“Guy with tie!” Greta shouted. And my little girl almost jumped out of the seat in the shopping cart at McCrory’s in the Midway Shopping Center in Wyoming.
She was about 2 years old and had spotted this, well, “thing” on a shelf in the toy department. It was a stuffed toy, shaped kind of like the eraser on top of a pencil, only about a hundred times bigger. Nearly as big, in fact, as Greta, herself.
It had a face. Sort of. Eyes, nose and mouth, but no ears. And feet, I think, but no arms or hands. And, if you have not guessed already, a tie.
This thing already had a name, it turned out. Fireplug Willie. Which, based on his size and shape, suited him. But all we ever called him was Guy with Tie.
Yes, he came home with us. And for several years enjoyed a place of honor right there among the normal-looking dolls and stuffed animals in Greta’s play room. She loved him, and in time, he even stopped looking odd to us. Unless we had guests. Then someone inevitably would spot him, cringe, and exclaim, “What on earth is that?”
I cannot remember how we responded, if at all.
I’ve been thinking about Guy with Tie ever since Pittston Memorial Library introduced its new “tie-brary,” a selection of donated ties that patrons can check out just like a book, to wear to perhaps a job interview or for a special occasion.
I also have been thinking about Guy with Tie because he and I have something in common. And not just our bald heads. I too wear a tie almost every day of my life.
I recall distinctly when this all started. It was close to 50 years ago when, after working part time through college at the weekly newspaper The Sunday Dispatch, I agreed to stay on in a full-time capacity. The boss, William A. Watson Jr., whom everyone affectionately called “Pidge,” was a second dad to me, and as such, liked to tell me what to do. That was because his real sons, nice kids but young teens at the time, rarely listened to him. They would never get their hair cut when he told them to, but I sure would. To them he was just Dad, but to me he was the guy who signed my paycheck.
One day, he brought up ties, as in he wanted me to wear one. The best part about wearing a tie to work, he said, is the feeling of loosening it when you go for a beer later at happy hour. I liked the sound of that.
I’m in my 29th year of teaching in college and can count on one hand the days I showed up without a tie. I must admit, however, that I do typically take advantage of the college professor license of wearing a shirt and tie with jeans.
What I cannot count is the number of ties I’ve given away over the years. Just recently, a young man admired the tie I was wearing, so, I took it off and gave it to him. And he shocked me by slipping it around his neck and proceeding to tie a perfect Windsor knot. “Where’d you learn that?” I asked. “Sunday school,” he said.
I enjoy giving things away, but it only counts if it’s something I like and am going to miss. This is always true of my ties. I don’t buy a tie unless I really like it.
So my three precious Beatles ties were pretty much doomed from the start. “Penny Lane” went to a student named Penny. When I gave it to her, she cried. She said her dad, no longer in her life, always called her “Penny Lane” when she was little. I cannot remember who wound up with “Paperback Writer,” with the big pencil on it, or “Yellow Submarine,” perhaps my most favorite of all, but both are long gone.
My Jerry Garcia tie went to a professed “Dead Head,” my Alfred E. Newman tie to a fan of Mad Magazine, and my Halloween tie with the orange jack-o-lanterns on the black background to a guy who said he’d love to wear it bartending Halloween night.
I could not give away the bow tie I wore one day because it has special meaning to me. But when I told the students something I once read in GQ: a gentleman needs to learn to tie a bow tie, because at the end of the night on the dance floor, you want the untied bow tie hanging around your neck, not the clip-on forming a lump in your tuxedo pocket, I knew what I had to do. I went out and bought several bow ties and gave them away, cautioning the students that tying a bow tie is not easy.
When graduation rolled around the next May, one of those students had on under his gown the bow tie I had given him. It was bright red. He smiled and pointed to it when he saw me and mouthed YouTube.
Which is where I learned to tie one too.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.