The Genetic Curse
Written by Rick Archer
and occasional fashion consultant Dave Barry once wrote a
fascinating article on ugly clothes. This was his key
observation: "Men are genetically programmed to select
said this phenomenon dates back millions of years.
Primitive tribal men responsible for defending their
territory would deck themselves out in face paint, animal
heads and nose bones. This allowed them to look really
hideous and scare off threatening enemy tribes. Ugly
clothes guaranteed that bad guys and predators would take
one look, then turn to flee in terror.
then went on to say that modern golf clothing with its
tendency towards quasi-obscene mismatched plaid outfits was
in some way related to our prehistoric past. He offered
some sage anthropological wisdom: "If prehistoric tribal
warriors had somehow gotten hold of modern golf clothing,
they would have surely ruled the rain forest."
was Mr. Barry certain that possession of modern golf
clothing during the Caveman Era would have guaranteed
control of the Rain Forest, he took his theory one step
further. Mr. Barry believed professional golfers
deliberately wear ugly clothing as a way to disturb their
opponents. In a sport where one stroke can make the
difference, even the slightest distraction could determine
Mr. Barry then launched into an explanation of Darwin's
Survival of the Fittest theory. Mr. Barry postulated that
men who are drawn to hideous clothing were more likely to
survive than men with good taste in clothing, thereby
contributing more genes into the next generation, etc, etc.
Hideous clothing is so frightening it
would surely subdue enemies into submission and likely ward
off dinosaurs as well. Once rid of their enemies, men
wearing hideous clothing would be seen as great and mighty
warriors. This power would make them highly attractive as
mating partners, thereby guaranteeing they would have their
choice of many attractive women with whom to mate.
was time for Dave Barry's triumphant conclusion. When
Darwin's Theory was combined with Barry's Golf Clothes
theory, this would explain why today there are so many men
today who possess the worst taste in clothing imaginable.
weakness in this theory is what woman would allow a guy
wearing these kind of clothes anywhere near enough to mate?
Mr. Barry had already thought of that. He said his theory
explains why women have learned to tell men to take their
clothes off first. Hmm. Makes a lot of sense.
developed a secondary theory that any woman who could turn a
blind eye to ugly clothing would increase her chances of
marrying a powerful man.
may be onto something. It might help explain why so much
ugly clothing exists in modern society. Obviously Dave
Barry is something of a genius for these insights. As you
can see, the interjection of the Repulsive Golf Clothing
Theory into Darwinian Survival of the Fittest Principles
bears further research.
- ME AND MY BIG MOUTH
personal note, in 1984 I was given
a chance to test Mr. Barry's theory first-hand. As
background, I was a bit of a retard when it came to Fashion
during my younger days. Since my school required a
uniform, I wore khaki pants and a white dress shirt
practically every day of my life for nine years. That plus
blue jeans comprised my entire wardrobe. Given so few
options, one corner of my mind remained dormant when it
comes to clothing decisions.
Nor was I
given a whole lot of clothing advice. My mother had better
things to do than worry about my clothing. She told me to
wear a belt and make sure my socks matched. The advice
did I suspect I would one day pay a supreme price for my
ignorance. I was still not quite the sharp-dressed man,
but making progress. Or at least I thought so.
At age 34, I was about to receive
some seriously unwelcome enlightenment.
One day I
came early to the dance studio to do some cleaning. To my
surprise, a dance student named
Angelica Frias showed up an hour ahead of time for her
class. She apologized for being so early. She had finished
an appointment early and preferred not to drive home and
come back again. Angelica asked if I minded if she just
sat and relaxed. Of course not. Make yourself comfortable.
was a tall, slender woman of Latin heritage. She was 10
years older than me, but one look at her was all I needed to
realize age is a state of mind and I wouldn't mind moving to
that state. Angelica was very attractive and possessed a
special dignity. I had a crush on Angelica and who could
blame me? I assumed she was out of my league, but that
didn't stop me from daydreaming a little.
continued to do my chores while Angelica sat on the nearby
couch. I was pleased to have this elegant, attractive woman
in the room with me. As I worked, we chatted. I
discovered that Angelica was a psychiatrist. At the mention
of her profession, I was immediately taken aback. Darn it.
Now I was even more certain I was no match for her.
Nevertheless, it would be nice to make a friend. I had
learned the easiest way to strike up a conversation is to
discuss subjects held in common, so I decided to ask her
about her profession.
time, I knew more about Psychology than the average person.
