IN ALL my days I have never received so great an outpouring of sympathy as I did after disclosing, in this space two weeks ago, the sad fate of my neckties which spanned nearly half a century.
As readers will recall, my wife, having discovered that I had never thrown away a tie in my life, demanded that the house be put in order; the ties had to go. A compromise was struck, and the 50 ties which pre-dated 1970 were consigned to the ashheap of history. The post-1970 ties survived, but they are gravely imperiled.
My story had no sooner appeared than the calls began to pour in. One man called all the way from Omaha, Nebraska, to say that he had been given the same ultimatum last year, and he resolved the problem by keeping his ties and getting rid of his squawking wife instead. After giving his suggestion serious consideration, I told him I thought that was a bit drastic.
A number of women called and suggested that the ties could be used to make old-fashioned quilts. "This preserves the thoughts, but gives new uses to those wonderful ties," wrote Ann Grover of Baltimore. Actually, I had thought of that, but the problem is, I don't know how to make quilts; the sewing in our house is done by my wife, and since she was the one who precipitated the crisis to begin with by insisting that the ties be thrown out, the quilt solution to the problem seemed to beg the question.
A commercial photographer named Dave Rank, from Allentown, Pa., wrote to suggest that if I were careful to always buy a tie between two and three inches wide, I would never encounter the problem of going out of style. That way, he explained, you can always get by on just two ties -- one blue, one brown. To prove his point, he sent me two ties which he said "span at least 35 years." They were even pre-stained, so to speak, so that I wouldn't even have to go through the customary period of anxiety over dribbling the soup everytime you buy a new tie.
Another caller suggested that old ties make excellent shoe-shine cloths -- the kind that snap, crackle and pop when being used. When I got the drift of what he was proposing, I was so indignant over the spectacle of my upright ties being put to such an unseemly use that I told him, "I'll thank you, sir, to keep a civil tongue in your head," and hung up on him.
An old friend, Gene Silverman, called to inform me that he was in the wholesale tie business. "I've got 16,000 square feet of ties at my warehouse on Aliceana Street," he said. "Why don't you drop by and choose a new one?'
I made a quick calculation that at just 15 ties per square foot that meant choosing one out of a quarter of a million. Such a daunting task, I thought, would make me like Willy Wonka in the Chocolate Factory, so to speak. To confront such a choice after just having disposed of 50 fine ties was more than I could bear, so I respectfully declined the invitation to visit the tie warehouse.
A number of retail establishments also offered to give me a free tie to assuage my loss, but I have always tried to live by H.L. Mencken's famous dictum that journalists reject small bribes with great indignation.
In the meantime, I am happy to report, my wife showed some remorse and made a gesture toward peace by giving me a tie for Christmas.
Tie boxes, of course, cannot be disguised as anything else, so I opened the package with some apprehension.
But once I laid eyes on the submitted peace offering, I was able to say, in good conscience, 'Why, how did you know, it was exactly what I wanted!
What I didn't say was that it will take an honored place on my depleted tie-rack, replacing one of the fallen ties, the one which seemed to have been fashioned out of a painter's dropcloth, which I had purchased so many years ago at the A&P for $1.50, because I believed it to be the ugliest tie I ever saw.
Ray Jenkins is editor of the editorial pages of The Evening Sun.