The Ties That Bind

December 15, 1990|By Ray Jenkins

WE HAD a bit of a contretemps at our house this week and, as usual, I came out on the losing end.

It began when my wife started snooping around in my closet, where she had no business, and she came upon my darkest secret: In all my life, I have never thrown away a tie. As a result of this thrifty spirit, there were at least 100 of them stored on my long-suffering tie-rack.

My wife reacted as if she had discovered that I harbored some hidden depraved tendency. She cast down the gauntlet: "Either the ties go or you go."

I pondered that intriguing choice for several minutes, but decided that it was better to be tieless than homeless.

At first I resisted, and attempted to raise the mystical aspects of ties.

"Don't you remember the great old hymn, 'Blest Be The Tie That Binds'?" I asked.

"I think they had a different kind of tie in mind," she replied.

So I sought to negotiate a compromise: I would throw out half of the ties -- those that represented the period between 1950 and 1970 -- but keep those from roughly 1970 forward. In addition I would save a few classics for eventual placement in the Smithsonian Institution, alongside Archie Bunker's chair. My wife grudgingly acceded to this reasonable compromise.

So I began to sort through my ties, and what a painful experience it was -- not unlike, I imagine, the way life is said to flash back to a drowning man.

The variety of ties I encountered was indescribable. There were chartreuse ties, fuschia ties, hot-pink ties, orange-and-black ties proudly proclaiming my high school colors; there were zoot-suit ties, hand-painted ties from Taiwan, even a tie with little bulbs that blinked at the press of a button. There were never-tied ties, the gifts of well-meaning spinster aunts of Christmases past.

There was even a tie which was purchased at the A&P, for the grand sum of $1.50, for one reason alone: It was the ugliest tie I have ever seen; it might be best described as having been fashioned from a long-used painter's drop-cloth.

Yet another oldie, I am fairly certain, was the tie that I wore at my college graduation.

As I peeled back layer after layer of my life, I began to feel as though I were a geologist studying the concentric rings of an ancient giant redwood tree -- which tell you, say, that there was a drought in the year 1849, but heavy rainfall in 1856. My tie-rack proved to be a veritable Mother Lode of history of the tie-fashion of America over four decades. There were periods when it was de rigueur to wear ties so skinny they looked like that flimsy ribbon used to tie Christmas packages. But such thin potions soon gave way to the era of broad ties with commanding !B authority. One of mine -- a handsome devil! -- measured four and a half inches across, no less.

As I sadly pored over the ties of my life, it suddenly occurred t me that I might find a new and useful home for all of them. I could donate the whole collection to some laboratory so that the stains of spilled food on the ties over the decades might be carbon-dated to reveal comparative levels of the cholesterol intake of Americans year-by-year.

I made a rough mental calculation of the cost of the Great Tie Clean-Out. The 50 doomed ties, adjusted for inflation at today's going price of $20 for a tie, represented an investment of $1,000. Oh, the pity of it, I thought, the pity of it! A thousand dollars worth of good, serviceable ties going onto the ash heap of history, along with communism, the gold standard, and the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade!

The whole affair was so depressing that I am going straight downtown on Monday morning and buy myself a new tie.

Ray Jenkins is editor of the editorial pages of The Evening Sun.

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