Not only had I majored in Psychology, in 1973-74 I put in a
year of graduate work in Clinical Psychology. I knew just
enough Psychology to hang myself.
digress. The 1971 movie "Billy Jack" was forerunner to the
popular Bruce Lee kung fu films. The vision of Billy
kicking nasty rednecks into oblivion inspired countless
young men to begin karate class. I may have been one of
them. At the end of the 8-week course was the big test.
We had to demonstrate our forms and spar against a worthy
opponent. If we passed, we were promoted to Yellow Belt.
The following week, the newly-promoted students were about
as cocky as humanly possible. They were kicking each other
and pretend-punching in the process of acting like tough
guys. I doubt seriously I was one of those fools, but I
may have been. You know, it's been a long time.
did we know our black belt instructor was watching us act
tough. When he screamed at us to come to attention, we
quickly fell into line. A lecture ensued.
young men are in worse danger than you realize. Last week
if someone pulled a knife on you in a street fight, you
would have had the sense to run. This week you might just
be stupid enough to stick around."
words, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
does this have to do with Angelica? Like I said, it just
so happened I knew a little bit about Psychology. Now
you're catching on. Hoping to gain favor, I asked Angelica
about her profession. As I listened to Angelica talk about
her practice, I showed keen interest by commenting on
several points. I may have even named-dropped Freud and Dr.
Ruth in an bold attempt to show off.
delight, Angelica seemed impressed. She complimented me and
said I knew more about Psychology and Psychotherapy than
most. Flattery from a pretty girl has been the road to ruin
for many a poor boy. Like a moron, I quickly blurted out I
had once been a Psychology graduate student. Mind you, I
neglected to add they had thrown me out of program.
Reader: Yeah, they threw me out after one year. The
Chairman of the Department thought my outspoken personality
was too aggressive for a healing profession that required
sensitivity. I suppose he was right, but it really stung at
the time. My hurt feelings explains the insecurity that
drove me to impress Angelica. The problem is that I do
have a knack for BS. I suppose I was a bit more persuasive
about the extent of my knowledge than was called for.
of my Grad School demise, Angelica had no way of knowing
that I had come close to exhausting my entire repertoire.
Surprised by my insights into her profession, Angelica
became curious about me. On the spot, Angelica encouraged
me to talk about what interested me. Eager to demonstrate
at least a modicum of knowledge, I mentioned Freud, Maslow,
Jung, and something called "Gestalt Theory". I could not
help but notice as Angelica beamed with pleasure.
about it? I was very pleased with myself. But the big
question is why on earth she encouraged me. That actually
got my hopes up. Silly, silly me. To be honest, I don't
know what came over me. What was I thinking? Angelica
wasn't just a therapist, she was a Psychiatrist with years
of training. She was a DOCTOR and I was a failed graduate
student. I should have sensed she was way out of my league,
but I was on a roll and totally unaware my good luck was
about to turn. After all, Faint heart ne'er wins Fair
Angelica's education and training gave her knowledge that
was light years beyond my one crummy year of grad school.
Honestly, I should have kept my mouth shut, but, oh no,
stupid me, my male ego just had to engage her on her turf.
However, I was not completely oblivious. A sense of fear
was beginning to creep in. The moment I realized we were
not equals even though I was pretending to be, I began to
longer our conversation continued, I worried Angelica might
ask me why I did not finish graduate school. I did not
under any circumstances wish to explain why my big mouth had
gotten me dismissed from the program. Therefore, rather
than talk about myself, I began to ask questions. This is
an old trick I use when I would rather not disclose my
One of my
questions inquired who had been important in helping her
form ideas about family dynamics. As Fate would have it,
totally by accident I had just stumbled on Angelica's
favorite topic. Since her practice revolved around Family
Therapy, she replied
Murray Bowen had enormous influence on her thinking.
She said Bowen's theory about conflicts arising from family
triangles cast significant light on a complicated subject.
As a side
note, Murray Bowen was a leading American psychiatrist and a
professor in psychiatry at Georgetown University. Bowen was
among the pioneers of family therapy. Beginning in the
1950s Bowen developed a systems theory of regarding
dysfunctional family interactions. However, I had never
heard of the guy and there was no Wikipedia in those days to
sensible thing was to admit I had no idea who Murray Bowen
was, but I was still trying to disguise the fact we had
reached the limits of my knowledge. Instead I innocently
asked her to explain a little bit about his ideas. This
turned out to be a serious mistake because Angelica's face
lit up brighter than a Christmas tree. Assuming I was
sincerely interested in this topic, she surprised me by
offering to let me read a famous article about him. Without
giving it much thought, I naively agreed to do so. After
all, it was the polite thing to do. I figured she would
forget all about the conversation before her next visit to
the studio. And even if she really was serious, why not?
