The Genetic Curse
Written by Rick Archer in
Last update: 2007
Humorist and occasional fashion
consultant Dave Barry
once wrote a fascinating article on ugly clothes. One of
his key paragraphs is reprinted here.
genetically programmed to select ugly clothing.
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.
If prehistoric tribal warriors had somehow gotten hold of
modern golf clothing, they
would surely have ruled the rain forest."
Mr. Barry postulated that men who were
drawn to hideous clothing were more
likely to survive than men with good taste in clothing.
Ugly clothes guaranteed
that bad guys and predators would take
one look, then turn
to flee in terror.
Mr. Barry also said
possession of modern golf clothing
during the Caveman Era would have guaranteed certain control of the
According to Dave Barry, Golf Clothing is so
frightening it would surely subdue humans into
submission and likely ward off
dinosaurs as well.
Once rid of all their enemies, men wearing hideous
clothing would be seen as great and mighty warriors. This
power would make them highly attractive as mating partners. They
would have their choice of many attractive women with whom to mate.
This explains why today there are so men who possess the worst taste
in clothing imaginable.
The weakness in this theory is what woman would allow a guy
wearing these kind of clothes anywhere near enough to mate?
Barry developed a secondary theory that any woman who could turn a blind eye
to ugly clothing would increase her chances of mating with a
powerful man dramatically.
Now that I believe!
As you can see, the interjection of the Repulsive Golf Clothing Theory into
Darwinian Survival of the Fittest Principles bears
further research. It might help explain why so much ugly
clothing exists in modern society.
RICK AND THE GENETIC
On a personal note, little did I
know that one day I would be
given a chance to
test Mr. Barry's theory
about the power of hideous golf clothing first-hand.
In order to truly
appreciate this bizarre story, please accept my word that I have
not embellished a single part of this story. Everything
unfolded EXACTLY as I have written.
We start this story back
when I was 13. For nine years I went to an
exclusive private school
here in Houston, Texas, known as Saint John's
School. The yearly tuition
was very high at SJS. Consequently it was known as a Rich
Kids School since St John's was attended by the sons and daughter of the wealthiest families in
There were a few
middle class kids at SJS as well. St. John's was
interested in any student who showed academic prowess. The
school gave scholarships to deserving students. I
was a very good student who was fortunate to get first a
half-scholarship, then later a full scholarship.
There was one major
difference between me and the other scholarship students.
I was the only kid from a lower class home. After my
parents' divorce, my mother struggled to make ends meet.
She had trouble holding a job. At least twice a year I
would come home to find the lights had been turned off due to
non-payment of the light bill. I honestly believe I was
the poorest kid in the
Just to put things into perspective, my mother was so poor that I had to
get a job after school. For several years, I occasionally gave my
mother money to help pay the bill for my books and school meals.
I am probably the only student in Saint John's School history to
pay the final bill out of his own pocket. They said I
would not be allowed to graduate until the balance of $400 was
cleared. In disgust, one afternoon I walked into the
business office and wrote a check from my own account.
Although the education I received was the finest imaginable,
I always felt like a stranger in a strange land. My broken home
contributed to my sense of alienation. My mother had so many
problems of her own, she was unable to teach me even the most basic
fundamentals of social grace.
For one thing, my
clothes betrayed me all the time. This picture says it
all. Take note of the white socks and the pants that are
way too short. I still die a million deaths every time I
see this picture.
Not surprisingly, my lack of
social polish occasionally got me into trouble with my
more sophisticated classmates.
The area of clothing in particular was a real sore spot.
John's did its best to disguise the wealthy students from the middle
class students by requiring us all to wear student uniforms.
though we all wore the same uniform, the difference in the quality of
what I wore and what everyone else wore was obvious.
that was not lost on me nor was it lost on my classmates. They
knew I was from a disadvantaged home.
I was teased once in a
while about my clothes, but usually it was good-natured enough that I
was able to maintain my dignity.
That is, of course, until the fateful
1963 bus trip to Oklahoma in the Ninth
grade. That was the day when I was finally put in my place once
and for all.
The football team was taking a 400 mile bus trip to Oklahoma City to play Casady,
one of our biggest rivals. I was 13 at
the time. Unfortunately I wasn't a
I was the statistician for the football team. Although I very much wanted to
play football and certainly had the size for it, I was not allowed
The problem was that I was
blind in my left eye. I had cut the eye with a knife when I was 6.
With no vision at all in my left eye, the coaches feared that I might be
blind-sided and badly hurt. I accepted their decision without
question. They had let me play in the Eighth grade. On one
play in particular, some kid hit me from my blindside and knocked me
out. I never again doubted their wisdom.
Since I still wanted to
contribute, I offered to keep track of the football statistics.
Coach Lee was glad to accept.
I held this job for
all four years in high school.
One of the nice perks of my job
was the chance to accompany the football team to games played in other
On that fateful day, I was the last person to get on the bus for
Everyone else was already seated and pumped up. They were raring to go!
