It was several years ago. I was driving toward Geneva, Alabama, for two reasons. One: A funeral for my friend’s father. Two: I was going to buy a fishing boat.
You might as well kill two birds with one stone, that’s what I always say.
I arrived at the church, dressed in my decent clothes. I don’t have “nice” clothes per se. Everything I own is either halfway decent or reprehensible. The reprehensible stuff can be identified by the wrinkles, the paint blobs on the sleeves, and the coffee stains.
No man purposely stains his shirts with coffee. But when he has facial hair like me, the hair absorbs thirty percent of each coffee swig. Thusly, when the cup is removed from the mouth, the coffee drips onto the man’s chest, making him appear either senile or drunk. Sometimes both.
And ironing? I have not ironed a shirt since Theodore Roosevelt was elected.
So my clothes are not my best feature, which has been a problem in the past. I once got fired from a church for having a wrinkled shirt. This is totally true, and it’s still hard to talk about.
I was working part-time, playing church piano. One Sunday morning, I was playing “Old Rugged Cross.” I was wearing wrinkled khakis, a moderately crumpled shirt, and sandals.
I loved sandals because at the time I worked in construction. We wore boots all day long and my feet were always cramped. As soon as I would get home, I couldn’t wait to wear sandals and let the old dogs breathe. Sandals are like a Biloxi vacation for feet.
The pastor was horrified. I received my walking papers not long thereafter. Don’t misunderstand me, I do try to dress nice, I’m just saying that I know there’s room for improvement. Also, I try to bathe regularly.
When I arrived at the chapel where the funeral was held, I told my dog Ellie to wait in the truck. I trotted toward the church, tucking in my shirt. I sat in a back pew and paid my respects to a man I hardly knew.
After service, I shook a few hands then slipped out. I untucked my wrinkled shirt, kicked off my dress shoes, and put on sandals. Then I drove into Geneva to look at the boat.
I met the seller in a supermarket parking lot where he showed me all the features. It was an ugly boat. I kicked the trailer tires, sniffed the motor oil, and did what most guys do when buying something. There’s a male ceremony to this sort of thing.
I’ve purchased and sold hundreds of things from classified ads. There is a strict protocol men follow when buying. Women, on the other hand, don’t care about our pomp and circumstance. They’re easy. If a woman likes what’s for sale, she buys it. End of story.
But a man likes to dicker. He will saunter around the for-sale item, frown at it, eyeball it, and ask questions like, “When was the last time you waxed the serpentine injection regenerator distribution valves?”
And if the buyer is truly interested, he will pretend NOT to be interested. Then, the seller—if he is motivated—will practically beg the buyer to take the item even if it means he has to throw in a full tank of gas, a case of beer, and in some cases his own mother-in-law.
Other elements of the male purchasing process include:
—Sniffing one’s nose loudly for no apparent reason
—Clearing the throat
—Discussion of a major football franchise
—Signing the Bill of Sale
—Occasional scratching of private regions
—Dressing up and going trick-or-treating
We are men. This is how we buy things.
But I was not in the mood to bargain that day. I had just come from a funeral. All I could think about was the old man in the casket and how he would never go fishing again. Never. As in: Not ever.
This did something to me. Which is why I bought the boat and gave the man more than it was worth. He actually tried to give me a hundred dollars back, but I refused.
My father would have rolled in his grave.
On the way home, Ellie and I stopped at a barbecue joint. I bought two pork sandwiches to celebrate. Then we crawled into the boat, right there on dry land. My dog ate her sandwich, I ate mine. We watched the sun go down together. I ruined my funeral shirt with barbecue sauce.
My dog has been gone for a while now, but I still have the boat. And this particular day stands out in my memory for some reason. Don’t ask me why.
I suppose that the biggest moments of my life weren’t the ones I thought they would be. When you’re young, you have this idea that the loudest, shiniest, giddiest moments are going to be the important ones. But that’s not how it works. It’s the small ones.
Sitting in a dilapidated boat. Sharing supper with a good dog. Kisses from a baby. Old songs. A cold drink on a hot afternoon. And oh, the boundless glories of sandals.
I will remember these things even after I die.
Ironed shirts. Who needs them?