Friday, June 12, 2015

"Keeps rainin', all the time...."

     How does God know it's the Blues Fest this weekend in Chicago? And why, knowing that, does He send the rain? Thunderstorms off and on all weekend. Tonight might be merely damp, if we're lucky. A philosophical quandary. Maybe the deity hates the blues, maybe He's just establishing the proper context. I don't have to make the obvious blues/rain connection. Your heart breaks, the skies open up. That's life.
     At least that's my belief. I did not, I admit crunch the numbers to see if it rains more on Blues Fest than other days in mid-June. That's doesn't seem worth doing. Besides, few people confronted with facts contrary to their beliefs change those beliefs—easier to ignore discordant facts and keep plowing forward—and I might as well be one of them, at least in this regard. As this column shows, I've held my Blues Fest=Rain conviction for a long, long time. It also shows how, unlike beliefs, fashions change. I almost never wear a suit today. What would be the purpose? Though I still have that tailor-made blue silk suit that I bought in Thailand, though I' know better than to try it on. 

     I'm writing this on casual Friday, which means that instead of wearing a coat and tie, I'm wearing jeans and a golf shirt. I don't know if that frees me up to soar the empyrean heights; we'll see.
     Frankly, I prefer wearing a suit. First off, there are more pockets. Like many men, I carry a lot of stuff. There is a wallet and keys, pens, sunglasses, my security card, a pocketknife, a handkerchief. It gets quite bulky stuffed into jean pockets -- a suit jacket has room for all that gear, plus whatever newspaper clippings, bar matches and folded letters I pick up through the day.
     There also is a certain feeling of readiness you get from wearing a suit. This is a job where literally anything can happen, and if you're dressed down, well, it can be one of those memories that causes you to flinch for the rest of your life.
     Two incidents come to mind. One was on a Saturday night. I was working the late shift -- 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Typically, if I'd be sent out, I'd be sent to a fire. So I wore jeans and a T-shirt. No fire that night. But I did get sent to the Palmer House, I believe, for a black-tie dinner for the Israeli prime minister, attended by the brass of the newspaper. Not a good moment.
     Even worse was a black-tie AIDS benefit. The men there really knew how to don a tuxedo. I went to this benefit, again at the last minute, wearing jeans and a ragged linen short-sleeved shirt that had begun to fall apart. I was literally hiding behind plants, scooting up to men dressed like the cast of a Noel Coward play. I would apologize profusely, get a quote while trying to scrunch myself up into a little ball, then hurry back behind a chair to hide until I worked my courage up to sally out again and grab another quote.
     A suit is so much easier. Lots of men grumbled when the word was put out, a few years back, that reporters at the newspaper were expected to dress properly. That was a shock to people used to dressing as they pleased -- I had once come to work in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt.
     But I didn't grumble; I felt liberated. The beauty of suits is that you don't have to think. Just make sure you aren't wearing the same one you wore yesterday, find a tie that doesn't clash terribly, and you're on your way.
     Perhaps because I don't deal with software companies, I have never gotten into trouble with the suit. Yes, I got a few long looks hanging around the dock at Montrose Harbor, chatting with boaters in tank tops and cutoffs. And there was that terrible Blues Fest.
     As you may know, it always rains at Blues Fest. Always. They might as well call it Rain Fest. I drew the short straw one evening, and went over there just as a monsoon of biblical proportions was lashing Grant Park. I happened to be wearing a blue pinstriped suit, tailor-made for me, and black wing tips -- the best outfit I owned.
     Of course I stayed under cover, by the bandshell. Until I noticed, way out in the grass, one lone person -- this goof, sitting all by himself, holding a garbage bag over his head, listening to the music in the driving rain.
     I at first tried to ignore him, tried to pretend that I didn't have to do what I had to do. But duty called. I'll never forget the slow slog through that mudfield, the shiny wing tips sinking into the mire, the rain matting the blue silk against my body.
     I got to the man and flipped open my notebook, the rain instantly soaking the paper, the ink running down the page.
     "I see you're enjoying yourself here at the Blues Fest," I said.
     "Oh yes," he said. "I'm a big blues fan."

              —Originally published in the Chicago Sun-Times, Aug. 18, 1998

24 comments:

  1. --How does God know it's the Blues Fest this weekend in Chicago? And why, knowing that, does He send the rain?--

    (To be read tongue in cheek):

    "I sing God's music because it makes me feel free...It gives me hope. With the blues, when you finish, you still have the blues." - Mahalia Jackson

    So how's the weather during gospel fest?

