Every morning Nathan Keay wakes up at 6 AM in his Albany Park apartment and by 7 he has the day's mantra ironed onto a plain white T-shirt, which he'll wear for the next 24 hours. When he wakes up the next day, he'll shoot a photo and post it--complete with sleepy eyes and bedhead--on his Web site, www.iwanttofitin.com.
He'd been collecting phrases for years when he started the project in November 2001--song lyrics, literary quotes, thought bytes. He likes his more recent, more implicitly political ones like "We don't stand a chance" and "I've got my own policies" better than his early models, with their too obvious statements and less-than-perfect spacing--not to mention factory defects. "A couple of times I've gotten away with wearing a fuckup," he says. "I'm a bad speller. I spelled paid 'p-a-y-e-d.' I'm never gonna forget that--it's burned in my skull that I screwed up that badly."
Keay's 24-hour rule means he often has to wear the shirts under clothes that are more appropriate for his day job as a preparator for the LaSalle Bank Photography Collection, but he likes wearing them out in the open. "Once I was at the laundromat and my shirt said, 'I'm trying to do my best.' Suddenly this lady goes, 'I know what that's like--I try and I try and I try to do my best!' It was very sad, but I think it was in a hopeful way that she was approaching it." Another stranger, a Californian who found his Web site, e-mails every couple of weeks with stories she conjures by weaving his phrases together. So far he's managed to sell three shirts--originals costing $75--off his site. "They come with the smells--they're not washed afterwards. They come with stains too, and I'm a messy eater."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Saverio Truglia.