Archive for Thursday, January 22, 2009

Bow tie defeats misplaced optimism

January 22, 2009

I’m not sure that I shall ever master the art of tying a bow tie. I keep trying, but it just doesn’t seem to work.

I cannot understand this. I learned to tie a necktie when I was maybe 10 or 11, and have been tying them easily ever since. Oh, it’s true that I don’t wear a tie so often any more, now that I’ve retired, but I certainly haven’t forgotten. It’s like learning how to ride a bicycle or learning how to swim: Once you’ve got it, you’ve got it.

But a bow tie is different. This didn’t really matter, of course, until a few years ago when I bought a tuxedo. Having made that investment, it seemed to me that, as a grown-up, I ought to eschew ties of the clip-on variety and manfully step up to the hand-tied – that is to say, self-tied – bow tie with my new tux.

So, when the salesman asked if I wanted a clip-on tie or the other, I bravely chose the latter, figuring that I could surely consult the Internet and find out how to tie it.

I really wasn’t concerned. Like I noted, I’d been tying my own neckties for 50 years.

Besides that, when I was in Boy Scouts, I learned how to tie all sorts of knots: the square knot, the bowline, clove hitch, the sheepshank and others. The bowline I remember we learned by memorizing a story about a rabbit who came up out of a hole, ran around a tree and then went back down the hole, but I guess that’s another story. (I’m tempted to call that anthropomorphizing, but that’s not right. Anthropomorphizing is when you ascribe human characteristics to nonhuman entities. That’s not even the reverse – is it animalizing? Beats me.)

Getting back to the bow tie thesis, I was pretty certain that if I could just find the instructions, in no time I’d be tying my own bow ties like Fred Astaire or Alistair Cooke or someone of that ilk.

That proved to be an unduly optimistic assessment.

The first night I was to wear my new tux, I got dressed early enough that I’d have plenty of time to get the tie right. I should have started about a week earlier.

When you tie a bow tie, you begin much like tying a conventional necktie, with the tie draped around your neck, except that the long end is on your left and the short end on your right. Then you form the beginning of the knot by passing the short end over the other, then around, meanwhile folding the long end over on itself two or three times, then wrapping the short end around the whole bundle, somehow folding it over and sending it through the back.

Unfortunately, the first few times I tried this I got a knot about the size of a tennis ball. Of course this didn’t matter so much because the whole mess promptly fell apart anyway.

OK we start again. Let’s see, around, over, fold over the long end, over again, thump, thump, thump. (That’s the sound of my head hitting the wall.)

About this time the wife sticks her head in to ask if I’m about ready.

“What time did you say we needed to be there?”

“Don’t worry, I’ll just be a minute.”

Ha. One of the truisms in our family is that I can never correctly estimate the time it will take me to finish a task.

Finally, reduced almost to tears, I gave up. I resorted to the pre-tied tie that came with the cummerbund. I’ve tried several times since then to tie one by hand, but always with the same result.

I think it’s broken my spirit.

John Beal is the retired editor of The Eudora News’ World Company sister publications The Shawnee Dispatch and Bonner Springs Chieftain.

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