Thursday, March 23, 2023

Tie died

Portrait of a Man, by Frans Hals (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

"Fuck you," I said, or maybe just thought, catching sight of my friend Bill Savage in the lower level hallway at the Evergreen Park Public Library before our program began Wednesday night.
     Not "hello." Not "thanks for coming." Not "good to see you; it's been a while."
     "Fuck you."
     Bill had kindly agreed to be my interlocutor — the guy asking the questions — at a discussion of my book, "Every Goddamn Day." Not to forget the only reason that I still have a book publishing career, of sorts, that I've written three books for the University of Chicago Press, is that 10 years ago Bill thought I might be a good fit. I owe him a lot.
     There's more. We keep up, we grab lunch in Evanston every few months, just to talk about literature and Chicago and the whir of the city we both love.  
     In my defense, there was no malice in my obscene imperative. More like a school days "aww, c'mon" conviviality, almost an affection, a chuckle, and I want you to look at this picture I snapped of Bill and see if the reason for my remark is as obvious as I think it is. Stop reading and look at the picture.
     What was I cursing at him about?     
     It's obvious, right? The tie. Bill wore a necktie. I wore a plaid L.L. Bean teal and red work shirt under a green REI fleece. Naturally, effortlessly, without consideration, almost without thought. I used to dress up more, but I remember my wife saying, "You're the writer; you can wear jeans."
     But there is an insecurity that underlies fashion. A sheeplike conformity. Why do you think men always tend to dress alike, to wear the same thing? There is an assumption that the other guy is right, knows better, is richer, smarter, and worthy of emulation.
     Or maybe that's my own insecurity talking. Maybe most people don't give a damn.
     I think the next thing I said was, "You win!" — or maybe "I lose" — referring to the unspoken competition of men being dressed for an occasion. I'd been blindsided. I don't believe I've ever seen Bill in a tie before, and the thought of wearing a tie would have never crossed my mind. It was almost unfair of him, to commence this contest without warning.
     When I got closer, I could see that not only was it a tie, it was a cool "Clout" tie.
    "Where did you get that?" I asked.
     "Ebay," he said, observing that the little skyline before "CLOUT" had the added graphic benefit of looking like an extended middle finger. 
    Honesty, my first inclination was to carry the fashion theme out to the program — to shunt aside the topic, my book "Every Goddamn Day," point out our differing approach to neckwear and survey the audience about who is in the right here. Me, dressed in the normal, acceptable, comfortable, ready-to-sprawl-on-the-couch, hike-a-mountain, or speak-to-an-audience ensemble of jeans and woodsy wear, or Bill and his friggin' cravat? We could spend the entire hour talking about it. I think I've worn a necktie once in public in the last three years — at a lunch featuring the book at the high hat Chicago Club. A tie, a blue blazer, khakis (good call; most men wore similar, I fit right in).
    But that seemed unwise and, besides, Bill was in charge of the program, and he started us off and kept us on topic and the conversation lively and interesting. People seemed genuinely pleased, and I sold 21 books. To my disappointment, the tie was never mentioned.
     I suppose the tie was a sort of compliment. I am after all a Chicago author — one whose work is part of the curriculum he teaches. So maybe Bill wanted to give the moment a sense of gravitas and dressed the part. I'm lucky he didn't wear a black robe and mortarboard, purple mantle, and carry a scroll. Unless the necktie was some kind of mockery. I could ask him. But honestly, it might be better not to know the truth.


  1. I love his tie. Subtle, yet effective.

  2. Acceptance is the solution to all of our upset. However not “accepting” things makes for better writing!😜

  3. Dare I say, a savage tie!

  4. For a really, really deep-dive EGD reference, I offer this. Your comment responding to someone taking a shot at Mr. Savage (at 8:05 p.m. on the post) in the Steinberg Bakery thread: "Umm David, hands off Bill. He's my clout..." I thought that was an interesting usage at the time, and have long remembered it. Today, "clout" appears again and it's YOU taking the tongue-in-cheek shot!

    I just think it's kinda funny that, as somebody who used to be a tie-wearing guy long past the point where others quit if they could, you're now fully on the anti-tie bandwagon. I personally see no reason for BS to be faulted here -- especially since the tie presented a Chicago-themed joke.

    1. Good memory. Though I think you're misreading today's post. It isn't anti-tie. It's about social awkwardness. My problem with Bill's tie was that I didn't have one. I wasn't faulting him — it's a free country. The backstory of this is that I didn't have time to write a post earlier, and it was 10 p.m. and I had to write SOMETHING. But you're right, I did hold onto the suit thing, primarily because I was once dispatched, wearing jeans and a t-shirt, to a black tie event at the Palmer House. That sort of thing tends to scar a person.

  5. As a greeting I find Fuck Off ! A tad more endearing

  6. "Clout" long predates social media, as any long-time Chicagoan knows. The slang appeared as early as the 1860s for “political influence,” apparently based on a centuries-old sense of "clout" meaning “punch” or “force.” A person with clout can get things done "down at da Hall." Did that word originate in Chicago? Doubtful. Its usage goes back to well before the Daleys. It likely came over from England or Ireland.

    "Clout" got new life in the 2000s, with the rise of online communication. An app called Klout calculated a person’s weight (as a social media influencer) with a so-called Klout Score. Have a lot of followers and get a lot of likes? You’ve got clout. (Duh...) People are paying attention to you. (Okay, whatever, dude...)

    Hell, until now I've always believed it was just a cool Chicago word. Not so much. But that skyline as a middle finger is a nice Chicago touch...and I like it.

    1. Do you think though that use of “clout” as a verb originated in Chicago?

    2. Well, not as a verb meaning struck. But it's influence meaning seems to have been coined by Chicago writers, going back to the late 1930s.

  7. "Interlocutor".... thanks, I don't have to look this one up... ;) Loved the discussion at E.P. Library. Thanks for coming to the Southwest Side.

  8. I had a tie I bought for $3.00 at a thrift store. It was in fact the most popular and talked about article of clothing I ever owned. It was a series of little devils with pitchforks. People used to ask me if I would be wearing it for certain events. Once I gave up ties as you did, I gave the tie to my son who has worn it and stood guard over it for the past 12 years.


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