When I was a lad I labored under the delusion that less was less and more was more--what a tautological idiot I was! I was awakened from my dogmatic slumber (hat tip to David Hume!) by Mies van der Rohe, the guy who pulled my coat tail and let me know that less is more--and conversely, more is less.
Mies van der Rohe: "Some cigars are phallic symbols, but this cigar is a cigarette."
Before I encountered Mies I was always babbling on and on, trying to impress people. Apres Mies, so to speak, I became . . . taciturn. Cryptic. Aphoristic. Enigmatic. Damned enigmatic.
School of Social Science Administration Building: "We need some more less over here!"
We were touring Mies's School of Social Science Administration Building on 61st Street in Chicago as part of a unit on Bauhaus design when the great man, the Calvin Coolidge of Modern Architecture, clucked his tongue disapprovingly from the Barcelona chair where he sat. I glared at him and he made a come-hither noise; you know the one--"pssst."
Barcelona chairs: For some reason, Barcalounger didn't imitate it.
"What?" I said.
"Come here," he replied.
I walked over and he gave me the up and down; from ground to floor, cowboy boots, bell bottom jeans, long underwear shirt, jean jacket. Space cowboy, as Steve Miller would say. It was the 70s.
"Who are you trying--and failing--to impress?" he asked, one eyebrow raised skeptically towards the clean, elegant lines of the ceiling he'd designed.
I looked down at myself. Maybe he was right; a bit too much . . . attitude. Still, it was--who I was. Back then.
"What's wrong with this look?" I asked.
"Who you callin' a yahoo?"
"You want simplicity. Stillness. Calm."
"What would you suggest?"
"Neutral colors--blacks, whites, tans and greys. You should strive to look like a human Japanese rock garden."
Steve Miller Band "Space Cowboy" album. Never played in Crate & Barrel.
At that point in my life I had only a halting familiarity with feng shui, and Dockers hadn't been invented--or discovered--yet, but I got the message. I bought a pair of khakis and a white-on-tan Brooks Brothers polo shirt. I sold my Steve Miller albums and loaded up on Doobie Brothers from the Michael McDonald era, the kind that plays in an endless loop in the electronics store in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." I tried--and succeeded--in keeping my mouth shut for long periods of time.
Japanese rock garden: "Your rocks are growing nicely this summer!"
My newfound stillness soon became apparent to others. I visited Stone Mountain, Georgia, and was mistaken for the main attraction. I started dating again, the attitudinizing chip off my shoulder, and soon had a girlfriend. One night her face became flush and she began to sob uncontrollably.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"I can't stand it anymore," she said through tears.
"Can't stand what?"
"The long, uncomfortable silences I have to endure when we're together."
I cocked my head like the dog in the old RCA Victor ads. "What long, uncomfortable silences?" I asked, entirely ingenuous. The transformation was complete.
Stone Mountain, Georgia: The strong, silent type of quartz monzonite domed monadnock.
If you're going to play in the big leagues of the Less-is-More Crowd you have to resist all idle chatter--weather, sports, politics. You're too busy thinking deep thoughts, planning your latest brooding Eugene O'Neill work of tortured genius. Your heart holds a secret sorrow, dammit! Don't crack up at dumb blonde jokes--you're above all that.
Eugene O'Neill: Drained the conversation from his life and poured it into his plays.
The less-is-more type is a conversational counterpuncher; waits for you to go first, then throws a left jab over your right "Boy it's sure shaping up as an interesting election, huh?" Sort of a Marvelous Marvin Hagler of shooting-the-breeze.
Marvelous Marvin Hagler: "You talkin' to me?"
Of course the final test of lessismoreism comes when you face the challenge made by a newspaper reporter who bet his editor he could get Coolidge to say three words. When he told Silent Cal of the wager, the President replied "You lose."
Let's raise the stakes: Bet me you can get me to say two words. Got your money down?