I BEGIN WITH THE STORY of the pants manufacturer from New York. He went to the movies years ago and saw "To Catch a Thief." In the movie, Cary Grant, who is always well-dressed comes out on a roof and crouches. He is jewel thief or something and all the time he is on the roof, the audience is on the edge of their seats. But no the pants manufacturer. He is wondering how come Cary Grant's pleats have not opened. This is a man after my own heart.
I am the same way. Nixon goes to China and I wonder about all those over-stuffed chairs the Chinese use. Are they old or do they still make them? There is a story about the Middle East and I see Yasser Arafat on television and I wonder how a man can always have a two-day growth of beard. There must be several Yasser Arafats so there will always be one with a two-day growth of beard.
I noticed these things. I notice, for instance, the women who always get a shmear of lipstick in the corner of their mouths are invariably nuts and I have been told that if there is no table cloth on a restaurant table it means you pay the cashier. I worry about people who use fruit as a decoration and never eat the stuff and I worry about how come I never heard of some of the people who make the cover of Newsweek magazine. I envision a day when People magazine will do a cover on famine in China and Newsweek will do Maggie Trudeau and Walter Cronkite will show us Jerry Brown and Linda Ronstadt roller skating to a summit conference. He'll be president and his entire administration will be prerecorded.
I worry about things other people don't worry about. I still worry about the meaning of "nothing" and what the differences is between recorded and prerecorded and whether this is like history. I worry about what Gen. Alexander Haig meant when he referred to the "nuclear, biological, chemical environment," and I worry about how come we are thought you could get fined $25.00 for killing a praying mantis. I thought of that the other day when my son brought one home.
He asked me to touch it and I would not. I was sort of afraid.I hate to touch insects. Now he knows about me. It was my father who could touch insects. Now my son can. I think this is the sort of thing that skips a generation.
I read People magazine so I don't have to watch television. It saves time. I read the "couples' section and I was once going to writer a column about how they make the whole idea of being a couple like something you buy, like a possession - like being a Cuisinart or something. It isn't quite something you are; it's something you're being. Anyway, I have been a couple for years. Come to think of it. I have always been a couple. I'm a twin. Ahead of my time, as usual.
I was going to do a column about men's clothing the Yasser Arafat look, I call it. They always show men with a two-day growth of beard, baggy pants, open vest, linen shirt ripped off an untouchable in Calcutta, jacket sleeves pushed up and tie hanging from the neck, crooked like a noose. All this costs a fortune. Ralph Lauren does not have this look, though. He is from the Bronx and is introducing the western look. He went all through the West and couldn't find any cowboy clothing he liked, so he's making his own. There's nothing you can say about this. It is like Maggie Trudeau announcing she can make it on her own at age 30. Sui generis or something.
Listen, I wore these clothes the first time around. I used to sit in class with those horrible ties and ugly shorts and baggy pants and wonder why I was wearing ugly clothes. Even then I knew it was ugly and it was the clothes, I have to tell you, that made McCarthysm so much worse. The pants had endless crotches. You would sit down and this little mountain would pop up. Nothing there but material. A whole generation of men grew up thinking they were inadequate. I hated it and I hated women in padded jackets and all that. Now my wife is dressing like my mother in a faded snapshot. Pretty soon, I'll be looking like my father. Maybe then, I'll be able to touch the praying mantis.
It's something I've noticed - how men get to be like their fathers. When I was younger, I would always check out the mothers of the girls I dated, believing that this is how the girl would look some day. There is something to that. My friend dated a girl whose mother had a moustache. I knew it was only a matter of time. Now I think the same thing about us men - us. Not so much looks as action characteristics, quirks, I smile like my father. I don't know if it looks like his smile, but it feels like his smile. Sometimes I think I walk like him. I know my friend has started to walk like his father. It's hard to tell them apart from behind. I've talked to lots of men about this. We all sense it. It's like some biological clock ticking away, mocking, laughing, saying you're going to be like your old man. All the things you used to laugh at - you're going to be.
So the pants manufacturer got in touch with Cary Grant and found out how the pants were made. He's now the only person in the World who makes these pants.He's very old. Some day, no one will make them. Like mummies and Tiffany lamps and egg creams with egg in the syrup, the art will be lost. I should meet the man before it's too late.
This is a man after my own heart.