Sunday, September 8, 2013
Where is the line between preparation and excess of caution? A matter of opinion, no doubt—a jack in your trunk is essential, one of those emergency hammers to break your window should you find your car submerged in a pond, perhaps a bit too far. The prudent office worker keeps some antacids in a drawer; an escape rope, however, seems more an expression of inner fear, and the money used to buy it might have been better spent on the helping professions.
Sometime in the hazy past, years ago, I hung a spare shirt on the back of my office door. So long ago, I can't even speculate why. I don't think I brought it down intentionally, as a precaution, against the day when it came in handy. I brought it down for some other purpose, long forgotten, didn't need it, and decided to keep it there until I did.
And the years went by.
It gave the place the air of professionalism. I thought of Nixon, sweating through his shirts, of businessmen at the highest levels changing in their hotel suites for their next high stakes appearance. I never needed a fresh shirt but, by God, if I ever did, I had one, right there and ready, just like Ronald Reagan. It lent my cluttered newspaperman's office a certain executive feel. At least in my own whimsy.
For a long time. Lately, however, the shirt seemed to reproach me. The shirt was a lie. I never needed it. I am not an executive. I would never need it. The shirt just stared dolefully at me, unnecessary, superfluous, symbolizing an excess of caution, its arms akimbo, questioning me. I thought of taking it home where at least it might be useful someday.
Then a few Thursdays ago, reclining in my chair, reading the computer while taking a hearty sip of Starbucks black coffee, a generous gulp of joe slipped from between the loose lid and the cup lip and splatted itself on the front of my yellow Oxford shirt. Not a few discrete drops either. It looked like someone had taken a turkey baster of java and squeezed it against my chest. Hard. I jumped up, alarmed, and my eyes locked on that spare shirt. Aha. My view of the shirt shifted, my appreciation of it magnified. I stripped the drenched shirt, cast it aside, and put the new one on, momentarily wondering what people passing my office would think ("Steinberg has gone around the bend--he was changing clothes at the office. Must be trouble at home.") Smiling, congratulating myself for my foresight, if that's what it was. Some people are ready for all exigencies, they have life figured out and, at the moment, I was one of those people.