Dressed Down

I did something so rare today that my wife nearly had a coronary. I bought myself a pair of blue jeans.

This rather mundane fact may not seem spectacularly important to most people, but trust me, it is a significant event in my life.

I am not what one would consider a fashion plate when it comes to clothing. I am more of your corn-dogs and fries type of plate rather than your steak tartare and vichyssoise type of plate.

I hate to shop for clothes. So when I venture out to the mall, completely of my own accord, without any prompting from my wife, in pursuit of an addition to my wardrobe, it’s time to alert the paramedics in case I come into contact with anybody who has a heart condition.

So what precipitated this adventure in clothes shopping? A couple of weeks ago, my sole pair of blue jeans developed a threadbare spot on the right knee. This spot quickly evolved into an entire hole, a hole large enough to pass my entire right foot through. Normally, I would not be concerned about this development, but I have learned over the years that my wife has an extremely low tolerance for holy clothing. To be perfectly honest, I would be quite content to wear clothing items that are nothing more than a series of holes held together by threads.

This is more or less how my in-laws remember me when I first started suiting my wife. Shortly after we started dating, I landed a summer job at the Algonquin Radio Observatory, a branch of the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics, a department of the National Research Council of Canada. The Algonquin Radio Observatory was located in a remote part of Algonquin Park, a very large piece of preserved forestry in Ontario. This observatory was the first observatory to discover carbon-based molecules in outer space.

But it wasn’t my job to assist astrophysicists with enormous brains to discover new molecules in outer space. I was one of four summer students whose job it was to clean up after the astrophysicists who discovered enormous brains in outer space. So I spent that summer taking out the garbage, greasing the gears of the giant radio telescope, cutting the grass, sweeping the parking lots and painting the iron grates that the astrophysicists walked on while they were enlarging their brains.

All this is to say that my clothes took a beating that summer in the middle of Algonquin Park. So when I put in enough time to warrant a reprieve from these onerous tasks, I high-tailed it home to be with my girl. I was so intent on seeing Karen that I didn’t bother to change before I drove off to her house in my Dad’s car.

Now my mother-in-law insists that this particular day is the first time she met me. This is not true. I am absolutely certain that we met the first time I took Karen out on a date, before I disappeared into the wilds of Algonquin Park. But she has conveniently forgotten this and it was this encounter, after having spent weeks in the deep woods that earned me the nickname “the heathen.”

If you have a vivid imagination, try to imagine me walking down the runway of some snotty fashion show in Paris. I am decked out in a plaid work shirt and extremely wide leg Wrangler blue jeans that looked like they both have served as a canvas for Jackson Pollock. My sneakers consist of shoelaces wrapped around soles and a tongue. On my head is a faded yellow fishing hat with black-fly infested hair sticking out from underneath at random angles. My cheeks and chin are covered with blotchy patches of weeks-old stubble. In retrospect, it’s amazing my wife’s mother let me walk up the driveway.

So I have a long history of having zero fashion sense, or even any dating sense. I am a man that will gladly don a wrinkled shirt and congratulate myself that I did not misalign the buttons with the buttonholes. My wife taught me that this was unacceptable by threatening to iron my shirts while I was wearing them. This made a great impression on me. So much so that I once tried to iron out the pleats in my dress pants before I put them on.

All this is to say that I tend to hang on to my clothes as long as possible in order to delay shopping for new clothes. It was only last week that I threw out those paint-encrusted wide legged Wranglers. My reputation is so great that my family gathers round me when I remove my shoes to inspect my socks for holes. Don’t even talk to me about my underwear.

So my buying a new pair of blue jeans within a couple of weeks of my old pair developing a major breach is something of a record for me. Maybe I’ll celebrate by buying myself a new hat.

Nick Burn is a freelance writer, husband, father of three, engineer, teacher, and webmaster for the Canadian Catholic Information Network. In his spare time (hah!), he enjoys camping, skiing and reading.

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