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The Emporer's Clothes

I'm writing naked. Why? Because yesterday, I saw something at the bank that disturbed me (other than my account balance). One of the tellers showed up for work wearing a turtleneck and slacks; but before he could say hi, the manager took him aside, pointed to his sweater, and told him to go home.

The employee looked at him questioningly, and the man repeated himself: "Look at your clothes. Go home."

Usually I take pleasure in this kind of confrontation, but today was different. The manager handed his employee a copy of the dress code and marched importantly to his office. The kid left the store without further ado, his shame naked to the world. All I could do was stare at my sandals.

What a funny thing are clothes!

If I open my blinds right now, it would be an affront to society because I am not covered in fabric. If I were to walk outside, I could be arrested for indecent exposure... even if I had a good body! That's a powerful statement about how we feel about ourselves. On the bright side, it justified my not exercising: no matter how good I look, my body will always be indecent.

What if I went to the mall in my PJs? There is no law against it, but I couldn't walk five paces without a sneer or a laugh. Not all dress codes are written down, but make no mistake-they are everywhere. It's "okay" to wear my pajamas in front of the TV, but if God lifted my house and revealed me to the public, I would be subject to ridicule. Let's hope that doesn't happen. It would be freaky.

As we speak, there is a woman at Venice Beach wearing dental floss, but it is overlooked because she is on the beach. It's a bathing suit. If she we were wearing, say, underwear, she would be subject to prosecution despite the face that her underwear covers three times the skin. So it goes.

Picture God looking down at Earth as we might a child's globe. He is holding a Barbie Doll wearing a thong bikini, and as he moves her to different locations, she becomes acceptable, unacceptable, acceptable, unacceptable. At the beach: okay. At the store, not okay. In Lebanon, burned at the stake. In Rio de Janeiro, overdressed.

Everything we wear is a statement about who we are, what we are doing, and where our grandpa sewed his oats. The connotations of clothing form a Morse Code for my pettiness to communicate with your pettiness. Executives dress in suits to display their economic profile. Teenagers wear their pants around their hips to be rebellious (I'm not sure why plumbers do it). Erin Brokovich dresses to remind us which gender really holds the power.

Yesterday my wife told me that stripes are "in."

"In what?"

"In style, silly."

"Who decided that?"

"The designers, of course."

Designer: a person appointed to determine what is "in" and what is "out." Designers are experts in taste, the "they" we hear so much about. They determine what clothes I should wear, and they reserve the right to change their mind depending on what they had for lunch. In the mall, some women are so fashionable that it's hard to tell the dummies from the mannequins. It makes me long for the return of the fig leaf.

Even if you have admissible clothes, they still have to match, which poses a major problem for men. For a man, if the stripe on his tube sock is the same color as the logo on his shorts, that's a match! When he sees a well-dressed man, he just figures that the man is gay. Why do you think men wear tuxedos to formal events -- no decisions to make.

Whereas I appreciate the artistic process of decorating our person, it is unfair for the rest of us to be judged by the same yardstick. What difference does it make a hundred years from now what we wore when we fortunate enough to have a body to wear it on? Yet if I were to visit the mall in my PJs, I'd be tarred and feathered (a good look for autumn get-togethers).

I always thought nudists were a little nutty, but you know, they might be on to something. Perhaps they are trying to divest clothing of its power. Perhaps they are stripping not just their clothes but its connotations. Just as a wedding ring has come to be more symbolic of a man's income than his love, so has the "common thread" come to symbolize qualities that don't deserve the association.

At the Oscars, a starlet arrived on the red carpet dressed simply. She was not a glamour queen but a real actress. For years she had worked odd jobs, auditioned for parts, paid her dues, and finally landed a role for which she was being recognized. And just when her moment arrived, right there at the culminating point of her life's work, she was mocked by Joan Rivers for the gown she was wearing.

So as I sit here in the nude thinking about that kid in the bank (that didn't sound good), I long for a day when my teller is allowed to wear whatever he pleases without being shamed by the boss. He should have the freedom to wear a zoot suit, a top hat, horizontal stripes, or a Hot-Dog-on-a-Stick uniform if he's bent that way. Hell, I'd stop by the bank just to see what he's wearing from time to time.

And if you ever find yourself judging someone for the clothes they wear, remember our friend at the bank and the fact that everyone is equally naked under their clothes.


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