The Truth, Mainly - 12/30/1991

Clothes Make the Academic, girly charges notwithstanding
by Leon Satterfield

"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 indignant."

"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 their clothes."

"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 night—in the middle of your four-week winter break—to 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 school."

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."

"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' crowd."

"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.

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