Recently while we were in the “big city,” a description I use for any metropolitan area with a population larger than 4,000, we had a few minutes to kill and so at my wife’s insistence we stopped at one of the big box department stores that didn’t have W or mart in its name. What followed was an experience both familiar and distressing, for no sooner had we entered the place than we were overwhelmed with options. The store was as big as our town and with about the same number of people, only these were surly and wired with Christmas pressures, utterly devoid of joy, madly dashing to and fro with looks that dared interference.
“Let’s stick together,” I whispered.
“I need to go over there,” my wife said, pointing to the unmentionables department.
“I’ll wander around,” I muttered.
It was the last we would see each other for a while. I checked out the kitchen section and housewares—I have a thing for luxuriously thick bath towels—but boredom quickly set in. Several circumnavigations around the store led me to believe my wife had disappeared off the face of the earth, so I fought my way through the crush of humanity to the men’s clothing, hoping she might look for me there.
Maybe I’m out of touch with how people dress in cities, but the styles were horrible and the putrescent colors something you’d see oozing out of fresh roadkill. I searched high and low for a beefy sweatshirt or two, my favorite winter attire, but everything I found was thin and wimpy. And then I saw the sweater.
Deep maroon with a cable-knit pattern and a quarter-zip neck, it was thick and heavy and, best of all, clearanced at a ridiculous price. I’m not normally a sweater person but I was determined to take away something to show for my time, so I carried it around until I finally spotted my wife. The relief on her face was palpable.
A few weeks passed before I tried it on. I didn’t care for it at first; the pattern made me think I was imitating a Norwegian fisherman. My wife, however, gushed over it. “You look nice,” she purred.
I had to admit the color and weave accentuated my ruddy cheeks and beard, which when I wasn’t looking turned white. How and when that happened was anybody’s guess. But I looked almost distinguished.
Actually, I looked like Santa Claus. Furthering this uncomfortable illusion was my girth, which the sweater seemed to exaggerate. My fondness for chocolate and all-you-can-eat buffet was telling, though I prefer to blame it on middle age, that venerable timespan when everything you eat goes to your middle.
Middle age is something of an euphemism, however. I’m middle age only if I take into account that few human beings other than Methuselah ever reached twice that of my current age.
The white beard, though, made me feel ancient. Dyes were out of the question after a friend in Denver once surprised us by magically transforming into an image of his former self, his graying hair suddenly a rich auburn. (His wrinkles remained deeply engraved in his face, however, adding insult to injury.)
He looked ridiculous. Couldn’t he have done it incrementally, slowly as to deceive our eyes? No, it was all or nothing, he said, not without a little heat. He said a few other things, none of which could be printed in a newspaper.
Staring into the mirror, I was forced to admit I had entered my autumn years, a flowery term used to mask the debilitating effects of time with its concomitant subtractions, lessenings and outright failures. Welcome to decrepitude, I thought.
Smart attire has never been my strong suit. I prefer jeans and old sweatshirts riddled with holes because then I don’t feel bad when spilling coffee or salsa all over the front, a problem that seems increasingly impossible to prevent. In our formative years my wife threatened to leave me over my fondness for combat boots. I loved them and found them comfortable and tough, if not inexpensive. One would think frugality a trait of some importance, but it was lost on her. And on my mother, who treacherously sided with her. I got rid of the boots.
Having my wife coo over my new look had unintended consequences. When the same retailer advertised a gigantic after-Christmas online sale, I immediately ordered three more sweaters. These were even beefier, with argyle patterns and muted earth colors. I didn’t even bother to look for sweatshirts, a fact that in retrospect appalled me.
The sweaters arrived a few days ago. My wife thinks I’m going to look killer. I wonder what I’m turning into. That an article of clothing could trigger an existential crisis is mindboggling, but perhaps no more so than looking in the mirror and seeing a face aged beyond reckoning.
This journey we call life is full of surprises. As I evolve into whatever I shall become, at least I’ll be dressed a little sharper than before.
My husband has a sweater in a dark, heathered, mossy green. It zips all the way from waist to high neck and has slash pockets. I always remember it with those silly elbow patches, but I've just checked, and apparently that detail is just my imagination. My mom bought the sweater for him a few years ago as a Christmas present. When he opened it, I had to stifle laughter. My mom is not known for her fashion sense, but that's no reason to be rude. On the way home from her house the kids and I laughed about it, calling it his old man sweater. He vowed to never wear it. Then one winter day when he was home and driven indoors, he went to his closet and could only find the sweater to throw on over his T-shirt and pajama pants. He wears that sweater all the time now. And wouldn't you know, he looks damn sexy in it. Yup, he's my hawt old man.
Combat boots are the most comfortable hiking boots I've worn. I got mine, a pair of never worn Desert Storm issue, for $4 at a garage sale. The lady selling them said that when she was done with her tour the government wanted to send her home wearing new boots so she'd look presentable, but her old ones were perfectly good and already broken in. I can't imagine ever parting with them.
I love the old man sweater business, so why am I stuck on this? "The store was as big as our town and with about the same number of people, only these were surly and wired with Christmas pressures, utterly devoid of joy, madly dashing to and fro with looks that dared interference."
I found people to be so pleasant at Christmas, even under pressure, in a rush, as most folks are at Christmas. I hate shopping but I have to say the good will and many kindnesses I encountered were enough to spirit me on. I hate it that your experience was devoid of that feeling. I hope you aren't thinking that it was because you were in the "big city". I love these folks here in Topeka, and although there is an occasional grump in the mix, I just figure the grumps are from out of town.
Tom, one nice thing about old age and the "bulge" in the middle is that when you miss your mouth with salsa, you don't have to worry about it landing in your lap. Just wipe of your "chest" area and you're good to go!!
Jenni -- Men either evolve or devolve, I haven't decided which. But as long as we look hawt to out wimmen, that's all that matters.
Deb -- We were in Salina, so maybe they're a different breed!
Wes -- So true. However, I'm seriously considering adding a plastic bib to my attire. It would be far easier to clean up after those salsa (etc.) spills.
The primary downside of Houston winters for a transplanted midwesterner is lack of "sweater weather". When it shows up (as it has today, with a 30 degree drop from 68 to 38) there are people in forty counties going for their Shaker knits and Arans and cables and such.
It's common to find people setting thermostats at 60, just for the pleasure of wearing those sweaters indoors. Of course, we're also the bunch that will turn on the air conditioning and open all the windows in winter to justify burning a fire, so there you are.
As for that aging business - I don't see my age when I look in the mirror - selective vision, I think it's called. What gets me are the solicitous teenagers who ask, "Would you like some help to your car, ma'am?" when I'm done at the grocery store. Young whippersnappers.
Considering it's five degrees here and falling, sweaters are only a second layer. But I know what you mean about overly helpful teenyboppers. When they ask me if I need help I just leer at them and them beat them with my cane.
Dang. I wish there was a photo, Tom. I read recently that the best thing you can wear is a smile. I'll send you a photo of Max, gray hair and all, with a glorious smile. I love the photo. I love him. And the fisherman's hat doesn't hurt one bit.
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