. . . his youthful hose, well saved, a world too wideFor his shrunk shank . . .
-- As You Like It, II. vii. 164-5
I've become in my certain age a conservative in dress. As a younger fool, lacking sense of the impression I made, I put on the thing I thought would make an impression of me. Bell-bottom trousers, a Nehru jacket, a large pendant of indeterminate holiness, a romeo shirt, a black beret -- oh, the humanity!
I haven't mentioned the colors. I once combined red-white-and-blue vertically striped slacks, and a polo shirt with red-white-and-blue horizontal stripes. I went out of the house this way after having looked in the mirror. I thought it was funny. I'll say in my defense that in those days I was qualified in one way to carry such a thing off. I was in good shape: I had a waistline, and my abdominals could be counted. But I was venturing into badlands far too rugged for my city feet, whose terrors I could only learn by trial and disaster. My department head was quite annoyed. I found his reaction funnier than my original idea had been. Now they tell me: when you're in a hole, stop digging.
I loved to go to a departmental party in a pair of bright blue trousers, a swirly shirt like an undiscovered draft by Pollock, and sometimes -- mea maxima culpa -- a neckerchief. I was of course trying on a role. I wanted to be Errol Flynn but lacked the skills of the role, which include fencing up and down castle stairs and using chandeliers as rapid transit. It was a false consciousness. Errol's way into the world could never be mine. When the servants put a chandelier in your hands, you're supposed to know what to do. "Your transportation, sir."
Errol's way could not be mine. I went into training to learn where my hands and feet were, but this knowledge, though it gets you in the movie, does not a Robin Hood make. This costly knowledge, this message of life, left me still unable to dash and feint, thrust and parry, vault onto my horse, somersault and split another's arrow with my own. A physical artist feels not only his hand on the hilt but the tip of his foil as well, and beyond. An athlete knows not only where his hands and feet are, but where other things in the world will be, when they will get there and how he will keep them from harming himself and others.
My abs have now long since gone absent without discovering their mission, and there is no expedition to recover them. They came and went, alas, in the wrong period and perhaps to the wrong person.
In these later days I rarely try to make an entrance. Entrances are there already and it's my job to find them. If I enter the right scene, I'll emerge as a major player when my moment comes. There's usually no mileage in raising an issue; the real issues will find me.
So my clothes are of common types, acceptable at work and in real life, bought out of reliable catalogues, in combinations of color tried and tested by time, though sometimes a little more aggressive than expected of my profession. I have a winter wardrobe, a spring wardrobe, and a summer wardrobe. I don't want to strategize -- not about that. Turtlenecks, blazers, polo shirts, camp shirts, pleated trousers of various weight. Nothing essentially provocative.
Exception: I subscribe to a Sock Club.* Every month in the mail I get an envelope with a new pair of designed socks. No telling what: a purple field of silver and golden stars perhaps, or a sunrise over the mountain with a flock of birds. I do not bring these artifacts regularly to work, but will wear them at a party, or at a wedding, as my something shocking that might unexpectedly shine on the occasion. If I cross my legs and the cuff of my trouser creeps up, my private jubilation appears. Now God knows, anything goes.
These celebratory artifacts adorn a part of my body that has never been splendid but is still nothing to be ashamed of. In former days, old gentlemen used to pad their stockings to assure those who saw them of their strength and -- well, their prowess. But my shank is not shrunk. My legs get plenty of work. I still walk, climb steps, carry burdens. These hose are not my youthful ones but new, and not "a world too wide." There is still flesh on these bones, and not too much. As an eponymous young blonde woman once said, it's just right.
*Should you be interested in the service, this is the website: www.sockclub.com.