The other day a colleague looked at me and said, gently but firmly, “That’s an old-man sweater. That’s a Bill Cosby sweater.” Until that precise moment I had always liked that particular sweater, and considered it respectable, in addition to being — if I may single out what others might find to be an irrelevant detail — warm. A man at a certain age is a stalker of comfort. We seek new intensities of relaxation. Entering a strange house, we instinctively sense the presence of a comfy chair next to a soothing lamp, and migrate in that direction, and soon, if we play our cards right, will be mired in the chair reading an old issue of American Heritage. It’s not even a conscious decision — our hormones drive us to find the most plausible location for a nap. So it is that our clothes sometimes have the quality of bedding. Big sweaters, relaxed-fit slacks with an elastic waistband, Smart Wool socks, expensive arch supports in our Ecco shoes.
The alleged old-man sweater under verbal assault by my colleague had, in fact, lost all shape, a subtle echo of the body therein. Also, it was brown, which apparently is no longer the new black. But although vanity is something I leave to those who aren’t as prepossessing as I am, the slur against the sweater threw me into a day-long sartorial tizzy, with chronic spasms of self-consciousness, and I lost my usual swagger, followed by my usual ability to produce a snappy rejoinder, followed by my usual knack for seeing the future as something other than prolonged degeneration leading to total oblivion. I wanted to blend in with my surroundings, and go unnoticed, but how can you do that when you’re wearing a sweater that screams Wilford Brimley? Surely everyone in the room was talking about it. What is he wearing??? Who is that man dressed like Grandpa Walton?
And then I overcompensated, of course. What was I thinking, wearing leather pants and a studded biker jacket to work? Did I really think no one would think it odd that I wore a beret? Should I have spent the whole day snapping my fingers and bobbing my head as if listening to a private jazz soundtrack?
Aging I don’t mind. Getting old — no problem. We earn our gray hairs. What I don’t like is obsolescence (I’m not even sure I can spell it). I don’t like being perceived as someone who is past his sell-by date, a condition that precedes, inevitably, being unnoticed altogether — the invisibility of the very old. So if I have to wear a spectacularly ugly sweater with little bells attached, so be it. SEE ME. Hear my sweater roar.