Saturday, September 8, 2012

Neckties; Or, Adventures in Vasoconstriction, Part II

While the above-ground subway train slowly trundles towards Manhattan, and while my dull and despised red tie emptily-threatens strangulation, I watch the demographics change between neighborhoods. Before Atlantic-Barclays, an ethnically-eclectic, mostly working-class collection of New Yorkers board the train: Chinese, Latino, Hassidic Jewish, Italian-American and African-American; cleaning women carrying antiseptic supplies in their backpacks, tradesworkers reading the Daily News, decent people running errands. Once the Lexington Avenue line reaches Bowling Green and Wall Street, the financiers debut, in full accord with the popular stereotypes of suits, ties and shoulder bags, and Kindles occasionally. Especially upon arrival below the corporate headquarters of Lower Manhattan, where business clothing becomes more normative, I cannot help but stare at my reflection in the subway window, mostly for the novelty of seeing my head jutting-out of a tight, neck-tied collar. It looked long and awkward, like a thick stalk sprouting from a splitting seed. I found myself more cognizant of which of the other passengers were wearing ties and, quite against my will, I felt myself identifying with them. Each of us was submitting to an irritating knot of fabric. Alas, masochism is a flimsy basis for identifying with others, I think.

People behave differently to those wearing ties. Two women boarded, mirthfully conversing about their day. Feeling gentlemanly, when one sat down next to me, I offered my seat to the other. “Thank you so much,” she said, and repeated, with a sincere gratefulness that I found polite, yet excessive: the kind one bestows upon another for completing some exasperating task, like rescuing some nasty, hissing cat from a tree. I alighted at 68th Street and entered a deli. Inside, someone tripped over my shoe. “I’m so sorry,” the woman gasped, just after regaining her balance. Her face expressed unmitigated horror, as though imploring me not to sue her scratching my shoe. (As if I, of all people, would sue someone on account of clumsiness.) In short, when I walk around in a tie, those forgoing neckwear formalities tend to act more polite and, disturbingly, more obsequious towards me.

In that deli, when I reached the front of the line, I bought an apple. The man at the cash register charged me 80¢, and just as I would in my working-class Brooklyn neighborhood, I paid with three quarters and a nickel. A woman behind the meat display watched me count my coins and chuckled. Wearing a tie must mean that people will expect you to pay for 80¢ apples with $100 bills, if you’re eccentric enough to prefer apples to veal, that is. I am nevertheless thankful that she had the decency to be rude.

Having arrived forty minutes early for the interview, I passed the time by pacing zigzaggedly through the grid, eating the apple. Somehow, the tie and dress shirt made me feel uncomfortably-complicit in the opulence of the Upper East Side.

Sticky apple residue remained on my hands after binning the core. I rubbed them satisfactorily-clean on my inner trouser pockets and straightened my tie.

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