When a member of Congress tried to participate in a session of the House this week, the speaker of the House suggested that "the gentleman remove himself" until he was properly attired.
The speaker deemed the gentleman ungentlemanly because he was not wearing a coat and tie.
On the same day, a meeting of a House committee was picutred on television and revealed that almost all the congressmen had shed their jackets. The chairman, Harley Staggers, was an exception. He was wearing his jacket, but apparently had not objected when members of his committee chose comfort over slavish adherence to a dress code of bygone years.
If it is the will of Congress to make Tip O'Neill the sole arbiter of what is proper and what is not, that's all right with me. I won't even complain if O'Neill decides that what is proper in a committee meeting is not proper on the floor of the House. After all, this is not the first time our national legislature has provided basis for the ancient pun, "Incongruous Assembled."
Comment can be limited to four simple sentences: Dress codes and styles have been changing ever since mankind began to clothe itself. Dress codes will continue to change. What is appropriate in one time or place will not necessarily be appropriate in another. And there will always be a sizable minority that will not agree with the majority - or even with such august arbiters as the speaker of the House.
For centuries, both men and women have shown a steady preference for lighter clothing and less of it. Present emphasis on energy conservation and less air conditioning may quicken the long-range liberalization of dress codes.
But if we need a reminder that in some places change will come slowly, George A. Brinsko of Greenbelt supplies it with the succinct words of his parish (St. Hugh's) bulletin. This week's issue contains this entry:
"St. Hugh's is nowhere near the beach, so let's all dress accordingly."
One day when I attended a public session of the Supreme Court, I unbuttoned my jacket as I sat down. We fat men do that to keep from pulling the button off. An usher descended upon me at once and told me to keep my jacket buttoned or leave.
I was startled, but not resentful. I think the justices have a right to set their own rules for dress and decorum, and to make them appropriate to the business at hand.
But over the years, even the Supreme Court changes its views, and my guess is that some day "This, too, shall pass away."
Meanwhile, the new no-necktie picture that accompanies this column has drawn some comment. One reader noted, "You don't look like you're 84 years old." Another wrote, "I didn't know you were capable of smiling." Thus far, nobody has complained that I was improperly attired - but I haven't heard from Tip O'Neill yet.
In this era of consumer products that do not measure up to the puffery used in advertising them, it must be noted that there is one outstanding exception: yellow "bug lights."
Take my word for it, but lights are effective. We installed some at our house, and I think I can safely say that no house in our neighborhood has attracted a larger collection of insects this summer. Given the choice between the fluorescent lights in our kitchen and the warm, cozy glow of the bug lights, the wee beasts show a marked preference for the bug lights.
If there is a shortage of insects at your house, let me know. I'll be glad to lend you my bug lights. I'd even be willing to throw in a few insects.
M.K. writes: "Did anybody tell you about the sign on the marquee outside Wheaton Plaza a few days ago? It said, "Parking For 4,000 Elephants Or 5,800 Cars.""
THOUGHT FOR TODAY
Postcard from Frank Tyger of Trenton: "There are no incurable optimists. An optimist would never believe anything is incurable."
TIME MARCHES ON
Bennett Moser Willis of McLean asks, "Remember when it was a good year if you didn't lose your job? Now people strike if they don't think their annual raise is big enough."
Herm Albright of the Perry Township (Ind.) Weekly also thinks times have changed. He quotes a Cincinnati man who, on his 100th birthday, told reporters, "We didn't have to diet. People worked from sunup to sundown for 50 cents a day."
My generation of Cincinnatians worked hard for $2 a day, Herm. And when we went out to exercise, we didn't ride around in golf carts. We walked and carried our own golf bags. The caddie fee was $1.50, which we couldn't afford on $2 a day.