Descending the staircase long after Mr. Henry and his noble hound Pepper have risen, like a Prius on a downhill glide Mrs. Henry gains momentum silently. By the time the kitchen floorboards meet her little feet, she is captain in command of the bridge, issuing morning orders, sharp and firm.
Should Mr. Henry have neglected to water a plant or deposit a check, taking as examples two recently cited violations, Mrs. Henry may be forced to narrow her gaze and deliver her prepared remarks in clipped, crisp military tones.
Like any commander, her leadership apparatus seems to enjoy these little jolts. Once in a while when she looks a little sluggish, Mr. Henry will deliberately leave something in the wrong place or otherwise violate well-established rules. On cue, she erupts.
One good grouse in the morning and she’s right as rain for the whole day.
During the skirmish Little Henry heads directly for the front door, foregoing the covert gulp of Dad’s coffee. With sure survival instinct Pepper takes a defensive position under the dining room table.
In high-risk engagements like these, Mr. Henry’s finds his best course of action is not to engage. His fallback tactic is to feign deafness. Of course, this doesn’t really work, and perhaps never did, but it always buys a little time, perhaps enough to change the subject or be stricken by what insurance underwriters call “an act of God.”
After years of battlefield experience he knows better than to ask a question. Each question of his will be met by a question of hers slightly off subject. Another round of question-meeting-question leads the discussion deeper into a thicket. When she draws attention to her sainted forbearance and long-suffering patience, Mr. Henry may be tempted to toss off an Oscar Wildean witticism about how remarkably short her long-suffering can be. But he refrains. He hopes to live a long and fruitful life, thanks to having found his rightful place in the chain of command.
Stepping out on a warm summer evening looking sleek – face tan and stomach more trim than it’s been since last fall – will Mr. Henry ruin the line of his trousers with a bulging wallet in the pocket?
Since he doesn’t need a jacket in hot weather, why would he carry a fat wallet?
In addition to paper billets, his wallet bulges with credit cards (three), driver’s license, health club card, Metrocard transit pass, pictures of Little Henry (three), museum membership cards (four), insurance card, AAA card, business cards (three), and assorted restaurant receipts.
When headed for the local eatery with every intention of ordering a full allotment of two drinks before stumbling home a crooked mile, does he really need to carry so much back-up?
Not at all. Leaving the house in the evening, he pockets a slim card case sparely rigged out with driver’s license (in case of terrorist emergency), a Metrocard (in case of taxi strike), one credit card (VISA), and a business card. He then collects about $100 in assorted denominations – just enough clobber to cover any likely eventuality – and folds the bills into the front pants pocket next to card case and house keys.
Voilá. A flat front pocket. With this Spartan kit he is as prepared for battle as any knight of yore, better prepared, actually, because if he should take a tumble he won’t require the assistance of a page boy to remount.
Mr. Henry appreciates the best of everything. However, fortune, or rather its absence, does not permit him to have the best of everything he appreciates.
Because he prefers to wear the finest suits, his closet holds but three that fit the changing fashions as well as his changing frame: a dark navy for serious functions, a medium charcoal grey for daytime business, and a tuxedo. For other occasions he saves the suits and wears a jacket and trousers.
Consequently, because of the normal five-pound weight spread between his winter and summer body, he is chronically short of appropriate trousers.
Ten years ago “super-120” wool, what Armani uses it for their Black Label, was the best suit cloth you could buy. A pair of trousers would cost upwards of $650.
New technology in looms permits Loro Piana to spin a light, strong, soft fabric from the best Australian and New Zealand wools, so-called “Tasmanian,” the most comfortable and durable suit cloth yet invented.
If you order online, J. Crew will hem and cuff them to your length.
After a long flight, when you need to look alert and fresh at a business meeting, nothing gets you there like a shave. As soon as you disembark, nip into the men’s room, strip to the waist, shave and put on a clean shirt.
To really feel clean, shave under your arms.
That’s right, men. Shave those pits like a European footballer. Clark Gable did it, and who could question his masculinity?
Ignore snide remarks from macho idiots harboring secret doubts about their virility. A regime of shaving the armpits daily usually eliminates the need for deodorant. Do we really understand the long term health effects of antiperspirant aluminum compounds absorbed through the pores?
The best tactics to reduce underarm odor are through exercise, hygiene and diet. Get up a good sweat every day, wash, eat cleanly, and drink lots of water.
The general rule for hair is this: As you get older, your hair should get shorter. This goes for head as well as facial hair.
For better relations with womenfolk, shave your grizzled face. When bussing mother-in-law, auntie, or sis, do it with a smooth face. You may need their alliances on days when your wife goes bananas.
Because right now most men are wearing shorts, the question of trouser length does not loom large. Summer long trousers – stained and frayed – tend to be whatever length they already are. You end up wearing whichever pair happens to fit comfortably round the summer waistline.