Hey, I know how to read!
the little small voice that whispered, 'Look before you
leap,' I said, "Sure, Angelica, I would like to read
your article." And with that, the jaws of the trap were set
in motion. Not only that, the moment the words left my
mouth, a bolt of anxiety swept through me.
not put my finger on it, but I had a sixth sense which
indicated I had just made a dreadful mistake. To this day I
don't know how I knew this would be trouble, but I just
KNEW. Too late now. Before I could say another word,
Angelica did something I could never have anticipated in a
million years. Angelica rose from the couch and said she
would be right back. She went to her car and found a
mimeographed copy of her favorite Murray Bowen article in
her trunk. As she handed the copy to me with a big smile,
Angelica asked me to read it. Then she added that she
would like to know what I thought about it.
all I could do to keep my jaw from dropping open.
But there was more!
Before I could head for the Exit Door, Angelica looked me in
the eye and invited me to lunch. I remember her exact
words... "Let's get together for lunch later in the week and
discuss what you think about this treatise! Here's my
wrote her office number on the copy, I stared at her in
disbelief. The moment this distinguished, highly educated
woman invited me to lunch to discuss a professional paper, I
cannot even begin to explain just how intimidated I felt.
explain. I had always operated on the premise that the key
to meeting women was to let them see me on a stage where I
looked the best. Indeed, when we danced together, this
gentle, graceful Latin lady was not at all threatening. I
had just succeeded in using my Dance Skills to get to First
Base. Then I used my aborted year of clinical training to
get to Second Base. However, the moment she handed me that
paper and said she wanted to discuss it, waves of dread
passed through me. Angelica had unwittingly invited me to
try for Third Base and I knew for a fact I would be tagged
out. However, there was no way to retreat to safety.
spot, Angelica was no longer 'Angelica'. She was
an imposing, highly-respected psychiatrist, the kind of
person with the training to see right through me. On the
dance floor, I had confidence, but we were playing in her
stadium now. The ballgame had moved to her side of town and
I was in trouble.
note that Angelica was not trying to trap me or be clever.
Not at all. Angelica was completely sincere in her offer.
This was my own fault. I had opened the door and she had
accidentally assumed I actually knew something about her
field. In return, she had unwittingly turned the tables by
inviting me to give her my 'educated opinion'.
Now I was
trapped. Frightened by a sinking in quicksand feeling, I
asked if this was a bad dream. Nope, this was really
happening. My self-protective instincts screamed at me to
offer some excuse, but for the life of me I could not think
of a plausible white lie. I could not see any way to
extricate myself with dignity. And so with a sense of
impending doom I reluctantly accepted the invitation.
ARE WORSE THAN I EVER IMAGINED
point other dance students began to show up, so that's where
the conversation rested. As I finished my studio chores, I
tried to reassure myself. Why was I so worried? Just read
the article and go to lunch. How tough is that?
I have learned is a person's instincts are often way ahead
of one's understanding. That night I discovered I was
absolutely correct to be worried. Oh my God! From the
first paragraph of Angelica's paper, I realized just how
much trouble I was in. The article was only 60 pages long,
but it felt like the Iliad & the Odyssey written in ancient
Greek. I cannot honestly recall another time in my adult
life when I felt more illiterate than I did that night. I
am not exaggerating. This was very difficult reading.
There were dozens of phrases that meant nothing to me.
Here, look for yourself. See if you can do any better!
psychoneurotic triadic dysfunction, transient situational
adjustment reaction, undifferentiated ego mass, motoric
inhibition of ideational functioning."
those phrases directly from the article to give the Reader
an idea what I was up against. Does this thing have Cliff
Notes? Is there an English translation for morons? What
have I gotten myself into? Incidentally, I don't feel like
I have whined enough, so here is some more:
of Extended Family Systems Therapy is to increase the
individual family member's level of differentiation. Bowen
postulated that severe problems within the family unit stem
from a multigenerational transmission process whereby levels
of differentiation among family members can become
progressively lower from one generation to the next. He
developed an extended family systems therapy with the goal
to increase the level of differentiation among the
individual family members. Using the family projection
process as well as the differentiation of Self, the
individual can create Triangles within the nuclear family
emotional system to avoid emotional cutoff. Differentiation
of Self refers to one's ability to separate one's own
intellectual and emotional functioning from that of the
spoke of people functioning on a single continuum or scale.
