Sometimes we are lucky. Sometimes we notice the car going through the red light before we reach the crosswalk. Then again, we can’t just depend on luck as we struggle through the labyrinth of our years can we? We have to take some things on trust. We have to assume that someone has vetted the path.
Of course history teaches us that we cannot always rely on that. Look at corsets -not as pornography, or anything, but on their effects on the wearer’s physiology. They were addenda, cleverly hidden under layers of clothing, and intended to flatter the shape of the be-clothed figure. Unfortunately, to achieve the desired shape in those whose physiognomy was wildly noncompliant, the corset had to be tightened like a vise, diverting both blood flow and oxygen from vital parts.
But by the time I hit puberty, corsets had largely dinosaured, and in the intervening march of time, evolved into the gentler choke of diet and exercise. Permission to look like our DNA intended had not yet been granted, however. Society has expectations, after all. Standards to enforce. And damned be he who first cries, hold, enough -one does not usually show up for a job interview in jeans and a sweatshirt without a premonition of failure.
But, Age has allowed me to assess things from a position of relative sanctuary. No one really expects an old man to show up anywhere in an ironed dress shirt or a tailored suit. And from this exemptive platform it is possible to analyse things from a unique perspective -the analysand no doubt evenly divided between innocent memory holes, and wilful deceit.
Take neckties, for example -although I can’t say they were always an issue in my life; it seems to me I was far more exasperated with shoe-tying in my early years. We didn’t have Velcro in those days, so it was either tie or trip on the way to kindergarten. My mother was one of those people who encouraged self-reliance -she’d show me something once or twice and then I was on my own. The bow-concept seemed utterly beyond me for a few days and I would end up with a series of lace-knots that became tighter as the day wore on.
But, lest you fear I was institutionalized at an early age, I did perfect the bow and went on to give master classes at recess in grades one and two. So my father thought I would be a natural with neckties. I don’t remember how old I was when he decided to teach me -it’s not like your first hot dog, or anything- but I suppose he must have wanted me to graduate to shirts with collars. Only the nerdy kids with pocket pen-protectors in the front rows of class wore shirts in those days, so I risked sacrificing the cachet I held at recess. I do remember the compromise, though: if I wore a collared shirt to Sunday school, we would go for an ice cream afterwards.
Alas, accepting bribes is the first step in the downward escalator. Soon, he suggested wearing the shirt with the top button fastened -an absolute anathema, even in the front row at real school. My father was a Gradualist, I have come to realize: the original frog swimming in the pot of slowly heating water -or rather, I was the frog. But I hated the top-button thing and learned to cut a few button threads inside the shirt so it would inevitably break free in its struggle to reach the sacred buttonhole. I don’t know if he actually suspected sabotage, but he decided on a compromise: leave the button fallow, and instead cinch the collar up with what I used to call the noose.
He did not use it as punishment -I’ll give him that- but instead insisted that wearing the necktie was practice for adulthood. ‘We all have to wear them,’ he’d tell me, sadly -although the only time he himself seemed to acquiesce, was at church, sitting with my mother. She used to keep tabs on how tight it was, and whether or not it was hanging straight. In fact, I began to suspect it was her, not my father, who was policing the issue.
But, like the shoe-tying, I found it painfully difficult to reach her knot standards. I suppose it was because, I couldn’t see the knot while I was making it. And the mirror was all backwards; I took to tying it around a pillow and then sliding it over my head when the knot looked right. Then I’d present myself, to her for inspection, whereupon she would tighten it to her specifications. And then, when she turned to attend to her own makeup, my father would sidle up to me and loosen it again.
The whole thing seemed silly, an unfortunate epochal fad, and so I bided my time over the years, conforming when necessary, but as a hopeful member of the fifth column, refused to die with a tie still hanging around my neck.
I can’t say I was prescient about it all, or anything; I kind of bumbled into it, I suppose, but once my salad days were over, I came across an article by Steve Kassem, a Postdoctoral fellow, Neuroscience Research Australia, that seemed to validate my lifelong stand: https://theconversation.com/research-check-do-neckties-reduce-blood-supply-to-the-brain-99939
I admit that it fits a little too well into my confirmation biases, but nonetheless, it was a welcome endorsement after all these years. ‘The study [by Robin Lüddecke, et al, in the journal Neuroradiology] showed that wearing a tie that causes slight discomfort can reduce blood flow to the brain by 7.5%, but the reduction is unlikely to cause any physical symptoms, which generally begin at a reduction of 10%… The authors found that wearing a necktie with a Windsor knot tightened to level of slight discomfort for 15 minutes led to a 7.5% drop in cerebral blood flow, and a 5.7% drop in the 15 minutes after the tie was loosened… Healthy people are likely to begin experiencing symptoms when blood flow to the brain reduces by about 10% – so, a larger reduction than the study found.’ But, ‘Compounded with other factors, such as smoking or advanced age, a 7.5% decrease could bring some people over this 10% threshold of blood flow loss, placing extra stress on their already strained bodies and increasing their risk of losing consciousness or developing high blood pressure.’
Okay, it’s only a small study, and to suggest that it should lead to any changes in our habiliments is perhaps a little premature, but sacred pedicles are being smashed wherever you turn, and Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold, as Yeats put it.
Surely some revelation is at hand…