Genetic Curse
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The Genetic Curse

Written by Rick Archer in
1998
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.

"Men are 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 Rain Forest

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.


 

1963 - RICK AND THE GENETIC CURSE

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 Houston. 

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 entire school.

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.  Saint John's did its best to disguise the wealthy students from the middle class students by requiring us all to wear student uniforms. 

However, even though we all wore the same uniform, the difference in the quality of what I wore and what everyone else wore was obvious.  This fact 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 football player.  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 to play. 

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 cities. 

On that fateful day, I was the last person to get on the bus for long trip to Casady.  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 was now 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 progress. 

One day while I was cleaning the dance studio a student named Angelica Frias showed up an hour ahead of time for her dance class.  She apologized for being so early Angelica had 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.

I do 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 than me. 

I 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.

The truth 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 a psychiatrist.

At the mention of her profession, I was 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 1973

Unfortunately, t
hat 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 the Story

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 profession.

To my surprise, Angelica said that I seemed to 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 silly me.

I don't know what came over me.  Angelica wasn't just a therapist, she was a Psychiatrist.  She was a DOCTOR! 

Her 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. I frowned because I had never heard of this guy. Who's Murray Bowen?  I politely asked her to explain a little bit about his ideas.   Big Mistake!  

Dr. Frias immediately offered to let me read a famous article of his.  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?  After all, I can read.  What's there to worry about??

They say 'look before you leap'.  Fools jump in where wise men never go.  I said, "Sure, I would like to read his article."

Just 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 through me.

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.  Before I 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 student'.  

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 dream.   

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?
 

THINGS 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.

Omigod!!  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 read 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 professional 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 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 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. 

Bravely I 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 intelligently?  

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.

Mind you, 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. 

Convinced I had 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 another.

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 could understand.  

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.  My 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 college career. 

Now
I 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 g
ave 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 with.

 


THE SHOWDOWN

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 stupidity.

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? 

M
y hands 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 it.

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 not dressed for elegant dining.  Maybe we should go somewhere else?" 

No 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 several times.

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.  But why? 

No matter.  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 breakdown.  

This could not possibly end well. 

THE GENETIC CURSE STRIKES

I don't remember the name of the place.  Who knows?
 I 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 Angelica.  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!"  

Uh oh.  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 in horror. 

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 more ominous. 

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 seen a 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.

Every coat in the room was Golf Course Plaid.  Burgundy plaid, green plaid, red plaid, orange plaid.   Plaid Plaid Plaid everywhere. Ugly 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 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. There was in fact only one coat in the entire closet that I could even get into.

Now mind you I am no Terminator, but at 6' 1", 200 lbs, I was a big guy and these were small jacketsI smiled with satisfaction that perhaps height and a career in medicine were negatively correlatedThat thought disappeared when it crossed my mind the same guy might have contributed the entire selection.

Grunting, squirming, 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 The 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 freedom. 

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? 

Regrettably, there 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 the show. 

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 punishment phase! 

Sending the assistant to the closet was 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.

Incomprehensibly, the 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 really happening to me.   There was no escape.

The cream of Houston's medical society and their guests were all there to witness my public humiliation. 

I could wear a Scream mask and not possibly appear any more frightening.  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 hypersensitive to 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 astonishment.  

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 in disgust.  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.  Suddenly
they 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. 

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.

Nausea swept over me.  I had a pounding headache.  I hated myself for getting into this mess. I was sick with embarrassment.

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. 

People were actually covering their faces to hide their expressions as I walked by.  Let's face it; the whole room was terrified of me.

Thanks to my Golf Clothes, I was so ugly I could rule the Rain Forest.

 

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?

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.

My much-dreaded conversation with Angelica was 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 miserable.  

She said she understood. 

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 remain superficial.  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 above my 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.

 


AFTERMATH

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 therapy.

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 my humiliation. 

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.  Ouch. 

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 near him. 

I 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."  

Well, actually, yes, Ken, it was.  It was perhaps the single most humiliating moment of my life.

ADIOS, ANGELICA

I don't believe I ever saw Angelica again.  I have little doubt her disappearance from the studio was connected to this incident. 

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

But 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.

But 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 match? 

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 meEveryone else was inside.  We were alone together.  It wasn't easy, but I 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 classes over nine years, Gary and I didn't know each other from Adam. 

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 long. 


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 all!

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.

 

Four Stories About Saint Johns Saint John's and the Mascot - My high school comes to its senses The Genetic Curse - My most painful high school memory
Maria Ballantyne - A Simple Act of Kindness Senior Year - My Favorite High School Memory
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