As I began my solitary stroll down the aisle,
I was wearing black
pants, black shoes, and WHITE SOCKS!!
Unfortunately no one had ever bothered to explain to me
the basic facts of color coordination.
Gary Glesby (aka the biggest mouth in school) spotted me as I walked down the
aisle in search of an empty seat. Roaring with derisive laughter, he
pointed out my fashion mistake to every boy on the bus.
On the spot, Gary made up a rhyme for everyone... "White Socks, Dumb Ox!"
Since the other boys were already jacked up with enthusiasm, on cue the
whole pack picked up the chant and jeered as one.
I was subject of extreme
ridicule for at five unbearable minutes before something else came up to
divert their attention.
To make matters worse, Gary dedicated the remainder of
the trip to my public humiliation. Any time the
conversation lagged, Gary would return to me for inspiration. It was the
longest trip of my life.
The teasing and
humiliation of Mr. White Socks continued periodically all the way for 9
hours during the
400 mile trip. Teenage boys can be pretty rough sometimes.
As my gut knotted up, the trip felt like a passage from Lord of
the Flies, the book we
were reading at the time... "Kill the pig, Cut her throat, Spill her
blood, Bash her in!"
Yes, I sat in the back, but the boys had a good memory and knew where to
find me. For lack of anything better to do, Gary pointed out my
fashion faux pas to everyone and laughed raucously.
The rhythmic chanting of "White Socks, Dumb Ox"
wasn't exactly "Kill the Pig", but it still irritated the bejeesus out
of me. I told them to knock it off, so they did. But the
damage was done. I fumed all the way to Oklahoma.
Thank God my roommate in the
hotel that evening loaned me an extra pair of black socks to return home
in. But the damage was done. I didn't have much self-esteem
to begin with and this event left me bitter and alone.
Little did I imagine that someday it could get worse. But
one day actually did.
1988 - ME AND MY BIG MOUTH
Fast Forward 25 years. It
1988. Mr. White Socks was now 38.
As this 1988 Christmas Party pictures shows, I was still not quite the sharp-dressed man, but
I was at least
I was making
One day while I was cleaning the
studio a student named Angelica Frias showed up
an hour ahead of time for
her dance class. She apologized for being so early.
finished a nearby appointment early and
preferred not to drive home and come back again.
She asked if I minded
if she just sat and relaxed. Of course not.
Make yourself comfortable.
not have a picture of Angelica, but the picture
on the right is a close approximation.
Angelica was a tall, slender woman of Latin
background. She was about 10 years older
didn't care about her age. Angelica was
not only attractive, she had a special dignity
about her. She seemed incredibly perceptive.
She carried herself with so much poise.
was that I had a
crush on Angelica. I assumed she was out of my league, but
that didn't mean I couldn't daydream a little.
I continued to
do my chores while Angelica sat on the
nearby couch. I was pleased to have some company.
In particular I pleased to have this elegant, attractive
woman in the room with me. We began to chat.
That is when I discovered that Angelica was
At the mention of her profession,
immediately taken aback. Oh well. Now I
was certain I was no match for her. Nevertheless, it would
be nice to make a friend.
I learned long ago the easiest way to strike
up a conversation was to discuss common subjects. I knew
more than the average person about Psychology. Not only had I majored in Psychology in college,
I had put in a year of graduate work in Clinical
Psychology fifteen years earlier
Unfortunately, that particular
adventure didn't work out very well. My one year of graduate school was the biggest failure of my life.
In fact, I was thrown out at the end of the year. I
had received a devastating blow when I
was told by my professors that I didn't have the
'right personality' to be a therapist.
They thought I was too aggressive to be a good listener.
So I was sent packing. That particular
failure was especially painful, but on the bright side it did
lead to my eventual career with the dance studio. (Read
As I listened to Angelica talk about her
practice, I felt that age-old anger
course through my veins. Here was a
woman who had succeeded in an area where I had failed. She had
what it took and I didn't. The ancient bitterness came back to haunt me as I listened to her story.
However, just because I was a failed grad student didn't mean
I wasn't interested in learning what
Angelica thought about her
To my surprise, Angelica said that I seemed
know about psychotherapy than most. Flattery and a pretty girl
will get you anywhere. Like a moron, I immediately blurted
out that I had once been a psychology graduate student.
Mind you, I didn't add that they had thrown me out.
On the spot,
Angelica encouraged me
to talk about my memories. Eager to demonstrate at least
a modicum of intelligence, I
talked about some of the things I had studio. I mentioned
that I liked Freud,
Maslow, Jung, and something called "Gestalt Theory".
Meanwhile, she beamed with pleasure.
Why lie about it? You
know what was really going on... I was trying to impress her.
The big question is why on earth she
encouraged me. That actually got my hopes up. Silly
I don't know what came over me. Angelica wasn't just a therapist,
she was a Psychiatrist. She was a DOCTOR!
education and training gave her knowledge that was
light years beyond my one crummy year of grad school.
I was totally out of my league. Honestly, I should have kept my mouth shut, but, oh no, stupid me, I had to engage
her on her turf.
