I'll be rising a half-hour early tomorrow, and if there are no interruptions and I am completely unmolested I hope to fashion a reasonably decent looking bow tie upon my neck. Why wear bow ties, you ask? Especially ones that must be tied? Maybe the best groomsmen gifts would be clip ons...
While watching the moonshot anniversaries this summer, I realized Neil Armstrong was about my age when he stepped onto the surface of the moon. "One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind," he said. Hey, that's what they said about personalized groomsmen gifts.
If we can put a man on the moon, I can tie a bow tie, I harrumphed. I may be 37, but I'm still up to a challenge. Then I realized that of the original seven Mercury astronauts, only one wore bow ties.
"The average bow tie wearer is cross-eyed from staring in a mirror for hours. He's bitter about how much of life has passed him by while he has tried to figure out this simple knot." And I hate to suggest this of an American hero, but John Glenn's might have been a fake. Come to think of it, I don't remember seeing bow ties on a single one those manning the engineering consoles at Mission Control. All those physicists, all those engineers. A couple of million slide rules and they couldn't figure out the bow tie. Maybe they don't qualify as groomsmen gifts for rocket scientists.
"Oh, it's easy," wearers of bow ties would say when I asked how they did it. "It's just like tying a shoe." Maybe. For months I stared endlessly into a mirror trying to pretend there was a shoe on my neck that needed tying. I ended up with a ragged knot trailing two unruly ends. It looked like I had been clothes-lined with a wicket.
So I began searching for help in books about men's fashions. Luckily I had gotten a couple as groomsmen gifts a few years ago. "Men who wear bow ties are not to be trusted," one expert advised. Of course not. He can't look you straight in the face. The average bow tie wearer is cross-eyed from staring in a mirror for hours. He's bitter about how much of life has passed him by while he has tried to figure out this simple knot. Restricted blood flow to his brain from botched attempts has taken its toll. Then I found a book with instructions. "Place right forefinger, pointing up, on bottom half of hanging part. Pass-up behind front loop and poke resulting loop through knot behind front loop." I just want to learn to tie bow ties, I said wearily. This sounds like the Manhattan Project. "The LONG loop, Mr. Fermi! The LONG loop! Aauugh!"
John Glenn's was a fake, I decided. "Mr. Glenn needs about three more hours," I could imagine a NASA P.R. flack advising the media, peering at the reporters over his clipboard. "He's still making final adjustments on his extra collaricular adornment device."
A drawing, I decided. That's what I need. Little did I know that a diagram would only add to the confusion and make me feel even more stupid and inept. Two pairs of thin parallel lines were supposed to represent the tie. They seemed to spiral, turn, twist and writhe on the page. "I'm trippin'! Someone's slipped me acid!" I thought. Now one eye was on the mirror and the other was on the sheet of paper perched on the sink. I was going to need specially designed bifocals to use the drawing. Finally, I threw away the illustration. Dejected, I decided if I ever got married, cufflinks would be my groomsmen gifts of choice.
One Sunday I spent the entire church service studying the bow tie worn by a man in the pew in front of me. I memorized the tucks and folds and dimples and twists. When I closed my eyes it was burned into my brain. I raced home and spent the afternoon trying to make my tie follow suit. In a revelation I realized that the elusive double loops-- the damn double loops that had taunted me, belittled me for months--had to be on opposite ends of the tie. Now I can tie my tie. Maybe it's not perfect. I have to hold one end in my clenched teeth to keep it away from my flailing fingers during the process. And once it's tied, it slowly unwinds counterclockwise. It's inevitable, just like the Smithsonian pendulum eventually knocks over a candle. Some hellish force of nature taking it out on me, forcing me to tip my head to the right to square the tie with my chin.
But how well I tie it isn't important. The crucial thing is that I can tie my bow ties. I have accomplished something. Bring on the next challenge. I don't care how big it is. I don't care how tough it is. I laugh at it. I scorn it. First off, I will find the perfect personalized groomsmen gifts for all my friends. And then I think maybe it's time NASA had its second bow tied astronaut.