When Most People Are Non-Conformist, Being A Conformist Makes You A Non-Conformist

I was going to wear a tie, or at least a vest, to the bar tonight, but I didn’t want to have to explain myself, or suffer the hatred of strangers. I wore a tie and vest to Footsies a few months ago and it wasn’t a big deal because people know me, but a couple of us ventured over to Whiskey Pickle and I caught some twenty-something white kid giving an exasperated, disgusted look to his friend when the friend asked me a question, as though to say “ew come on I don’t want to have to talk to this guy.” I was, of course, the only person with a tie on in the establishment, and possibly the only male with buttons on his shirt, or who had used a razor to form straight lines around the edges of his beard.

I might have expected to stand out, in a tie, in a place like Whiskey Pickle, which has a kind of dark, grundge-looking-but-expensive atmosphere, or Footsies, which is the second-to-last-place you go out on a weekend evening. But I am now writing at Emry’s Garden in Troy, which is a restaurant with paintings on the wall and plants and flowers and candles; it is a date place. It is 8:51, the place is at 75% capacity, and had I worn I tie, I would’ve been the only male with a tie on. If I go to Ryan’s Wake, which is maybe the quintessential corner for classist conformity in Troy (see my blog about going to Ryan’s and feeling like I was having a Martini at a mannequin factory) I also had drunk dudes coming up to me apropos of nothing to yell-ask me why I’m “so dressed up” and if I was at a wedding.

I would venture a guess that if I went bar hopping in a tie in Troy this busy Friday evening, I would be the only man in a tie though I stopped into five “it” bars and thereby shared a room with over 1,000 people over the course of the evening.

Which is fine, styles change. Bell bottoms are popular again, having fallen out of style since 1996 when they were popular for two years, after having first been popular in the 60s. Those gigantic pants that are like tents instead of pant legs are popular again, as are mom jeans. The popular glasses right now have frames that my grandmother or grandfather would have worn in the late 1980s.

But there is something different about wearing a tie. It’s why ties are required to step onto the Floor of most state and national legislatures if you are male. It is why events are described as “black tie affairs.” Ties are wrapped up in the idea conforming.

I love the pictures from, say, pre-1965 of a family standing in a grocery store parking lot, and the man and son have a tie and the woman and daughter have dresses and heels. I’m sure there are people who despise those pictures. What they unpack from those pictures differs from what I unpack from those pictures. I identify with the father in the pictures and imagine how lovely it would be if “success” in life meant that I had a family and wore a tie to go to the grocery store, played in the bowling league on Thursday nights, and got along with the other fellas at the factory where I worked. That is an inclusive view of conformity. Others see the same picture and think of the reasons why they do not look like the people in the picture…they are the wrong race, or the wrong class, or the wrong gender, they imagine. And so, they think, fuck the people in the picture and fuck what they are wearing. They have an exclusive view of conformity.

An inclusive view of conformity, in my opinion, is one that has positive associations with society, crowds, the majority, democracy, numbers, tradition, repeated-experiences. An inclusive view of conformity welcomes anyone into the group who professes to share the values of the group. An easy way to profess to share the values of the majority is to dress like everyone else dresses. Since there have been many different kinds of shirts, shoes, pants and hats over the years, wearing-a-tie became the most obvious “badge” of conformity.

An exclusive view of conformity is one that has negative associations with society, crowds, the majority, democracy, numbers, tradition, and does not want to repeat experiences. An exclusive view of conformity is associated with self-identifying as outside-of-the-group, and, for one reason or another, the inability to become a part of the group. Because our very lives depend on feeling like we are a part of a group, a person with an exclusive view of conformity will try to join a minority group outside of the majority group from which they feel they are involuntarily excluded (alienated). They will therefore advertise that they are not part of the majority group, in order to attract others who are similarly alienated. One way to do that has historically been not to wear a tie…the symbol of membership in the majority. Then 60 years ago people began to advertise their rejection of the majority group more colorfully, with bell bottoms, miniskirts, flowers in the hair, bra burning, long hair for men and shaved heads for women, drag, intentionally being unkempt. In the 80s that presented as punk, and that became goth, and at some point excluded groups made up a greater percentage of the population than the supposed majority. And at that point—since everyone wants to be a part of a group—it became easier to advertise that one was part of the “in” crowd by dressing as a non-conformist, than a conformist. Which is like saying, in order to conform, one must now advertise how much they despise conformity.

