It All Started with a Pair of Corduroys


Technically, I really don’t blog. What happens most times is that I begin writing a piece, often based on a memory. Laboring away to give it relevance, my hope is that through memoir I make sense of life for others (it is not just a selfish reflection for my own ego). Depending, the process can take one or two weeks-sometimes more-of editing, word-coaxing, cogitating until I get so exhausted by my own peculiar process, I finally click the little blue box that says PUBLISH and hope for the best. Today, while on a long weekend holiday in Montreal, another of our homes-away-from-home, I sit down to simply blog. To record my thoughts spontaneously without a lot of work-angst or reflection.

Clothes shopping is not as enjoyable to me as it was decades ago. Even when I had no money in NYC, I managed to have a unique collection of footwear. I had a pair of hand-made Italian shoe boots purchased in the alpine ski town of Cortina d’Ampezzo.  I’d bought them from the man who made them while I was on a business trip back in the early 80s. I had them re-heeled a few times and finally re-soled almost ten years later. Now that I’ve developed an arthritic condition in my left foot, my days of stylish or cute shoes are over. The mature me has been forced to wear sensible shoes, the male equivalent of what, as a kid, I used to call ‘nun’s shoes’. It truly sucks to begin aging.

But in Montreal my love for clothes shopping is renewed. There is a store, SIMONS, I actually enjoy visiting, because I usually find several wonderful things I assure myself I cannot leave without buying. Knowing this, I spent yesterday afternoon and evening people watching, checking out the stylish and sometimes not-so, making visual notes. I spotted three different guys wearing long black overcoats, reminiscent of the maxi-coat of my youth. While in college the first time, I had a summer job in a factory. Christmas break I would go back to help with inventory. I worked with a group of older gentlemen, but my buds were these two African-American guys: Big John and Shorty-I swear to god those were their names.

I bought this grey wool maxi coat the winter of 1971 on a trip to New York City. It was so cool. It was one of those things that made you feel like a million dollars when you wore it. Plus it was warm and cozy, came down to nearly my ankles, was double-breasted and belted, finished with a huge collar that stood up covering my neck and halfway up my natural curly afro. The first morning I breezed into work Shorty exclaimed: “Here come Matt lookin’ badder than Supa’-Fly (those of you under forty may need to look up that reference).

What I needed to buy today on this trip, was at least one pair of corduroys. Since I started school, nearly every winter wardrobe of my life has included corduroys. As I grow older, they become a bit harder to find. I counted on my favorite Montreal store satisfying this simple request. We walked in the door, and on a rack half a dozen steps into the men’s department, there they were. I found my size too! Working my way through the department, picking up a couple of sweaters on route, I found two other styles of corduroys in different colors. Within fifteen minutes, I’d draped three pairs of pants and two sweaters over my arm. And I’d also spotted a magnificent black maxi coat, but it was priced at $900 and I knew my Super Fly days have long since passed me by. Heading to the dressing room I was floating in a state of sheer shopping ecstasy. It didn’t even stress me that my waist size is now 34 as it sometimes can.

I went into the dressing room pumped by my selections. I pulled on the first pair. What I did not notice initially, was how very tapered the legs were. Oh, I could get them on all right. However, they clung to my lower legs sort of like a leotard. From the knees up they fit just like normal pants. Stepping back from the mirror they made that same, familiar corduroy song play when my thighs brushed together. But as I took in the entire image the mirror reflected back to me, I saw before me some geriatric, stick-legged joke. Plus the bright spot light aimed from the ceiling above caused my grey hair to radiate a harsh stellar white. “What happened to me?”, I whispered out loud to the old dude in the mirror. I allowed myself to try on the second pair, but their result proved even more pathetic. The third pair never made if off the wall peg. I left the store with two great sweaters and a heavy heart.

David wanted to stop outside the door to enjoy a cigarette before we walked back to our room at Bed and Breakfast du Village. He knows me well enough to sense when I am bummed. I needed to mourn a bit the fact that I would leave this weekend without even one pair of cords.

“Man, I am so bummed by not finding any pants that fit. (A reflective pause) You know how they have those clothing stores for big and tall men?”, I asked him while he puffed away on his smoke.

“Yeah”, he answered and smiled, knowing something weird was to follow.

“Somebody needs to start a chain for the elderly and infirm.”

The problem is, how do you possibly market fashions for the old and sadly out-of-it?

11 thoughts on “It All Started with a Pair of Corduroys

  1. In a way that I could not explain this made me feel happy … your life has such context and texture. I felt as if I were there with you in Montreal. Of many things you can be proud, I know, and on that list is the fact that you can write SO well.

  2. I get it about the pants looking ridiculous. But why didn’t you buy the black coat?????? Oh Matt, I just love reading your memoirs! I saw it arrive in my inbox yesterday but waited to open until my first cup of coffee on my Magazine Street gallery this lovely cool-warm tropical morning! You should plan a winter trek to NOLA and try shopping at the classic “Perlis for Men” a few blocks away. I promise you, no stick leg pants. Southern men need to look classy-fine during all phases of life. ~me

  3. The real gold of Montreal Shopping is in it’s Pawnshops, not just for the youthfully (yet contradictory?) Nostalgic but for the wise eyed as well. You might want to scope around the Old Port as well. You never know what you could find in those stores.

  4. Unfortunately, I think these types of experiences make for the best blogs. So, basically I’m thrilled you couldn’t find pants. =) Because this is great–as usual, my friend.

  5. Looks like we’ve both had to confront some of the “thrills” of aging lately, huh? I love how your writing is anchored in the tangible things that define who we are–be it the Supa Fly coat of the 70s or the maxi coat of today… We’ve all stared back at the stranger in the dressing room mirror. Thanks for making your experience so accessible. This is a great post! Looking forward to your next one, Matt.

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