Shorts today present a curious paradox. Because disaffected youths elect to wear baggy basketball shorts, theirs extend well below the knee. Old timers wear plaid Bermudas at or above the knee. Consequently, knobbly, swollen, varicose-ridden legs are readily on display. Legs like statues of Greek gods remain hidden.
Once in a great while, however, you must leave irony at the door and strike out into the world attempting to look like a serious man. At these fateful junctures in life’s comedy, trousers that fall at the wrong length will undermine a confidence already crumbling at the edges.
I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
How long should a serious man’s trousers be? Specifically, should there be a break in your trouser leg?
Without getting into the ticklish question of cuffs, let me offer one simple rule: the tighter the pant leg, the shorter the trouser.
Trousers should obscure socks or, heaven forfend, naked ankles. Perfect strangers should not have to confront either your veined ankles or your daily choice from the sock drawer.
But neither should trousers drag upon the ground. For a trouser leg of standard width, hem the leg to a length that creates a single break. Any longer simply looks as though your pants have slipped down your behind.
New peg-leg designs like these chinos from J. Crew, however, call for a slightly shorter leg. Instead of breaking on the foot, a narrow leg cut long will bunch and get fouled up in your shoes.
The topic of today is the upkeep of the male body, more specifically, an aching back.
First, let us dispense with problems in the extremities. Apart from pattern baldness, failing eyesight, tinnitus, tooth decay, receding gums, moles, wens, basal cell carcinomas and diminished cognitive function, the head really doesn’t suffer much from age. Be sure to wear a sunhat.
Men rarely have issues concerning hands and arms. Find some upper body workout you don’t mind doing, and do it with regularity. Watch out for free weights. They are waiting to ruin your joints.
Because feet, knees, and hips suffer normal wear and tear, they require special attention. Some men are lucky and don’t get sore feet. If like mine yours are always aching, take a class from a dance instructor and learn how dancers warm up. Do this warm-up every morning in the shower and your feet will function properly.
There are only three sure-fire cures for backache. One is whiskey. Another is downhill skiing. The third and finest of all is found behind closed doors with an enthusiastic partner. Unless your partner suffers from nymphomania, in which case I don’t want to hear from you, you’ve got to find a daily substitute.
The pelvic thrust – what ladies refer to as the pelvic “tilt” – is the single best exercise for the back and stomach. This, too, you can do in the shower.
As you bend into a half squat, reach your hands forward as if grasping something, then while pulling the arms and shoulders back thrust the pelvis forward slowly and strongly as far as you can push, holding it in position for a moment before repeating.
Because I find it helps to visualize, here are a few pictures to help your focus.
Lately the sidewalks of New York are abloom in colorful Trilby hats ornamenting the uncoiffed heads of young white indie boys affecting a style derived from blues and jazz men.
It’s a look that could be called nouvelle beatnik.
The look says, “I don’t wear this hat because I need to cover my head like some old bald guy (although in truth my hair is a fresh-out-of-bed mess). This hat radiates insouciance and cool. It advertises that I am in the know and am self-confident enough to be sartorially ironic.
“If I wear a Trilby, it’s not a smart gray one with white hatband like Sinatra’s. Mine is purple corduroy. Get it? I like this style because it’s the farthest from handsome I can possibly imagine. (My grandfather wore one, but his was black rabbit fur.) For me this hat is bohemian and beat, ironic and flip, camp and cool.
“I channel Robert Johnson, greatest of blues legends. I channel Frank Sinatra, greatest of vocal stylists. I would never sport Buster Keaton’s comical porkpie hat, even if Lester Young wore one. [And nobody ever had a cooler sound than Lester Young.] Dude, comedy is not irony. And who listens to Lester Young these days anyhow?”
Underpants – a comic masterpiece of a word. Just try maintaining a serious tone when saying the word “underpants.” In Britain you can’t even say “pants” without getting a clever-clever rejoinder. For them, pants are garments worn under trousers.
The German word for panties is “panties,” which when pronounced with a German accent sounds very, very naughty.
It’s difficult to know how to frame the argument about underpants. Boxers or briefs? Surely this is a false dichotomy. To me, boxers just don’t do the trick. They feel like shortie pajamas.
Unless you are seriously underweight, jockey briefs will chafe and bind. In the male the connection twixt thigh and torso is already cluttered. There simply isn’t room for bunches of cloth.
I’m not arguing that we should all “go commando.” Underpants offer a beneficial buffer to sharp stitches and creases inside trousers.
Women who wear thong panties solve this problem in the most uncomfortable way imaginable. How can they stand to walk the streets tortured by a constant wedgie? A scold’s bridle or chastity belt would be less punishing.
Male bikinis barely cover the topic.
Aren’t bikini underpants for men another conspiracy designed to make us all buy French fashion products? Honestly, does a real guy need fragrance, facial foundation, designer luggage or a man purse?
