Patrick Kuhl: Wear a tie and mind your manners

September 15, 2013 

I lost an old friend last week.

My favorite tie bit the dust. I know, you're thinking, "Big deal. It's just a tie. Get over it."

It's not just a tie. It's the Alexander Julian (aka Alex) one with the mottled bluish-gray background, little green diamond shapes in a vertical pattern interspersed with gold boxes filled with red amoebas wearing tiny turtle shells.

I've worn that little number almost a thousand times since Ronald Reagan was president (the first time) in the 1980s. It went with everything.

But Tuesday morning, there was a white streak showing on the knot where the material wore thin. Like a little "I surrender" flag.

Not to worry. There are 63 other ties in the rotation. I counted. Only about 10 are in the starting lineup. Some come out only for special occasions.

There are several baseball ties. One with schematics of the great old ballparks like Ebbets Field and Connie Mack Stadium. Another has images of Babe Ruth. A black, yellow and orange Beatles "Yellow Submarine" tie gets a lot of comments. And my Snowmen around the World tie is a talker. The snowman in Florida is a carrot and a hat in a puddle of water. The snowman in Pisa is definitely leaning.

My wedding tie is red with white and black splotches. The funeral tie is black and white with red splotches.

My blue tie with yellow and white Chinese lanterns nearly froze to death.

When I got to work one cold winter morning with heavy snow coming down, I thought I had forgotten my tie. Hours later, a co-worker came in. "Did somebody lose this? I found it in the parking lot."

It was a frozen stiff, covered with ice, a snowy tire track across the front. The wide part was sticking straight out as she held it up, just like Dilbert's tie in the comics. I could barely make out the Chinese lanterns shining through.

It must have fallen out of my coat pocket when I got out of the car. I took it home, thawed it out and it looks as good as new. I wore it on Wednesday. It gave me a chill on that 100-degree day.

My son asked me, "Why do you wear a tie every day, Pop? You just sit in an office."

"Commands respect," I said.

Like the day I wore my '70s paisley tie to work because somebody told me paisley was making a comeback.

It wasn't.

I might as well have worn a tie-dyed shirt, sandals and love beads.

"Hey, Cheech, nice tie," a so-called friend of mine said. "Where did you get it? In the '60s?"

"Ha. Ha. Very funny," I said.

I figure I have put in 50-odd years of wearing a "noose." That's what my dad called a tie.

Pop didn't have much use for ties. They just didn't go with his overalls, which he wore 99.3 percent of his life. I knew it was a special occasion when Pop wore a tie. My high school graduation. His kids' weddings. And funerals.

He wore one so seldom, I'm surprised he remembered how to tie them. But he did.

I remember the first time Pop tied a tie on me -- my first communion. He put up my starchy collar and tied a tiny tie around my neck while I made my "just licked a lemon" face.

While he was looping and tugging, he told me what a big day it was and that I should be happy.

On the pictures by the snowball bushes in full bloom in front of the house, I looked like quite the young gentleman. "Like a million bucks," Pop said.

Many moons later, my first "Pop can you help me with this tie" moment came when our older son was getting all gussied up for a formal junior high dance. It was my chance not only to make him look sharp, but to dispense my "Father Knows Best" wisdom while tying the knot.

Cross big end over little end: "You know, son, you have to mind your manners."

Big end around the back, up and over the top: "Talk to everybody, not just the kids you like best."

Around the front and over the top: "Ask more than one girl to dance."

Around the left to the back and over the top: "Thank the chaperones."

Through the loop and pull it tight: "And, whatever you do, have a great time."

"Geez, Pop," he said, with an eighth-grade eye roll. "Mom already told me that stuff."

I know, son.

"How do I look?"

I thought, "What a fine-looking young gentleman he has become."

"Like a million bucks," I said out loud.

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