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In sixth grade, I was Tom Cruise. Five days a week, weather permitting, I was Tom Cruise. Between 8 am and 8:15 am, or as long as it took me to walk to school, I was Tom Cruise.

I wasn’t trying to be a fighter pilot; this wasn’t about a boyhood aspiration. My Tom Cruise moments weren’t even about pretending to engage a flurry of befuddled MIGs, and I didn’t imagine myself in the kind of dogfight where the ground and sky zap into a single blur. No. It was simply about being and feeling cool, Tom Cruise Cool. My experience on those walks to school was a sixth-grade, approximated version of the feeling that followed the heinous dogfight, came after the aircraft carrier landing, after the cockpit high five. It was a taste of the coolness that was a fortunate symptom of being a fighter pilot. As far as I was concerned, this version of me radiated an aura identical to the one Maverick projected as he rode his crotch rocket into the fiery Jerry Bruckheimer sunset, knowing all the while that he was a complete badass.

Careful, Charlie. You might get burned by the cool. (He even looks like me.)

I didn’t even walk to school; I floated an inch above the ground accompanied by my own bass-heavy theme music.

This was my sixth grade cool.

Mom and Dad bought me the jacket for Christmas. It was a classic bomber jacket from Burlington Coat Factory made with fake leather, adorned with fake military patches, and finished off with a fake fur collar. But it was the sweetest thing I’d ever worn. It still might be. I mean, I slid my arms into those sleeves and my biceps grew, my mind a flutter with memories of hard battles, carbon-stained teeth, and the women who helped me clean them. I’m pretty sure that jacket accelerated puberty. It was wearable testosterone.

There were also the accoutrements of my Tom Cruise Cool. Hair gel—I used enough to choke an Iceman. Combed it down into a nice clean part, the comb leaving evenly spaced rows in my hair like striations on the barrel of a gun. You’ve got to wear jeans with a bomber jacket, which I did, or a sweet pair of camo green cargo shorts, just in case a tactical situation arose. Never knew when I might need a bunch of pockets. Finally, since naval aviators didn’t eat breakfast, neither did I. I was much cooler with an empty stomach.

L.A. Looks: The gold standard in aviator hair products.

You’d think that glasses would have been a necessary piece, a nice mirrored pair of aviators. But I was smarter than that. After all, how would my flock of female admirers see into my hardened, yet benevolent soul if they looked into my face and only saw their own reflection? Thanks, but I’ll leave the glasses at home. In doing this, I even out-badassed Maverick.

During a walk that spanned a single Strasburg block, I was the guy.

Authentic cool.

Sixth grade was when coolness started to take shape, when I knew the feeling and could name it and understood what it meant for me—confidence, rightness with the world. In many ways, cool is and has always been comfort. I was a twitchy goober in sixth grade, but those walks to school allowed me the comfort of being less goobery for about fifteen minutes.

The feeling of cool is an important one, so are its cousins: phat, groovy, funky, happening, fly, chic. And we all have our own bomber jacket, our own artifacts that catalyze the emergence of cool or uncover the personal phatness residing always somewhere inside. Those artifacts, if only for a little while, help us to brush aside airport lines, bills, empty gas tanks, debt crises, poor cell reception, and chirpy Starbucks baristas, with a feeling of… cool. For some, maybe it’s the sound of a basketball that triggers the memory of the time in high school they scored at the buzzer the feeling of which generates a moment of crowd-cheering cool. Someone else might feel their cool creep in as a hip-hop drumbeat reaches their ear. Even the still-goobery thirty-something me feels a tickle of cool at the memory of that jacket.

What awakens your cool?

-MC J Light

P.S. The quirk of my cool is this: it’s often tied to movie character types that I imagine as very cool. I have never been these characters, but I have felt their particular brand of cool.

The Guy Who Knows the Band – This is the guy who has the pull to get backstage. He may not have the musical aptitude to be in the band, but he’s the guy all the band members with they were. He is, in a sense, the wind beneath the band’s wings. His traits include; street smarts, shrewd business sense, and music industry pull.

The Cowpoke – This guy shares drinking water with his horse. Happy on the open plains with nothing more than a harmonica and the soreness from riding all day. His traits include: really good at chewing toothpicks, believes the saloon girls deserve more respect than they get, tough but only when provoked, happily eats beans and cornbread.

The Kung Fu Master – Similar temperament to that of The Cowpoke, quiet, compelled toward the way of peace, speaks in nature-centric metaphors. Traits: Good posture, baggy clothes, wiry, makes would-be aggressors look stupid without laying a hand on them.

The Guy Who Girls Find Undeniably Cute but Won’t Approach Because They Think He’s Out of Their League Even Though He’s Actually Pretty Down to Earth – No explanation necessary.

Others: The Sports Star, The Werewolf Sports Star, The Comedian, The Rap Star, The High-Powered Lawyer, and The Mountain Man.

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