Brooks Brother’s 2pm sharp. It was very important that I was on time. My father in law (whom everyone called “Mouse”) became squirmy when people were late. Having things organized and running on time made him feel calm. His second wife had taken her furniture from their house after the divorce, leaving him only with lamps, extension cords, and tennis racquets, which he organized neatly into piles smattered around his otherwise barren house. He didn’t need furniture. As long as he had a tennis racquet in the morning, and a party in the evening, he was happy. He was a warm, unapologetic eccentric. He did things the way he wanted no matter how odd, and everyone loved him for it. When he passed away in 2009, his funeral spilled out into the grounds of Greenwich Connecticut’s largest church.
I’d been with his daughter for 6 years but hadn’t spent more than a few minutes alone with him. This was our big chance to bond. He was buying me my first blue blazer, by his request. This wasn’t any boring blue blazer, it was the kind whose shiny gold buttons were regaled with tiny anchors. It was the top half of the the uniform for his country club.
Before a scheduled trip to the club, he would always call to tell my wife, “Make sure Jason wears his blue blazer.” He knew I didn’t have one. It was his way of telling me to get one, and year after year I resisted out of stubbornness. I wasn’t going to buy anything just so I could go to some country club. Spend what little money I had so I could fit in with the upper class? That wasn’t my style at all. So every Easter, Father’s Day, and other random Sundays, I would show up in the only nice outfit I owned: A thick black wool suit. It was my funeral and wedding gear. I never had any other need to dress up, and being from Ohio, I certainly didn’t own any “slacks” or “sports coats.” I had (and still have) two fashion speeds: “sofa”, and “best man.”
It took 6 years, but he eventually realized I was never going to buy this touted blue blazer. He had two daughters, so he’d never bought clothes for another man. Likewise, I’d never had another man besides my father buy me clothes. We were both finding our way through some uncharted territory in masculinity and intimacy. Not to mention, the article of clothing in question held a certain symbolism that was lost on neither of us.
Still hungover from the night before, I labored into Brooks Brothers; the Men’s Warehouse for people with salaries, clients and bonuses. Mouse arrived in a frenetic but cool fashion, like he was late because winning a squash tournament took a little longer than he expected. He was jovial and excited to see me. I was afraid my breath wreaked of vodka and that I was destined to faint. We were on opposite ends of the having-our-shit-together spectrum.
Suits and jackets were on the second floor. We took the stairs next to the elevator. That’s how he lived. I was 30, he was 60, yet it was me who looked longingly at the lift. Mouse wasted no time motioning aggressively to a sales person. He told him I needed the whole deal; blue blazer, pants, shirt and tie. He was determined to negate any future excuse I had for being out of uniform. We were led to a long rack of sports coats where he quickly found the appropriate style. The salesman asked my size, I told him 42 long. It was a size Mouse found not only silly-big but I think also secretly intimidating. He picked out some tan pants and an oxford blue shirt, and we were off to the back room to get them tailored.
If you’re a woman, or a man who’s never experienced a tailor, this is the awkward part of shopping for formal attire where an older Italian gentleman spends an uncomfortable amount of time in very close proximity to your balls. Mouse stood there watching impatiently as I broke down the pros and cons of making a crude joke to break the tension. I passed on that “opportunity.” As if being alone for the first time with my future father in law wasn’t awkward enough, I had another bald man kneeling in front of my penis with a pencil and tape measure. I was afraid any joke would fall short (sorry) and make everything much worse.
The measurements were recorded and I was told to come back in a week to pick up my clothes. We marched back down the stairs in silence. It wasn’t an awkward silence, it was more that we mutually recognized that neither of us had anything interesting or useful to say at that moment. When we got to the cashier, I made some utterly passive attempt at paying desipite having no cash and no credit card. He waved me off like a pitcher adamantly against throwing a curve ball on a 3-2 count. He paid, and we said goodbye. He headed across the street back to his law office, and I caught the subway back to Brooklyn.
That next Easter, I showed up at the country club wearing the slacks, shirt, tie and blazer. We were both a little embarrassed. There I was wearing the very clothes that he bought me during that strangely intimate encounter. It almost felt like we should explain to everyone the genesis of my outfit. Being the more socially adept person, he finally made a joke about how I looked good. I replied with something I felt was appropriately country clubby. I don’t remember exactly what I said, only that it resulted in an under the table kick from my wife. The best part of that night at the club, was that, for the first time, none of the other members thought I was a cheap private eye.
Now that he’s gone, that blue blazer is a frequent reminder to live more like him; with simplicity and optimism. I wore the black wool suit to his funeral, and beautifully, it might have been the only time he would have approved of me wearing it.