People with "low differentiation" are more likely to become
fused with predominant family emotions. A related concept is
that of undifferentiated ego mass, which is a term used to
describe a family unit whose members possess low
differentiation and are therefore emotionally fused."
see my point? Murray Bowen's
entire article read like that! I found this treatise to be
utterly incomprehensible. Sometimes when I read something
for a while, I pick up a rhythm and things start to make
sense. No such luck. As I read the article, I became
increasingly aware that every paragraph was going right over
my head. Faced with words and phrases that held no meaning,
this paper was directed for a professional audience at the
upper strata of Angelica's profession. It used technical
terms that only people trained in the field would be able to
comprehend. No matter how many times I thumbed through my
dictionary, I was fighting a losing battle against a
technical vocabulary that was foreign to me. Maybe if I had
stayed in the "Biz" and remained familiar with the jargon I
might have had more success, but now I felt thoroughly
whipped. I had no choice but admit this stuff was way over
my head. I panicked and flipped the pages looking for an
easy part. No luck. It was all Greek to me. The further I
got, the more I realized the hopelessness of my plight.
question that repeated like a broken record was to wonder
what had prompted Angelica to think I could comprehend this
material. What made her believe I could handle this
stuff? My theory is that I had somehow caught her fancy.
Let me explain. Highly intelligent women who are single
have difficulty finding men who share their wavelength. Not
just that, even beautiful women have their dry spells.
Perhaps I caught Angelica between relationships. Feeling a
bit lonely, why not take a chance and lower her standards?
No doubt Angelica sized me up and realized I was a long-shot
in the Romance Department, but I could dance, I had hair and
I was friendly. That was enough for a second look.
Besides, what was the harm in following up on our charming
really mad at myself. I had tried too hard to impress a
beautiful woman and look what I had gotten myself into.
Prior to this I had considered myself to be reasonably
intelligent. But this was a "Mensa-level" challenge clearly
beyond my ability. How was I ever going to face "Doctor
Frias" and discuss this paper intelligently? Through
the oddest of circumstances, I had accidentally pulled an
Alice in Wonderland and fallen into the rabbit hole.
philosopher Clint Eastwood once said, "A man's gotta know
his limitations." I had unwittingly exceeded mine.
Expecting to be truly embarrassed by my ignorance, waves of
nausea took possession. This article had demonstrated the
existence of an intellectual plateau far beyond my ability.
Truly humbled, my thoughts turned to deception. Was there
some way I could fake my way out of this? Under no
circumstance did I want to admit to Angelica how badly
out-classed I was. So I made a coward's decision. I
decided I would simply try to grasp enough to BS my way
through lunch, then stick to the dance floor in the future.
I didn't see any other way out. My plan was to memorize a
few catch phrases and use them here and there. Then I
would fall back on my ploy of posing one question after
another. With any luck at all, maybe I could change the
subject to something closer to my station on the IQ Curve
like Line Dancing.
to look for important passages to underline, but even this
wasn't easy. I had no idea what was important! Overwhelmed
with futility, I underlined the few passages I could
understand. It took two days, but I finished slogging
through the article with great difficulty. I looked up more
words in two days than I had in my entire college career.
My fingers were practically bleeding from frequent visits to
the dictionary, but I still had no idea what this article
was talking about.
FACE THE MUSIC
wanted to get this over with. I had been sick in my stomach
for the past three days. I had to get this burden off my
back or go crazy. I decided I understood enough to have a
50-50 chance to fake my way through lunch, so I called
Angelica at her office to report in. She greeted me with
warmth and was pleased to hear I had read the article. I
groaned inwardly at the encouragement in her voice. I
squirmed when she said she couldn't wait to hear my thoughts
on the article. Based on her enthusiasm, it was painful to
know she had no clue about my predicament. Now I had a
guilty conscience. Deceiving a well-meaning friend was not
my idea of fun. But a man has to have his Pride. Scared to
death she would discover I was a complete charlatan, the
thought of disappointing this woman who had shown genuine
interest in me was very upsetting.
gave me directions to her office near the Medical Center.
We planned to meet the next day for lunch. I smiled
grimly. Good. Let's get this over with.
very nervous as I walked to Angelica's office. I was so
clueless about this article, I didn't see how I was ever
going to fool this perceptive woman. What made me think I
was going to get away with this? Her training had taught
her to read people. I dreaded being forced to confess my
abject stupidity. This was going to be very difficult to
fake. Yes, I could say enough to prove I had read the
article, but if she asked for insights, there was a good
chance I would freeze up or say something nonsensical to
trip me up.
mind that I had never completely accepted my dismissal from
graduate school. If there is one raw nerve I am
particularly sensitive about, it is the memory of being
tossed from the Psychology program. Under her close
scrutiny, I was fearful Angelica would expose my
shortcomings, thereby confirming the opinion yet again that
my hated professor had been right all along.
likely Angelica would be too polite to reveal her growing
awareness. However, her disappointment was bound to show.
