The Truth, Mainly - 08/20/2001

On backward baseball caps, frontward neckties
by Leon Satterfield

I've been brooding now for about six weeks—my wife says I don't have enough to do—over something George Will wrote in his column.

I'm guessing you've been brooding over it too. I mean, of course, George's attitude about wearing baseball caps backwards.

He calls the practice "a bit of contemporary infantilism."

Now I know George is serious about baseball—almost to the point of being reactionary—and thus sees any deviancy in the conventional wearing of baseball apparel as "infantilism."

I usually agree with George's pronouncements concerning baseball, but I think he's wrong this time. I don't believe teenage males wear baseball caps backwards because they're infantile. I believe they wear baseball caps backwards for the same reasons they wear baggy pants below the top of their buttock cleavage: (1) because they know it makes adults so squeamish they avert their eyes, and (2) because they want to be indistinguishable from their peers, all of whom also wear their baseball caps backwards and their baggy pants below the top of their buttock cleavage.

Well, you may be saying, isn't it infantile to dress in ways that make The Other avert their eyes at the same time it makes you indistinguishable from your fellow male juveniles?

No more infantile, I'd argue, than the manner of dressing the rest of us males engage in.

Look, for example, at the thumbnail photo of George Will that accompanies his column. He wears a suit, a white shirt with top button buttoned, and a necktie.

He doesn't look comfortable.

A friend of mine believes that George has never been comfortable, that he emerged from the womb wearing a necktie. But my friend is an unregenerate hippie and is not to be trusted on matters sartorial.

Anyway, here's what I think: George dresses in the uncomfortable way he does for the same reasons teenage males dress the way they do. He wants to make the Unkempts so squeamish they avert their eyes, and he wants to make himself indistinguishable from his fellow Kempts.

Richard Cohen, in a Washington Post column earlier this month, wrote of seeing a picture of President Bush and his Cabinet in the paper. They all had their heads bowed in prayer. And they all wore red neckties.

I think Henry David Thoreau had it about right a century and a half ago when he wrote that "the head monkey at Paris puts on a traveller's cap, and all the monkeys in America do the same."

He also had it about right when he wrote that "every new generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new."

(And my tightwad soul vibrates to his warning to "beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.")

The point I was trying to make before Thoreau interrupted me is this: wearing your baseball cap backwards is no more infantile than wearing your necktie frontwards.

And given the Freudian implications, lasciviously dangling your necktie in public may be even more infantile than wearing your baseball cap backwards.

Now that I think about it, I wonder what George Will's reaction would be if all America's teenage males, in one of those little exercises they devise to drive adults crazy, should one day begin wearing neckties—frontwards in the Kempt manner.

And what if all the Kempts decided to react by wearing their neckties knotted at the back of their necks instead of at the front?

How would George wear his necktie? Frontwards like the teenage Unkempts? Or backwards like the grownup Kempts?

I have a confession: I'm as guilty of dressing-by-association as anyone else.

For years, after I'd drink two beers, I'd rip my undershirt and yell "Stell-lah!" to my wife. It was part conjugal affection, part manifestation of my wish to be confused, undershirt-wise, with Marlon Brando.

During my English-teaching decades, I wore the standard English-teaching uniform: khaki pants, brown shoes with blue socks, button-down collar sports shirt (top button unbuttoned), and greenish-brownish tweed sports jacket with leather elbow patches covering real elbow holes.

No necktie. I didn't want to be mistaken for someone responsible.

And now, retired and in my dotage, I wear Geezer Garb: a floppy, old-poop hat like the one Henry Fonda wears in "On Golden Pond," old sweat shirts, dirty running shoes I now only walk in, and baggy pants that often droop below the top of my buttock cleavage because I no longer have buttocks sufficient to hold up my pants.

Not only does my geezer garb make me indistinguishable from my geezer cronies I eat breakfast with once a week, it also makes my kids and grandkids so squeamish they avert their eyes.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

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