Heat Wave Habiliments

During Portland’s heat wave this past week, I wore shorts to work. I’m no preening primper, nor am I known for my sartorial spendor. Every day is casual day for this unrepentant slob. Still, I felt a little underdressed for work. I kept thinking of Teddy, a character in the play "Fabuloso," who laments about being a loser, saying (I paraphrase) "Look at me. I'm wearing shorts. I'm like a child."

A few summers ago, I was asked to fill in as guitarist with a hobby-band comprised of middle-aged men grasping at the dying embers of a rock and roll fantasy. We played two "gigs" in public together. One was a PTA-sponsored Family Fun Night at a local elementary school. We played in the auditorium, competing for attention with a Bouncy Castle in the cafeteria.

The other time we performed publicly was at a street fair in Northeast Portland. (One of the guys lived on the street, so had pull with the organizers). Though it was July and hot, I couldn’t wear shorts. For one thing, my wife would not have approved. For another, I agreed with her sentiment that shorts and rock and roll don't mix. Instead, I wore my best cowboy duds, including hat and boots. I sweltered cooly, while my colleagues looked positively geeky.

I thought of that when I saw a picture of Big Sandy performing with his Fly Right Boys at this year’s Pickathon. Rocker and social media maven, Dave Allen of Pampelmoose, tweeted a picture from the event. Wish I had that outfit a few years ago:

The heat wave also had me thinking of this poem by Liam Rector:

Fat Southern Men in Summer Suits

Fat Southern men in their summer suits,
Usually with suspenders, love to sweat
Into and even through their coats,

Taking it as a matter of honor to do so,
Especially when the humidity gets as close
As it does each Southern summer.

Some think men could do better
By just going ahead and taking the damned
Coats off, but the summer code stays

Because summer is the time
For many men, no matter what their class,
To be Southern Gentlemen by keeping

Those coats on. So late in life here I am
Down here again, having run to fat
(As Southern men tend), visiting the farm

Where my grandfather deposited
So much of his own working sweat,
Where Granddaddy never bought into any

Of "that Southern Gentleman crap."
Up north where I landed in the urban
Middle class I am seldom caught

Not wearing a coat of some kind. I love
The coats, and though I love them most
In the fall I still enact the summer code,

I suppose, because my father and I did buy
That code, even though I organized students
To strike down any dress code whatsoever

In the high school I attended (it was a matter
Of honor). And it still puts me in good humor
To abide with the many pockets, including

One for a flask. So whether it's New York,
Vermont, or Virginia, the spectacle
Of the summer seersucker proceeds,

Suspenders and all, and I lean into the sweat
(Right down to where the weather really is)
Until it has entirely soaked through my jacket.

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