Snake America is an e-mail newsletter that covers vintage clothing and sometimes furniture, usually for sale on eBay, sometimes on other digital auction platforms.
No one I know knows what these pants are called. They’re speckled-wool pants, the kind that Cary Grant wears in films in which he plays a professor, or an old man with a young girlfriend, and which everyone wears in the Japanese film Violent Cop. I know enough to know they are speckled pants, and it is a wool speckle, but classification stops at the genus and not at the species. I have asked everyone in my phone who cares about how they present themselves, or who works in the shmatta business, and if I get an answer it stops at that word. “Speckled” is a good descriptor for birds, bird eggs, and pants, but in each case it’s not enough information to be useful. Looking for a speckled bird isn't good enough, and looking for speckled pants on eBay yields results even lousier than the barren search-term wasteland that reveals cool, under-the-radar things. Searching for these pants every week for several years—like I have—might yield two pairs per election cycle. Might.
I wasn't sure about these pants until I saw them in Violent Cop, which is one of the best movies I have ever seen. It is about a very violent and well-dressed policeman who makes friends and, though deep down a good guy, is a wild card. Everyone in the movie dresses well, so his clothing goes unremarked upon. In that sense, the world depicted in this film is unlike real life. If the violent cop lived in, say, New York and dressed like he did, he couldn't buy a pack of cigarettes without being stopped by people with good taste or interested actors wanting to know where he got his sack suit. “Leave me alone,” he might say, “I’m on patrol.” If you wear formal clothing you can nod to well-dressed older people in the street. But if you're in a T-shirt you can't. Sometimes I end up at a party where everyone is as well-dressed as the principal cast of Violent Cop, but not often.
It is very hard to find sports collectibles that are not distinctly novel or toylike, but these gold pants are that. Players on the Ohio State football team get these with their name and number on them if—when, lately—they beat Michigan in the big game every year. Ohio State hasn't lost in a long time and probably won't for a while. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s career is a confidence scam the likes of which is usually only seen in the financial services industry. (It doesn’t help that he dresses like a pervert with his glasses and chino pants and penchant for whole milk.) There is a brisk business for gold pants, there is almost always an elegant pair on eBay, and enough digging leads to the bad incidents that led whichever player on the pants to unload the memento for not much money. They are almost always sad stories because selling the gold pants is a reminder of the staggering servitude these players labor under, and that having a gold chain with pants on it is really cool, and if you’re selling it, something has gone wrong. (Will Smith, the player this necklace likely belonged to, had a 10-year NFL career and died a few years ago after being shot in a road rage incident.)
I like the idea of the necklaces being made ahead of the game and if OSU loses—which they don't—the necklaces get shipped to a different part of the world, or maybe just a different part of Ohio. All these pensioners and children walking around Toledo with incorrect necklaces. I guess the story behind them is that OSU coach Francis Schmidt told his players that Michigan puts on their pants one leg at a time, just like everyone else.
There is a flea market on an airfield in Stormville, New York, which has pretty good stuff if you go often enough. I got a nice dress there, a Matryoshka doll that covered Rasputin through Boris Yeltsin, and fried Oreos, though not on the same trip. On one visit, in 2011, this one booth had a ton of jewelry and I was looking for Mexican motorcycle rings, which they didn't have. (Few did.) But it had this college ring, maybe from Florida, belonging to a player who won a championship and who, according to the sellers, had died or was dying of a heroin overdose. They wouldn't budge on the price, which is not anything I remember now, and I don’t remember the player’s name either. (It’s hard to remember the ones that got away.) Was it filched? How’d they get it? It’s as ugly a story as the economics of college football itself. Is a piece of jewelry still glorious if it’s pried off a dead man’s hand? I ended up buying the Yeltsin doll and going home. It was Yom Kippur that day, and the whole trip should not have happened.
Originally Appeared on GQ