It’s not so hard to understand. The most uncool thing is to try to be cool. Once you try to be cool, you’re not cool. So if your objective is to be cool, the most important thing is not to try.

This phenomenon first occurred to me about ten years ago when I was walking to work on a sunny Tuesday morning. I walked down Willet Street in Albany to State Street, and from there it was a straight shot, five blocks to the Capitol, where I worked. I was wearing a suit and tie, because it was a Session Day and I would have to go onto the Floor of the Assembly to assist with debates. A block ahead of me as I walked, I heard someone shout-singing. It was a black man around 35, shout-rapping off-key, and I couldn’t understand the words he was saying. He was walking with exaggerated movements as though mixing dancing and walking, gesticulating. His pants hung low, and he had a baggy shirt and red cap angled back and to the right. It was 8 am and my first thought was,

”Does this guy actually think he sounds good? That people are waking up and want to hear him shouting vulgarities through their open window?”

At the intersection of Lark and State, the man walked in front of traffic, not increasing his pace as the light turned green and dozens of commuters had to wait and tap their steering wheels as he casually ambled out of traffic, singing to the sky, ensuring that at least six or eight cars that would have made it through the green light had to wait through another red light before they could go.

“And doesn’t that guy realize how cliche he is being? Like, he is totally reinforcing the stereotype about black men with everything that he is doing this morning!” I thought to myself.

And then, maybe a block further, it clicked for me:

”That is the point!” I thought, “This man is intentionally flaunting that he is not a part of society. That is his schtick. Whatever circumstances led to him being alive this morning have led him to conclude that he will never be accepted as a member of majority society. Membership in majority society is predicated on being polite to other people—not speaking loudly outside another person’s window in the morning; quickening one’s pace when one is in the way of someone else; dressing in an inoffensive fashion (which includes at one extreme wearing-a-tie and at a minimum not-showing-one’s-underwear-as-their-pants-are-falling-off-on-a-public-sidewalk).”

That is when the high school microcosm of society occurred to me and I started thinking about “the goth kids”. In high school—I don’t know about everyone else but I thought—there is a huge pressure to conform to the elite group. There is a phenomenon called “popularity” which is highly correlated with “having money” because it is even more highly correlated with “physical attractiveness” and physical attractiveness includes “wearing cool clothes” and having nice teeth and skin and those things take money. If your caregivers can’t afford cool clothes, dermatologists and orthodontists and their durable medical equipment, or you are physically not an Adonis or Aphrodite, then you get emphatically excluded from the popular group. The best you can hope for is to be tolerated or patronized by popular kids before you are cast off into space without a tether. Which is almost as intolerable analogically as it would be literally. And just as, if you were floating in space without a tether, farther and farther from safety, you would accept the hand of any helper no matter how popular or cool they are, just so in society, when you are alienated and ostracized, you will accept the haven offered by any group, including one which has founded its membership upon having-been-also-previously-rejected-by-the-popular-kids. And, as stated above, in order to be accepted into your new group, you will signify your membership, which in this case means dressing emphatically opposite of the majority group (at a minimum no tie, at the other extreme dressing like a goth and adopting face tattoos, radical surgery to make your tongue forked or to remove organs, etc).

“The unexamined life is not worth living,” Socrates said. Most people do not adhere to that advice, and seldom examine their lives and thought processes and the karma that results from their habits. And so they harden into whatever character they had around 18 or 20 years old. “One’s ‘character’ is how one is likely to act in any particular situation,” Aristotle said. So most people, having not been cool (because a majority can never be cool; the main thing about “cool” is that it is constantly fleeting) distill into adults who weren’t “cool” in high school and who therefore identify as minority groups (even if they are white, male, straight, etc) and therefore adopt the signifiers of outside-group status. The majority of adults today, in other words, think of themselves as not-majority members of society. They signify their not-majority status by non-conformative clothing, speech, points of view. So we have this absurd situation where everyone, in order appear cool—in order to have the acceptance of others—must adopt a way of dressing and talking and opinionating which is opposite of some pretended majority which no longer exists.

And then I wear a tie on a Friday night, and become the symbol of the “majority”, the way a lightning rod attracts lightning, which is why the kid at Whiskey Pickle made the disgusted look when his friend asked me a question.

