Confronting my own source of unendurable horror

2019-06-11 17:29:18

OPINION: Torture's an art. Any sadist can screw thumbs, pull off fingernails, or bring forth screams with the heated poker. But the true torturer gets what he wants without a wound to tell against him, because he knows that in everyone there lies a source of unendurable horror. The torturer's job is merely to show that he knows where it is. His victim crumbles.

For Winston Smith in 1984 that source of horror was rats. The Party torturer had only to suggest a cage of rats placed about Winston's head and it was all over. He went to pieces. And what rats were for Smith, clothes-shopping is for me.

North Korea's an appalling place, but I envy them their clothing. Everyone wears the same party-issue sweats. No-one has to shop for clothes because there are no clothes to shop for.

Imagine the joy. No fashion shows. No fashion pages. No designer jeans. No designer anything. No brands. No labels. No catwalks paced by pouting teenage ectomorphs. No t-shirts saying "I'm with Stupid". No t-shirts saying anything.

All clothes are a disguise. Everything from a loin cloth up is a form of dishonesty. And I have a dream, ladies and gentlemen. I dream that one day the little children I don't have will be judged by the contents, not of their wardrobes, but of their characters. But until that day, we have to shop for clothes. My particular horror is trousers.

In infancy my mother made my trousers. They were trousering at its most simple - an elasticated waist and that was that. No zips, flies, belts, buckles, buttons or other dangers. I hated them. I longed to graduate out of them. But six decades later I have returned to them. In winter I wear thick ones, in spring and autumn thin ones, and in the heat of summer - and I apologise for this - short ones.

But sadly from time to time they wear out. Or rather more often they shrink. Which is why I found myself last week, fingers trembling, a vague sense of nausea fluttering in my throat, turning into the five-acre car park at the mall. How many cars there were. What was everyone finding to do in there? I intoned the mantra of the Navy Seals when on their mission to kill bin Laden: get in, do the job and get the hell out again.

The cheap department store had been rearranged since I last visited. For one brief moment of panic I thought they had dispensed with a menswear section. But no, there it lay, recognisable by its blue, black, grey and brown, the dowdy plumage of the male.

I am not, it seems, the only male sartorial minimalist. There was rack upon rack of my trousers, sewn by the needy in distant lands, at $15 a pair. And all of them, from the pencil-thin to the comical 6XLs whose seat could hold a hundredweight of spuds, described as track pants.  Had I felt less nauseous I'd have laughed. These pants were destined only for the sofa.

I took up a pair of 2XL in navy blue. Reason urged me to try them on. But an image came of the changing cubicle, that hermit's cell of crammed flesh and self-delusion, rank with foot sweat and armpit broth. I saw the bristle carpet and the bare wood bench, the truth-telling mirror, the hook for hanging, and I just held the pants against me, decided they were fine, grabbed two more pairs and, sensing the chance to flee the torturer's prison that Winston Smith was never granted, ran.

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