A man needs to support his parts. He owes them that much. Like participles, testicles should not be dangling. Neither should they be tucked up tight like a ladyboy. Body heat causes ache – the dreaded blue balls of yesteryear – not to mention decreases sperm count.
Personally I like the Calvin Klein boxer brief, the greatest sartorial invention of the 20th century. They offer kind support without unsettling the groin.
As for color, Russell Baker said that underwear, like bed sheets and dinner plates, should be white.
Like voting in Florida, napping is an activity to be pursued early and often.
However, to call napping an activity perhaps may be a misnomer. Napping is to activity as atheism is to faith or NASCAR is to contemplation, that is, something defined by its absence.
Friends and valued family members label me a nap master, a compliment I accept with both humility and pride. For me, a nap is critical to good health and happiness. Furthermore, napping promotes the general welfare. Because it acts directly to reduce hostility, I believe there is patriotism in napping.
America’s Protestant forebears extolled the value of industry, by which they meant labor. (Pilgrims were a little fuzzy on economic theory.) They placed equal value on ideas of rugged individualism, “Don’t Tread on Me,” taming the wild frontier, winning the West, and so on. In America you’ve got to be your own man, by jiminy, follow a different drum, plant a seed, and stand on the shoulders of giants.
Speaking from personal experience, I would argue that every one of these tasks causes backache, which is easily remedied by a nap.
Accordingly, here is my napping Book of Rule.
- Find a hiding place far from your significant other. What she doesn’t know won’t create a rankling in her breast.
- Remove garments with elastic at the waist. The belly is the seat of repose, or very near to it.
- Cover the eyes and ears with a dense, soft, old piece of clothing, known in my household as “the head rag.”
- Place a bolster under your knees. Aching legs and feet cause crankiness, marital discord, and varicose veins.
- Elevate the head so as not to interfere with digestion. Tuck another bolster pillow under your chin so that while sleeping you don’t go slack-jawed like a mummy.
- Since it is never easy to free the bonds of consciousness, you must focus the mind on some object of transcendent beauty, something ethereal, perfect and pure, for example, a page from the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.
- Breathe slowly and deeply into your belly (unfettered by elastic).
- Do not move for at least 20 minutes – for far longer if you can get away with it.
Left over right. Right over left. Any sailor or boy scout can tell you that’s the way to tie a square knot. But is that the way you tie your shoes? I’ll bet not.
At two years of age I learned to tie my shoes. My big sister, four, had not yet tied her own. After suffering parental mockery and humiliation she delivered me a prompt beating, one that became an invaluable, lifelong lesson in Realpolitik.
But despite my cleverness my shoelaces always came undone unless I tied them double.
Now thanks to Verlyn Klinkenborg, editorial page sage of The New York Times, I tie my shoelaces in square knots that do not come unraveled as I walk.
From Verlyn I learned why it has been that for decades when in a crowded locker room or busy Zen temple for precious minutes I struggle to untangle knots.
Verlyn transformed my life. Overcome with gratitude, I floated the idea of naming the family hound “Verlyn Klinkenborg.”
In single voice my wife and child rose up in anger. “Dad, that’s stupid.” explained Little Henry.
Registering her standard and customary observation, Mrs. Henry added, “You just don’t have practical good sense.”
Perhaps they have a point after all. It is true that Klinkenborg’s three Teutonic syllables do not trip off the tongue melodiously like Lolita or Postlewaite or any number of more appropriate dog names.
In my town’s junior high school a boy named Klinkenborg would not have had an easy time. Might it be the same for a dog?
Worse, with Verlyn for a first name his prospects for health and happiness would have been compromised substantially further, unless, of course, he were a strapping giant with an earnest interest in fist-fighting, in which case he would have been called “Bud,” or “Buzz,” or possibly “Bubba.”
Perhaps I’m simply envious of V. Klinkenborg’s cynosure on The New York Times editorial page, an employ obliging him on occasion to write feelingly about grasses, fences, and seasons. Hoarfrost circling his wizened temples, he chronicles our stately course from bright innocence to dusky death. He is the poet of barns and hay, an unexpected contributor to the Times editorial page, to be sure.
Do newshounds, skeptics and smart-alec journalists really accept Verlyn in all his many parts? I wonder.
I wonder, as well, what sort of shoes V.K. wears. Are they crusty, yellowed old stompers with hard rubber soles, the kind you get at the hardware store? When he shows up at the Times’ 41st Street tower, if indeed he shows up at all, does he sport a sensible pair of academic-issue, English working-class, no-longer-trendy Doc Martins?
Choice of footwear must pose difficulties in the morning. “Let me see. Today, shall I be poet, sage, farmer, professor or New York Times editorial grandee?”
I’ll bet he phones it in.
And then, of course, each and every day Verlyn Klinkenborg must bear the burden of his august name. To achieve manhood despite this permanent handicap cannot have been an easy journey.