(A humorous essay from the book I’m working on, The Green Hornet Suit…)
A few years ago, my parents took a road trip to Georgetown, Kentucky, to tour the Toyota manufacturing plant. That wasn’t the sole destination of the trip; it just so happened that the factory was on their way home, and being retired with nothing better to do, they decided to stop.
It also seems that while they were there, Dad needed a jacket. Keep in mind that he’s prone to impulse buying. Some of us are just happy to snag a good deal on a laptop now and then, but when his stops working, say, the lid makes a funny creaking sound when it closes, he’s off to the store for its replacement.
He was a traveling salesman for years, and he routinely came home toting new suits, bags of donuts or specialty cheese, or even bigger things that only fit in the garage. We never knew, because my mom got to the point where she refused to crack the garage door on reality, feeling that ignorance in this matter was her own form of bliss.
So my parents took the Toyota plant tour, getting the lowdown on how all the cars look before they’re recalled. Afterward, Dad decided he needed a new jacket. Why, I’ll never know, because his closet was already stuffed with blazers and button-down oxford shirts, ties dripping off the rack like dead pheasants, but he decided a new jacket was in order, so he bought the Mouse Jacket.
I’m sure he could have picked from a number of snazzy Toyota-embellished models, racing jackets, or logoed windbreakers. His, though, was a yawny tan, a nondescript number with a zip front and two side pockets with handy-dandy snaps, practical things meant for storing bottles of blood pressure tablets or dried-up hankies.
It wasn’t “him” at all, and he announced this fact whenever he got the chance.
“Looks like I’ll wear the Mouse Jacket today,” he’d say with a put-on sigh, like he didn’t have ten other jackets to choose from.
My parents would be invited out with friends, the Mouse Jacket a silent, nondescript dinner companion, watching the festivities with a twitchy, quivering air.
“Yes, I wore the Mouse Jacket,” my dad reported after such an event. “I was the only one there with a jacket like that.”
I started to wonder if there was some connection between age and washed-out clothing – kids will wear sequins and stripes, toss on mismatched colors like salt on popcorn, but as people age, their clothing colors dry up, like their sartorial exploration evaporated, leaving behind a crackle-topped pond of memories.
I witnessed this at Sears a few years ago, where my original mission was to find a new pair of jeans. This is more like an adventure that’s best done in stages, the Everest of fashion, if you will.
Base Camp #1 is canvassing the store, seeing what kind of jeans they stock.
Base Camp #2 involves actually taking a pair or ten off the racks and holding them up to your body, flipping them this way and that as you imagine yourself wearing them…maybe.
Base Camp #3 is where you examine the jeans, looking for the crucial back-pocket placement. Too close and your butt looks huge. Too far apart and your butt looks huge. Too small and your butt looks huge…it never ends.
Base Camp #4 involves narrowing down your choices and actually trying a pair or ten on. Legs too skinny and you’ll look like an ice cream cone. Legs too wide and you’ll look like you’re going to a hoe-down. Combine that with the pocket placement issue and you could be there all day.
Base Camp #5? Maybe you’ll buy a pair, but more likely, you’ll give up and go out for a drink or ten.
I was in the middle of Base Camp #3 when I spotted two grannies a few racks away. They were picking through shirts, and it seemed like one granny was helping the other make some critical choices.
While I agonized over my jeans dilemma, the grannies hit pay dirt.
“Ooh, look at this shirt, Helen,” Granny #2 gushed. “I think it’ll be perfect with the pants you’re wearing.”
I was happy for them! Together, they defied the odds and actually found something to wear in less time than it took me to find a pair of jeans. While I was still struggling to reach Base Camp #4, they blazed past me and summitted before my very eyes.
Then I looked at what Granny #2 held up – a tan, short-sleeved polyester shirt with little bitsy pearl buttons. Helen was apparently going to wear this with the tan pants she already had on. It was an entire Mouse Outfit, defying every fashion law saying you mustn’t, shouldn’t, ever wear color-on-color, especially after Memorial Day.
It brazenly bucked tradition, and darn it all, she was happy. The shirt went in the cart, and the grannies wheeled off to plant their flag at the nearest checkout.
I stood there at Base Camp #3, jeans hanging limply in defeat. When all it takes is a tan shirt and a Mouse Jacket to make you happy, where was I going wrong? Reality zipped up my backside with cold teeth – would that be me someday, shopping with a friend, ecstatic because I found the perfect Mouse Jacket, or an oatmealy shirt to wear with my poly pants?
At this point, I wasn’t sure I wanted to know, but I knew one thing: I wouldn’t reach Base Camp #5 anytime soon.