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Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2006 12:00 am

The suitable war

Or, how I infiltrated the private and public sectors and caused men to change

1964. I have nothing against the suit and tie; it’s just that I don’t have them in my wardrobe. In my last college semester, for my first professional-type job interview, I borrow my roommate’s suit.

The suit “bunches” me, and the shirt collar chokes me as I fight the tie demon. As I attempt to knot the snake-monster so that the ends equal out, my hand slips and the bottle of beer I’m using for leverage pokes my eye.

Interviewer: Why no suit and tie?

Me: It eye-stabbed me, so I flushed it down the toilet.

Interviewer: Thanks for your time. We’ll let you know.

War on! No more physical confrontations: I’ll kill it off, little by little, environment by environment, using an arsenal full of razor-sharp logic. Eventually I find work in the computer business. In the early years it is an informal business of clip-on ties and Salvation Army suits from the bin of especially odd colors. Nonetheless, the suit and tie rule the day.

Over the many years I dress ever downward, and my associates do the same — because they see that it is the logical thing to do. Technical people are logical by training.

A reverse dress truth plays in technology nowadays: The better the technician, the less the suit. Rumor has it that the very best technicians now labor away, naked, in far back cubicles and slip on only the Robe of Incomprehensible Acronym when they venture out. The last suit and tie left in the computer business cling to the boss at the top; he uses the suit convention to cover up the reality that technology has long since passed him by.

CEO to computer chief in suit: My PC won’t connect to the Internet!

Computer chief in suit: Try rebooting your eight-track tape.

CEO: Get me a naked man!

Beginning the war in the computer environment is a stroke of luck. In time, the computer controls all other business; technology becomes absolute master! Other business follows the master’s dress code out of fear of “not interfacing.” The bank teller now wears a golf shirt; the accountant’s tie is in the desk drawer. Casual Friday becomes casual week. My second battle, in the private-sector business environment, is won.

The government war. I infiltrate government. My dress-down example goes unnoticed because, after layoffs, firings, and early retirements, I am the last worker in this state agency. The payroll lists only me and 22 bosses. I work one day a month for each one so that they may defend their supervisory status. Six years in, I’ve not met any of the 22.

I’m getting long of tooth now, not much work time left — so I force introductions (and my dress-down example) by retiring. Exit interviews are mandatory here.

All 22 bosses attend. After they interview a coat rack for an hour and get no response, they turn to me: “Are you the worker man?”

“Yes. I am the worker man.”

“Thank God,” they say. “That skinny guy refused to talk.”

They continue: “How will we justify our positions with no worker to supervise? The hiring freeze forbids hiring new state workers and only allows the hiring of hundreds of new bosses — to enforce and monitor the hiring freeze — so that we can reduce personnel costs.”

I play my trump card: “Fake a worker man by dressing one of you in worker clothes. Of course, he may not wear the Robe of Incomprehensible Acronym until he can decipher it, but anything else other than the suit and tie is acceptable.”

The new boss hired just that day to further reduce personnel costs is selected — and when the others see that the new fellow’s disguise camouflages his political cronyism, they all don like camouflage. The “cover” spreads to every state agency. Government battle won! The environment is mine!

Retirement. No problem in this environment. Old people are made logical by “time served.” Formal attire means tying your shoes.

Religion. A battle quickly won. I change my name to George W. Bush for an hour. God immediately speaks to me and champions my cause. The Sunday pews are now packed with jeans, and the suit and tie are packed away. The church is mine! Only one environment remains to be controlled: the woman who shares my life.

Wife (as we dress for nephew’s wedding): But you look so handsome in a suit and tie.

Me: I am already handsome without the suit and tie, and they cover up my third chin, which, you must agree, is the handsomest chin of all.

Wife: Your logic arsenal is empty.

The suit “bunches” me; the shirt collar chokes me as I fight the tie beast.

And when my wife departs from the room, it whispers to me: “I will bury you, old man.”

Contact Doug Bybee at dougbybee@sbcglobal.net

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