Smile Politely

Tuxedo T-shirt

I was pushing the cart along the aisle toward the cashier, nearing the no limit self-checkout line, having made the right decisions, choosing the 99 cent name brand mustard on sale (with only 9.5 ounces) instead of the generic mustard (also 99 cents but with 12 ounces), and having made a series of similar careful mental negotiations, when I saw the tuxedo T-shirt for $7.99, just in time for the holiday.

I picked up the T-shirt and considered what easy and temporary happiness it would avail me. The upcoming barbecue event, replete with potato chips and deviled eggs, would be enhanced with instant levity. The guests would snicker upon arrival and the bonhomie would carry us through to the bratwurst course (with the better but more expensive name-brand mustard) and beyond. We would spoon our dessert of peanut butter fudge ice cream into our salivating mouths amid circling giggles and light-hearted conversation, pretending unconsciously to be participants in faux elegance, patting ourselves on the back for having such generous and warm friendships and food and relative freedom, all precipitated by the initial impact of the visual joke of my tuxedo T-shirt.

$7.99 would be a small price to pay for even this brief moment of sharing and happiness among friends. On the other hand, the expenditure of $7.99, plus tax, would reduce or even eliminate the savings I had gained by my careful shopping choices. All my budgetary frugality would have been for naught.

I pushed the cart into the check-out aisle and proceeded to place the items on the conveyor belt: cabbage, generic cherry cola, apples, generic wheat pita bread, peanut butter fudge ice cream, and toilet paper, the Scott knock-off brand by Meijer.

What, I thought, if the joke fell flat? What if I was perceived to be beyond such cheap visual jokes? I was a mature man, the literate mensch and wisdom-giver, I supposed.

Or the guests could arrive in no mood for such flippant frivolity with their Cole slaw. Perhaps they had just read the News-Gazette that morning, with its horrible editorial headlines stinking of unseemly sarcasm and inane high school partisanship and they would be prepared to grouse without fake and wasteful joke T-shirts. Then my $7.99 would have been further in vain.

Still, in the parking lot as I proceeded to load the trunk of the Prius with the bags, I considered returning inside to buy the T-shirt. If it hadn’t been for the ice cream, I probably would have returned for a second round through the self-checkout aisle. It would only have taken a minute.

There would be other opportunities to wear the T-shirt, I thought as I drove home, passing the Marathon station by Sunnycrest shopping center where the price per gallon was four cents lower than the other Marathon station where I had filled the car earlier in the day with just over nine gallons of gas, wasting 36 cents by my mistimed purchase. I could wear the T-shirt to poker on Thursday night. Surely this would be received with appreciation and perhaps even envy by The Admiral, Robespierre, JD, and The Monkhead.

It might even give me a psychological advantage in the game, setting the others – wearing their slovenly slouches and smelly baseball caps – on edge, wary of my James Bond (Daniel Craig version) approach to the game. I could bluff and they would be afraid to challenge the man wearing the tuxedo T-shirt.

Yes, it seemed to me proper. I could return to the store tomorrow and buy the $7.99 T-shirt. It would be well worth the effort.

I rounded the corner to my house, pulled into the driveway, turned off the NPR program about fish farming in Kansas, and began to unload the packages.

Then, too, what if I began to lose? What if the cards weren’t with me and the pure craftiness of my tuxedo T-shirt crumbled into mere novelty and stupidity. What if they laughed at, and not with, the idea of my tuxedo T-shirt.

And, after all, I did not really need a tuxedo T-shirt. I had drawers full of T-shirts, some of them novelty T-shirts that, truth be told, rarely if ever were worn. The big oversize orange T-shirt with the Jack-o-lantern face had been worn exactly once and was much more meaningful before I lost those 25 pounds. The rock and roll T-shirts – Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon and The Beatles – had lost any hope of relevance long ago. The first Christmas T-shirt – the red one that lists the stages of Santa (1. You believe in Santa; 2. You don’t believe in Santa; 3. You are Santa; and 4. You look like Santa) was much funnier before I had actually reached step #4. The second Christmas T-shirt, the green one that read simply FRUITCAKE, I rarely had the courage to wear at all.

As I piled the bags onto the kitchen table, it was clear. I had made the right decision, difficult as it had been to force my cart away from the alluring temptation of the tuxedo T-shirt. I will live without a tuxedo T-shirt. The economy will survive, or not, without my splurging of $7.99.

Congratulating myself on yet another successful navigation through the market place, I found a spoon, sat down, and opened the carton of peanut butter fudge ice cream.

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