"I don't get it," I whisper to my wife. We're at a play and the
audience is laughing at one of the characters. "What's funny?"
"The way he's dressed," she whispers back. "He looks like you."
He's wearing a plaid sports jacket, a striped shirt without a tie,
baggy khaki pants, and K-Mart running shoes with white socks. I like
the way he looks. He looks like an academic.
We don't say anything on the way home after the play because I'm
still thinking about the clothes, and my wife, I assume, is Letting the
Point Sink In. But by 2 a.m. I'm ready to speak.
"Well, I don't think it's very funny," I say. "I've decided I'm
"Umph?" she says.
"You know what I'm talking about," I say. "The play. I'm
indignant because they singled out a minority group and made fun of
"Org?" she asks. "Glomf?"
"Male academics of my generation," I say. "That's the minority I'm
talking about and we're supposed to look like that. Like the guy
everyone was hoo-hawing at."
"Is this real?" she says, opening her eyes and looking around.
"Are you really waking me up in the middle of the nightin the middle
of your four-week winter breakto make me feel sorry for male academics
of your generation?"
"We're supposed to look shabby and genteel," I say, "to show how
lofty our thoughts are. It's in the handbook on Rights and Duties of
Mature Male Faculty."
"That's why you look like a refugee from Lower Slobbovia who lost
his luggage a month ago?" she says. "I thought it was because you
dressed before you had your coffee. I thought it was because the light
burned out in your closet. I thought it was because it was Tramp Day at
She's pretty much awake by now.
"Listen," I say, "just because I don't look like those guys in
Fop's Weekly doesn't mean I don't dress carefully."
"I suppose you mean Gentleman's Quarterly," she says. "I suppose
calling it Fop's Weekly is your subtle way of telling me you don't
appreciate the gift subscription from my mother."
"Administrators read Gentleman's Quarterly," I say. "Gigolos read
Gentleman's Quarterly. Mature male academics don't. Emerson says the
American scholar is supposed to point out the truth amidst appearances.
We're about truth. Gentleman's Quarterly is about appearances. There's
an inverse relationship between the quality of your truth and the
spiffiness of your appearance. Look at Einstein."
"That," she says, "is the goofiest jump in logic heard in this
house since our kids were in kindergarten. Sounds like something you
picked up from those hippy students of yours back in the sixties. I
suppose you're about to quote Thoreau again about avoiding enterprises
that require new clothes."
The Truth, Mainly
"There was a man," I say, bowing my head as best I can while lying
in bed. "He taught us how to say phooey to the 'dress for success'
"You know what I think?" she says. "Reverse snobbery is what I
think. When you make fun of people who dress better than you do, it's
like making fun of people for not saying 'ain't.' It's like back in
that podunk high school of yours where all you yahoos made fun of people
who cleaned their fingernails and brushed their teeth."
"We never made fun of people who cleaned their fingernails," I
say. "Clipping them with those clippers. That's what we made fun of.
It's like combing your hair and patting it down while somebody's
watching. It's girly."
"Ah hah!" she says, sitting upright in bed. "That's it, isn't it?
The old sexual insecurity again. You're afraid to wear nice clothes for
the same reason you're afraid to ride a girl's bike. You don't want to
look like those hunks in Gentleman's Quarterly because you're afraid
you'll look girly. You've got a bigger problem than I thought."
"I don't know what you're talking about," I say, "and I don't want
to hear any more about it. It's after 2 a.m."
"Girly," she says. "You're girly, girly, girly."
I curl up in my fetal position and make snoring noises. I keep my
thumb out of my mouth until I'm pretty sure she's asleep. Where's she
get that sexual insecurity stuff? I'll have to ask my mature male
colleagues in the psychology department about it. I trust those guys.
They really dress funny.
Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.