Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Footsore

By John Bridges

SEPTEMBER 22, 1997:  Fall is approaching, and I know what it means. It means that, every morning for the next eight months of my life, I will waste 15 minutes trying to find my socks. More precisely, I will waste a quarter of an hour trying to find a pair of socks that remotely resemble one another.

It is not a problem I have in the summer. In the summer I do not need socks at all. In the summer, even if the rest of me is wearing a blazer and a pair of silk slacks and a white button-down-collar shirt from Brooks Brothers, I can get away with bare ankles. I can survive for weeks on end in a pair of soft leather driving shoes or a pair of run-over cordovan loafers. In the summer my life has order. Between late May and the early crisp onset of October, I actually show up places almost on time.

If socks exist at all in the summer, they are white and they have ribs. If they do not have large gaping holes in their heels, and if they do not appear to have been worn since their last washing, I feel perfectly happy to put them on. Any two of them, as far as I am concerned--and as far as the world need know, without unnecessarily close examination--can legitimately pass themselves off as a pair. People do not stop strangers on the street and ask to see their sock-pairing license. Because they are both white, I figure, any two cotton socks can be worn at any time in broad daylight, in any of the 50 states. I can throw a handful of them into a gym bag, along with a pair of chino shorts and a faded-out polo shirt. I can survive any summer morning. I can stumble into the day and on through the afternoon and into the slow-fading evening, without ever once having to think of my feet.

It is right about now, however, that my life falls apart. It is now that socks begin to take on color and cry out to be matched with each other and with the color of a man's trousers and with, God help him, the stripe in his tie. It is about this time that the socks that have been rolled up, the ones that have been nudged back into the farthest, most shadowy recesses of the sock-and-underwear shelf since sometime in April, begin to edge their way forward, ready to make a man's life utterly miserable. They know that, once they have been worn once and have been put through a wash cycle and have sat for a couple of days, unsorted, in the dryer, they will be ready to wreak their vengeance. They will be able to demand a horrible retribution for all those summer days spent back there in the mildewy dark.

Left alone for days on end, they plot. Between themselves they decide who will be the front man, going on out into the clothes hamper, and who will get to have all the fun, hanging back in the dryer and clinging just inside the rim, just out of sight but close enough to the edge so that it's still possible to get a good view of a grown man in a pair of Jockey shorts being driven to tears at 7:45 on a gray November morning.

Fairly hysterical with static cling, they grip onto bath towels and sweatshirts and an old cotton cardigan sweater vest. When no one is watching, they leap out and hide themselves among their friends, the dust bunnies who live behind the washer. Then, the next morning, while the man is in the shower, they slip themselves silently into the laundry basket and lie there, nestled together like a pair of fuzzy Argyle puppies, lurking there innocently, as if they had been patiently waiting there, vainly hoping that somebody would take them out and play with them. At such moments on a November morning, a man can look into his laundry hamper and think he has gone mad.

Having done Prozac, I know that I am actually smarter than a pair of socks. I realize that, if I were really so afraid of a few pair of navy blue Gold Toes, I would take a preemptive strike against them. I would subdue them with fabric softener and then grab them hot from the dryer, tie them into knots, and toss them back onto the sock-and-underwear shelf where they belong. I would, in fact, become the man my mother had always wanted me to be, the breed of man who folds his underwear and irons his pocket handkerchiefs, the type of man who makes a list before he goes to the grocery store, the kind of man who never drinks milk directly from the carton, the sort of man who would never think of eating frozen fish sticks directly from the box.

In short, I would live a life of order and clear direction. I would know the answers to questions before they were asked. I would never run out of toilet paper. I would get my oil changed every 3,000 miles. And, invariably, even on late autumn mornings, my socks would always match.

But a man only lives that kind of life when somebody else is watching--either somebody who is his mother or somebody who wants to make sure he isn't taking up more than his share of the sock-and-underwear shelf. It is the sort of life that takes a two-person kind of vigilance. It is not the sort of thing a single guy can manage on his own.

He can get by easily enough in the summer months, when all the socks are white, but it is quite another thing to face the approach of yet another winter, knowing that, if the socks have their way, all manner of anarchy will be let loose. He will face the months ahead as he always faces them, as if they were an adventure to be triumphed over, an ordeal to be survived.

Each morning, he will wrestle with the demons of the sock hamper and he will emerge, thinking himself victorious. He will feel a bracing gratitude for his life of adventure, a life full of risk-taking and bold uncertainty. That feeling will stay with him until he gets to the office sometime around 8:30. About that time he will look down at his feet and realize he is wearing one blue sock and one black one. About that time, he will realize winter is coming, and he will begin to feel very alone.


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