As our conversation developed,
I started to worry that I might have to
explain why I didn't finish graduate school.
So I began to ask her
questions. I started by asking her
who had been important in
forming her ideas about family dynamics.
Angelica replied that Murray Bowen with his theories about
family triads (triangles) had been an enormous influence on her thinking.
because I had never heard of this guy.
Who's Murray Bowen? I politely asked her to explain a little bit about his ideas.
immediately offered to let me read a famous article of his.
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?
After all, I can read. What's there to worry
They say 'look
before you leap'. Fools jump in where wise men never go.
I said, "Sure, I would like to
read his article."
like that, the jaws of the trap were set in motion.
At that moment, I had a sixth sense warning that I had just made
a dreadful mistake. I could not put my finger on it, but the moment I opened my mouth,
a bolt of anxiety swept
To this day I
don't know how or why I knew
this would be trouble, but I just KNEW.
However it was too late now.
could say another word to change the subject, Angelica
did something I never could have anticipated.
As I said, I assumed that she would forget all about it.
Instead, Angelica got up from the couch and said she would be right back.
She went to her car,
found a mimeographed copy
of the article in her trunk,
then brought it back to hand it to me.
With a big smile, Angelica asked me to read it.
She added that she
would like to know what I thought about it.
It was all I could
do to keep my jaw from dropping open. But there was more!
Before I could
even say a
word, Angelica looked me in the eye and politely 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!"
I stared at her in
disbelief. This highly educated woman had just invited me
to lunch to discuss a professional paper??
This woman was no
longer 'Angelica, the very attractive lady who was my dance
Suddenly before my
eyes Angelica was transformed into Dr. Frias, a highly-educated,
much-respected psychiatrist. Instantly I began to feel
incredibly intimidated. I knew in an instant I was way out
of my league.
What had I been
thinking? As long as we were on my turf here at the
dance studio, I felt like an equal. On the dance floor, I
had supreme confidence. But now for some reason I could
not begin to fathom, this lady had turned the tables on me.
Here she was inviting me to come meet her on her turf and give
her my 'educated opinion'. Surely this wasn't happening.
This had to be a dream.
But it wasn't a
Well, what would you do in this
situation? Squirm like a fish? Dodge like a mongoose?
Slither away like a snake?
My self-protective instincts
screamed at me to say something like "Um,
Angelica, that's very kind, but no thank you.
My gut is warning me
this is definitely not a good idea!!!"
But did I say that?
Of course not. I got myself into
this. Now I better figure out a way to extricate myself
with dignity. With a sense of incredible misgivings, I politely accepted her invitation.
At this point other students began to show up.
That where the conversation rested.
As I finished straightening out the studio, I tried to reassure
myself. I tried to analyze why
was I so worried. What's the risk here? Like I said, I kept
reminding myself that I can read. Why did I feel so intimidated?
ARE WORSE THAN I EVER IMAGINED
One of the things I
learned in graduate school is that often a person's instincts
are way ahead of one's understanding. That night I
discovered that I was absolutely correct to be intimidated.
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 &
Odyssey written in ancient Greek.
I cannot honestly recall another time
in my adult life when I have EVER felt more stupid and 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.
Maladaptive psychoneurotic triadic dysfunction, transient situational
adjustment reaction, ego mass diffusion, motoric inhibition of ideational functioning.
I copied 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?
See how well you can do. Here is
a paragraph from the Introduction.
"The goal 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 family. Bowen spoke of people functioning on a
single continuum or scale. Individuals with "low
differentiation" are more likely to become fused with
predominant family emotions. A related concept is that of an
undifferentiated ego mass, which is a term used to describe a
family unit whose members possess low differentiation and are
therefore emotionally fused."
Murray Bowen's entire article
like that. I found it utterly and completely 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 during the night, I became
increasing aware that the reading wasn't getting any easier. I was
completely unable to
decipher the text. The paper had obviously been written for a
audience. It was directed at the upper strata of Angelica's profession.
This treatise constantly used technical terms that only the
people trained in the field would be able to
comprehend. No matter how many times I thumbed through my
I was fighting a losing battle against a technical vocabulary that was foreign to me. Maybe if I had stayed in the "Biz" and stayed familiar with the jargon I
might have had more success, but now I felt thoroughly whipped.
I had no choice but to admit this stuff was over my head.
This was a thoroughly
humbling experience. I had graduated with honors at Saint John's,
the finest academic high school in Houston. I had graduated with
honors at Johns Hopkins, an elite Eastern college on par with Rice
University here in Houston.
continued reading, but the further I got the more I realized the
hopelessness of my plight. I panicked and flipped
the pages looking for an easy part. No luck. It was all Greek to me.
One question that repeated
like a broken record in my mind was to wonder what had prompted Angelica
to think I could comprehend this material. What on earth had made
her believe I could handle this stuff?
