I came of age in the ’70s and, through that initial stretch of mid-to-late puberty and into early adulthood, I dressed like the classic hippie; I had long dark red hair, a full dark red mustache and beard, and – I’m told – “lovely” green eyes. While it might have been clear that I would never be a magazine model, I held my own with the ladies well enough as a teenager, despite my shabby appearance, and never had any trouble getting meaningless jobs which allowed me to have a car and cruise the streets with my buddies and our respective girlfriends. I don’t think that any of us were pretty, but we sure as hell cleaned up nice when we posed for our senior prom pictures in high school, and I must say, our dates looked mighty damn fine themselves.
After graduation, I went off to college on a partial athletic scholarship for a while, thinking I was going to be a professional soccer star someday, and when that dream went to shit… My first grown-up lesson of manhood and having to recognize and embrace his own limitations… I returned home with my tail between my legs and got my first big-boy job as a bank teller two blocks from the White House in DC.
As I began the next phase of my career, I had to cut my hair and lose the beard, of course, but my mother and grandmother – both of them well-versed in the appropriate attire to fit in with general white-collar society in the Nation’s Capitol – took me to good ol’ Monkey Ward’s and Sears and Roebuck and set me up with a mighty fine wardrobe of polyester 3-piece suits, Penny loafers, and some seriously classy wingtips. Looking back on those days now, all these years later, what comes to mind is the 1983 ZZ Top hit “Sharp Dressed Man,” and as I write this, I fondly remember the line “They come runnin’ just as fast as they can coz every girl crazy ’bout a sharp-dressed Man.” Yeah, that was me as the 1970s wound themselves down to their inevitable close.
Landing in the Northeast – literally DURING the blizzard of 1978 – I got a job as an assistant branch manager of a small savings Bank, and my career was on its way. I went back to college and got a degree in electrical engineering, got married and had kids, got divorced and eventually remarried, moved to Texas and got divorced again, and moved back to the Northeast all through a span of over 30 years, and throughout all that time, I wore suits and ties and had fancy shoes and had come to know just about every ebb and flow of professional style and dress that was required of a professional in the workplace.
It would be my third stroke that would force me into early retirement, setting me on this course of a primarily hermit lifestyle committed to spending out my days writing stories such as these and publishing the ones I most enjoy up on Amazon. Though not terribly pleased by my new limitations, I thank the good Lord every day that I’m still above ground and able to do something I enjoy and find gratifying. I’m also quite happy to live my life more simply, happily allowing the world around me to continue being in a god-awful hurry to get nowhere fast while I immerse myself in this gloriously resplendent life of relative solitude and the delicious peace and quiet it provides.
Perhaps the greatest perk of this Hermit life, although there are many, is that my wardrobe requires nothing more than comfort and convenience(otherwise known as significantly cheaper), and not one fuck needs to be given about what other people think when they come across me in public; the best measure of a man’s value and self-worth is not found in the degree of his pride at impressing others, rather it is the degree to which he is comfortable in his own skin regardless the opinions of others.
Needless to say, the days of fancy clothes are gone, and that exquisite wardrobe I once had has been donated to charity and replaced with the things necessary to stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter. My early teenage granddaughter, God love her, cannot wrap her head around this concept and fusses at me routinely about the clothes I wear… Especially in the wintertime… And tells me that my outfits make me look like a homeless person. We have regular arguments about this topic and, so far at least, it always winds up in a draw as I explain to her that when I am out and about in town running errands in the middle of winter, I refuse to be cold and could not care less what people think of me when they pass me on the streets. I know I am warm, comfortable, and adequately dressed to contend with whatever elements Mother Nature sends my way.
We always end these debates laughing at each other because we come at this issue from mutually exclusive perspectives. She has the freedom to underdress because she is picked up and dropped off everywhere she goes while I, on the other hand, have to walk to a bus stop and wait and then walk to the store, then walk back to the bus stop and wait and deal with the elements in their full force every step of the way. Accordingly, especially when it’s cold and snowing, I put on layers, wear a ski coat liner with a thick hoodie on the outside and a ski cap on my head over which I place the hood of my sweatshirt, and put some nice thick ski gloves on my hands along with my patented dark sunglasses because even filtered Sun hurts my eyes now that they are highly sensitive to bright light since the stroke. And don’t even get me started on long johns, which form the first of several layers adorning this aging body underneath the coat and pants.
