Alice Campbell Roman, 12/17/2018
Current Occupation: Writer
Former Occupation: Writer
Contact Information: Alice Campbell Romano worked in Italy as a translator of movie scripts; in California for RAND; for MCA-Universal on both coasts, and for the company her husband founded to distribute television shows around the world. In each job, Alice wrote whatever was required, using words to the greater glory of others. Nice work, but with children grown, Alice enjoys writing her own material, at last. Poems will shortly appear in Atlanta Review, Thema, Mudfish Journal, and did recently in Antiphon, Front Porch Review, plus a short story in Dreamers Writing.
We met the young woman and her husband, and another young couple — their very good friends — and the baby sons each couple handed off, husband to wife, wife to husband — babies under two who never squawked during the whole time my Italian husband and I shared a lunchtime picnic table outside a brewery in Peekskill, New York. Both couples had grandparents who grew up in tiny villages in southern Italy where they worked vineyards and grew “the most delicious tomatoes and basil you ever ate.”
Eventually, we talked about the young people’s work. One of the mothers had just come back from California. She said she’s in denim now; before, she was in shoes. She travelled to California to check on the manufacture of her company’s denim jeans—in California. And, all the denim is made in the United States too, but before you stand up and cheer — she volunteered as she stroked her baby’s firm little arm — the processes to age the denim, the multiple washings and chemicals to stain the jeans — are really not that good for the environment.
Does your company make, I asked, the torn jeans, the jeans that cost hundreds of dollars, that are stained and shredded to appear that the wearer had worked in them hard years? We do, she said, and I wear them too. She stood, all two pounds of her — of course she’s “in fashion” and so must be thin — to show us her thin legs in pure white jeans (nice change), with ragged holes covered by only the tortured-out weft of the fabric — rough strings.
I couldn’t say, gosh, you look great in your fashionable ripped jeans. I didn’t say, at least they’re not stained by fake spills of crank oil. But if they’re so pure white, I wondered, what’s the fiction that tore those holes in the knees and on the upper backs of her vulnerable thighs?
I’m afraid I became politely belligerent. Let the woman who buys such jeans from a Fifth Avenue store put them on before your company treats them, go out into the fields and kneel on the ground to pick strawberries, let her pitchfork and bale hay, cull weeds from row after row after row of kale, rake muck, stuff bleeding meat products into packages; and then see what the jeans look like. To wear those fake jeans is an insult, I said; it’s wrong for a woman with too much money to imitate a laborer who can’t afford a new pair of regular jeans.
And what about the workers in your company’s factory who abuse newly-minted jeans to make them look like the battered work pants their own family members abused the old-fashioned way? How do those factory workers feel — at factory wage — making skinny rich women look like fools?
What about the dirt under nails of your own grandparents? But I didn’t go that far. I was polite, and I played with the babies; rather, I let them play with my glasses case, my straw hat, garnered their sweet, four-toothed smiles. I pleased their mothers and their fathers.
Then one of the fathers said, yes, I know. I worked on a farm all during my teens. And summers home from college. You should have seen my jeans. My mom washed them on Sundays — they hung on the outside line, flapping dry. I know what it’s like to get dirty working.
And then, the young mother who worked for the denim company said to me, “You know, you’re right about one thing. Fashionistas are not buying these distressed jeans as much. They’re asking for solid denims. It’s the up and coming trend. You’ll see less of these around.” She flicked her hand toward her pantlegs. She took her son back from his daddy. She kissed his soft, almost invisible, hair.
“Good,” I said. “We enjoyed meeting you all. You have happy babies.” And my husband and I left the picnic table to head back to our old-fashioned home.