Don't Gentleman Me
by James Killough
Never one to be terribly quick on the uptake, I needed time to think about Tom Ford’s “five easy lessons in how to be a modern gentleman” from Another Magazine, which went surprising viral, namely because of the silliness of the fifth lesson about flip-flops and shorts in the city. Ford is described in Another as a “fashion powerhouse, film mogul and old school romantic.” I have decided that the second descriptor, “film mogul,” is tongue-in-cheek, although knowing the fashion press as well as I do, whoever wrote that is either sucking up to Ford or actually believes that because Ford’s one and only film was so well styled and shot it has somehow propelled the designer to the top of the film business.
I was pleasantly surprised by A Single Man. No, pleasantly is too mild and a cliché. I was staggered by how good it was. Everyone in the Biz had been following Ford’s misadventures trying to get it made with not a small amount of schadenfreude. How dareth the designing fagelah wander into our rarified climes?
I know both the film business and the fashion world intimately, and there is no question as to which is the more difficult to succeed in. Fashion people are continuously astounded at how long it takes to make a feature film: nine years on average, no matter who you are. Even the humblest designer working in some storefront in Williamsburg would have churned out at least eighteen collections by then. What needs to be taken into account is production on one entire collection costs less than a single day’s shoot on an indie feature film.
Ford languished in development hell out here in Los Angeles for a while with that project, despite the best connections possible in the film business. I don’t know the financing details, but I imagine that at the end of the day he put in a fair amount of his own money to make it happen, a risk that is considered a major no-no: if nobody else will give you money to make your film, don’t put in your own. But Ford’s risk paid off, probably handsomely, and when I saw the results my schadenfreude dissolved into genuine admiration. The man has serious talent.
A Single Man spoke to me in particular because I am a Ghey Of A Certain Age, meaning Colin Firth’s age in the film. The young man I saw it with I was sorta-kinda-not-really dating while on a hiatus from yet another young man over whom I was twisting myself into a salty pretzel knot, which is to say that I sat there squirming, trying not to take the film personally (A Single Man is about gay inter-generational relationships).
I’m not altogether sure about Ford’s upbringing, I’m sure it was perfectly nice. He was born in Austin, Texas and raised in Santa Fe, NM. He is indeed an “old-school romantic” in his portrayal of the modern gentleman, and that’s not a bad thing. Ford has lived enough of his life by now among the class that produces gentlemen to know the intricacies.
I was raised to be a bourgeois gentilhomme and have done my best to scrub off a lot of the pretentions of my social background. For better or worse, many of those mannerisms are as indelible as the plentiful tattoos on my body, which I have had applied to myself as part of that scrubbing.
“You know why you piss people off?” my supervisor in corporate communications at Citibank once said to me. I shook my head. “Because whenever you open your mouth, you reek of wealth and privilege.” I shrugged, sighed and wondered what my severance package was going to be.
Tone of voice is one thing I can’t mask, I can’t scrub away. I sound like Orson Welles doing an impression of Kelsey Grammer.
Having put forth my credentials as gentleman analyst, or at the very least an authority-by-birth on gentlemanly things, let’s take a look at Tom Ford’s five lessons:
1. You should put on the best version of yourself when you go out in the world because that is a show of respect to the other people around you. I’m not sure why putting the best version forward of yourself equates to respecting other people. In fact, it makes absolutely no sense. Sounds like an overt manifestation of Narcissism Personality Disorder to me, or maybe even Histrionic Personality Disorder: “Look at me! I’m so fabulous and look amazing out of respect for you! And I smell delicious as well, so you know just how special you are.””
As a former actor, Tom Ford is a performer. He is physically well favored and clearly has the wardrobe of death. His gentlemanly demeanor must also be something of a performance; I have only grazed by him socially, but I have it on good authority that when he gets drunk, which is often, he is a nightmare and something less than a gentleman. In vino veritas, Tom. Tuttle and I like to tipple every once in a while, and we have teasingly caustic tongues both sober and not, but we just get smiley and woozy, a bit droopy. There’s no mouthing off and belligerence, with which apparently Ford is seriously afflicted. Being a gentleman is in your soul, Tom. As my former supervisor noted, it’s in my very breath, whether it’s freshly minty in the morning or so booze-fumed you can’t light a match near it for fear of Kuwait 1991. You never lose composure, or respect for others. Gentleman is not a performance or a look.