It crushed me to know that she had considered me her equal.
Pretty soon she would know the truth. Consequently my hands
were clammy and my breathing shallow as I entered her
office. Angelica could not wait to ask what I thought. I
replied with an old joke I had prepared as an evasion. "I
had several insights, but my mind works like lightning. One
brilliant flash and it is gone."
credit, Angelica smiled at my small joke. She was so
gracious that my heart ached. There was a part of me that
suspected Angelica was checking me out. If that was the
case, I should have felt flattered. But that is not what I
felt. Why couldn't I be smart enough to hang with her?
Life can be very cruel.
YOU DON'T THINK IT CAN GET WORSE
anxiety was instantly ratcheted up when Angelica announced
we were going someplace fancy to eat in the Texas Medical
Center. This was not good. I had expected something
informal, maybe a coffee shop or modest restaurant. Feeling
a rising panic, I immediately spoke up. "Angelica, I'm not
dressed for elegant dining. Maybe we should go somewhere
luck. Angelica said nonsense, I looked fine. The next
thing I knew she was driving us to some swanky Doctors Club
in the Medical Center. The restaurant was private
membership only. Angelica said this was where Houston's
medical elite met for lunch. She smiled and reported seeing
the famous heart surgeons Denton Cooley and Michael DeBakey
in here several times.
worsened. I knew Angelica was trying to extend a genuine
courtesy. It even crossed my mind that maybe she was trying
to impress me too. But why? It was so utterly hopeless.
We could be friends, but I was not talented enough to be her
boyfriend. She had handed me a test and I had failed it.
Today this gracious lady would learn the truth. Various
forms of gallows humor ran through my brain. We who are
about to die salute you. Maybe it was a good thing Angelica
was a psychiatrist. I had a better chance of being her
patient than I did her boyfriend. On the edge of a nervous
breakdown, this could not end well.
GENETIC CURSE STRIKES!
drove in Angelica's car, my ancient clothing anxiety was
creeping in to add to my worries. I recalled the day my
classmates discovered I was wearing white socks with black
socks on a long bus ride. One particular jerk was inspired
to start a Lord of the Flies-style chant that went
like this: "White Socks, Dumb Ox".
the other boys to join in, my inadequacy was made quite
apparent that day, so now I feared a nasty replay. I don't
remember the name of the restaurant nor do I remember where
it was. I had bigger things to worry about. I tried to
calm my fears by reminding myself that I had carefully
chosen one of my favorite outfits. I wore my best pair of
dark slacks plus an attractive dark gray and white plaid
shirt. Thanks to my childhood memory, I even had the sense
to add black socks. For good measure, I wore black shoes
and a black belt to match my dark pants. I even took the
time to comb my hair. I looked okay. I was presentable, so
why should I worry? But worry I did thanks to my
premonition of doom. Those who know me fairly well are
aware of my strong belief in Fate. Whenever events get way
too weird, i.e. too far out of the ordinary, I get
suspicious. At the moment, my sense of fatalism was off the
charts. And sure enough, I was right.
moment we entered the reception area, the man at the desk
took one look at me and frowned mightily. He pointed to a
sign. Both of us realized for the first time this place
required a coat and tie. Uh oh. My fears had been
correct. I was definitely under-dressed for a fancy place
like this. Why hadn't I anticipated this possibility? I
should have worn professional attire 'just in case'.
You can always take clothes off, but you can't put clothes
on you don't have. How hard would it have been to bring
along a coat and tie in my back seat?
answer, of course, is that I am genetically cursed when it
comes to common sense in clothing. Whatever the reason, my
problems were about to be magnified exponentially. Already
pathologically nervous about the Murray Bowen article, I
sensed the jaws of the trap closing in. There was no way
out except to leave. With that in mind, I voiced my
reservations about continuing down this path. Let's go
somewhere else! Angelica disagreed. She said something
along the lines of "It's no big deal, we are here, don't
worry about it."
her to say. She looked great in her tasteful dark dress
that accentuated her slender figure and long legs. For that
matter, as things stood, my outfit blended well with her
exquisitely tailored professional attire. Forgive my lack
of modesty, but I too was tall and slender. Physically
speaking, I was a perfect match and we looked good
together. If I had possessed the sense to wear a dark
jacket that day, who can say what doors might have opened?