It was clear to me that
despite all my education, I was totally out of my league. How was
I ever going to face "Doctor Frias" and discuss this paper
Suddenly a moment of
terrible realization swept over me. Thoughts of the Peter
Principle came rushing through my psyche. The Peter
Principle is the concept that, in any organization where promotion
is based on achievement, success, and merit, the organization's members
will continually be promoted until one day they are promoted one fateful
step beyond their level of ability. At that moment, they suddenly
realize they are completely overwhelmed in their new spot... but it is
too late to do anything about it. The principle is commonly
phrased, "Employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence."
Angelica had unwittingly
"promoted" me to my level of incompetence.
As I sensed
the true depths of the trouble I was in, nausea swept through my body.
I was angry at my helplessness. I was
angry at my immaturity. I was
38 years old, but I had behaved like a silly boy. I had tried too
hard to impress a beautiful woman. Now look what I had gotten
myself into. I was now facing the likelihood of some acute embarrassment in the
presence of the elegant Dr. Frias.
up till now I had never considered myself to be a stupid guy. I had always excelled at
academics. I had always been near the top of my class in
anything academic and up till now I had always believed
I was a smart guy.
But this was a "Mensa-level" challenge that was clearly beyond my
ability. This article had demonstrated there was an intellectual
plateau well past my comprehension.
bitten off more than I could chew, now my thoughts
turned to deception. Was there some way I could fake my way out of
this? Under no circumstances 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.
I didn't see any other way out. My plan was
to memorize some of those catch phrases,
figure out what they meant, and use them here and there.
Then I would fall back on the ancient art of posing one question after
With any luck at all, maybe I could change the subject
to something closer to my point on the Bell Curve like dancing, local
sports or the latest music videos on MTV.
So I began to look for important passages to
underline. Even this wasn't easy. I didn't know where the
important ideas were hidden in the first place! So I simply underlined the few passages I
Two days later I
finished slogging through the article with great difficulty.
The paper may have been just 60 pages
long, but at my snail's pace, a thousand page copy of Atlas Shrugged would have been a faster read.
fingers were practically bleeding from looking up one word after
another in the dictionary. I
estimate I looked up more words in two days than
I had in my entire
just wanted to get this over with. I
had been sick in my stomach now for the past three days. I had to
get this burden off my back or go crazy.
I decided I
understood enough to fake my way through lunch.
So I called Angelica
at her office to report in. She greeted
me with warmth and said she
was very pleased to hear I had read the article.
I groaned inwardly at the encouragement in her
voice. It felt like daggers when she said she couldn't wait
to hear my thoughts on the article. It also pained me that she
seemed to have no clue as to my predicament.
On the one hand I was sick
with a guilty conscience. Deceiving a well-meaning friend was not
my idea of fun. But I was also absolutely scared to death
she would discover what a complete charlatan I was. The thought of
disappointing her stung terribly.
Angelica gave me directions to her office
near the Medical Center. We planned to meet the next day for lunch.
I smiled grimly. Good.
The execution is tomorrow. Let's get this goddamn circus over
The next day as I walked to
Angelica's office near the
Medical Center, I was very nervous. I was well
aware I was standing on shaky ground. I could say enough to prove I
had read the article, but if she asked for insights, there was a good
chance I would either freeze up
or I would say something that would trip me up. Then I would
be forced to confess my abject
I wanted to save face so badly, but I didn't know how I was going to
pull it off. I was so
clueless about this article, I didn't see how I was going to fool an intelligent woman like
Dr. Frias. Her entire training had taught her to read people.
What made me think I was going to be able to fool her?
were clammy with sweat as I
entered her office. She immediately asked what
I thought. I made a small joke about
the article, something like "At first I
was indecisive about what
it meant, now I'm not sure".
Then I smiled. I wasn't going to pretend
I was a genius. All I wanted to do was convince her I understood
To her credit, Angelica smiled at my small joke. She was so gracious. My
heart ached. Why couldn't I be smart enough to hang with her?
Just as we left her office, my anxiety was instantly ratcheted up
when Angelica announced we were going to someplace fancy to eat.
Oh no. I had
expected something like a coffee shop or a simple restaurant.
I immediately spoke up. "Angelica, I'm
for elegant dining. Maybe we should go somewhere else?"
such luck. Angelica said nonsense, I looked fine.
The next thing I knew she was driving us to the swankiest
doctors-only club in the entire Medical Center.
The restaurant was part of a private membership
club. Angelica said this was where Houston's medical elite met for
lunch. She smiled and said she had seen
the famous heart surgeons Cooley
and DeBakey in here
My dread worsened. I
knew Angelica was trying to pay me some sort of high honor. It
even crossed my mind that maybe she was trying to impress me too.
Various forms of gallows
humor ran through my brain.
We who are about to die salute you. It
occurred to me maybe it was a good thing
Angelica was a
psychiatrist. I was on the edge of a nervous
This could not possibly end
THE GENETIC CURSE STRIKES
I don't remember the name of the place. Who knows?
don't remember where it was either. I
had bigger things to worry about. As we drove in
Angelica's car, now my clothing anxiety was
creeping in to add to my worries. I tried to calm my fears by reminding myself that I had carefully
chosen one of my favorite outfits.
