“Did you ever get the feeling,” once asked sad-faced comedian George Gobel, “that the world was a tuxedo … and you were a pair of brown shoes?”
That remark by “Lonesome George,” uttered while following mega-stars Bob Hope and Dean Martin on a 1969 “Tonight Show” telecast, cracked up Johnny Carson and became a classic that was played again and again on “Tonight” anniversary programs.
But the notion that everybody on the planet … except you … fits in quite nicely is no laughing matter. Nor is it a giggling or even a chuckling matter, if you ask me.
In at least one aspect, I have been turned into an outcast, a man alone, fighting a losing battle to belong, to be accepted, to be part of the herd instead of being sent off into the wilderness like the Azazel goat.
Trust me, nothing tells you that you don’t fit in as much as the inability to find anything that fits. I have a body that corporate America simply refuses to accommodate.
I’m fit to be tied, but decidedly not fit for anything else, including a shoe, a sneaker, a pair of pants, but most of all, a shirt.
All I desired was a simple shirt that I could hang a necktie on before I stumble into the office. What with management insisting I show up each weekday, and the quintet of shirts I bought two or so years ago starting to resemble a “tattered flag … ‘midst a hail of fire,” I needed five of the things.
So, what’s the big deal, right? Just go buy some shirts.
Not so fast. As it turns out, my neck size is 16½, and my sleeve length a manly 35 inches.
Little did I know that on one dark night, the corporate masterminds in charge of shirt sizes for the American working man got together in a dastardly plot. They knew, somehow, that a 34-35 sleeve would barely reach my forearm, and a 36-37 would cover my fingers to the cuticles.
So, that’s all they made.
In a desperate attempt to find a 35-inch sleeve, I traveled hither and yon, to Penney’s, Sears, Macy’s, Boscov’s (from whose website I had scored my most-recent shirts) and dozens of other stores in various malls … nothing. Always 34-35, 36-37.
Overstock.com and eBay were no help, either. I was faced with the real possibility of having to resort to short-sleeve shirts that would leave me only a pocket pen protector away from becoming king of the nerds.
It has no doubt become apparent to the discerning reader that you wouldn’t be seeing any labels with Yves Saint Laurent’s name behind my neck … even if for reasons of your own you bothered to look there. Through the ages, the Pollak men have adhered to one steadfast rule: Never, never buy retail instead of wholesale.
So I’m in Albany, N.Y., last weekend, chauffeuring my wife around on her unending quest to accumulate a quilting materials stash humongous enough to make the Amish wonder whether she might be overdoing it just a little bit.
I chanced upon a men’s clothing business established by the late Jos. A. Bank, and a series of signs (if not wonders) revealed that Mr. Bank’s store was selling his wares for 70 percent off.
Certain I would be faced with the disappointment of yet another array of shirts with 34-35 sleeves, I left my bride to wait in the car as I wandered inside the place. I looked at the $87.95 shirts that I wouldn’t even consider if they weren’t 70 percent off, and immediately flashed back to Robin Williams’ character in 1984’s “Moscow on the Hudson.”
Williams played a defector from the Soviet Union where coffee shortages required everyone who wanted to buy some to stand in a long line. Now in the United States, he’s pushing a shopping cart down the coffee aisle of a supermarket. He sees all the brands of coffee, and his brain just can’t handle it. He faints and collapses to the floor.
That’s exactly how I felt when I saw row after row of 16½-35 shirts for 70 percent off at Mr. Banks’ wonderful establishment. The room started to swim. Needing fresh air, I staggered to the car and summoned my wife into the store.
“There are …. there are shirts … in my size,” I gurgled, trying to clear my head. “I will have a choice. I don’t know what to do. I’ve never had a choice before. You must help me.”
She entered and asked me what I thought about each shirt. I smartly uttered something along the lines of “Buh, buh, buh, buh,” and a short time later, we departed with me clutching to my chest the five shirts we purchased.
To be sure, I still feel like an outcast, a brown shoe hoping the tuxedo world doesn’t look at me too closely … but at least I’m an outcast who’s got some shirts that fit him.
Sam Pollak is the editor of The Daily Star in Oneonta, N.Y. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.