was not meant to be. Due to my Curse, I had not even
remotely anticipated this coat and tie curve ball. Nor had
Angelica. She was just as surprised at the man's
intransigence as I was. Donning a Professional Face to see
if it would help, in a flash, Angelica was transformed into
the imposing "Dr. Frias". Presenting herself as both doctor and club
member, she stated I was her honored guest. Was it really
necessary to enforce the dress code? Why not place us in a
discrete corner where no one will notice? I could see she
was trying to use her prestige at the front desk to smooth
the way. No such luck. Her professional demeanor wasn't
good enough to bring this Guardian of the Dress Code to
cooperate. I stopped breathing when I realized he was going
to insist this rule be followed.
at the desk excused himself and went to summon the maître
d'. When the head guy showed up, he took one look at me and
sniffed with contempt. The maître d' was the type who takes
his position way too seriously. He insisted a coat and tie
are MANDATORY at this establishment. No Exceptions.
this didn't bother me. In fact it gave me a face-saving
reason to suggest we leave. This impending train wreck
could still be avoided. "Oh gosh, Angelica, no coat, no
tie! How stupid of me! Gee, my mistake. Oh well, let's
cut our losses and go somewhere else. Do you like Mexican
my suggestion almost worked. Angelica had already taken one
step towards the door when amazingly the maître d' spoke
up. He said, "Dr. Frias, please wait. You and your guest
don't have to leave. I can help!"
that, Angelica hesitated. Uh oh. That was the moment my
worst fears were confirmed. I turned pale white when the
maître d' said they were prepared for these problems. He
pointed to a door, then INSISTED I go into the nearby closet
and pick out a coat. My mouth dropped open in horror.
Angelica suppress a giggle at the look on my face. She had
no idea how badly I was panicking. I said a silent prayer
she would not realize just how upset I was. I was already
in a tizzy over this incomprehensible Bowen article only to
have things grow more ominous. Like a man walking to the
gallows, I moved slowly to the walk-in coat room. I closed
the door behind me just to have some privacy. Maybe I could
regain some composure. I was so tense I could scream.
the closet, I viewed my choices. I was stunned by what I
saw. This room contained twenty coats. Every coat was
plaid, a likely refugee from a golf course. I quickly
grasped the implications. This place was a golf jacket
graveyard. This was the place where unwanted clothes were
sent to die. Noting that every coat was totally hideous, I
had a vision. I fantasized that at certain times, various
doctors had seen a special new woman enter their life. At
some point, these women had taken one peek in the closet,
gasped at his plaid sports coats and screamed bloody
murder. The women said to heck with marriage, these coats
were serious deal breakers. Clean out your closet or
consider dating a blind woman.
problem. No self-respecting resale shop would have these
coats. Nor would Good Will dream of taking them. Even poor
people have the sense to avoid these gaudy outfits. So how
to dispose of these outfits? Doctors are smart guys. By
giving these coats to their private Medical Center dinner
club, they could take a tax write-off for their generous
donation. Or perhaps the reason was nostalgia. Maybe the
doctors came to visit their old coats on days when their new
wives weren't meeting them for lunch.
coat in the closet was Golf Course Plaid. Burgundy plaid,
green plaid, red plaid, orange plaid. It was an Ocean of
Plaid! Clad in plaid, look real bad. Wear plaid, go mad.
What the heck was I supposed to do?
a brief moment of hope when I discovered a coat that
remotely matched my shirt. False alarm. It was too small.
How do I choose from these truly awful coats? Then I
discovered the selection process was actually very simple.
Out of twenty coats, there was only one in the entire
closet that I could barely struggle into. I'm no
Terminator, but at 6' 1", 210, I had big shoulders and these
were small jackets. I smiled with satisfaction that perhaps
Height and Medicine were negatively correlated. Then I
thought of Denton Cooley, 6' 4", starting forward for the UT
Longhorn basketball team. Hmm. More likely the same runt
had contributed the entire selection.
squirming, and yes, cursing, I barely managed to get the
sports coat around my shoulders. The coat was very tight,
but it was my only choice. Now I looked like Randy,
Ralphie's kid brother in "The Christmas Story" movie whose
arms stuck out straight from too many undershirts plus a
tight coat. This was ridiculous. I worried I might not
be able to get back out of this coat without help. It was
tighter than a strait jacket. Maybe I would have to tear
the coat to shreds to regain my freedom. I did not know if
my conscience could bear the sacrifice.
noticed the ties. These ties were far too ugly, so I
decided not to put one on. Seriously, how hard would it be
to have one simple black tie for situation like this?