I wore a
nice pair of dark pants plus
an attractive dark gray and white plaid shirt
(something fairly close to the shirt in the picture).
I had black socks, black shoes, and a black belt. I even took the time to
comb my hair. I
looked okay. I was presentable. Why should I worry? But on the ride over, worry I did.
Something was wrong. I knew it. But what?
As we entered the reception area,
the man at the desk took one look at me and frowned mightily.
He pointed to a sign. Now both of us realized for the first time this place
required a coat and tie. Uh oh.
Instantly I realized my fears had been correct.
I was definitely underdressed for a place like this. I should have
worn professional attire 'just in case'.
Why hadn't I anticipated
this possibility? How hard would it have been to bring along a
coat and tie in my back seat?
The answer, of course, is that I am genetically
programmed to be stupid anytime clothes are involved. Or
maybe it was my lousy upbringing. Either way, my problems
were about to be magnified exponentially.
NO WAY OUT
Too late now. We already know I'm
much too stupid dating back to high school to
anticipate this sort of thing naturally. Already pathologically nervous about the
Murray Bowen article, now I
had a dark hunch I
was in even bigger trouble.
I voiced my reservations about continuing
down this path to
Why not go somewhere else? But Angelica said
something along the lines of 'it's no big deal, we are here, don't worry about it'.
Easy for her to say.
She didn't know my past.
I noticed that Angelica was just as surprised at the man's
intransigence as I was. She decided to put on her
"professional face" and see if that would help. In a
flash, Angelica transformed herself into "Dr. Frias".
Angelica presented herself as
both a doctor and a club
member. She stated that I was her honored guest.
Was this dress code really necessary?
I could see she was trying to use her prestige and status at the front
desk to smooth the way.
No luck. Her professional demeanor wasn't good enough. I
stopped breathing when I realized they were going to insist these rules were
going to be followed.
The man at the desk excused himself and went to summon the
maître d'. Now the head guy showed up. He took one look
at me and sniffed with contempt. The maître d' explained in the imperious
tone of someone who takes their position a bit too seriously that a coat
and tie are MANDATORY at
this establishment. No Exceptions.
At first 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, no coat, no tie! How stupid of me! Gee, my mistake.
Oh well, let's go
to the Black Eyed Pea!"
Indeed, 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!"
This didn't sound good. I turned pale white.
The maître d' said they were prepared for these
problems. He pointed to a door. He INSISTED I go
into the nearby closet
and pick out a coat. My jaw dropped open
I noticed Angelica was suppressing a giggle at
the look on my face.
She had no idea. I said a silent
prayer that she would not realize
just how badly panic-stricken I was. I
was already in a tizzy over this incomprehensible article
to begin with, but now things were growing
Meanwhile this unexpected dress code crisis had begun to evoke a flood of painful high
school fashion memories.
White Socks - Dumb Ox. There
didn't seem to be any way out of this.
THINGS GET WORSE... MAKE
THAT 'MUCH WORSE'
Like a man walking to the gallows, I moved
slowly to the 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.
Alone in the closet,
I viewed my choices. I
was stunned by what I
saw. This room contained
around twenty coats. Every coat
in this room appeared to be a refugee from a golf course.
Every single coat was plaid. I
quickly grasped the implications. This is where unwanted
clothes were sent to die. This place was a plaid golf
jacket graveyard. Every
single one of these coats was totally hideous!!
I had a vision. I guessed
that every one of the jackets had been "donated" by various doctors
who were members here.
I fantasized that at certain times, various doctors had
special new woman enter their life. At
some point, these
women had taken a peek into their closets,
gasped at these
plaid sports coats and
screamed bloody murder.
The women said to
hell with the prenup, these coats were serious deal breakers.
Get rid of
the jackets or the
wedding is off!
No self-respecting resale shop would have these
coats. Maybe by giving these coats to their private club, the doctors took a tax write-off for their generous 'donations'.
Or perhaps the reason was nostalgia. Maybe the doctors
came to visit their old coats here when
their new wives weren't meeting them for lunch.
coat in the room
was Golf Course Plaid.
plaid, green plaid, red plaid, orange plaid. Plaid Plaid Plaid
Ugly Ugly! I was wearing a plaid shirt. Plaid
on plaid, look bad. Wear plaid, go mad. What
in the hell was I supposed to do?
There was a brief moment of hope when I
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. There
was in fact only one coat in the
entire closet that I could even get
Now mind you I am no Terminator, but
at 6' 1", 200 lbs, I
was a big guy and
these were small jackets. I
smiled with satisfaction that perhaps
height and a career in medicine were
correlated. That thought disappeared when
it crossed my mind the same guy might have contributed the
and yes, cursing, I barely managed to get
some sports coat
similar my shoulders.
This coat was very tight, but it was
the only possibility. Now I looked like Randy, Ralphie's kid brother in
Christmas Story whose arms stuck out straight from wearing too many
coats. This was ridiculous.
