Fashionistas, step aside.
Walking is not a spectator sport.
On my daily three-mile constitutional, I am not dressed for Gentleman’s Quarterly — no compression T-shirt, cushion crew training socks or $78 sweatpants from a company that promises they are “like nothing you’ve ever worn.”
Rather, I am in cheapo sweatpants with — just a moment, please, I’m counting — three holes in the left leg and a tear in the right sutured by my wife, Wink. I am in a decomposing, gray sweatshirt that I picked up once at an Albany dry goods store for $9.99, a frayed Mets cap, sweat socks of the sort we wore to gym class in 1955, and a pair of sneakers with heavy mileage.
“I think I saw your husband walking,” someone said recently to Wink.
“Raggedy Andy?” Wink replied. “That was my husband.”
This is nothing new.
When Mom declared “you’re a sight” years ago in Brooklyn, she meant I had failed (again) to achieve minimal standards of public seemliness — sweaty T-shirt, Creamsicle on the trousers, arms caked after a hard day diving for grounders at the sandlot.
“Change your clothes. You’re a sight.”
For the record, I can be entirely respectable when the occasion demands — wedding, funeral, high school graduation, an evening of dinner and theater that, these days, threatens bankruptcy. Twice, I even went to the opera at Lincoln Center and was not shoved aside by security.
But under most circumstances, old clothes and mild dishevelment represent my default position. I say this not to advertise myself as Man of the People, but, perhaps, explain a brief encounter recently down by the boat ramp.
When I walk, I am deep into political podcasts via the smartphone — news junkie, unrepentant — and so was mildly startled when a black sedan stopped in the road and someone announced: “I’m lost.”
“Pull over,” I said. “Maybe I can help.”
Alone in the car was a middle-age woman in a little black dress: attractive, slim, perfect makeup. Tres chic, for sure.
“Where you headed?”
“Party at the country club,” she said, eyeing me, I thought, with caution. “I’m late.”
Though, ahem, not a member of the club, I told her how to find the place. I repeated the directions, gave her landmarks. I made certain not to stand too close to the car, lest she think me weird. When her cellphone rang, I stepped back for privacy.
The woman seemed uneasy. Time was passing. Maybe her husband was waiting. Maybe the hors d’oeuvres had already run out. In any case, she said a quick thank you — all business — and pulled back into the road.
Surprising myself, I abruptly called out: “You look great, by the way.” This was not a pass, believe me — married 54 years! — but intended as a friendly gesture to a frazzled person late for a heavy-duty social engagement.
The woman gazed back briefly. In an instant, she had the full picture: old guy in tattered sweatpants, grungy sweatshirt and Mets cap with more ends dangling off the peak than the team had wins last season.
Her expression registered somewhere between “oh, brother” and “get lost.” Wordless, she sped off.
I imagined her at the club telling her husband or glamorous date that she was so desperate to find the club that she stopped a guy who by this time likely had been arrested for vagrancy.
“ . . . and then he says I look great.”
Regaining my pace, I finished a podcast on Washington budget matters and thought: “That’s what you get for opening your big mouth while parading around like Charlie Chaplin in ‘The Tramp.’ ” At home, I checked the mirror. Chaplin looked better.
But I am beyond reform. Neither the cool response of a gorgeous partygoer nor occasional entreaties of my own children — Wink has given up — will get me into those $78 sweatpants.
A couple of days later, I was walking again in usual attire.
There was an event at the American Legion hall and a woman wearing a pretty gown was outside taking a breather.
Absently, she glanced up as I passed by — Raggedy Andy beneath a faded Mets cap.
She looked great in the evening light. I hope someone told her.