Custom Search

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Work Clothes Revisited

By Mr. Dr. Frugal Scholar.

I was amazed and honored by how many people found it worth responding to my humble meditation on an equally humble topic. I was going to answer the various comments individually, but I realized that with my tendency toward prolixity (an occupational hazard, I suppose), I’d better just give in and offer a collective response here.

First: the Duchesse raises the issue of smell—a delicate issue indeed. There is a distinction between something that smells (perfume, sirloin steak), and something that stinks (you supply the examples). Now, what is on my work pants is soil, not dirt. My pants are soil-y rather than dirty, and if one enjoys the rich smell of loam then perhaps it is not entirely sophistical to argue that my pants have their own earthy perfume.

I admit this is a stretch, and is somewhat compromised by the Duchesse’s observation that the soil is probably mixed with sweat, though most of this is absorbed by my shirt (changed regularly), which is tucked into my pants and which, along with my underwear (also changed regularly), forms a prophylactic (that word again!) barrier against the sweat. I also hang the pants in the sun after each use, which seems to kill most of the odor.

However, all of this may seem empty conjecture; what I need is some hard, scientific, experimental evidence. For this, I enlisted the sensitive nose of the Divine Miss Em, who is not only a connoisseur of scents but is also quite willing to express her unedited opinions. So I watched with bated breath as she brought her nose closer and closer to the soil-iest part of my work pants until it was a scant ¼ inch away. “Papa,” she said, her face lighting up in a beatific smile, “it hardly smells at all! It just smells a little like soil!” I kid you not . . . . although her smile might not have been beatific, and she might have said “dirt” rather than “soil,” not being as sensitive to the political connotations of these words as I am.

Flushed with victory, I ran to find Dr. F.S. and asked her to confirm the Divine Miss Em’s judgment. I regret to say that Dr. F.S.’s response strayed considerably beyond the bounds of polite discourse, and included certain gestures and phrases that cannot be mentioned in a family-oriented blog such as this. Of course having someone thrust a foul-looking garment in your face as you are trying to grade papers is itself probably a breach of some rule of decorum (I’m not up on all the fine points, so I can’t say for sure). In any case, I think Miss Em’s testimony is enough: minimal smell, and no stink.

And even if it did stink, no one in her or his right mind would come within ten feet of someone who looks like I do when I’m gardening, unless it’s a fellow fanatic who understands the visual vocabulary, and knows that the soil-encrusted lunatic brandishing a hoe is actually a gentle cultivator of the earth.

Second (sorry for the long first): while it may be harder to wash clothes that have had soil ground into them for months, washing is optional. My pants are the lowest of the low, have done honorable service in various capacities for years, and after weeks or months of garden duty often go directly into retirement (the garbage can). If I do wash them, I first give them a good hosing down outside, which gets rid of the heavy incrustations. And since I’m not going to wear them only for more gardening, any stains that remain after laundering I think of as marks of a long and worthy career.

Third: the slippery slope (similar to the old domino theory): unwashed garden clothes lead inevitably to an unwashed life. I think that in fact my gardening clothes work as a sort of safety valve, allowing me to indulge my primitive needs in an acceptable way. In this sense, my cruddy old clothes become the guardian of civilization; they allow me to be a happy citizen and sweet-smelling spouse without the slightest chance of going postal.

Fourth: gender. I always thought that men, more often than women, would wear clothes (even non-gardening clothes) until they glowed in the dark. Certainly Frugal Son seems to confirm this view, which would make men genetically (or culturally) more frugal than women. So I was very pleased to hear Chance, Vicky, and Reggie Girl say it’s not a gender thing at all, that there’s a sort of fraternity (and sorority) of the unwashed out there that I can lean on when the going gets rough. Thanks to you all ( or y’all, as we say down here) for the support and encouragement!

Here's our old friend again, after several more muddy days' use, and in the condition that the Divine Miss Em, in the spirit of objective inquiry, investigated with her sensitive nose. But I think retirement looms.


Over the Cubicle Wall said...

On the soil vs dirt debate. In Civil Engineering, we take a class called Soil Mechanics. I remember vividly in the lab portion of the class, a student inadvertently referring to the subject matter as 'dirt'. The Professor nearly took his head off, and explained at long length (that I won't bore you with) the difference, and how wrong he was for confusing the two (similar verbal thrashings were given to those poor souls who confused cement with concrete, and weight with mass).

Anyway, garden pants are bound to get dirty because you work with soil when wearing them. Nothing wrong with that.

Mrs. Jane Doe said...

How sweet that Lil' Miss Em thinks her daddy smells good no matter what! ~smiling~

Great post and one that is not only humorous but human as well.


Duchesse said...

It doesn't sound like you are looking for debate, but for confirmation. Every neighbourhood has its eccentric, go ahead and be yours! It's fun to have an area of your life where you can be the rebel, no?