and there. Shirts not buttoned, pants inside-out, scarves knotted. God knows what was in the pockets. Guys would walk in from Williamsburg wearing their little sister’s jeans and a t-shirt from a free pile and a fur hat in fucking midsummer and they’d look around the store and laugh and say, So Fucking Hipster.

The thing is, so would everyone else. Maybe not the Chinese grandmothers visiting Little Baby at The Harvard. But everyone else knew what a hipster was. They recognized it. Reified it. Categorized it. Accepted it. And most anyone with ten bucks to spare went in and spared it. And walked out wearing whatever this chick nodded at. Whatever it was. Whatever.

People would walk up and ask her: does this look good? Does this fit? Whatever? And she’s look at them and she’d shrug, whatever. And the people took it. Every time they took it. Took it and bought it and wore it on the street. They weren’t wearing the clothing. They were wearing Whatever. And the girl who said it, who had the confidence of a river driving to the sea.

She could have told them to emperor up and go out wearing no clothes at all and people would have done it. Instead she took Whatever, and made it hip.

You could see her influence just walking across the Yard at lunch. People were wearing clothing that came so clearly from the free pile that you couldn’t tell if they were bums or runway models. It was all in the way they carried it. The confident ones looked like runway models. And Savvies was selling confidence. Q E D.

She didn’t name the store. It has no lettering, no sign. People in the know showed they were in the know by not calling it anything. It was just There. And they talked about it enough that they each knew what they meant.

It became a Thing. Of course it did. That look. The Savvies look. The Whatever Look, that’s what it was. People would show up there and buy handfuls of clothing. They’d buy Whatever. More often than not people would walk out wearing the Whatever they’d just bought.

The buying became as important as the wearing. Then it became more. Some people would show up there every day. Every day they’d let chance choose their wardrobe. Every day was an adventure in clothing, in chance and conduct and charisma. They’d show up wearing yesterday’s clothing. Some would show up in their pyjamas. It got to the point where Savvies put boxes outside the changing-rooms so people could ditch yesterday’s clothing in favor of today’s. Savvies would get them cleaned and put them back out for sale. And people would buy them again. Because – whatever.

She started putting out boxes, metal trap-boxes like Goodwill uses, just marked ‘clothing.’ People would throw old clothes in, or new clothes, or whatever, and the next day they’d see someone else wearing them coming down the street. Savvies put the boxes in the store. Then in front of the store. Then she bought a dozen – they were just sheet-metal – and put them all over town. It wasn’t hard to get some building super to agree – they had recycling bins for paper and plastic so why not for pleather and plaid?

The more people gave away, the more people took; the more people took, the more people gave away.

Clothing became dynamic. You didn’t really own it. You didn’t really want to. It became something you changed when you wanted to, easy as a profile picture, mutable as an About Me quote. And some people didn’t like it. But a hell of a lot of us did.

Savvies got some shit for it. She sure got plenty of attention; Whatever might have been the rule but she was the ruler and nobody questioned that.

You’d say, What are you doing this for? She’d shrug.

You’d say, You’re ruining fashion! And she’d blow a raspberry.

You’d say, This is a complete disregard for personal property! And she’d nod.

You’d say, I think what you’re doing is awesome. And she’d just stare at you.

You’d say, I think you’re introducing a kind of sartorial monasticism, a disregard for the corporeal that goes beyond the ubiquity of the business-suit, beyond even the simplicity of the religious habit or the monk’s robe. And she’d throw something at you. Which you’d then wear.

In this society of rules and law, fervor is felonious by nature. It can only follow that the revolution will not be revolutionary. Placards and protests are play for the pre-law. The revolution will be apathetic. Whatever.

Other people started setting out clothing piles on the sidewalks. They had to; people were coming from all over to get the authentic random, the true je-ne-sais. Savvies put them in their place. One morning she just went out to the center of the Square, between the newsstand and the T stop, with a handful of clothing. She dumped it on the ground. When she went back for another handful a dozen people came with her. Within the hour the whole store, and most of the sidewalk stores, were in the pile.

Nobody was really charging for clothing any more. Nobody had to. Nobody wanted to, really. Nobody cared.

I was there. I was one of them. I was liberated. I was didn’t-care. I took off my shirt and my pants and threw them on the pile. I dived in and found whatever and I put it on. At night, or when it was going to rain, the clothing would go inside and all get washed. Then the next shiny day it would be out there, day after day, and we’d go to it like ants to a pile of breadcrumbs, and take away this one day our daily bread.

It’s what the place became known for. It or Savvies of Whatever-the-Fuck but it was the Harvard Square look, the Harvard look, the Cambridge the Camville and lapping at the shores of Boston too. And Savvies just hung out through all of it, giving us our goddess and our go.

It got to the point where we’d dress ourselves out of the pile and walk around and come back later just to change again. It got to the point where sometimes we’d wear enough clothing to make two outfits and sometimes we’d wear half as much as we ever used to wear. There wasn’t much modesty when we’d all strip down and change in the middle of the street, in the middle of the day, at all hours of the day. It got to the point where straight-dressers stayed away from the Square – or came there, when they wanted to get changed.

