08 June, 2013

Losantiville Lines: Stella's Graduation, Verse 1: The Wallet

I base most of my fashion taste on what doesn't itch. - Gilda Radner

I see that the fashion wears out more apparel than the man. - William Shakespeare

Dateline: Virginia Beach, VA -- I abandoned all of my ties and "dress" clothes in Arizona along with my few remaining preconceived ideals about higher education as a positive and inherently useful institution. At the time, I swore to myself that I would avoid any work that required me to wear anything resembling "professional" attire. Professionalism, I decided was a matter of know-how and demonstrating that know-how when it's necessary. I don't need to wear a tie to do that.

But the thing that took to an area men's clothing shop was not a job. Jobs are fleeting and not all that important except for the part they play in the larger work of a person's life. But there are some events that warrant an updated wardrobe.

Like a daughter's graduation, for example.

I chose a men's clothing store rather than the open forage of a mall because I hate to shop. Specifically, I hate clothes shopping. I know I'm not alone in this, and the reasons are probably obvious.  Finding clothes that I like AND that fit correctly is a complicated task. My legs  and my arms are shorter than they're supposed to be for someone my size; I carry a few extra pounds, that's true, but clothes shopping has always been a pain, regardless of my size. The designers of men's clothes do not think beyond the idea that any man with a gut must necessarily be self-conscious and therefore would prefer to wear shirts cut to look like circus tents. I like short sleeve button down shirts. But it's difficult to find them in my size with a sleeve that don't look like a mid-sleeve jersey cut.

I also hoped that by choosing a men's clothing shop that I would avoid the usual "Does this match" debacle that all seemingly colorblind men seem to experience.

It's not my fault that there are 50 shades of blue and that you're not supposed to put them all together. I really WANT to look like a giant fucking smurf.

When I walked through the door, I was allowed to wander the crop of overpriced formal and semi-formal wear for a few ticks before the store manager finely said something. I told him I needed clothes for my daughter's high school graduation. I told him I wanted a pair of pants, a nice button down, and maybe a vest. I tried to stay direct and avoid being sold anything above, over, or other than what I went there for.

The manager, who we will call "Stan" introduced himself as he was taking my measurements, which I thought was very polite. Generally, when people get that close to you and you're not in a mosh pit or on a crowded subway, it's good to be on a first name basis. Stan is on the large side, dressed in a dark pinstripe suit, suspenders, a light green button down shirt, and a tie that matched so well I don't remember the color. He wore a short cropped and neatly kept salt and pepper beard that hung to his jaw line. He was professional in almost managing to hide his disdain when I said I had no intention of wearing a tie, though he grunted a bit when I told him I had to leave town in a few days, leaving him no time for alterations. 

He put together some options quickly, matching shirts and slacks and finding a vest that would work. He was a large man, but he moved quickly. I hemmed and hawed a bit over making a decision. Black pants or dark blue ones? Greens short sleeve or blue and black hash design on white? There was only one vest that would fit, and I was inclined to build around that. I also told him I wanted a pair of suspenders for the pants.

I had a particular look in mind, and I knew it wasn't going to be exactly what I wanted. But it was going to be close, goddammit.

So much trouble when I would probably get more mileage out of a JCPenny sale special. But a daughter only graduates from high school once, and I wanted to be able to demonstrate I was proud of her. And I wanted to still be... well... me. If I have to look nice, I'm going to look the way I want to look.

Stan found this quaint, and I could tell he was questioning my wardrobe choices. I have to commend his professionalism once again, however, because rather than simply tell me I was wrong in my choice of the the black and blue hash print white button down with the gray vest, he chuckled and explained that he was a conservative dresser. We agreed that there's no point in arguing about taste. At that point, Stan initiated a fist bump -- which I NEVER do -- but it was polite enough and honestly offered. So I answered with a fist bump that any church marm would find acceptable. 

But then Stan pointed out that the shop was having a sale... a buy one get one sort of thing. And he wanted me to get my money's worth, of course. 

Did I need shoes? 


Did I need socks.


Did I need... a tie?


He explained that he wasn't trying to SELL me anything; he just wanted to make sure I got my money's worth. Did I need any kind of accessories at all?

Then I thought about my wallet.

I've been carrying a duck tape wallet, made by my friend and artist, Heather Houzenga, since I left Mount Carroll and hit the road last January. It held up remarkably well, but I had to repair a few times. It was coming undone on one side. I was planning on just repairing it again. Stan motioned over to a shelf and we walked over. He presented me with three options for wallets, none of which I liked particularly. I picked a brown leather bifold. 

I also ended up walking out with the green shirt, and both pairs of pants. Eh. Stan told me he wanted to keep me as a customer and that I could come back and have everything altered more closely when I got back into town. He was particularly intrigued by the fact that I travel, write, teach, and generally avoid a typical work week.

"You only work when you WANT to, right?"

Sure. That's more or less accurate. Labels are reductive, and certain terms (like conservative, liberal, anarchist, anti-capitalist, collectivist, socialist, communist, and most any other -ist) tend to be arbitrary based on the speaker's definition -- which most people assume is everyone else's definition whether it is or not. I work when I need to. But NEED and WANT are often the same thing in the minds of some folks.

All I wanted at the moment was to have a nice outfit to wear and watch my one and only daughter graduate from high school.