May 20, 2019

If the Stained, Soleless Shoe Fits …

Illustration by George Danby

Illustration by George Danby

• By John F. Chisholm •

I’m brutal on clothing.  I always have been.  It’s not that I try to be.  Indeed, I strive for the opposite.  Alas!  My best efforts are futile.  My trousers, in particular, are short-lived.

When I was a kid, my mother sewed buttons inside my pant legs.  You couldn’t see them.  But in the right position, you certainly could feel them.  It was a vain attempt to keep me from my hands and knees.  It didn’t work.  I recall ripping holes the very first time I wore more than one pair.  My mother was never impressed ― at least not favorably.  Strange the way my seat always warmed when it was the knees that tore.

When I reached my teenage years, I still wore out trousers, but at the cuff.  I grew up in the 1960s.  Long pants and bell-bottoms were in style.  That didn’t help their longevity.  I wore them to rags from the bottoms up.

Today I farm.  My pants still wear out in record time.  Now decay begins at the thighs.  This is true despite the paint, grease and roofing tar with the hayseed and chaff stuck in it.  You’d imagine all that would reinforce the fabric.  It doesn’t.  In fact, all that and more has the opposite effect.  For example, I remember a leaking tractor battery that burned holes in both legs of one pair.  I didn’t know that the casing was cracked until too late.  All the same, that’s pretty cheap cotton that doesn’t stand up to a little sulfuric acid.

Thinking about it, I suppose if it were just trousers that I destroyed, I could live with it.  It isn’t.  I turn shirts, jackets and even underwear shabby overnight.  It would be nice if I could find work as a mobile testing laboratory for clothing.  I can’t.  All the same, that might lessen the bill.

Because this gets expensive.  Fast.  That was brought home to me yesterday.  I dropped my wife off at Logan Airport in Boston early in the morning.  On the way back home I stopped at L.L. Bean in Freeport to buy shoes.  Did I mention those?  Yeah.  I’m brutal on boots, shoes and all manner of footwear as well.  I hole socks in a day.  A pair of work boots won’t last me a year.  The toes will be sliced, the heels leaking, the laces frayed, knotted and too short by six months’ time.

So I planned to pick up two pair.  You know, save effort at that inevitable future date when the first pair turns into trash.  Three hundred dollars later, I was thankful that my wife was away and not going through the roof at what it costs to keep me dressed.

Because ruining clothing is my only super power.

I look at her side of our bedroom closet.  True, she has a lot more room.  But she has more clothes, too.  Never mind that.  She still has clothing that she wore when we first met, 28 years ago.  It’s all pressed, neat and clean and hanging in order on wooden hangers.  Her beautiful and unblemished wedding dress hangs in a special garment bag at one end.  Yes.  It still fits.  I recall vividly the only day she wore it in public.

I sigh in despair, remembering.  By the time I took off my rented tuxedo, it had wedding cake stains on the jacket, champagne blotches on the cummerbund and two pleats in the shirt ripped out.

I turn to my side of the closet.  I still have the wool jacket that my grandmother made me for Christmas the year I turned 18.  It’s on my only wooden hanger.  (All my other clothes hang from bent and mangled wire.)  It’s by far the oldest piece of clothing I own.  The elbows are patched.  The cuffs are frayed.  No.  It no longer fits.  I keep it for the memories.  I loved my grandmother.  She certainly loved me, too.  I adored her handmade jacket to pieces.  Literally.

Immediately beside that are my sports jackets ― two.  I look more closely at one.  What’s that?  I tentatively scrape a spot with my fingernail.  I must have spilled ketchup on the lapel.  After that, there’s hanger after hanger of stained, button missing, zipper broken, rumpled and discolored coats, shirts and trousers.

Remember, these are my good clothes.

I don’t bother hanging up my work clothes.  The no-longer-blue blue jeans fade away to nothing on my bedroom chair.  Holed tee shirts, paint-encrusted hoodies and floppy-soled shoes surround them, an emaciated congregation looking for salvation on death row.

I stand awhile reflecting at the scene.  If I ever wear out the seats of my trousers before the knees, cuffs or thighs, I’ll know that I’ve stopped farming.
Slowly a smile comes.  A super power, be it ever so humble, is a lifetime affliction.  That means I’ll have stopped living, too.

I shake my head.

I don’t want that to happen.  At least not yet.