In a more gilded age, the walking stick was required for thrashing street arabs, wiseacres, stage-door Johnnies and other riffraff.

But, like suspenders or garters or spats, the walking stick became the appurtenance of old men. Or the affectation of young ones. In short, a statement.

That statement has returned.

You might claim it never really went away. Margaret Mead, for instance, bundles about from speech to seminar with her thumbstick, a huge, forked staff that implies the imminence of prophecy. When novelist John O'Hara slid into his final country squire phase, he let himself be photographed equipped with tweeds that bristled like barbed wire, and his official squire's ashplant. It gets very mystical. God told Moses to lift his staff to part the Red Sea. Aaron's staff sprouted and grew almond blossoms.

In any case, the walking stick is indispensable for twirling, leaning, brushing aside beaded curtains and drawing maps in the dust. Best of all, it gives you the chance to be a dandy and a tough guy at the same time. Heft one popular model, with a big knot of brass at the top, and it's hard not to lapse into your favorite urban nightmare, footsteps gaining on you, a switchblade snickering open. Except this time you win, administering a curbside lobotomy with one blow. Such satisfaction.