`Cute' winner casts a stain on contest for ugly ties

This Just In...

May 17, 2002|By DAN RODRICKS

I DO NOT wish to dull the luster of Mr. Howard Hosmer's victory in the First Maybe Annual Baltimore Sun Ugly Tie Contest, held Wednesday in the bright noon-hour sun of Flower Mart. But something is wrong when even one person looks at the winning entry and declares it "cute." That happened several times when I presented Howard's winner to friends and co-workers. They should have reacted with revulsion, but a significant number reacted with sympathy instead.

So, while the collective opinion of the large Flower Mart crowd and the Ugly Tie judges - Sun colleagues Stephanie Shapiro, Rob Kasper and Kevin Cowherd --- must be respected, I think they were unduly influenced by the charming, hand-painted design on Howard's tie, and the stain.

The 2002 winner is a yellow cotton Botany with skunks - a mama skunk and two baby skunks. I would date the tie from the 1950s. In my opinion, the tie is unusual but not extravagantly ugly, as were many of the previous winners of this contest when it was held annually in the newsroom of the bygone Evening Sun. What made Howard's tie the winner, in Wednesday's public revival of the contest, were two fingerprint-size stains just to the right of the skunks.

To an Ugly Tie Contest purist, stains are a cheat. Judges should not consider them because they are not part of the original design of the tie. It is the original design, the strange swirls and lines, the God-awful colors and the cheesy synthetic materials that put the ugh in ugly. The fact that the tie was not adulterated - that it came from the factory that way - is what simultaneously excites and distresses observers of American culture.

But we are not purists. Our aim is to have fun, and to celebrate the unmitigated horrors of American neckwear of the last half-century. Eight contestants stepped forward Wednesday with horrific specimens - and one "cute" tie stained with grease - to compete for the grand prize, a $50 American Express gift certificate.

And Howard Hosmer of Loch Raven Village won with stained skunks that once belonged to the late J. Carroll Tischinger.

That man's son (and Howard Hosmer's friend), Jack Tischinger, entered a psycho-striped Countess Mara tie with an old Stewart's Department Store label. While more in the tradition of truly ugly ties, it did not win. Nor did any of the other fine specimens: Lisa Smith's 1970s Carnabyesque color-collage; Fred Davis' Warholish lemons-on-black; Steve Levinson's grotesque paisley pastiche (a gift from his mother-in-law); Turkey Joe Trabert's red, sequined strip-club tie; Eugene Marquard's incredibly dazzling Hawaiian shirt/swamp-green tie combination; and the superb psychedelia presented by the father-son team of Daniel and Leete Doty.

My personal favorite was a blue-and-white polyester nightmare worn by Ray Hassett, a manager of the Edgewood Value Village thrift store on Pulaski Highway. When Ray first read about the contest's revival in this space in March, he plumbed the racks of Value Village, looking for an entry. "I found the blue-and-white one and never saw another one uglier," he said. "I'm going to hang onto it for next year's contest, but I'm going to have my girls keep lookin' for an uglier one."

I would encourage Ray to return with the same entry next year - preferably with a stain.

Stuck on Baltimore

This Just In, from former-WBAL-soon-to-be-former-CNN-SI-future-WJZ sports anchor Mark Viviano: "I'm going through my back e-mails as we look toward the close of business here at CNN-SI. [The cable channel went off the air Wednesday.] I couldn't help but reflect on an e-mail exchange we had awhile back in which you stated that Baltimore has a certain `stick-to-you-ness.' I had no idea at the time that what had stuck to me would actually pull me back. But I'm delighted that it's the case.

"It's funny. I was fielding several offers from various places: Denver, Washington, Pittsburgh, Seattle. And I was appreciative of them all. Then my agent calls and asks if I'd be interested in going back to Baltimore and working for WJZ. Of everything that was possible, the Baltimore prospect was completely unexpected, but it superseded all the others in terms of how excited I was about it. So, I'm returning to a place that to me feels like home, and I couldn't be happier. See you around town."

TJIDAN@aol.com is the e-mail address for Dan Rodricks. He can also be reached at 410-332-6166 or by post at The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278.

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