— Sir Edwin Hardy Amies
English fashion designer
“Rick, I’ve brought you some ideas for your column,” the familiar voice cheerily announced from my office door; in my way of thinking, it was a festive tone almost too light for proper newsroom protocol.
But always in the market for good ideas ... sometimes even bad ideas depending on time of day and level of deadline desperation ... I turned to find the smiling face of former Cleveland Daily Banner editor Larry Bowers who is now a freedom-loving newspaper retiree.
Remembering my two years of high school Latin when I studied such military strategies as the Trojan Horse and other eye-opening tidbits from the Old World, my first reaction was to beware of Greeks bearing gifts.
But, to my knowledge, Larry is not Greek. And in his hands were just cardboard boxes ... two boxes, one no bigger than the other. The top folds of both were carefully sealed and Larry cradled them in his arms like a newborn grandchild.
“Those boxes are filled with ideas?” I asked, my curiosity at its editorial peak.
“No,” my immediate predecessor to the editor’s office clarified, his smile much too wide for a non-retiree’s comfort. “Remember the other day? I told you I was going to bring you some neckties?”
“Oh yeah,” I recollected, “... from The Bowers Collection.”
He laughed again. He was obviously enjoying retirement much too much. I made a mental note to invite this messenger of good tidings to contribute some unpaid guest columns. Besides, I needed a new Friday columnist for the Editorial Page, having just lost a great one. And writing again might rein in some of his frivolity. That’s a nice word ... frivolity ... I should use it more.
Larry made only two requests of his twin boxes of fashion goodies.
One, he asked that I make sure that everyone in the building — including males and any females in the office who associate with males — were given the opportunity to peruse through the assortment and to take home any they liked at no charge, compliments of The Collection’s president and CEO.
Two, any neckties that went unclaimed should be personally delivered to The Caring Place and presented to executive director Reba Terry whose respected nonprofit is in the business of helping people with big needs. That included clothing.
As I wrote last week, neckties have never been among my favorite parts of life. It’s not that I hate them. It’s more like I despise them. There’s a difference. To hate is just to hate. To despise is to ... d-e-s-p-i-s-e. When I think ... despise ... I envision some of the true nasties in life like snakes and spiders and cleaning the bathtub and tax notices in the mail.
But I don’t dislike men ... or women ... who wear neckties. In some corners of the world, they are required garb. This newspaper is part of that world and many of us subscribe to that garb. Those who do wear them I consider to be members of my clique and who feel just as uncomfortable. “Misery loves company,” I’ve heard it said.
Not one to turn down a friend — especially one who dedicated so many years to a newspaper life I too once loved, left and then loved again — I assured Larry his collection would be treated with respect and disseminated fairly to the loyalists who found pleasure in their fashion.
Put another way, I said I’d do it.
I had been through this before. Last October when David Davis, former managing editor, hung up his pen and press card for good, he doled out a cardboard box filled with previously owned neckties to the troops in journalism he left behind. They also came from The Bowers Collection.
Like my newsroom colleagues, I fingered through the hand-me-downs then without fear or favor.
But this time, I was asked to lead the distribution. At first glance, it should have been viewed as a simple task. Just let people fumble through the boxes. That’s that. Couldn’t be any simpler. Everybody’s happy. Life is good.
But I don’t do simple. Life is a production and the neckties on center stage are its players.
Two mornings after Larry’s delivery, I opened both boxes and began carefully placing each necktie — folded twice so as to accent pattern and color — throughout my office for temporary display. I layered an entire couch, three chairs and one coffee table with these vibrant ornaments of outerwear.
Larry not only knew neckties. The guy knew color. Indeed, The Bowers Collection was as cheerful as a living room on Christmas morning. The prints were powerful. The patterns were panoramic. And my office looked like a catalog from JCPenney.
My display completed, I spread the word throughout the building that the store was open, the deals were great and the merchandise was marked for fast turnaround. It was my Blue Light Special of newsroom retail.
The response was immediate. All who sought good deals, and especially those enticed by the word FREE, dropped by my office throughout the rest of the day.
Some came twice, others three times or more. One even called his wife to confirm his colors in shirts. Another asked if I had strong-armed a department store.
“No, but I did contact Belk for advice on showroom appeal,” I assured.
Actually, my last retail experience came 40 years years earlier when, as a high schooler looking to earn a few bucks, I worked Saturdays at Kelsey Bros. Department Store in downtown Collierville. I had to wear a necktie then, too. High fashion knew no age nor limit. But I made $10 a day. Fortune was worth eight hours of pain.
The Bowers Collection remained on display in my office overnight and into the next morning. After a few co-workers had returned for their fourth and fifth visits, and once it became certain the novelty of my trade had run its course (because the crowds finally thinned), I re-boxed the leftovers and asked staff writer Delaney Walker to escort them to The Caring Place for remaining distribution.
“What if a community visitor drops by your office for professional counsel with all these neckties blocking the seats?” one co-worker asked during the height of my giveaway.
“We will conduct our business standing up ... and I will offer him, or her, prime selection on the strangulation of their choice,” I replied.
Life is good.
Neckties are bad.
But sometimes you just have to find a way to enjoy both.
Larry, your neckties have been freed. May they forever claim their rightful corner in Cleveland Daily Banner memory.
And for any who see me wearing one of the colors of the rainbow, you’ll know I too partook from The Bowers Collection.