2. A gentleman today has to work. People who do not work are so boring and are usually bored. You have to be passionate, you have to be engaged and you have to be contributing to the world. I don’t know about gentlemen in Texas and New Mexico, but gentlemen from the Northeastern establishment have always worked. We are Americans, not European aristocrats. Not having a job is un-American, shows a lack of the Protestant Work Ethic, and is therefore un-patrician. Aside from that, properly speaking a gentleman is from the middle classes, I believe. Or maybe I’m wrong and that’s just my opinion; I’m not going to Google it because this is my blog and if you disagree, leave a comment and maybe I’ll approve it and allow it up. In any event, there is nothing modern about having a job. Even Ralph Lauren has a better understanding of what a gentleman does, sheesh.
3. Manners are very important and actually knowing when things are appropriate. I always open doors for women, I carry their coat, I make sure that they’re walking on the inside of the street. Stand up when people arrive at and leave the dinner table. ”Manners maketh man,” it’s true. But manners and mannerisms only decorate the outside of a person. They can easily be learned. I am pretty sure I am one of the few men who still walks on the outside of a woman on the street, because I am a native New Yorker and I can still feel my mother’s hand on the collar of my jacket yanking me to walk on the curb side when I was a kid. It is for practical reasons because when it is wet or slushy in a city like New York (not, I imagine, Austin or Santa Fe) with those cabs whooshing by like ten-year-olds doing cannonballs off a diving board, you should shield the woman with whom you are walking. Again, true manners should be innate, not an accessory that goes better with the tropical-weight wool suit. And if the restaurant is too crowded and there are a lot of people at the table, all of that getting up and sitting down is ridiculous, like group “pop goes the weasel.” Don’t listen to him. Only do it when you’re in a small group, no more than four.
4. Don’t be pretentious or racist or sexist or judge people by their background. Well, I guess I’ve judged Ford by his background, so there you go: I’m fucked as a gentleman. Toldja!
5. A man should never wear shorts in the city. Flip-flops and shorts in the city are never appropriate. Shorts should only be worn on the tennis court or on the beach. I do not wear a suit to the gym. If the weather is hot, I will wear my gym shorts in the city, to the gym and on any errands I might have on the way there and back, including lunch in a deli or pizza parlor. And in L.A., it would be foolish not to dress as lightly as possible; I think it was in the 90s today. If you’re going to a meeting or to that formerly un-gentlemanly job you have, obviously you shouldn’t wear shorts. This last flip-flop/shorts bit, which has caused so much justified derision around the internet, is an old-school city etiquette thing circa Emily Post. It should be common sense when to wear shorts. I used to wear suits with flip-flops out at night in the late 80s. I thought I looked great, radical chic; a $3,000 Matsuda suit with $10 plastic flip-flops. But I guess I’m not Ford’s idea of a gentleman. Thankfully.
The last time someone told me I wasn’t a gentleman was the Gargoyle Granucci during the settlement hearing, when the Wicked Blais took me to court. “If you were a gentleman, you would have paid your rent on time,” sputtered the Gargoyle, to her attorney’s dismay. For readers just catching up, my landlady, the Wicked Blais, tried to evict me because I was four days late with rent I thought was due by the fifth of the month. Yes, it was a personal thing; I was very friendly with the building manager she fired, and that hatred was transferred to me. The American Gargoyle in question, Anna Granucci, was her henchman. I snorted with laughter when she said that; hauling someone up for not being a gentleman is always the weakest attack, but considering their case turned out to be so flimsy, it’s not surprising they resorted to the most shopworn ad hominems.
Yes, I am finally free of the Wicked Blais. Moving day was yesterday. Like Kafka’s Gregor Samsa I awoke in the morning to find myself transformed into fifty fat black divas in choir robes belting, “Oh, happy day!” I kid you not. Dig this: the Wicked Blais also took Corey, the phone-booth musician who lived in the studio across the way from mine, to court. But the night before his trial, the power cut in the building, as it does several times a night like in a third-world country, and Corey’s alarm reset and didn’t go off, so he missed his court day. The irony of it: you withhold rent because of the shitty conditions, but the shitty conditions make you lose by default.
Well, good-bye to all of that. I feel lighter already. It really was the Black Meth Gingerbread Shithole of Cahuenga. I shall never rent with my dick again.