Besides, I could barely move my arms. How was I supposed to
even tie the thing? Easier to skip it and pray Mr. Fashion
Police would cut me some slack.
Regrettably, there was a mirror in the closet. As I stared
at the combination of the red, green and blue jacket over a
dark gray plaid shirt, I was consumed with intense
self-loathing. I looked like a freak show. But what could
I do? I swallowed hard and walked outside praying the
maître d' had disappeared.
luck. The moment I opened the door, the maître d' spotted
me from across the room and smiled. Sensing the evil in his
smirk, I had never hated someone so much in all my life. I
think the man was pleased by my disgust. There is an old
saying, 'a clerk is a jerk.' Accurately pegging me
as the kind of guy who would wait for him to turn his back,
then do it my way, he had deliberately stuck around. And
why would he do this? Because this guy took sinister
pleasure in pushing me around. I am way too easy to read.
My expression of undisguised contempt for this pompous man
gave me away. One look was all that was necessary to know I
don't like to follow dumb rules.
though I had said nothing, no doubt the maître d' knew I had
a bad attitude. Like a cop who has pulled some hapless guy
over for speeding, the maître d' made me stand for
inspection. He sneered with intense satisfaction at his
power. When the maître d' discovered I wasn't wearing a
tie, the pleasure on his face was obvious . He ordered the
man at the front desk to go back in the closet and pick out
a tie. Meanwhile he kept me under his gaze lest I make an
escape. He did not want to miss one precious moment of my
the assistant to the closet was yet another move I had not
anticipated. I had assumed if I were caught, I would be sent
back to make the choice of tie myself. No such luck. It
occurred to me the assistant could care less. Sure enough,
I was right. The man was in and out in 20 seconds. He
returned with the first tie that caught his eye. And why
did it catch his eye? Yes, you guessed it. He saw it
first because it was the UGLIEST TIE in the closet!! The
tie was a purple paisley print with amoeba-like splotches.
I was irate. This has gone too far! I should have looked
at Angelica and said forget it.
Angelica, I think I am suffering from transient situational
adjustment reaction. The only known cure is cheese
enchiladas. Let's vamonos."
But I did
not have the guts or the sense to stand up for myself.
Cursed human that I am, I have been trained to be polite in
awkward situations. And so under the watchful eye of the
Maître d' and dutiful Igor, I tried to put on the tie.
to the next humiliation. My coat was so tight I could not
tie the tie on my own. I did not want to take the coat off
because it was such an effort, so Angelica offered to tie it
for me. No way I was going to let that happen. Unwilling
to accept yet another blow to my dignity, I asked Angelica
to help me get the coat off instead. With her watching, I
fumbled with the tie. I was so nervous it took three tries
to get the length right. When Angelica offered to help me
get the coat back on, this time I accepted. Her expression
was priceless. Although I could see she was sympathetic, at
the same time she was forced to use every ounce of
self-control to keep from bursting out in hysterical
the Maître d' stood there with crossed arms at the
spectacle. He was enjoying this. He made me stand for
inspection again and actually had the nerve to straighten my
tie. I would have punched him, but my arms didn't move.
picture this. I was wearing a very tight red-green- blue
plaid coat over a gray plaid shirt combined with a purple
paisley tie covered with amoeba-like splotches.
Incomprehensibly, the maître d' approved this rainbow
attire as suitable for his dining room. Thanks to him, I
was downright frightening. Nevertheless, just as long as I
had on a coat and tie, that was all that mattered.
had come time to send the poor beast into the dining room.
Ordinarily I admire anyone brave enough to attempt a
Fashion Risk, but even I knew this had gone too far. Why I
cooperated is a question for which I have no answer. The
maître d' summoned a waiter and directed him to escort us to
our seats. I grimly noticed he wasn't willing to be seen
anywhere near me from this point on. I also noticed
Angelica wasn't smiling any more. At this point, she was
just as upset at the Maître d' as I was. But she said
nothing, so I followed.
entered the dining area, I asked myself if maybe this was a
bad dream. Maybe I could wake up from this and everything
would be okay. Nope, tough luck, this is Reality. This was
really happening to me and there was no escape.
of Houston's medical society and their guests were there to
witness my public Walk of Shame. I was Night of the Living
Dead, a walking, lurching zombie nightmare. I made Freddy
Krueger look handsome. Not surprisingly, I was
hypersensitive to any signs of disapproval. It did not take
long. The moment I entered the dining room, six women to
my right stopped eating and looked up in astonishment. From
another direction I saw a lady in a corner gasp. She put
her fork down and poked her companion's side to direct his
gaze at me. Her companion dropped his jaw and shook his
head in disgust. Mind you, this was a doctor hardened by a
career full of blood and guts. Judging by his pained
expression, nothing he had ever seen matched the horror that
people had not noticed me. As they rose from their table to
leave, they spotted me and recoiled in terror. They quickly
sat back down rather than be forced to come near me.
