Rags to Rags

By: Marcelo Báez

Last week, while visiting my parents in Northern California, I went out to meet some friends at a bar. Upon returning to my old home, I walked into the guest room, aka my teenage bedroom, and noticed a wad of cash sitting on top of the nightstand. No one else was staying in that room, so I started wondering if the money was a gift from the gray-hair fairy, a lesser-known sibling of the tooth fairy which only shows up if you believe. (I have sexual fantasies about strange creatures breaking into my bedroom at night, so I definitely qualify.) Then I remembered that, during the summer, my mother occasionally takes naps in my old room because it’s situated directly across from an A/C vent.

“This must be Mother’s money,” I concluded before passing out.

The next day I woke up, brewed coffee and drank it in the living room while reading a stack of Mexican gossip rags, an old hobby of mine. I’d forgotten all about the mysterious pile of currency until my mother brought it up.

“You should put your money away,” she said.

“Uh, what money?” I replied.

“The money on the nightstand. You should put it away,” she insisted.

“It’s not mine, Mom. In fact, isn’t it your money?”

Somewhat dramatically, my mother sat next to me before sharply stating: “No. It’s yours. It’s a gift from your father. He says you’re broke. Are you broke? Either way, you should put it away.”

I was left feeling perplexed. Although it’s an ugly shoebox, I can comfortably afford my apartment in Manhattan while occasionally doing things like traveling and dining out. I don’t live in luxury, mind you, but I’m also not dumpster-diving like a crusty punk behind a Starbucks café after hours. My father’s odd assumption felt even more out of place because my parents also live modestly, so it’s not like my finances are overly disproportional to theirs.

“Eh, broke? What are you talking about?!” I retorted.

With a very serious, worried look my mother serenely stated: “Yeah, well, you’re always wearing the same clothes, and they’re old, tattered, full of holes.” I laughed, then realized that my mother’s “care packages,” a medium-size box full of ugly clothes and cooking utensils which she sends my way every other month, were not the kind of thoughtful gifts one occasionally buys for a loved one, but—at least in her mind—full-fledged provisions.

Now, when I call my mom’s clothing picks “ugly,” you’re probably assuming I’m some sort of snob, but no: her choices really are ugly. To give you an example, one of her last packages contained a shirt with a picture of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson—whom my non-English-speaking mother knows nothing about—screenprinted on the front.

But my mother is right: most of my clothes are decrepit rags. My favorite boots, which I’ve owned for over eight years, probably wouldn’t be worn by any self-respecting homeless person. I can almost hear you, dear reader, grunting: “It must be his gross hipster aesthetic.” Perhaps, maybe, but not entirely. I’ll explain: as a kid, when my parents first moved to the states, they hardly had any money, so most of the clothes I was dressed in were second hand or hand-me-downs. Then, when I was a teenager, I worked at Goodwill for years. Am I insinuating that there’s some sort of psychological connection when it comes to my used clothing preference? That said clothing provides me with a certain type of comfort? Not entirely. But perhaps, maybe.

I don’t have an aversion to new items—and I do, in fact, own one nice suit—but I understand why my fashion sense baffles my parents. To them, because they used to be dirt-poor immigrants, it makes no sense as to why a person who’s been living “in the land of opportunity” for so long (25 years, in my case) is still dressing like they just got off the boat in Ellis Island circa 1900. Hilariously, when I tried explaining to my mother why my threads were a conscious fashion choice, and that it’s a “look” certain people actually favor, she snapped back: “I get young people’s ‘fashion trends’, but what you wear is no trend! I mean, I wouldn’t scrub the outside of your dad’s work truck with your clothes.”

Ouch, Mom.

Marcelo Baéz is a writer, DJ, and musician based in NYC. When he's not producing "Rico Suave" parties, he releases music under P3CULIAR.