I immediately started to worry I might not be able to get back
out of this coat without help.
Maybe I would have to rip it off and tear the coat to shreds to regain my
Now I noticed there were ties
too. The ties were far too ugly; I decided not to put one on.
Besides, I could barely move my arms. How
was I supposed to even tie the damn thing?
was a mirror in the closet. The jacket I had on was more
or less the same as the picture. As I stared at the
combination of the red, green, and blue jacket over a gray
plaid shirt, I was consumed with an intense self-loathing that
is indescribable. I looked like a freak show.
But what could I do? I swallowed hard. Okay, on with
So I walked outside praying
the maître d' had disappeared. No such luck. The moment I opened the
door, the maître d' spotted me
from across the room. He smiled. Caught you!
I think the man had sensed my
disgust for him. He
had accurately pegged me as the kind of guy who would
wait for him to turn his back, then do it my way. So he
stuck around. The maître d' was much too concerned I might actually try to
enter the premises without the required clothing. There is an old
saying, 'a clerk is a jerk'. This guy had nothing better to do than
push me around. In addition, no doubt he had taken an instant dislike to my bad
attitude even though I had said practically nothing at all to this point.
I guess I saw the utter futility of protest, so it had to be
my expression of undisguised contempt for him that gave me away.
Like some dumbass a cop who has pulled over for speeding, the maître d'
made me stand for inspection. He sneered with intense
satisfaction. Gotcha! Then the maître d' made a
discovery... I wasn't wearing a tie! tsk tsk.
So now he
ordered the man at the front
desk to go
back in the closet pick out a tie. Meanwhile he kept me under his
gaze. He didn't want to miss one moment of the
Sending the assistant to the closet
yet another move I had not anticipated. I
had assumed that if I were caught,
I would get to go back and make the choice
of tie myself. No such luck.
It occurred to me that the assistant could care less. Sure enough, I was right.
The man was in and out in 20 seconds. He returned with what had to be
the first tie that caught his eye.
And why did it catch his eye?
Yes, that is right, you guessed it. He saw
it first because it was the UGLIEST tie in the closet!! Who
could miss it?
The tie was a
dark blue paisley print with amoeba-like
splotches scattered throughout. The tie on
the far right is about what it looked like. If I didn't have bad luck, I wouldn't have any
luck at all.
Under the watchful eye of the
maître d' and
his dutiful Igor, I tried
to put on the tie. Now came the next humiliation - I
couldn't tie the tie.
I could barely move my hands because the coat
was too tight. I
didn't want to take the coat off because it was such an effort, but
finally I had no choice. I asked Angelica to help me get the coat
off. As nervous as I was, naturally it took me three tries to get
the length right.
As I struggled
to the coat back on, I could
see Angelica using every ounce of her professional self-control to keep from bursting out in
hysterical laughter. The maître d' just stood
there in quiet amusement. He was enjoying this.
Now he made me stand still
for inspection. He actually had the nerve to straighten my tie.
As if that's going to help.
I was now wearing a
very tight red-green plaid coat over a gray plaid shirt
combined with a dark blue tie covered with amoeba splotches.
Using my meager
Photoshop skills, the picture on the right gives a rough idea
how bad it was before the tie. Use your imagination to add
the paisley tie.
maître d' approved this attire as suitable for his
dining room.... what was he thinking?
Thanks to him, I was
uglier than any Halloween monster. Nevertheless, just as long as
I had on a coat and tie, let's send the poor bastard into the
dining room. Now 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 started to move.
As I entered the
dining area, I pinched myself to
see if maybe perhaps this was a dream.
Maybe I could wake up from this
and everything would be okay. Nope, too bad, this
was reality. This was
to me. There was no escape.
The cream of Houston's
medical society and their guests were all there to witness my public
I could wear a
Scream mask and not possibly appear any more
I made Freddy Krueger look
handsome. I was Night
of the Living Dead, a walking, lurching zombie nightmare.
Watch out, cover your eyes, here
comes the terrifying Plaid Monster!!!
Not surprisingly, I was
any signs of disapproval.
It didn't take long.
The moment I entered the dining room,
six women to my right gasped. They stopped eating and looked up in
From another direction I saw a lady in a corner of the room
gasp and drop her fork. She poked
her companion and pointed to me. Her companion dropped his jaw and shook his head
Who let this guy in here? Mind you, this surely was a doctor hardened by
a career full of blood and guts. However, by his
expression, nothing he had ever seen matched the horror that was me.
Two people had not seen me. They got up from their tables to go.
spotted me and recoiled in terror. They quickly sat
back down rather than be forced to come anywhere near me. Whatever I had, they didn't want to catch it.
I felt like Carrie at
the Senior Prom with pig blood all over me.
I looked around for Cooley
and DeBakey. They might be needed. Judging by the looks of
horror, some of the people could easily have a heart attack.
I felt the stir in the room and heard the muffled
whispers. The entire room
went quiet as people began to stare.