Whatever, Whatever, but we started to care about it. We’d go to other places, up and down the red line then up and down the state, and just strut our stuff and live the life and show off and show up and show people how it’s done. We’d go into clothing stores and just walk around until they threw us out. We’d crash fashion shows, we’d go to society gatherings and swap shirts in the middle of the dance-floor, we’d go to job interviews and wouldn’t know what we looked like from neck to instep until we saw our reflections in the glasses of the behind-the-desk. People who came to the Square to point and stare were likely to get a fashion show they’d never forget. People who came to make fun of us were likely to get grabbed and thrown in the pile. And not let out until they’d changed. Or maybe we’d change them. Sometimes. Whatever.

Sometimes they’d join us. Sometimes they’d struggle. Sometimes they’d run. Always we’d chase them. We’d take them and strip them and baptize them in the pile. They’d get Worn Again. Then they could stay or they could go. Not like we cared.

Savvies walked among us. She sat there smoking and we sat around her. She’d change and we’d watch. She’d walk and we’d follow. Was she our leader? We followed her. We had no answer then. We had no question to answer.

It was a hot dog day in late summer and Savvies was holding court. She was sitting on the concrete of the Square, kicking her legs, wearing cigarette and sunglasses and whatever. There were maybe a hundred of us there with her, Recent College Graduates with nothing to do or People blowing off life to sit the scene. The pile of clothing was ten feet high and twenty wide and half-covered the entrance to the T. People were pulling things out of it and throwing other things onto the heap. This was our life. We just sat there and lived it.

This guy and this girl were playing dress-up. They kept trying on one piece of clothing after another. We sniffed at them, Dress-Ups. They didn’t get it. They were not-caring to the point where they cared about it, cared about it as much as any one of us had before. At some point Savvies got up and went over to the pile to do a switch. She stripped down to he underwear – we all looked, whether we tried to hide it or tried to let everyone see we were looking – and she pulled on the first thing she grabbed, a pair of jeans or something. Whatever.

Then the Dress-Up Girl went over to her and held out a ragged blouse. She said something, said it with a smile on her face. Savvies stared at her for a minute, then shrugged and pulled on the blouse.

A few of us got up and went over to the pile. Savvies was there, so there we went; that’s how we did.

Savvies made to walk away, but the Dress-Up Guy pulled her up. He took off his pants and handed them to her. Savvies shrugged, after a fashion, stripped down and put them on.

More people drifted over to see what was going on. In such a way, Something was Going On.

Some other person, a dull light in her eye, went through the pile and chose a shirt at random. She handed it to Savvies, who looked around her. We were clustered around her. She forced a shrug and took the shirt and pulled it on, over the shirt she was wearing. Then she turned and made to walk away.

Someone stopped her. We stopped her. Someone went to the pile and grabbed a baggy sweater. Held it out to her. In front of her. Like a matador’s cape. Or a barricade.

She stared at them for a while. They stared back. Why not? Changing, that’s what we did. Here, Savvies. Change. Change again. Whatever.

She reached out and took the sweater, then dropped it onto the ground. We inhaled as one, but she was just freeing her hand to better peel off her two shirts. Her arms bent inward modestly as she was only wearing a bra. She pulled on the baggy sweater. It looked different than

People started moving towards the pile.

Someone held out a miniskirt. Someone held out a pair of pinstripe slacks. Someone, after much rummaging, found a red bikini. We crowded around her. We held out things. We put things in her hands. We pressed in around her as she stripped down, pulled on new clothing, stripped down again.

We commanded: whatever.

Someone pulled a hoodie down over her head. She spun around, her head not quite up through the neck. Someone pulled at her pants. She spun around, tried to go away. Someone caught her. Someone pushed her back. Someone pulled the hoodie off, then her shirt. Someone held her while another person unbuttoned her tight jeans and began to pull them off. She kicked. She started yelling, little yells. We held her. We held her down. We stripped her to her underwear. She yelled. She kicked. She bucked her head. We held her down. We pressed around her. We dragged her around. We passed her back and forth and wouldn’t let her go.

We picked her up and threw her in the pile.

She landed inside of it She kicked and screamed and clothing fell down over her, burying her. She fought to get free. We stood back and stared. She clawed her way out, chest heaving, wild-eyed. Did not look at us. Got to the ground and ran, ran away from us, down the street, away from us, away from the Square, away.

We just stood there and stared, for a very long time.

The next day the pile was gone. So was Savvies. Within a few days the contents of her store had been taken, then the super came and put a lock on the door. Someone stole her sign, and sold it to the Harvard archivist. Someone found her sunglasses on the ground of the Square, and has them to this day. We all have clothing now. Clothing to call our own, that we wear and wash and wear. We didn’t, for a while. Now we do.


-Harvard Square, 2011


~ by davekov on 17 June 2011.

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