Tuesday, June 11, 2013

`I Cannot Muster Up Decorum'

The new suit is charcoal-gray, adaptably tasteful for wedding or funeral. Standing in front of the triptych of mirrors, I was ten years old again, self-conscious, itchy and bored. Mickey the “wardrobe consultant” (clerk) was on her knees beside me, marking the cuffs with one of those tile-shaped piece of chalk I’ve never seen outside of a men’s clothing store. The jacket needs no alterations. I dropped more than a grand on the suit, a shirt (light blue), shoes (black), tie (blue) and socks (black) – a sum that would have infarcted my father, who was relieved in the late sixties when turtlenecks and sport coats became an acceptable semi-formal ensemble for working-class men. The new clothes are for my oldest son’s wedding next month in New York City, but my thrifty wife urged me to shop for “a good suit, one we can bury you in.” She pricked my vanity, as usual.  

One strives after decorum, of course. A wedding is solemn and rich in backstage comedy, as are many funerals. One apes dignified deportment, even if it’s not in our day-to-day nature. In 1808, Charles Lamb attended the wedding of William Hazlitt and the pregnant Sarah Stoddart. Seven years later, Lamb writes in a letter to Robert Southey: 

“…I am going to stand godfather; I don’t like the business; I cannot muster up decorum for these occasions; I shall certainly disgrace the font. I was at Hazlitt’s marriage, and had like to have been turned out several times during the ceremony. Anything awful makes me laugh. I misbehaved once at a funeral.”

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