Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Empty Hangers

"If you can't get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you'd best teach it to dance." George Bernard Shaw.

The black Briggs and Riley suitcase holding last week's travel clothes sat next to a full basket of clean apparel. The temptation to juxtapose one for the other vanished easily - our next trip, to see daughter Beth graduate Maine Law, is merely a long weekend. The neatly-stacked shorts and shirts represented weeks of wear. I collected hangers.

Amid the usual suspects of cycling-event t-shirts and Tommy Bahama knockoffs hung the rarely worn, a sort of island of misfit tees. Nearby, the black plastic bag a third full of ARC-bound castoffs. I could add some, take it with me during afternoon errands....

Washed out yellow fabric, faded red letters proclaiming "I survived Skylab, 1979" - haven't worn it in twenty years. It had belonged to my late brother, and I'd snagged it as a keepsake (his guitar, too). He'd bummed a ride from a bar, judging himself too intoxicated to drive. Unfortunately, his best friend was at least as drunk, and Dave was killed in the accident that followed. No, I'll hang onto that one.

The red fabric of the "Dick Steamer Mobil" shirt had been brighter forty years ago, and had fit far more loosely, too. Mr. Steamer had his gas station in Bushnell's Basin, and was renowned for the $20 annual car inspection. It was only supposed to cost ten bucks but my headlights had somehow fallen out of adjustment and I always needed new wipers. Imagine that. I wore the shirt - size small - across the country in 1976, riding my bike about 4400 miles that summer. I've never again felt so strong, or so vulnerable. What's one more shirt?

How many egg-smear Hawaiian shirts do I need? Oh - Pat bought me the loud blue one on a business trip. I promptly wore it to work, during a period I helped run a computer implementation project. My boss was aghast, but the software training staff (urged on by friend Tom) embraced the look as a way to blow off steam. It was our brand. The day will come when it fits my mood again, just as my wife had surmised when she bought it.

Ft. Myers Beach shirts in various shades and sizes, purchased years ago from the "5 for $15" bin. We're returning this fall and.... What would Karen say, to know I'd pitched something I bought near the beach where she and Adam had fallen in love? Indeed, on that same beach I'd walked hand-in-hand with Pat, watched years fall away from my mother's face as she gazed longingly at Sanibel Island, and I'd catered a wedding. Even though the palm-tree tattoo on my right ankle forever binds me to Estero Island I think I'll keep the tees, too.

I still have the Cherry Creek Sneak long-sleeved from 1992. We ran it on the heels of our honeymoon in Steamboat Springs, training by sleeping late, watching Dances with Wolves and playing nine holes of golf. Our time in the 10K was measured with a calendar. Cozumel - oh yeah, the scooter ride when I scared Pat so badly with my college years Boston urban riding she clamped her eyes shut, fearing the worst. Imperial Beer - the fabulous trip to Costa Rica for Tom and Heather's wedding. We set the jungle on fire with a Tiki Torch - ten first responders, yards from a beach, wondering what we could use to smother the flames. Yes, alcohol was involved.

I selected a few sacrificial lambs - mostly work-related - and declared victory while donning a Detroit Tigers shirt I bought when Katy, her husband Steve and I took grandson Graham to his first baseball game...September 11, 2011. Ten years before, little G-man's mom and I sat on my back porch and watched a lone Colorado Air National Guard F-16 fly long, lazy figure eights in an otherwise empty sky.

I would dance with all of these memories again, if only I could.