The long and short of it

Everyone knows great nations eventually fall. We also know, in retrospect, how and when they fell. But I’ve always wondered how many people in a country on the verge of collapse were aware that everything was about to hit the fan.

There are all kinds of predictors of societal collapse. Among them are economic disaster, military conquest, insane and incompetent leadership, revolution and/or combinations thereof.

Not surprisingly, I have my own predictor. While much more homespun and far less dramatic than the others, I believe it’s just as accurate.

It is this: When it’s autumn in a town that’s regularly the cold spot of the nation and none of their stores have stocked a supply of decent long johns, the End Days are at hand.

Allow me to clarify: By “decent” long johns I mean the old stand-bys — the undyed, cotton/poly, waffled ones I’ve worn since childhood. The ones that were warm, cheap, could be found everywhere … and now can hardly be found at all. And when I say can hardly be found, I’m not exaggerating.

Dig this: Last week, with all my long john stash hanging by a literal thread, I decided to restock. Simple enough, you’d think. And if you did, you thought wrong.

First I went to Kinney’s.

No go.

Then Dollar General.


After that, Aubuchon’s.


On to Blue Line, Ace, Community Store and Tractor Supply.

No. No. No. No.

OK, so the last two “No’s” were qualified.

The Community Store had none in stock but said they were on order.

Tractor Supply had three pairs in stock — one XL and two XXL — each of which was as wearable as my dress blues, but for the opposite reason.

Groovy skivs, groovier price

This is not to say you can’t find long johns in town. You can. But they’re skivs of a whole different color, as it were.

To start, they’re not cotton/poly. Instead, they’re made of miracle fabrics I’ve never heard of and can’t pronounce. Matapropylosifate. Pyoneaolongloft. Thermaxymyl.

And what, exactly, makes them “miracle fabrics”? Two things.

One is they’re super-warm, they wick, they dry out before they get wet, and for all I know they cure warts, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and the green gambool.

The other thing that makes them miraculous is their price. They’re all in the $30 to $40 range.

In all fairness, as was explained by the salespeople, these are so-called “performance tights.” And thus all the hullabaloo … and price.

The idea here is the last thing you want when you’re hiking, skiing, rock climbing, showshoeing or indulging in some other extreme winter sport is to have baggy, soggy long johns that are not only sliding off your tuchis but are freezing it off faster than you can say Sam McGee.

They also look pretty slick, which may be another meaning of the words “performance tights” — they’d look great on me when I have the lead in “The Nutcracker.”

They are, in short, the exact opposite of those cotton/poly ancients I love so well.

But, far as I’m concerned, all of that means doodle-squat. I have no use for performance tights since my idea of an extreme winter activity is eating an ice cream cone in Stewart’s parking lot.

So why have the Old Faithfuls, once as common here as cure chairs and sputum cups, gone the way of cure chairs and sputum cups? Are performance tights in such demand because everyone’s involved in hardcore winter sports? Hell, no!

I suspect it’s because the performance skivs have become the current weapon of choice due to their aesthetics more than anything else. We live in The Designer Age. Price and utility are less important than fashion. And it seems to have infested all our realms. Put a designer label on something, anything, jack the price through the roof, and The Great Putzoisoie will get in line and go into hock for it.

You want a perfect example? How about eyeglasses?

I always thought their purpose was to help you see clearly. Oh, silly me.

Slap a tiny Gucci label on a pair of those suckers, and you can charge as much as I paid for my first three cars — combined.

And will those Gucci peepers help you see any better? Of course not. But they’ll sure help you be seen better, which is their purpose in the first place.

This thinking is even more ridiculous when applied to long johns, which can’t be seen. But I think the principle’s the same. The designer long johns are The New Kid in School. And just like TNKIS, they get all the attention … and buying.

My kind of long johns, on the other hand, are as outre as it gets. They’re the country cousin from the wrong side of the tracks. They’re the poor relatives from Jeeterville, with yellow eyes, marginal IQs, a huge brood of dirty ragamuffins, and a front yard filled with cars on blocks and rusted appliances.

While designer skivs positively ooze upscale, urbane cachet, the old timers reek of inbreeding, gun feuds and flea-bitten mongrels snarling and snapping at friend and foe alike.

The bitter end

So what did I do, in the face of this unstoppable onslaught by the fancy-shmancy?

I did the last thing I wanted to do, but the only thing I could — I ordered four pairs of cotton/polys online. Whose grand total, I might add, came to less than one pair of their oh-so-tony, upscale equivalent.

And now where does that leave me?

First and foremost, all set to get through fall and winter in perfect comfort, both thermally and financially.

And second, since I’m still convinced that the long john market as an indicator of societal collapse, it means that our society as we know it, is not merely doomed — it’s damned.