I wear tropical shirts because God is watching. Now, I know that some people like calling them Hawaiian shirts or Polynesian shirts. I’ve seen tropical shirts in Hawaii. I’ve bought shirts there. But I have also seen them in Belize, Costa Rica, Mexico, California, Florida, and even the Gulf Coast of Texas. And I have seen photos of Fiji and tropical Africa and Australia and the Philippines and plenty of other places where people wear the shirts. So, I say phooey to those who insist on a too narrow Hawaiian label for these shirts. They are tropical shirts. And that is why God is watching.
Sure, I understand that there are differences in the shirts from place to place. Sometimes they are flowered. Other times they are white or brightly colored patterns. But always – do you hear me you naysayers – always they are loose fitting with open collars, made of light natural fabrics. They breathe easily, and above all else, the shirts are comfortable. And God is watching.
Now and again, I even encounter some twit, dim witted enough to refer to the tropical shirt as a flowered shirt. Certainly some are flowered. But this description misses the point entirely. There are long-sleeved, tight fitting, button down collared, and even corduroy flowered shirts. These have nothing whatsoever to do with tropical shirts. They are pretenders - wolves in sheep’s clothing, falsely aspiring the metaphysical status of the true tropical shirt. The shirt of God.
I know that some people doubt the character of those of us who choose the tropical way of shirting ourselves. Beach bums, they think. Perpetual teenagers, longing for a different life. Disrespectful, irresponsible, nonconforming. I see it in their eyes. It is for them – the disparagers - the lost ones - that I write. I write to bring them along in the tropical way. I write to spread the golden, sunny word of the tropical shirt in the way one spreads arms skyward on a perfect beach morning, wearing a true, tropical shirt. I write to broadcast this essential truth. And I write to shut up the loutish comments. "Where’s the beach," and "Hey dude, surf’s up." Up your unsanded arse I say. Without the tropical shirt, what is life to be worth? Without the tropical shirt how can you know the way? And without the tropical shirt, how can God know that you know?
One need not be an anthropologist to understand that we humans parted way with our hairier kin in tropical Africa. Our arboreal primate ancestors were there. There was food and sun and beach and sea. It was a warm, lovely place. Perhaps it was even paradise. No one wanted to leave. On the other hand, Europe was way cold, especially back when we were all naked. No one wanted to be in Europe, or Asia, or the rest. And no one was. No one could even contemplate crossing the North African desert. So, our ancestors came down from the trees and evolved in Africa until they felt ready to deal with the rest of the planet. If there was an Eden, it was in tropical Africa. That is where God would have looked for us. I think God still looks.
In graduate school I watched a film about tribal life in African. Midway through the film, my professor stopped the film and asked, "What of what you see these people using will be left for some future anthropologist to find in a thousand years." Their implements and homes and clothing and the rest, however serviceable, were made from vegetable material. In the hot, damp atmosphere of Tropical Africa the answer was simple. Virtually nothing would be left. Except in God’s eye. Even the first true tropical shirt would be gone and gone on.
Of course, this is why we can’t find the first tropical shirt. It is gone back to the ground. It is in trees and grass and animals and air and Buicks. It has fallen back into the environmental cycle, as it and all should. This, of course, is why true tropical shirts must be made of natural fibers; so that in good time they too can be in the beards of monkeys, and skins of papayas, and gullets of seagulls and lawsuit briefs. The rayon or polyester imposters have no standing in the eye of God or the cycle of the planet. They do not dissolve and instead will remain ten thousand year old scraps of soiled and ruined phony cloth. An ungodly blight on the earth. It is especially wonderful to contemplate the virtual certainty that past tropical shirts, having been reduced to their constituent elements and redigested by a bazillion teeming organisms, return again as new tropical shirts. It is eco-evolutionary tropical reincarnation. And it happens, in good time, with God watching all along.
More than 20 years ago my girlfriend and later wife, Theresa, and I were having problems and went to see a counselor. He always wore sweaters. I don’t know if his therapy ever did us much good, but he did teach me something. He told me that he believed that the biblical accounts of people of great age were true and that when we – humans – could get back on good terms with God, we would again live for a thousand years. I thought he was wacky, but he reminded me of the line from Joni Mitchell’s song, Woodstock..."We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden." Back to Eden. Back to the way God intended it. This counselor got it part right. When we get back to the way of nature, God likes it a lot. But the way is not through dogmatic adherence to religious law. It is not through slavish orthodoxy and ritual. It is by seeing again the true nature of being and finding in our nature that nature. And that, surely, is why God is watching the shirts.
A few years ago, I was shopping for shirts. Generally, I am a frugal man. I do not pay fifty dollars for a shirt. But as I was shopping my eye fell on a shirt that amazed me. Instantly, I dubbed this the God shirt. In this moment of epiphany, as I beheld this holy shirt in it’s loud, dusty pink and floral grandeur, I began to know the deeper truth. The truth about God, and life, and true, and tropical shirts. I paid the fifty bucks. God smiled, I think.
Now, I don’t know just where God is. The universe appears to be an uncommonly large place, and I don’t know how well God can see me or anyone at any given moment. I don’t want God to have trouble seeing me. I’ve been in large crowds and tried to find someone. I’ve been across football fields, or looked at distant sailing boating. I’ve been separated from my party in malls and theme parks. And so I know that it is much easier to find someone in a tropical shirt than in any other kind of shirt. In fact, even if the person I am looking for isn’t wearing a tropical shirt, I have found myself looking for someone who is just because it’s easier. Now, if I am smart enough to figure that out... Well, it is a no brainer for God.
So, that is why I wear tropical shirts. I want God to be able to find me at a moments notice, just in case. And more importantly, I want God to know I remember our tropical beginning. I want God to look down and know that I remember how life is supposed to be. Eden is, I am sure, tropical. Eden is also a state of mind and a state of being. Eden is a tropical shirt.
In the next life, God will have to put up with you forever. Who would you invite to a perpetual, ethereal, party; American Gothic or Jimmy Buffet?