And so it was that I found myself having to go out the other day, on foot, and walk the five blocks necessary (each way) to get to what they refer to here, locally, as “Doctors Park,” which is really nothing more than a strip mall of Doctor’s offices for one-stop-shopping depending on your specialist du jour. I had gotten my robocall reminding me of an upcoming annual checkup that would require a fasting blood draw, the results of which we would review during my annual visit. Typical of the Northeast in early January, it was snowing like hell when I left the house and, accordingly, I dressed appropriately to contend with the gifts of nature – upper 20s to near 30 degrees with enough of a breeze to blow huge snowflakes into your eyes – and headed to the lab.
Even with my cane, walking in snowy weather is a dicey proposition, but I soldiered on in large part aided by the fact that the snow had not yet begun to stick, although the sidewalks were wet and getting wetter fairly quickly. The blood draw was easy enough… God knows, at my age and with my medical history, I am no stranger to needles and spent way more time getting there and sitting in the waiting room with that stupid mask on than I did actually giving a few tubes of blood to the lab tech.
By the grace of God, they allow you to drink coffee despite these sorts of tests requiring that you go without food for 12 hours beforehand. As I have written elsewhere, the whole world is better off by at least allowing me coffee before expecting me to interact with it in positive or constructive ways. However, this is not to suggest that I wasn’t hungry enough to eat a small child (just kidding- I’m told they aren’t as tasty as wild city Squirrel). As fate would have it, there is a drugstore a few blocks away from Doctors Park, so I bundled up and headed down the street to see if I could rustle up some grub.
By the time I got to the store, the snow was getting a little more serious, so I rushed inside, grabbed an apple pie and a coffee cake, snatched a Starbucks Frappuccino (Mocha, of course) to wash it all down, and paid the tab. I headed to a spot in the parking lot, somewhat blocking the blowing snowflakes that were, at this point, about the size of a quarter. The sidewalks were completely wet, so, caring more about the food than the conditions, I took a knee and started opening my packages. As I was doing that, I got a phone call from a friend in Texas. It was pretty clear, a minute and a half into the conversation, that this would take a while, and I was not going to let my food wait, so I decided to sit fully on the sidewalk, knowing my ass was going to get completely soaked. I didn’t care, and he was too worried about what he was trying to tell me, so I happily listened to his story while I sucked down junk food like a fat kid on Halloween night, throwing back slugs of mocha Frappuccino once in a while, and otherwise just minding my own business and talking on the telephone with my old ass firmly planted on a wet public sidewalk 20 yards or so from the entrance to the drugstore.
I didn’t even see her coming.
With my head down, concentrating on my junk food and pressing my cell phone to my left ear to listen to my friend’s medical updates, a finely-dressed woman – roughly my age – walked up to me, leaned way down almost nose-to-nose with me sporting a very large self-approving smile, and said “are you okay sweetie?” before handing me folded up cash that, when I checked later, was $6. I smiled back at her, thanking her for asking and telling her I was fine, but it all happened so fast, and my friend was laughing his ass off in my ear because he had heard enough to know that some strange lady was talking to me and I was babbling, trying to find the right words while keeping up with what he was saying in my other ear, that I didn’t have time to stop her and give her the money back before she was already in her Lexus and on her way out of the parking lot.
I cut him off after she left to relay this story, adding that the first thing that crossed my mind was my granddaughter – if she had seen that – would have been shouting from the rooftops til the day I died, “I told you so… I told you so… I told you so,” and I would have never heard the end of it. That got my friend and I both pissing ourselves laughing hysterically, and when we finally composed ourselves, he asked me if I gave her the money back. I said, “of course not, she’s going to spend the rest of her day making a point to tell all her friends how much she cares about homeless people and wished more of them would be like her, and that I didn’t have the heart to take that away from her.” We erupted into laughter once more and finished our conversation, and I got up, dusted off my cold, wet ass, and headed back home.
By the time I got back, 20 minutes or so worth of reflection on that experience behind me, I realized that lady and I were each very much guilty of the same vanities and self-indulgences, though coming at them from opposite directions. It really is true that each of us sees the world through our own lens, filtered by our own perspective according to our unique life experiences. She, with her nice clothes and fancy car and brave and willing to approach a complete stranger who, in her eyes, was a poor homeless man (and, for all, she knew, a drugged-out drunken deranged lunatic) and me, the richest man alive, because I can go where I want and do whatever I want and dress however I please. Clearly, both of us are rich in our own ways, yet our respective understanding of that word means completely different things. There’s a life lesson in there somewhere… It sure would be nice if the rest of the world caught up with the two of us and what each of us gained from having crossed paths with the other.