Whatever I had, they didn't want to catch it. I felt like
Carrie at the Senior Prom with pig blood over me.
Seriously, this moment was so bizarre even the twisted mind
of Stephen King could not have imagined this.
the stir in the room and heard the muffled whispers. The
entire room went silent as people stared wide-eyed. Seeing
people crane their necks to get a better view of the modern
day Quasimodo parading down the aisle. I looked around for
Cooley and DeBakey. Judging by the tension in the room,
someone might have a heart attack. The way my heart was
pounding, I too was at risk.
me, every single person had stopped eating. Having caused
the entire room to lose their appetite, the disgust was so
palpable I was full of despair. By the time we reached our
table, I was so embarrassed I could not force myself to sit
down. Filled with bitterness, I could not take it
anymore. I turned to Angelica and said, "I don't enjoy
people staring at me. Do you mind if we go?"
quietly nodded and we turned around. I was hoping to take
the emergency exit, but no such luck. Now I had to face the
same ordeal all over again. People covered their faces to
hide their expressions as I walked by. Let's face it, the
whole room was terrified. Dave Barry was right. Thanks to
my Golf clothes, I was so repulsive I could have ruled the
at a nearby Black Eyed Pea where I could eat without people
staring. So what happened to my much-dreaded conversation
with Angelica? There is a gruesome Arabic saying that the
easiest way to forget about the loss of a finger is to lose
one's hand. In other words, one way to solve a problem is
to find another problem that is much worse. My
catastrophic fears about the Murray Bowen article were
nothing compared to the ordeal of the Ugly Golf Clothing.
the excuse needed to spare me, there was no further
embarrassment. I simply told Angelica how angry I felt
from being forced to wear this ridiculous outfit in front of
all those important people. Adding I felt too miserable for
serious conversation, Angelica said she understood. I hate
to say it, but Angelica had suffered too. Forced to
accompany Quasimodo, she too had felt the sharp disapproval
of the offended guests. Unlike me, she would have to face
these people again someday. Feeling equally somber, we got
through lunch with stretches of silence and lukewarm small
always say be careful what you ask for. I had asked for
some way to conceal my ignorance and look what happened. As
expected, I never saw Angelica again. Who can blame her?
She was just as embarrassed by the spectacle as I was.
bitter about the dining room experience. What had been
accomplished? What was the purpose of that coat and tie
charade? If it was decorum the Maître d' was seeking, he
had badly missed the point. It was more important to assert
his petty authority than do his job and show respect to
by now my ever-loyal Readers are used to a little
exaggeration in my various stories. Not this time.
Strangely enough, this story is completely true. This
experience was so painful I did not need to embellish.
by the memory of those rude stares, I suffered through
serious depression for a week. Then one day I told my story
to a group of dance friends at the studio. They laughed so
hard they had to be helped up off the floor. I was
embarrassed of course, but their laughter actually did cheer
me up in an odd sort of way. Laughter really is the best
therapy, even if it is at my own expense.
Room predicament had an amusing twist to it. That year at
our annual SSQQ Halloween Party, my buddy Ken Schmetter came
to the party in a garish outfit very similar to my Golf
Clothes Ordeal. Pairing a plaid sports coat with an ugly
tie and ugly shirt, Ken took things one tasteless step
further by adding plaid golf pants for good measure.
Needless to say, everything clashed.
that wasn't bad enough, Ken twisted the needle. Whenever
anyone flinched, Ken pointed to his
name tag in bold letters, then proceeded to share the story
of my humiliation. Early in the party when people were
still sober enough to feel the pain, Ken milked his wicked
practical joke for all it was worth.
Fortunately I got some revenge. Later in the night I saw
Ken standing alone watching the crowded dance floor.
Following a hunch, I went up to Ken and asked how his
evening had gone. "So Ken," I asked, "how did your little
stunt work out? What is like to be me for a night?"
the nerve to complain that none of the women at the party
would dance with him. They all said he looked so ugly that
no woman wanted to be seen with him. I replied it served
him right. This was the night Ken ruled the Rain Forest.
In the future, try not to wear something quite so scary to
the Halloween Party.