So here is why I am a non-conformist. I am listening to a drunk guy talk to another guy and he is being super loud and annoying. He has frizzy hair back in a bun and a beard and a black tee shirt and he is a bit overweight. He is white and male, but other than that he does not conform to the stereotype of Majority/hegemony/etc. He is yelling at the bartender saying “WE’VE MET LIKE FOUR TIMES!” He is The Average Guy These Days. And I despise him. He is disrespectful to everyone else who has to listen to him shouting. He is annoying to the female bartender entertaining him. I identify as his antithesis. To advertise that I am not like him I dress opposite to him. Dressing as a punk or a goth is not opposite to him, it is close to him on a spectrum. The only way to dress opposite of the average guy, nowadays, is to wear a tie. Because ties used to symbolize conformity, and still do kind of, but now everyone is a non-conformist, which I means if you want to conform, you must be a non-conformist, and I don’t want to, so I’ll dress like a conformist to illustrate my non-conformity.



How To Fiberglass (With Pictures)

My friend Kerry asked how do you fiberglass? I tried to explain in a facebook comment but, for those folks who are interested in a real answer, a bit longer of a post and pictures are required.

Fiberglassing, as a process, requires a fabric (the fiberglass) and a liquid (“epoxy”). Epoxy is a chemical that looks like maple syrup and hardens into plastic, like Tupperware.

Note: there are all kinds of uses for epoxy besides fiberglassing. My friend Bernie made me coasters from “epoxy pours” on top of flower petals.  I have four pieces are artwork in my parlor from Brittany and Julie made from dripping epoxy colored with pigment onto a canvass (or maybe they pour paint onto a canvass and then cover it with clear epoxy).

The utility of epoxy comes from the fact that it starts in a liquid phase and then, after mixing it with a “hardener”—another liquid shipped and stored in a separate bottle—it hardens into a solid. That allows you to pour the epoxy or paint with it in liquid form, and when it hardens it becomes a super strong material.

How strong? If you take two 2X4s and paint the tips of them with epoxy and stick them together, and let the epoxy cure, it will stick the 2X4s together and then if you try to smash the 2X4s they will break anywhere along the wood before breaking where they have been attached by the epoxy. Because the epoxy soaks into the fibers of the wood itself and turns the wood into a plastic.

Some bar tops have a hard, clear sheen to them, overtop of chemically-tinted copper, or wood or even pennies. The sheen comes from mixing a gallon of epoxy with a few ounces of hardener and then pouring it over the copper, wood, pennies, etc and letting it harden into a plastic not unlike plexiglass. El Loco has a bar top like that.

Above is “resin” and “hardener” from West System, a manufacturer of epoxy that began operations in the late 1960s, I believe, when fiberglassing was starting to become a thing. What I like about West System is that it comes with pumps that make it easy to mix because they measure out each thrust of the pump in an exact ratio for mixing. It is super important to mix the resin and hardener in EXACT proportions. Over the years I have mixed wrong and ended up hardening a $100 gallon of resin in the can because I put too much hardener in. Sometimes you literally have to use an eye dropper to mix the exact amount of hardener by ml or cc.

The thing about epoxy is that once you mix the hardener into it, you have a very short window that it remains liquid, called its “pot life.” Generally, at 72 degrees Fahrenheit, once you mix the hardener into the resin you have 2 hours to work with it. At 62 degrees you have 4 hours; at 82 degrees you have 1 hour; at 92 degrees you have 30 minutes, etc. Again, I lost over $100 per gallon cans of resin when trying to work with the stuff in the winter by heating up the resin on a hot plate before mixing the hardener in, and then—whoops, I must have heated it to 112 degrees because it hardened in 7 minutes, before I’d applied 1/25th of the stuff to the boat I was trying to water seal.

Another thing to keep in mind is that epoxy-creation is an “exothermic” reaction— as it happens, it gives off heat. Since it hardens more quickly the hotter it is, and also gives off heat as it hardens, it is likely to undergo a cascade reaction the larger the quantity of mixed material. In practice, if you mix hardener and resin and want to extend it’s pot life, you can stick the container in an ice bath (lowering its temperature through convection) or you can spread it out into a pan or film, delaying the cascade (self heating) chain reaction because the heat given off will be convected into the atmosphere rather than back into the epoxy where it would further speed the hardening process.