People were craning their
necks to get a better view. I felt like Quasimodo as I paraded down the aisle.
Nausea swept over me. I had a pounding
headache. I hated myself for getting into this mess. I
I realized that every
single person had stopped eating. I had caused the entire room to
lose their appetite. Their disgust
was difficult to ignore.
In my mind's eye the painful 25-year old memory of Gary Glesby and my
classmates engaged in rhythmic jeering on the bus
raced once again through my mind.
The Dumb Ox rides again.
Yet this time it
was worse. It was far, far worse.
were actually covering their
faces to hide their expressions as
I walked by.
face it; the whole room was terrified of me.
Thanks to my Golf Clothes, I was so ugly I could rule the Rain Forest.
After my "Carrie" impersonation, we were mercifully seated in a
far corner. The moment the man left, I ripped off the
coat. Then I decided to take my stupid tie off too.
The fun was over.
The waiter frowned
at me the next time he came by, but I frowned back. Taking
one look at my expression, he didn't say a word. If the
maître d' had the nerve to actually come speak to me again, I
was going to give him a serious piece of my mind. I was
seething mad from the humiliation. However, I didn't see
him again. I think he the good sense to stay away.
much-dreaded conversation with
anti-climatic. There was no further
embarrassment. I simply told her how angry I was that I had been forced to
wear this ridiculous outfit in front of all those
important people and that I felt
Was the lunch a success? No, of course not.
What had been the
purpose of this charade? What had been accomplished?
If it was decorum they were after, they had really
missed the point.
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. In this case, all my
catastrophic fears about the Murray Bowen Article were nothing
compared to the ordeal of the Plaid Macabre.
Coward that I was, I hid behind
my sullen mood
as an excuse to force to our conversation to
I used my
bad mood as my excuse to avoid talking about the Murray Bowen article. That
is how I avoided the added humiliation of
showing Dr. Frias that her favorite article was about 30 points
ability on the IQ scale.
Things were very
quiet on the ride back to the office. I thanked Angelica
as best I could, then slunk off to find the sanctuary of my car
as fast as I possibly could.
I remained in a colossal depression
for about a week. Then one day, I
told my story to a group of friends at the studio. They laughed so
hard they more or less had to be helped back up off the floor. I
was embarrassed, of course, but their laughter actually did cheer
me up in odd sort of way. I suppose laughter is the best
My story had an amusing twist to it.
That year at our annual SSQQ Halloween Party, my buddy Ken Schmetter
came to the party 'disguised' as me at the Med Center Dining Room.
If anybody asked, Ken was more than happy to share the story of
Of course Ken was
immediately the hit of the party thanks to his wicked practical joke
at my expense.
I had mixed feelings. I wasn't thrilled at the outfit, but
most of the real sting had dissipated.
I will admit it was very unsettling to see
what I must have looked like. If you substitute some
black pants and shoes, shrink the coat and make the tie a little
uglier, Ken's outfit in the picture was
frightening close to what I must have looked like in the dining room.
Later in the night I
found Ken standing alone watching the dancers. I went up
to him and asked how his evening had gone.
Ken had the nerve to complain to me that none of the women at the party would
dance with him because they all said he looked too ugly.
In fact, they were deliberately avoiding him which explained why
he was available to talk to me. No woman wanted to come
replied that it served him right. Hmmph.
I asked Ken if he would ever consider wearing that outfit
out in public. Ken looked at me as if I were out of my mind.
Then he thought about it for a moment. Ken frowned and
said, "It must have been really embarrassing."
actually, yes, Ken, it was. It was perhaps the single most
humiliating moment of my life.
I don't believe I ever saw
Angelica again. I
have little doubt her disappearance from the studio was connected to
I do vaguely remember getting a sympathetic note from her
shortly after the incident. I think she mailed it to the studio.
I looked for the note
when I first
wrote this story, but couldn't find it. Truth be told, I
don't blame Angelica. This wasn't her fault. She
was helpless to protect me from this debacle. Furthermore, I have
little doubt the incident was traumatic for her as well.
When I reviewed this article in 2007, I discovered via Google that
Angelica had relocated to the Los Angeles area.
I grimly speculated this lovely and impressive woman moved there to escape the
lingering shame of having been seen in the dining room with me.
Perhaps someday Google will
lead her to this article and she will write me another note. If
so, I will let you know what she said.
POSTSCRIPT - I RUN INTO GARY GLESBY AFTER
ALL THESE YEARS
Fifteen years after my embarrassment, there was
an interesting development to the story.
One day in 2003 I received an invitation to attend the 35th St.
John's Reunion for my graduating class of 1968.
I had been to only one previous reunion.
Unfortunately my dance studio's annual Halloween Party and these five year
reunions always seemed to land on the same day. so I
had to skip the other reunions.
here in 2003 the two
events were scheduled a week apart.
Why not? I decided to go.
As I dressed for the evening, I found myself in a very
strange mood. It had been exactly 40 years since the 1963 taunting
episode on the bus. As I got dressed, I could not get that story out of my mind.
