Monday, October 02, 2006

The Woman in the Gray Flannel Pants.

Consort got off the phone and smiled in anticipation. I stared at the demonically difficult Saturday crossword puzzle and frowned in confusion.

“Andrew and Kathy have invited us out for dinner a week from tonight and I’ve already arranged for a babysitter”, he said, pleased.

I looked up, head clouded by the crossword.

“Where are we eating?”

“The Inn in the Glen.”

My brain, which had been trying to remember the main tributary of the Amazon River, leapt to attention.

“So, we’re dressing up” I said with apprehension.

“Not too fancy, but nice. You could wear your-“

Oh, like he had to say it.

Almost ten years ago, I chose to become a talent agent; apparently, I hadn’t screamed at people, or been screamed at, enough in my life. Leaping from actress to agent wasn’t as jarring as it might have been, what with my acting career having wound down pretty thoroughly (Casting Directors were disinclined to see me for roles where the character was described as “A Quinn Cummings type”).

But, I still had the actor’s wardrobe, full of “Look at me, I can still pass for sixteen in dim light, from a distance, unless I am surrounded by actual teenagers!” outfits, and those simply wouldn’t do as an agent. An agents’ wardrobe has to murmur “Pay no attention to me. I’m just an expensively-dressed person going through your wallet while eating a deep-fried human baby”.

Within a short period of time, I collected a small wardrobe of neutral yet luxurious separates, all of which coordinated and none of which made any impression whatsoever on the retina. The highlight of this wardrobe was a pair of flannel pants I found at J. Crew. They were charcoal gray and flat-front; they had no other qualities. While trying them on in the dressing room, I swung this way and that, admiring my sober wisdom in buying such a practical pair of pants.

“And think,” I congratulated myself, “these don’t have to be just for work. I bet I could even wear these out for dinner once or twice!”

I wore them to work at least once a week. Had I been capable of not spilling things on myself, I bet I could have worn them every day without exciting comment; they are just that anonymous. The Witness Protection Program really needs to look into outfitting all Mafia turncoats in these.

Within two years, I had stopped being an agent, and became one of those deluded saps who joined an Internet start-up. The pants, looking no different than the first day I wore them to work, loyally followed me to San Francisco. Most of the employees at this company wore hemp board shorts and Phish t-shirts, but the pants and I didn’t care; I was five years older than any of my underlings, and nothing says maturity quite like gray flannel. Actually gray flannel pants and not cutting out of work early to hitchhike to Burning Man.

I wore the pants through that job and through the first trimester of my pregnancy, until my patented rubber-band/paper clip/bungee-cord button-closer stopped working. The winter after Daughter was born, I wore the pants to a couple of holiday events, and discovered the only thing less noticeable than these pants were these pants being worn by someone who was carrying around an angelic infant in a red-velvet ruffled dress; it’s debatable whether anyone would have noticed had I chosen not to wear pants at all. However, as pants from my pre-pregnancy life, they did serve the purpose of propping up my wilting self-image. The back of my hair might have been unbrushed, there might have been spit-up in my ear, but I was in my old pants, damnit!

The years passed, as they are wont to do. Consort and I did very little adult socializing in the evenings, but when we would do something in the fall, winter or early spring, the odds were good that my bottom half would be covered by gray flannel. Waistlines went down and down, pant leg widths went in and out, but what did I care? The gray flannel pants and I have the perspective that only extreme old age can give you. If you have been worn through three Presidential administrations, what can Vogue throw at you? “Plaid is the new gray”? Oh, please.

Considering the pants and I are about to celebrate our aluminum anniversary, I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but why won’t these pants just…stop? I cannot in good conscience give them up; they are in very good shape and still fit me. Their very dullness is what has allowed me to attend Thanksgiving dinners and memorial services in them (it must be said, not in the same day). These might be the Platonic ideal of dull, useful pants. So, the thing which first attracted me is now the thing which is driving me out of my mind. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised; isn’t that what most people say after ten years together?

I just pulled them out of the closet and stared at them in harsh light. It is possible that, just maybe, the fibers are getting of bit of a worn sheen to them. Another twenty years or so, and I might be able to justify giving them away. But if something dreadful happens to me between now and then, Consort know to bury them with me. If the afterlife has book-signing parties, I need to be prepared.


Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

A writng teacher in college had us read a chapter about a yo-yo in Stop Time to illustrate that you can write about anything - if you write well. Your piece on these pants proves that good writing can make anything interestng - even utilitarian pants.

10:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Quinn,

I have a favorite ten-year-old white oxford from a&f that I still wear from time to time. It goes great with anything.

Great post! =)


7:36 PM  
Blogger Melodee said...

Can you be any more brilliant?

And, I only wish I had thought to stay the same size over the course of ten years!

Here's what you do to rid yourself of the pants. Gain ten pounds. Only temporarily, but in the meantime, discard the pants. Send them to Goodwill. Then, lose ten pounds and go shopping!

10:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i don't mean to scare anyone already quailing at the thought of clothing-that-won't-go-away, but i'm still dragging out a 'little black dress' that i bought during a sale at ann taylor 18 -- that's EIGHTEEN -- years ago.

the thing will not die. it has been drenched with red wine, anointed with baby spit-up, snagged with chewing gum -- the works. but the thing recovers well after a light spongeing off and/or a dry-cleaning, and it simply never goes out of style.

if this dress could talk...well, it would have nothing on monica's blue denim dress, but still, it saw me through my 20s!

8:18 AM  
Blogger Poppy B. said...

I have a blue silk dress that I bought the summer two of my best friends were getting married. They're now at something like their tenth anniversary and that dress is still in my closet.

I can hear it, rustling every so softly, like the Telltale Heart. It will never stop--unless I kill it.

8:14 AM  
Anonymous La BellaDonna said...

I have a fabulous black velveteen dress that I made when I was sixteen years old. It's been taken in, it's been let out, it's had its sleeves removed and restored, it's been slashed to the hip and soberly, surreptitiously closed again ... I can still wear it, and at the end of the week, I will be fifty-two.

I plan to be buried in that dress.

11:43 AM  

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