GAY ELF DENIM COMMUNE: BORN IN THE U.S.A (feat. Garrett Young)
"You ever swap the letters in Levi’s around? You spell Elvi’s."
This end-of-year episode of OMELAS features new artwork by comic artist Garrett Young. Thank you for subscribing to my project. I hope to see you all in 2021. Stay healthy. —Blake
No one talks about the twenty-third basement floor of Omelas. This is because of two reasons: one, most residents are unaware there is even a twenty-third basement floor. And two, the residents of the basement floors aren’t sure of their tenant rights. So, they keep their mouths shut. That’s life underneath Omelas.
One day, a commune of denim jean-wearing gay elves bought the entire twenty-third floor.
According to their massive, eight-hundred-page tome of history, The Denimarillion, this was their story:
“There was Erin, the denim-wearing one, who on the twenty-third floor is called Ibéc; and he made the first Arizona Elf Levi’s Outlet Store, the Holy Jeaned Ones, that were the followers of his thought, and they were with him before aught else was made. And he spoke to them, propounding to them themes of fast retail fashion; and they sang before him, and he was glad.”
Nowadays, Erin works in commercial networking. He is thirty-one.
His boyfriend, another elf, says he used to play in a shoegaze band. Mondays through Thursdays, he spends his time answering IT support questions in his All-American Levi's 501 Originals. Then, the rest of the commune moved into Omelas. There were ten of them. Erin and boyfriend are included.
The first Elf Levi’s Outlet Store was established in Arizona circa 2009. Squared away in the backroads behind a Goodwill and a Good Year, it sold the very first pair of All-American 501 denim jeans to the newly arrived elf population. Erin, who still refuses to tell me how the elves got here, says he bought the outlet for next to nothing in exchange for a magic talisman used to open an interdimensional rift. When I try to ask about the inter-dimensional rift leading to where exactly? he just shrugs.
“The Elf Outlet,” he tells me, “was the commune’s first testing grounds for producing our own jeans.”
I ask if he’s familiar with the term, рабочий костюм, “worker’s uniform.” When denim Levi’s jeans were smuggled in 1960s Soviet Russia, I explain, they were outright banned and became a symbol of teenage rebellion. Bruce Springsteen. Buying your way into national identity. A massive underground bootleg economy during the Cold War. Erin shrugs again, insisting I only call him Ibéc, and says he has no interest in the human history of denim jeans as an elf. He leans on his computer desk, chewing bubblegum with a bitter, full-lipped pout. I can’t see why his partner supports his stubbornness.
Ibéc says he’s writing his own volume of elven Levi’s jeans history. In their own elf language. He’s gonna call it the The Denimarillion. He shows me a few translated pages to include in the interview.
“People won’t get it,” he explains, “people tell their own stories about elves all the time. They’ll get mad, y’know, if we take American things distinctly theirs away from them. But every goddamn elf in this commune wears jeans. The magic world used to like us. Then the orcs chased us out. Then I bought that Levi’s outlet. We slept on floors for a while. It sucked. Then the fire. We were able to afford the down payment on the whole floor here with the insurance policy, but that was about it. Had to find a living.”
All they had, Ibéc emphasizes, were literally the clothes on their back. Their asses stamped with the seal of capitalist approval. No one was laughing back then; they thought they were done for.
“We thought we’d just start making our own jeans, y’know. You ever swap the letters in Levi’s around? You spell Elvi’s— like, that shit was basically always ours to begin with. For elves. That’s our brand.”
Ibéc’s boyfriend interrupts our interview by pouring us coffee. The rich black-brown liquid dips its tail out from the pot, coiling inside my mug in one smooth, unbroken gesture. I haven’t seen the other eight members of the jeaned elf commune since I arrived. But Ibéc says they’re busy in a meeting.
“Originally, they weren’t gonna rent to us. Can you believe that? The Omelas landlord is a vampire.”
Ibéc thumps his open-palm on the desk again. His computer rattles. His partner, back turned to us, winces and nearly drops the empty pot in his hand.
“Sorry honey — anyways, the money was all there. Actually, I don’t think the fact we were elves bothered the office. Told him all about the outlet fire, no problem. The issue was, guy thought we were a fucking cult. No one expects an elf in jeans. It’s always robes, chausses, pantaloons, y’know, in books. I don’t think he was ready for how good we looked. Intimidation, I mean. They just think we’re pretty.”
They called themselves the Holy Jeaned Ones. They love the Canadian hardcore punk band Metz. Since moving to Omelas, the commune was regularly spotted at various music venues. Besides their uniform of denim jeans, the majority sported long hair and an unironic love for denim tops. These fashion statements, Ibéc corrected me, ranged from simply denim vests to knee-length denim jackets for the winter. Recently, the elves began producing their own novelties, like denim fingerless gloves, leg-warmers, chokers, and even jewelry made with denim-esque material. When I ask if it’s actually denim, Ibéc laughs in my face.
“They said it couldn’t be done — but they also said an elf could never buy his own Levi’s Jeans Outlet Store…now look at us. We’re innovating. Entrepreneurs. We’re making their capitalism work for us.”
Before I get to ask who they were, Ibéc shows me a tied up strip of denim haphazardly stitched together. It forms a tiny loop, barely wide enough for a finger to squeeze through. He demonstrates it for me.
“Rings, even. One member had the wise idea of us all wearing them. Said they got the idea from one of the human books. It looks hideous, but I said yes anyways because we’re all we got. It’s tacky, though.”
“Like a fellowship?” I crack a smile, but I don’t think he gets the joke. The silence is awkward.
Ibéc shakes his head. His long, shiny black hair drapes over his shoulders as he handles the ring. The basement’s bare brick walls are an eyesore, so I avert my gaze to shelves full of indigo-dyed tarpaulin in the corner. You would think this was a typical bachelor pad, with its futons and dirty take-out boxes. But no, this the central headquarters for the most notorious commune of elves-loving-jean-wearing-elves.
“You wouldn’t get it,” Ibéc sighs, “most people don’t get it. Wizards in bathrobes? Funny. Elves in jeans? No one’s heard of that before. Doesn’t even register. People want to be shocked. They want to know what they’re laughing at is edgy, but not too offensive. We’re just trying to walk outside in our denim jeans. We like the style. I don’t care what it represents. I can make it mean whatever I want.”
“—And what does elves wearing jeans mean to you?” I ask.
Ibéc pauses. He stares down at his feet in a way that makes it difficult to tell if he’s deep in thought or flatly ignoring my entire presence. That’s when I notice he’s wearing velcro sandals with white socks. Finally, he pats the feral stack of The Denimarillion manuscript pages on his lap and shrugs one last time.
“The less I say the better. If the punchline is too good, people will cry. If it’s bad, people will laugh. I hear there’s a concert tonight. I hear Saturn and Jupiter are aligning. We’ll invite you over. It’ll be fun. I have an extra pair. This place is too stuffy.” I don’t even know who’s wearing the pants here anymore.
“Extra pair of what?” Ibéc’s folds his bangs behind his long, peculiar-looking elven ear. I don’t dare remind him I’m already wearing a pair of jeans. They’re not even name-brand. Thrift-store magic.
Ibéc winks and waves his boyfriend over my way. No one has even touched their coffee.
“You don’t suppose we haven’t heard of unicorns, have you? This interview blows.”
Garrett Young is a comics drawer from Oklahoma City.