Now my clothing
anxiety began to kick in. You might think I am kidding, but
actually I am not. I became very conscious of what I was going to
wear. I was sorely tempted to wear dark
burgundy shoes and a matching burgundy belt along with my black pants and
dark shirt. The reason was simple.
My burgundy shoes were polished, but my black shoes needed polish.
then I began to worry.
Does a burgundy belt and burgundy shoes go with black pants and
a black shirt? What if they don't
I really didn't want to take the time to polish the black shoes. Besides, what difference did
it make? As I thought about it, I realized what I really wanted to do was
rebel. Maybe I should wear a Hawaiian shirt and a Grateful Dead
tie. Or maybe an Ozzie
Osbourne Black Sabbath tee-shirt and a paisley tie. To hell with all of them.
Then I shrugged my shoulders and backed down.
Nah, better not. I honestly did not want
to face that kind of anxiety.
So I got out the brush and applied the obligatory polish
to my scruffy black shoes.
As I stroked my
shoes to perfection, I could not help but think
further about the 1963 White
Socks incident and my genetic curse. I laughed
grimly as I looked around
for a black belt. It was now 2003. Here we were 40 years later and
all I could think about was the White Socks incident.
How silly. What a long
strange trip it's been. I let out a deep sigh.
The reunion turned out to be very pleasant.
I was pleased to be reunited with 24 members out of 50 from
our graduating class. Nearly 50% attendance. Not bad.
I was early. New people strolled in every few minutes or so.
Ding dong. The doorbell rang and I looked up to see who it was this
time. I was highly amused to see Carter Simonds show
up wearing a very colorful Hawaiian shirt.
In fact, I might even say it was 'loud'. Good for you, buddy!!
No clothing shame for this guy. Then I remembered that Carter was on the
golf team back in high school. Hmm. It figures.
I noticed when Gary Glesby turned up about half an hour after I did. I
didn't greet him, but I did watch him
like a hawk out of the corner of my eye. Always the raconteur,
Gary immediately began to catch up
on stories with all his friends. Gary was always
one of the popular ones. And of course I was the loner.
Half an hour
later, as if by fate,
I ran into Gary out on the patio. There he was just a couple feet away from me.
Everyone else was inside. We were alone
together. It wasn't easy,
decided to say hello.
Gary responded politely. The conversation started slowly. Gary talked about his law career and his
children. As I listened, I realized this was probably the first time I had
ever talked to Gary one on one in my life.
Despite sharing many
over nine years, Gary and I didn't know each other from
Finally I worked up the nerve to tell Gary I had mentioned him in a story I had written on my web
site. To my complete surprise,
Gary said he had already seen it. How
about that? I was curious what he thought about it, so I
asked him how he had seen the story. Gary explained that a former dance student of mine named Jeannie was also
one of his clients. One day she was reading some of my stories
on the ssqq web site and ran across Gary's name
in this story.
Gary said he did not remember the 1963 incident at all, but didn't doubt it
happened. He smilingly disputed my unkind
suggestion that he was the "Biggest Mouth" in our
class. I smiled
back. After some gentle prodding on my
part, Gary did at least acknowledge the line in front of him probably wasn't particularly
Gary went on to add that reading the story made him re-evaluate his effect
on other people. If anything, it helped him decide to
be a bit softer
in his teasing. The revelation must have worked because the man I spoke to
this evening was a warm
and gracious person. The modern Mr. Glesby was very easy to like.
I was impressed at what a good sport Gary was about this trivial event. He
could have handled it much differently and told me to
drop dead, but instead he handled it with grace.
There was no
awkwardness. I was happy to note we both ended up with a good laugh.
On the drive home, I
thought about our conversation. I smiled as an ancient chip on my shoulder fell harmlessly to
the floor. Yet another rough edge in my psyche had been smoothed out.
I was glad I had spoken with Gary. The
edge was gone now. Our talk had removed the sting from
this childhood demon. The
White Socks nightmare had finally been put to rest.
But I can't say the same for the Horror of the Plaid Ordeal. The
entire incident remains a skeleton in my
closet that still haunts me today. It serves as a lifelong reminder that I
have an inescapable Genetic Curse.
When it comes to any decision for which clothes are
right for which situation, I am always in danger of effortlessly making the
worst choice imaginable. In fact, I deliberately avoid trying to
look sharp for fear of another mistake.
I have no doubt that somewhere in my genetic makeup there is a caveman
ancestor with a penchant for wearing truly hideous clothing. What
other explanation could there be?
Over the years I have actually given this a lot of thought.
During my time at the dance studio, I have
discovered there are a lot of other guys out there
who have the exact same problem as me. Left to their own
devices, men are simply not very good at dressing themselves. The only difference
is that thanks to my life tragedies, I have a thin skin about
it. But not these guys. They apparently have no conscience at
In fact, if forced to guess,
they like how they look. Now, thanks to Dave Barry, we know
exactly who their ancestors are. How these men manage to
reproduce and pass on their ugliness genes remains the greatest
mystery of all.