When my family first arrived in Cluj, I was amused to find that one of the mall shops sold New York Yankees sweatshirts. After a while, I began to discover that Yankees shirts and caps are actually pretty common around here.
And only the Yankees. Not the Mets. Not the Knicks, the Nets, the Giants, Jets or Rangers. And most certainly not, say, the Chicago Bulls or Los Angeles Lakers — despite the fact that, among Americans, those teams have great deal of cachet.
In America, of course, this stuff is everywhere, Our teams make a fortune on licensing their logos. So do our schools. In contrast, although you can buy a CFR or U-Cluj tee in this town, it’s a bit of a challenge. (Team shop at Sigma, and the stadium, right? Anywhere else?) And if anybody has ever thought to print a Babes-Bolyai University souvenir sweatshirt, they haven’t told me about it.
Printed t-shirts are a curious thing. A few years back, American shops were suddenly awash in shirts advertising “Slugger Joe’s Downtown Gym” or “Mama Rosita’s Cabana, Tijuana.” At one point, my wife muttered, “Look, honey — for people half your age, who want to pretend they’ve lived your life.”
The picture above, snapped the other day at a chain store, proved her point. There were maybe eight places named on the t-shirts the store was selling, and I had lived in six of them. And, not coincidentally, all six were in New York City. (You could buy a Lake George jacket on the next rack though — another place I know pretty well. Next time you’re there, eat at the Logjam Restaurant).
As background, it is worth remembering that much of the planet is now flooded with t-shirts, manufactured in Asia, which are printed with English-language nonsense words. These range from true crazy in the clssic Japanese style (“Blue Harpy 97 Yah!”) to kinda-sorta reasonable (“Analog Nostalgia”). Actual brand names, of course, are rare and not infrequently pirated. My personal favorites involve elaborate posters for imaginary boxing matches.
At least here in Romania, and apart from football jerseys, English seems to be the almost universal language of the nonsense tee, and America seems to be the preferred cultural frame of reference. There are allusions to surfing in Hawaii or sunbathing in California. But specifics are rare. Place names are generally off — maybe not “Los Angeles, Nevada,” but almost as wrong.
Mind you, this doesn’t offend me. On the contrary, I think it’s funny, and sweet, and more than a little touching. I love the fact that so many people who have never seen the United States — many of whom never will, and may never want to — think it’s cool to slap a “Hang Ten Hilton Head” on their chest.
So as for New York: Sure, it’s a great city; one of my two favorites, beyond any doubt. (Three, if you include Cluj.) But, seriously, t-shirt makers: there’s more to New York than the Bronx Bombers. Can I see some subway shirts? A monkey climbing the Empire State? Or go crazy, and show us King Neptune riding in a convertible next to a mermaid, and the words “Mermaid Parade 1992.” Sure, it’s gibberish to most of the universe — but to a New Yorker, it screams authenticity.
And, in all honesty, there’s more to America than just New York. Not much more, I’ll grant you; but still. So maybe when I’m home this summer, I’ll try to stock up on t-shirts advertising Triple A ball clubs from western Pennsylvania, and hot-wings places along I-95 in Connecticut. And since, in the same way, there is technically speaking more to baseball than the Yankees, I may also buy my kid a Texas Rangers cap.
Just so he can look different around here.