Friday, April 15, 2011

All dressed up and going nowhere: Curmudgeon tries to tie it all toghether

My late father-in-law approached nearly every day of his long life wearing a tie. He was a professional man, a doctor, and a tie was part of who he was. I can't remember him ever wearing blue jeans. He may not have ever owned any; I don't know for certain because I never saw him tending to his lawn and garden. (He'd not married until he was past 40; he was just two months short of 70 when I married his daughter.)

By the end of his life, a service was cutting the grass and his horticultural exploits were limited to a couple of rose bushes and a tomato plant or two that my wife would start for him, and plant for him. It's possible he may have worn blue jeans in his grass-cutting days. I suspect, though, he may have only loosened his tie.

My father, on the other hand, wore a tie only because it was required of him -- and only when it was required of him. Also a professional man, a lawyer, my father preferred jumpsuits, better suited to a garage mechanic than a lawyer. Then again, in his private time, my father liked working in his garage -- working on this car or that one, working on his lawn tractor, or one of the fleet of smaller, gasoline-powered hand mowers that he maintained. He built a canoe once, from a kit, using thin wood strips and canvas. He built a grandfather clock. He built a Bugatti kit car on a Volkswagen chassis.

I've often read (and I read more and more of these things as the years go by) that one must keep busy in retirement or the human machinery will simply... wind down... and... stop. If scheduled projects were themselves a guarantee of longevity, however, my father would still be alive today.

When he was working, though, my father would never appear without a tie. I don't think he would have been particularly receptive to "Casual Fridays." Of course, the ties he'd wear might be a tad colorful. Colorful? They'd be loud -- garish -- frequently populated by characters from Disney or Warner Brothers cartoons. We buried him in a Mickey Mouse tie. It was a solid color tie, covered with tiny, raised Mickey Mouse faces. You really couldn't tell if you didn't look closely... but I do remember the arched eyebrow of the funeral director. Little did he know my father would probably have thought the tie far too subdued for the occasion. My sister and I made the choice, as I recall, as something of a compromise -- my father might have wanted a louder tie, perhaps, but he probably wouldn't have wanted to shock the guests at his wake.

I wear ties, of course, because I too am a professional man. I fall somewhere between my father and my father-in-law, however. I don't favor loud clothes on any occasion (on one occasion, I seem to recall, at a family picnic, my father critiqued my casual attire as "boring" -- which it certainly was, at least by comparison to the fire engine red, short-sleeve jumpsuit he was wearing).

I wear blue jeans again at home these day -- after a couple of decades of doing without, mostly because, as I wrote in 2008, of an overdeveloped sense of gravitas. I never wear a tie at home, except for the annual Christmas picture. In the modern age, I can sometimes get away with not wearing a tie to the office as well. "Business casual" is a confusing, but wonderful thing. Unfortunately, on several days where I've gone business casual, a colleague has asked me to cover something up in court. On one occasion I came to work in a flannel shirt, prepared to spend the day moving stacks of paper in the comfort and privacy of my office, when I realized I had a status hearing in a Chancery case.

The judge in that case was someone against whom I'd had cases when she was in private practice. We were adversaries, but never enemies. (In other words, we got along quite civilly, the way lawyers are supposed to get along.) I well remembered running into her at the Daley Center, not too long after she went on the bench. We were chatting for a few moments, catching up, when she saw someone entering the building in cutoffs and a t-shirt. "Can you imagine someone coming to court like that?" she said. "How can she expect to be taken seriously?" She proceeded, then, to tell me a number of short anecdotes about oddly dressed persons who had appeared before her.

That conversation sprang to my active memory buffer that morning as I sat in my office, in my flannel shirt.

This happened a few years back, before I moved to this Undisclosed Location. I was a tenant in a bigger office then and I begged a colleague to borrow his suit jacket.

I stepped up on the case with the borrowed blue jacket covering as much of the flannel shirt as possible. It wasn't enough. It wasn't nearly enough. My colleague was at least as tall as I am, but I was a little wider. I seem to recall the sleeves only coming halfway down my arm. I hope my memory exaggerates. But the flannel shirt was still very visible.

I began with an apology, admitting (truthfully) that I'd misdiaried the court date and hadn't dressed for court.

"Yes, I see," said the judge. "But flannel? Really?"

Yesterday I didn't have court. I didn't wear a tie. But I otherwise dressed for work: Dressy dockers, sensible brown shoes, a tweed jacket, a button-down shirt. And that was to work from home.

I had two projects home with me. I had visions of finishing one before lunch, then running downtown for a CLE presentation that was right in my price range (free), then returning home to do the second project.

I started in diligently on the first project as soon as I dropped my wife off at school. Lunchtime came and went with the first project still undone. It remains undone. How often have I set two tasks for myself -- and finished only half of one?

I will wonder about this later -- but, now, I turn my attention to yesterday's unfinished projects. I think I will begin by loosening my tie.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

People are just too scruffy in my office since the dress code rule was relaxed.

Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

if it were me i'd leave a shirt and tie at the office for emergencies. but that's just me!

smiles, bee