It takes a manly man to wear paisley

True tales from everyday living

Real life

May 21, 2006|By ROB HIAASEN | ROB HIAASEN,SUN REPORTER

Journalists need a thick skin because we face daily perils that are usually caffeine related. But it was an office shirt -- not the office coffee -- that recently put me in harm's way. And it wasn't just any shirt but a lavender paisley number my mother bought me.

The safety phrase, my mother bought me, normally deflects criticism and shields the grown son or daughter from ridicule. But in the world of big-city newsrooms, even your mother can't save you. The brave reporter is on his own. But allow me to start from the beginning, the beginning of spring.

The shirt in question was indisputably paisley -- a curved, feather-shaped design probably not seen since the last disco ball dropped. The label read North Forty Four, which is either a snazzy men's sportswear brand or the Texas spread where they filmed Dallas. I ventured to the North Forty Four Web site to learn about my shirt's colorful heritage. The words "energetic, spirited and expressive" flashed on the Internet ad and indeed, the models looked energetic, spirited and expressive in their paisley numbers. Why not me? I'm energetic, spirited and expressive -- on paper, at least.

Now, there are only three reasons a middle-aged, married man might wear a brazen, lavender paisley shirt to work: 1. His mother did buy him the shirt and he should at least wear it once so when she calls to ask if he has worn the shirt, he can honestly say yes. 2. To see if women notice him at work. 3. He actually thinks he looks good in the shirt. (Admittedly, all three reasons rate high on the Pathetic-O-Meter.)

When I wore my paisley shirt on the first day of spring, I expected a dangerous outpouring of female attention. Since danger is a journalist's middle name -- or just the middle initial "D" -- I was prepared. I was able to decode the innocent "I like your shirt" comment into what my female colleagues really meant: "Hey, if you were 15 years younger, single, without the silver hair, and would promise never to wear that shirt again, you might have a remote chance of going out with me, assuming I wasn't busy that night." They didn't say those exact words, but I knew what they were thinking.

But I didn't expect the response from male colleagues -- well, one colleague, who will remain nameless because journalists should never use their position for personal gain or to attack journalists with better hair. I can say this much: he obviously is threatened by paisley, and he might require an intervention or transfer.

Oh, I accepted his harmless ribbing at first. The man appeared to have trouble breathing after he first witnessed The Shirt; it's not fair, after all, to spring hallucinogenic paisley on a colleague without warning or medication. But then Mr. Anti-Paisley's attacks turned clever, and I will not stand for writers who are more clever than I am. So, I brought out the heavy artillery, which, as I understand it, is heavier than light artillery and hence more powerful.

"My mother bought me this shirt for spring," I told my formidable opponent.

"What -- for the spring of '74?"

There was laughter in our group. I was laughing, too, for to weep while wearing paisley might put North Forty Four right out of business. Plus, there's no crying in journalism. Since I had played my mother trump card and my foe hadn't flinched, I could only stand tall and take more congeniality.

"Weren't you in the Partridge Family?"

"The Cowsills?"

These other clever lines elicited laughter from the group. I laughed (again) because despite the dangers of daily journalism, I have a thick skin even under my lavender paisley shirt that I may or may not ever wear again in public.

Did I mention my mother bought it for me?

rob.hiaasen@baltsun.com

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