I bought myself a shirt the other day. I ordered it online based on an advertisement I received in my junk email. It was from a name brand company website and was on clearance for eight dollars, so I ordered it. This was a milestone moment in my slow persistent march into real adulthood. First I became the father of three children, then I learned how to buy my own clothes. This is what my tombstone will say.
On the website, the shirt was a light red almost orange color. When it arrived a week later I found it was of course pink. But I was too overwhelmed by the moment to care about the color. I had just caught a young prize in my trap-line. A fresh skin to drape over my shoulders and show to my friends. I was a hunter returned. No amount of pink was going to make me feel any less manly in this moment of victory. I pulled it on and buttoned the white buttons up the front. It fit perfectly. I was excited to wear it to work. My coworkers are no doubt tired of seeing me in the same five shirts I have been wearing since junior high.
The shirt was placed in the wash. My wife insisted. Something about how they sew pesticides into the collars of cheap shirts to keep the lower class shorter and more submissive. I wasn’t really paying attention. But when the shirt came out of the dryer the next morning, the crisp lined trophy had transformed into a wrinkled ball. It was something like the discarded skin of an elderly man that had peeled after a long day at the beach. I knew immediately that I could never wear this shirt to work. This is no doubt why it was on clearance to begin with. This and the fact that it was pink. No one would ever trust an engineer that looked like a deflated pink elephant.
So, I made a further leap into the adult world. I learned to iron. And with the hand of an artist I stroked the head of the hissing serpent of iron over the back of the shirt till the ritualistic voodoo magic returned my shirt to its former self. I hung it neatly in a room downstairs. And it waited. Now that I had invested so much effort into this shirt, I needed the right occasion to bring it out.
A week passed and finally, my moment arrived. I was called to attend an important meeting with a competitive engineering firm. We would all be required to be most impressive. So, I wrapped myself in my majestic flamingo feather suit and charged into fabulous battle. I would dazzle the room, I thought. All eyes would be on me, and my manly shirt. A shirt obviously bought with my impressive wealth and good taste.
I arrived to the meeting early. My coworker and I found a seat by the door. As each attendant entered the room we turned to greet them. An engineer. A planner. Department heads. Everyone shook my hand, looked me up and down and smiled approvingly. I was on top of my game. The world was so easy. My shirt was the silver bullet of success. I was unstoppable. The last to arrive was Kevin. He was the supervisor for the project, head of the competitive firm, and the man everyone was most nervous about meeting. They wiped their palms on their pant legs and checked their watches. Soon he would be there, and no one wanted to upset the beast. I waited confidently, warmed by the glow of the pink talisman hung around my neck.
Finally Kevin arrived. As he entered the room everyone rose to their feet with greetings and acknowledgements. Drawn up by the wave I stood, turned to Kevin, and introduced myself with a genuine smile. He shook my hand, examined my shirt closely and then looked directly into my eyes and sneered. It was a wicked deliberate debilitating frown of disapproval.
My heart dropped. The improbability of what had happened made my head spin. Kevin was wearing an identical pink collared shirt with white buttons. I fell back into my chair, weak with shock. The confident lizard of a man held eye contact with me as he stepped around and took his throne at the head of the table. The two of us looked absurd together. As if we had just gotten off work at an ice cream parlor and had shown up still wearing our uniforms. I retreated deep into my chair and was silent save for a few whimpering sighs.