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  2. blues? yawn on that music

    anyway, a pocketknife, Mr. S? what for?

    do you plan to whittle branches?

    as for pockets, wear a light jacket then you'll have more pockets

    or carry a briefcase or attaché case and more can be stored there

    no man purses of course, like in that Seinfeld ep.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Use a cab, not the bike in the big city. It's diff. if you could just bike by the lakefront.

      THen charge cab or cheaper uber to paper when they send you out.

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    2. Pocket knives are useful! My grandpa is 91 and still carries a pocket knife. To open boxes, or mail, or slicing theough a piece of string. He also carries a band aid in his wallet, but i digress. I remember when my aunt was getting married for the second time; she and my uncle got married at the Bridgeview Courthouse. My grandpa had a small pocket knife on his key ring. Couldn't have been more than an inch long. The security at the front door confiscated his weapon. My mom, grandma, ant aunts all giggled. Really, what trouble could a retiree with a tiny pocket knife cause at his daughter's wedding?

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  3. oh a twofer today, goodie, you work too hard, Mr. S.

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  4. "I almost never wear a suit today. What would be the purpose?" Well, the whole following column lays out some purposes, but if you no longer find those rationales compelling, it's okay by me! I doubt you're collecting any "bar matches" these days, both because you've changed and because they don't exist anymore, to a large extent.

    "...and black wing tips -- the best outfit I owned." A shame, though -- if you were wearing a suit today, it would be a tailor-made opportunity to sport your new RED-accented wing-tips!

    As for the rain, if there's been a Printer's Row Book Fair (shudder, uh, Lit Fest) that has proceeded without the folks having to scurry to cover their volumes with plastic at some point, we missed it! I think it's just called June in Chicago. Though, come to think of it, often the Book Fair and the Blues Fest were on the same weekend, no?

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  5. Jakash, you must have caught ANA's problem- now you are hairsplitting

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    Replies
    1. @Anonymous -- As one of the other anonymice would say: "who are you, the board police"?

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  6. obviously he saw a purpose later

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    Replies
    1. FWIW, I've been "hairsplitting" ever since I arrived in this blog burg. ; )

      He saw a purpose in 1998. He says "I almost never wear a suit today." Obviously.

      Delete
  7. The Blues. Like any other form of music, some of it is terrible. And some reach the heights of artistic human treasures.
    As an 8 year old I was introduced to B.B. King. The crashing symbol, thundering bass, and first growling cry hooked me.
    And while I later heard dismissal of his sound as being over orchestrated - like Willie Nelson being dismissed by purists as not being "country" enough - I still think the heart and emotion of the music comes through in The Beale Street Blues Boy's music. And, Mr. King almost always wore a suit. Because that's just the way people of a certain age were taught to dress when going anywhere of any formality. Even Baseball games required that a man dress in a jacket, tie, and, of course, his HAT.
    Who'd want to be a Hatless Jack?
    Plug. Plug.

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  8. I'm glad JFK made it fashionable to NOT wear a hat. Same for women.

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    Replies
    1. Seems like JFK didn't like his women to wear much of anything.

      Lefty

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    2. yes, he was naughty but a fairly good, if not great Pres.

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    3. JFK would never have made it with today's press.

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  9. Why would anyone attend an outdoor event in a suit? I would think a newsman would have alternate apparel when needed.

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    Replies
    1. Because a reporter doesn't always know at the beginning of your day where you're going, nor do you have a wardrobe at the office to wear to various events. That was sort of the point of the column.

      Delete
    2. Well, yeah, that's why you should have a backup plan, or clothes. It seems to me that appropriate apparel matters often enough to have the alternative, or maybe not?

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    3. It only seems that way to you because you haven't a clue what you're talking about. So yes, maybe not.

      Delete
  10. I think Wendy's point is valid. It's not to hard then to carry a sports jacket in the car at least or extra tie in shoes, just incase or some athletic shoes and polo shirt with a rain jacket,just incase the other way. Women know these details, carrying alternate shoes to walk from a train or busstop. Men just don't pay attention to details sometimes. And look at all the alternatives ladies have to carry if going out after work or if carrying a diaper bag.

    Or if you don't have a car around, keep it in your office in a gym bag, etc. I bet Mrs. S would figure that out.

    Lady

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    Replies
    1. oops, meant too hard not to hard

      or guys carry gym bag change of clothes, same principle

      Delete
  11. What did Clark Kent do with his suit when it became inappropriate apparel?
    Francis

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    Replies
    1. Stuck in in the pocket of his cape. Duh. After super-compressing it.

      Delete
    2. I get kinda sad when long standing mysteries are solved for me. Did they have wrinkle-free back then?
      Francis

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