I didn’t learn to tie a necktie until I was 18 years old. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t still wearing a clip-on. Likely, I never wore one at all.
As a late 1970s teenage preppy, my standard “school uniform” consisted of Levi’s and colorful button-down oxfords—open collar—topped off with either my varsity letter jacket or my prized herringbone gray Harris Tweed blazer with the black suede elbow patches. A pair of Nike Cortez or Adidas Superstars on one end and a wool flat cap on the other completed my “Harvard, here I come!” ensemble.
A “special occasion” other than Senior Prom or Homecoming first drove me to a mirror to tie my own: my father’s funeral.
I stood and stared at my sorry reflection, flummoxed, the ends of my tie flying in every direction, just like my thick, knotted hair which I rarely cut because a friend once told me it reminded him of JFK Jr.’s—and if you squinted just right and hard enough—it was true.
My brother-in-law W. rescued me. He stood beside me in the mirror and said, “Do like I do.”
I followed both his directions and reflection. After a few frustrating attempts, I slid the blade of my skinny black tie through the tiny knot and tucked the tail inside the keeper loop.
There. <squint> Billy Joel never looked better.
Later, I escorted my mother down the center aisle of the church. I was thankful my tie was straight because if felt like every eye in the place was boring in on us.
But nobody was looking at me. They were just marveling at a young widow’s stoic composure.
I eventually grew up and helped my sons master the fine maneuvers of sweeps, loops, pinches, and slides, their own reflections mirroring the hand signals of initiates entering a secret society.
Eventually I branched out into bow ties. I always took pride in being the “gentleman” who stepped forward to save some less experienced and debonair friend from the unpardonable sartorial sin of an askew and asymmetrical bow tie prior to weddings and other formal occasions.
But last Sunday, I stood in front of my dresser mirror once again preparing for a church service, flummoxed, holding the two ends of my necktie in a tangled knot, as clueless at almost-61 as I had been at 18.
My first thought was Stroke!
I took stock, and I was A&Ox4: alert and oriented to person (stupid me), place (my bedroom), time (running out), and situation (humiliating).
I studied my reflection and detected no facial palsies. I hopped on each foot to check for hemiparesis.
Feeling none, and realizing there was no aphasia, at least with respect to colorful profanity, I ruled out a cerebrovascular accident since someone whose brain was bleeding or deprived of oxygen most likely wouldn’t have the wherewithal to conduct a neurological self-assessment in the first place.
Hm, let’s see . . . born in ’61, turning 61. Maybe that was the problem. I had always looked forward to the moment I would turn a senior back in in 1979, but “senior moment” no longer felt like a cool milestone.
But age-related brain farts usually involve short-term memory loss, such as misplacing the TV remote (looks everywhere but the couch—where it always is), losing the key fob (guilty and still looking), or forgetting the name of someone you met just met 5 minutes ago (“Well, hello again <awkward pause> how’s the party going for you so far?”).
Tying a necktie is a long-term memory, burned-into-the-brain, “just like riding a bike” muscle memory exercise that doesn’t require much thought other than slowing down for a second or two to adjust the tail and blade for the proper length; just enough to cover most of the belt buckle, but not so much that it looks like an elephant’s trunk dangling over your crotch.
I was thinking hard—too hard—searching in vain for the “missing link” in a normally smooth and progressive neckwear evolutionary process for this to be a proper “senior moment.”
I know: Blame it on Covid!
There are no end of Covid casualties and consequences, including falling test scores, increased mental illness, a sharp decline of in-person office social skills, weight gain, increased road rage, and an alarming number of disruptive “maskhole” airline passengers.
Thankfully, the latter’s numbers are declining with mask mandates lifted, but only after subjecting countless captive, already-stressed-out audiences to puerile performance art of the most histrionic sort.
Then I realized it had only been a few weeks since I last tied one. Can’t blame Covid on this one, I thought, especially since, as far as I knew, I’d never had it.
Finally, it came to me. I had woken up early and ridden 30 miles on my bike at 15-plus mph, which at my age, counts as a “sprint” (I usually ride 40-50 miles on weekends, at a slower pace).
But in my hurry to get ready for church, I had forgotten to prepare and eat my usual post-ride recovery snack of light Greek yogurt mixed with granola, almonds, and cranberries.
“Low blood glucose! That’s it!” I shouted to S., who had watched the whole drama unfold with little more than a dismissive wave and “Oh, don’t worry about it, you’ll remember eventually.”
Over the years, I had witnessed many patients, usually diabetics who had gone a little overboard with their insulin and/or failed to eat breakfast, crater and become disoriented from low blood glucose, only to be revived by a sip from a box of Juicy Juice or a single bite of a Snickers bar.
For the record, low blood glucose following a hard bike ride is a very respectable, even badass, excuse for a 61-year-old’s sudden-onset ascot amnesia.
Time was up, though. I threw my necktie toward the mirror in disgust and grabbed some water and a Cliff Bar as we rushed out the door.
We were trying to make it through the church door before the processional started and the ushers would block the aisle and make us wait to be seated until all the clergy and choir had reverenced the altar.
For Episcopalians, that little time-out feels like a hand slap, sort of a “purgatory-lite.”
At the appointed time, I approached the altar and the Eucharist as an open-collared, SOB (short of breath) beggar at the feast–yet I was fed.
Still, I felt a little faint and my stomach grumbled during the final exhortation to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” so we proceeded to Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, which apparently has branched out from its original location at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, and feasted on scrumptious salad and marvelous margarita pizza.
Surprise, surprise: some veggies, protein, carbs, and a pint of Yuengling were all I needed to overcome my fumbling fingers and regain my muscle memory.
I walked straight to the mirror when I returned home, grabbed my necktie, and tamed that sucker in 10 seconds flat.
Just to make sure, I retrieved a bow tie from my closet and knotted it as well.
There. <squint> James Bond never looked better.