growing up

Putting my toys/ties away

Yesterday, I bundled up 200 ties, some freshly pressed with the drycleaning tag still on, and put them way in the back of the storage closet: behind the still-boxed baby-swing, behind the retired stereo equipment, even behind the Talmud set I haven’t looked at in fifteen years. I’m on family leave from work until August, and with a baby on the way (and with no rational justification to have 200 ties occupying valuable shelf real-estate) it became clear that the ties had to say goodbye.

Doing this felt at once uncanny and yet resonant, the way something feels when you’ve done it before — but rarely. It didn’t take long to place it: I was feeling the bittersweet resolution that always comes with putting away old toys.


No one needs a two foot tall, hundred dollar transforming robot. Unless it can cook good omelettes.

By “old toys,” I mean both actual and figurative. As a kid, I collected things: Pac-Man paraphernalia, video games, even something called Mad Balls. Don’t ask about that one. The magnum-opus of all my collections was my Transformers armada. My Grandpa bought me my first Transformer, in 1984. Five years later, I was still collecting them. The last Transformer I purchased was the largest and most expensive;  $100 of my bar-mitzvah money bagged me Fortress Maximus, two feet tall.  It was almost as if the absurdity of this purchase collided with the reality of my being, now, a high-school student. None of it computed, so, a few months after I bought the biggest and best Transformer of all time, my entire 200+ piece collection went to live in a the crawlspace of a walk-in closet, never again to emerge, except for a few moments of detached nostalgia when Gabi and I visit my parents in Milwaukee.



Maybe not the best use of my allowance.

The banishment of the Transformers from my room was different from other collections relegated to shoe-boxes and shoved into the basement. Old, obsolete video games gave way to newer, better video games with no tears shed: the cartridges had no intrinsic value. And as cool as Madballs were (not very), I simply grew bored of them. I was happy not to have to look at them any longer.



Transformers helped me through my green period.

Transformers were different: they’d been a constant presence throughout my childhood. In fourth grade, they were common gifts at birthday parties. In fifth grade, my best friend Joe and I ignited a new phase of our friendship coinciding with his acquisition of an evil dump-truck Constructicon. In sixth and seventh grades, I was more secretive about my collection, but they distracted me through an extraordinarily challenging two year period. As an eighth-grader, putting Optimus Prime in a box meant becoming something new, and no longer being what I had been, forever: a little kid.



I never outgrew my interest in toys.

Thirty years later, I remain remarkably consistent in my approach to collecting things. I’ve collected Thom Browne/Black Fleece shirts and ties for about as many years as I once collected Transformers. I still tend to fixate and “nerd-out” on whatever I collect: here’s a piece I wrote exploring Thom Browne, Pee-Wee Herman and a kids’ show comedian from the 40’s named Pinky Lee. My ties were carefully arranged in my closet, in a way any collector would find familiar. I have my favorites, those which get a lot of use, and others so favorite I use them sparingly lest some horrible tragedy befall them. I also have a few that I’m not crazy about, but I project some sort of pathos onto them, and I use them periodically so they won’t feel neglected. I was the exact same way with my Transformers. And now, they all live in the back of the storage-closet, behind the Baby Swing box.


It’s not exactly the same situation: my toys went away forever. My ties are going away only temporarily; my sartorial inclinations be relevant to my life, once again, come August and the new school year. By then, however, Gabi and I will have gone through  transformations of our own: from expecting parents to bona fide beginners to bumbling novices. In that sense, there is no real return to the collections we once knew and loved. The ties will come out of deep-freeze, and they will be the same, but I will be transformed, in ways both apparent to all, and I’m certain,  more than meet the eye.


What Tailoring Teaches Us About Growing Up: New Year’s Resolution — 30 Days of Writing. Episode 5/30

This is day 5 of a New Years Resolution.

Until I was 35, I’d never taken anything to a tailor.

Well, that’s not exactly true – I got a vintage suit when I was in college, but the pants draped down over my shoes, and the jacket was too big. But my parents orchestrated (and paid for) the whole thing, so I don’t feel like that counts.

Behold: the majestic shirt of non-fittage. Circa 2008.

Behold: the majestic shirt of non-fittage. Circa 2008.

But when I was thirty five, I got this brand new, awesome — (pauses to consider name of color) — burnt-umber colored shirt. And while I loved it on the hanger, when I put it on, I didn’t feel “classy” or “dapper” or even particularly grown-up. In fact, I felt like I used to when I was 14, and would borrow my dad’s shirt, tie, and jacket for Rosh Hashana services.

At first, I chalked this feeling off to a delinquent Saturn Return.

But I started to notice: in rooms full of well-dressed adults, say: a gala banquet — it didn’t matter what color my shirt was, or how cool my shoes were, or how well I matched my tie to my shirt, I seriously never felt like I belonged. 

One day at work, I asked a very dapper friend if he could direct me to the store that sells the shirts that fit. His response?

Do what grown-ups do, and go get your shirt tailored.

Ok, so he didn’t mean the burnt-umber atrocity, per se. That thing needed to be phased out, stat.

But I did pick out a few respectable shirts and I brought them to a place that Yelp reassured me wouldn’t ruin them, and one week later, I put on this newly tailored white shirt. Nothing special about the shirt. White. Buttons. But I noticed something profound.

It fit. I fit. I fit myself, if that makes any sense. With a decent tie and shoes, I’d be comfortable in any board-room (or bar-room) in this glorious land.

My friend Luke, who has a Ph.D. and a way with words, once described his feelings about moving away from the community he’d grown close to for several years, and did this by referring to his basketball shoes: “These shoes fit so well, I don’t even feel them. In fact, it’s hard to tell where my foot ends and the world begins. That’s how I feel about you all.”

Yes, indeed. Well fitting clothes, like a well-fitting community, help you feel united with yourself, and connected to the world.

Weird, but true.

Warning: if the shoulder seams don't hit right at the shoulderbone, it's hopeless. Give the shirt to someone who needs it more than you do.

Warning: if the shoulder seams don’t hit right at the shoulderbone, it’s hopeless. Give it to someone who needs it more than you do.

FAQ about Tailoring Your Shirt

Q: What will this so-called tailor do to my beautiful shirt?

A:  Shorten the sleeves (even a great tailor cannot lengthen sleeves), de-blousify the upper arms (my neologism, there), and get rid of the tenting, billowing, and poofing in the back. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re a lucky guy who fits stuff right off the rack, and no offense, this article isn’t for you.

Q: What will it cost to turn a shirt that doesn’t fit into a miracle of Joie de Vivre?

A: 20-40 bucks.

Q: What? The whole shirt cost me thirty bucks!

A: Ok, so here’s the deal. If the shirt fits right off the rack, great: Bob’s Your Uncle. But if it doesn’t fit, you need to do a little calculating. Is the $25 shirt from H&M worth tailoring? Only if you can’t stand how it fits, but you couldn’t live without it. You know, like the U2 song.

So, maybe you have a nice Brooks Brothers or J.Crew shirt but the fit is a little off. Better to spend $40 on a perfect fit, or go out and find something else that fits better off the rack? Do the math. What’s your time worth?

Q: So when I buy a shirt, I might want to calculate the cost of tailoring into the cost of the shirt? Seriously?

A: You want to feel that one-with-everything feeling or not?