Clunky Heels

The Countess takes issue with those lacking in grace. Are you reading this, Serena and Kanye?


I’ve been fixated on the word “clunky,” which I guess has to do with the Obama administration’s “cash for clunkers” program. And when on a recent morning, I looked into the mirror in my Austrian chalet high in the Tirol at my dirndl skirt, lace blouse with bell sleeves, feathered hat and button-up boots, I realized I looked like a big clunk myself.

So I was inspired to write about the clunky epidemic. One sees it everywhere, especially in fashion. There are clunky designers, whose egos reach the stratosphere, and clunky designs—huge handbags that would burden a camel; shoes so heavy, women can barely lift their feet; and clothes that are zipped, pleated or ruched within an inch of their fabric.

But it isn’t only fashion that’s clunky. In sports, the recent U.S. Open had lots of clunks. The red, white and blue pattern of the ball boys’ uniforms seemed more reminiscent of the French tricolore than Old Glory. The white was a diagonal slash that looked like a sash and had me wondering whether they were getting ready to throw a tennis ball or join the Hapsburg court. Then there was Serena Williams’s profane outburst at the line judge that caused her to lose the semifinals to eventual champ Kim Clijsters. That was a big clunk. And in music, what about Kanye West’s tirade at the MTV Video Music Awards? (All I have to say is, thank goodness for Clijsters, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift. There is some class left after all.)

Just think of all the clunky things out there: bureaucracies, manners, grammar, service (though a friend of mine was recently impressed by the immensely helpful clerks at a Massachusetts Wal-Mart), Donald Trump’s hair, and antics like those of banker Richard Kimball Jr., who, according to the New York Post, spent the summer aping Silvio Berlusconi with wild parties in Southampton that in­cluded young topless girls.

And let’s not forget the clunky economy and clunky politics. It’s all a mess: Nancy Pelosi’s frozen smile as she sat in bright, bright red behind the president during his speech to Congress; Representative Joe Wilson’s rude yell at Obama; and the ridiculous furor over the president’s address to schoolchildren. As Frank Rich wrote in The New York Times of the summer’s vituperative political debate, “The inmates took over the asylum, trivializing and poisoning the national discourse while the president bided his time.”

Even the bailout seems clunky, especially since Goldman Sachs and other banks are raking in the dough again and handing it out to their executives in huge bonuses even as unemployment climbs. The ridiculousness of it all was brought home best by a joke a friend of mine, Nick Spencer, forwarded to me from a friend of his in Bangkok. And here it is:

Sometime this year, we taxpayers may again receive an economic stimulus payment. This is a very exciting new program, and I will explain it using a Q&A format:

Q: What is an economic stimulus payment?

A: It is money the federal government will send to taxpayers.

Q: Where will the government get this money?

A: From taxpayers.

Q: So the government is giving me back my own money?

A: Only a smidgen.

Q: What is the purpose of this payment?

A: The plan is that you will use the money to purchase a high-definition TV set, thus stimulating the economy.

Q: But isn’t that stimulating the economy of China?

A: Shut up.

Nick Spencer is a dapper Englishman who has restored one of the most famous houses in England, Daneway. For his 70th birthday, Nick climbed the 6,959-meter Argentine mountain Aconcagua to raise funds for a trust for children in several small villages in Nepal. Less than half of those who try to climb the mountain make it, and he did.

And that is one of the reasons I’m still hopeful: At least there are people like Nick out there, fighting against all the clunks.