There’s a favorite memory amongst my friends Leyli, Marie and me– a memory about the three of us waiting on a subway platform, and being met by the putrid stinkeyes of a gaggle of stiletto-heeled, shiny-dressed bitches. They were all gussied up (likely for a night of rubbing up against finance-types), while my friends and me looked like the total weirdos that we are. The Stinkeye Crew continued to laser-eye us until Leyli– a true philosophe– broke the palpable tension by stating, “When you know you’re cool, you don’t have to try. Just look at Tom Hanks!”
That’s right, Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks. Star of such cinematic feasts as Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, and Big, but not exactly the epitome of “cool.” Surely Leyli was joking. Marie and I erupted in giggles, but Miss L remained firm in her stance– “Have you seen The Da Vinci Code?! Fine, if not Tom Hanks, then Ron Howard.”
Actually, I have not seen The DaVinci Code, and heard that it was a terrible movie. What was Leyli thinking? When we ponder the word “cool”– especially in our teens and twenties– we typically associate it with a certain mystique and unavailability: dark sunglasses, troubled pasts, existential angst, or artfully dishevelled hair. We think of complex people, with layers upon layers of Life Experience that we can’t fully unearth no matter how deep we dig. Like the bitches on the subway platform, some of us may also associate coolness with going to “It” clubs and restaurants, or having a lot of money. The point is, we certainly don’t envision a curly-headed man with a small face and overenthusiastic voice, who– let’s be real– could be confused with your dad, who spends weekends at Costco sorting through bins of discount khakis.
But maybe Leyli was onto something. Maybe, even more than the mysteriously-accented Ryan Goslings and eccentric Johnny Depps of the world, everymen like Tom Hanks and Ron Howard should be hailed as the ultimate harbingers of cool. Why? Just like not having tattoos is the new having tattoos, being a big ol’ dork is the new being a James Dean. In places like Williamsburg– where it seems that virtually everyone is trying to perfect their best “smug” look while talking about organic coffee and figuring out how to make their expensive haircut look like they just rolled out of bed, “edginess” is now the norm. Thus, the only way to be truly unconventional these days is to adopt what Leyli dubbed the “Tom Hanks Factor” (or, THF) and not be edgy at all.
Incorporating the THF into your own persona is ridiculously cheap and easy. Start off by wearing what I like to call “Dad clothes”– inexpensive, comfortable pieces like pocket tees, zip-away pants/shorts combos, classic Converse sneakers, and those baseball caps that buckle in the back. If you want to jazz it up a bit, try throwing a Hawaiian shirt in the mix. Props to anyone who travels the extra mile by going bald. Think about what your own suburban dad sports while grilling, mowing the lawn, or yelling at the car when it won’t start. Celebrate being an Average Joe, and stop trying to pretend you’re so goddamn fabulous!
Once you get the THF look down, you gotta check your attitude at the door. Seriously, the key to mastering the THF requires you to rid yourself of the apathetic, “too cool” attitude that characterizes our generation. I know this might sound crazy, but you should be nice to people and get excited about life– in today’s world, that kind of behavior is way more unexpected than being a pretentious dick. Even though Tom Hanks is a multi-millionaire and Academy Award winner, you’d never catch him being shitty to people. Instead, he just smiles, hangs with Rita, and quietly cringes at the fact that his son has become a white rapper (the THF is clearly not genetic).
Lastly, having the THF requires you to become really good at something. Your plain wardrobe and non-threatening attitude may lead people to think that you’re a major snoozefest, but not the case! Just as everyone is about to write you off as a Nothing Person, you sneak-attack them with your insane talent! Whether it be acting like T. Hanks, producing Arrested Development like R. Howard, making balloon animals, cooking Mexican food (okay, now I’m just describing my dream man), or whatever, your unassuming talent will win people over like crazy. In this way, you’ve achieved the definition of “cool” that I mentioned earlier– having layers upon layers of downright personality, but not giving a shit about showing off all of the time.