The first thing I did on my boat was to paint the entire bottom with epoxy to make it waterproof. In the old days (1970 through ancient history) wooden boats would be placed in water for a day, and they would leak, and then the water would be pumped out, and the boat would be waterproof because the wood had expanded via absorption to close small cracks. That only works if you can leave a boat in the water for more than a day. If you trailer an old wooden boat like mine, it dries out every time you take it out of the water and then leaks every time you put it in. Fiberglass boats don’t have that problem because they present a solid plastic shell to the water. Coating the bottom of the boat with epoxy fills small cracks and provides a much stronger protection from punctures. The epoxy soaks into the wood and turns it into a plastic.

Somewhat hard to tell but I have gone over the seams of the bottom of the boat with epoxy, which is kind of like painting with polyurethane. That won’t fill gaps, because the viscosity of the epoxy is water-like. To fill gaps requires the use of “fairing compound” which is a two-part compound (epoxy) which has stuff mixed with it to make it fill a greater volume of space (fill cracks) at the cost of strength. You mix the fairing compound from two containers which each have a Playdough consistency into a “peanut butter” consistency. (Yes, peanut butter consistency is the industry term for what you are aiming for as you mix the two products.)


The thing about the fairing compound is that it fills cracks. It’s like plaster or spackle when you’re doing woodwork. You can get close enough with your measurements and cutting and then fill the gaps and sand it after you’re done, as long as you are painting it. Same with fairing compound. Unlike epoxy it is easily sandable. Then you end up with a smooth surface. Make sure you coat that with more epoxy so it is waterproof and hard. Then you can fiberglass or paint. This is how people make pontoons — they take foam, cut it, fill in gaps with fairing compound and sand it until the whole shape is smooth to hands and eyes, and then they can finish with fiberglass.

Fiberglass itself is a fabric which looks like wedding dress material.

You buy it by thickness and weave pattern. The thicker it is, the more $100 per gallon epoxy it takes to “wet it out”. The different weave patterns flex and stretch to fit shapes more effectively and in ways that create more strength. I can’t remember exactly because this fiberglass was left over from a boat project from around 2012 but I think it is an 8 oz sheet with standard weave that makes a chris-cross pattern. I laid it over the boat as best as I could, taping down sides so it wouldn’t blow away and trying to create as few wrinkles as possible.

Once the fiberglass sheet is laid out, the only thing left to do is to wet it out with mixed epoxy. But that’s where the art and skill really come into play. You want to mix the epoxy in small enough quantities that it doesn’t harden in the pot. Even if you do that, it still eats about one foam paint roller every twenty minutes, so you’ll go through a lot and there is no way around it because the foam crumbles away leaving you with only the metal paint roller spine.

When finished, the epoxy turns the white fiberglass transparent, as long as you have used enough epoxy to wet out all of the fibers. Sometimes the underlying wood can suck up all the epoxy and leave a cloudy appearance. That’s why I coated the wood with epoxy and let it cure before I put the fiberglass on with another coat of epoxy.

Then you have to go around and 1) cut off all the fabric they you did not coat with epoxy and 2) use a utility knife/box cutter to cut out any wrinkles which hardened into the shape. It is impossible to avoid wrinkles in “complex” shapes that curve in two directions.

Then you have a shape which has been coated with fiberglass but it is no longer smooth because you have cut off wrinkles and there are ends of the fiberglass sheet that are not sealed. So you have to use more fairing compound to fill those gaps, and then sand that fairing compound after it has hardened after 2 hours, and then coat the spots with the fairing compound with epoxy.

At that point, you just repeat the last few steps, coating with fiberglass, letting it cure, cutting wrinkles, filling with fairing compound, sanding, coating with fiberglass, etc, until you have reached the desired thickness and firmness you are looking for.

On a boat you also have to coat the final product with a “gel coat” which is a two part epoxy paint—basically epoxy with pigment in it—although I don’t know why that is. Here is the bottom of the boat after the fiberglassing and with a coat of gel coat:

And lastly I coated the bottom of the boat with the same green “anti-fouling” paint (which somehow dissuades little mollusks from attaching to the underside of your boat) that the boat had when I bought her.

I almost forgot…there are no more superstitious people than sailors. I think it is related to the phenomena that keeps religion in fox holes. Anyhow my friend Kay came over as I was working on the boat and she was bound and determined to find a four leaf clover, which she did, and I painted it into the bottom of the boat for good luck (above).

That’s fiberglassing! It has a lot of more applications than boat building. Any surface repair job that is not completely flat benefits from epoxy/fiberglass knowledge. It bonds surfaces together more strongly than glue because it doesn’t merely affix surfaces but seeps into them and chemically combines them into the same object.