Friday, December 11, 2009

Studly Cufflinks

Several years ago, when I joined the St. Louis Symphony Chorus, I treated myself to a brand-new tuxedo, complete with cufflinks and studs.

A couple years later, my first pair of cufflinks met its demise during a performance weekend. I had just driven home from a Friday night performance and parked my rental car (long story, irrelevant) as close to my apartment building as I could find a legal space, i.e. about three blocks away. After getting out of the car, I remembered something that I had left in the passenger-side footwell. So I leaned across the driver's seat to pick it up... hooked my right cufflink on a center-island doohickey that wouldn't have been there if it had been my own car... and when I pulled, the cufflink broke. What had looked like a nice piece of metal jewelry turned out to be two pieces of painted plastic glued together, and the glue had simply given up the ghost.

So, in order to have cufflinks in time for Saturday's performance, I rushed out to Men's Wearhouse and bought another pair. They didn't match my shirt studs, but I didn't care. They were nice little things with a brushed-brass finish, and I took really good care of them. Every time I came home from a performance, I lovingly tucked them into their original case, which I kept with my shiny shoes (still in their original box) and my studs (alas, rolling around loose in another hinged case) on a shelf in my bedroom closet.

Tonight, at 6:30 p.m., I started getting dressed for an 8:00 performance of Handel's Messiah. I had only gotten my socks and undershirt on when I realized that the next step was the tux shirt. And to wear my tux shirt, I would immediately need my cufflinks. You can wear a tux shirt without a coat, tie, cummerbund, or even pants, but you can't get much done in it without cufflinks. So I began rummaging in my closet.

And then I kept rummaging.

And rummaging.

Pretty soon I was digging through a wastebasket that happened to live at that end of my closet. Why do I keep a wastebasket in my bedroom closet? People, I have cats. If that isn't all I need to say, adopt a cat sometime. And because this wastebasket was perfectly positioned to catch anything that might fall off the shelf where my cufflinks lived -- and because my cufflinks were no longer to be found -- I can only assume that, at some point, they went out to the dumpster at the bottom of a sack of trash.

As this likelihood dawned on me, I became quite peeved. But soon the peevishness acquired a tint of panic, as I realized that I was minutes away from a performance-night call and still wearing a T-shirt, socks, and tighty-whities. I seriously considered calling the chorus manager and telling him I couldn't make it -- but I couldn't find his phone number. So I had to improvise.

I still have one of my original pair of cufflinks... but that's no good, unless I chop off my left arm and pin the sleeve up.

I also have the shirt studs that I bought to match my original cufflinks, but I needed them to button the front of my shirt. Otherwise I might as well leave the shirt open and display a gold cross, on a heavy chain, on my exceedingly hairy chest. It works for some guys. But it wouldn't be very Handelian.

Then it came to me. My tux shirt, which is as old as my tux and has survived numerous evenings under stage lighting without quite passing beyond my dry-cleaner's collar-whitening powers, originally came with its own set of studs. Cheapo, black plastic things that I have never used, but that continue to rattle around loose in the same hinged case as the fancier studs I actually wear. I don't know why I kept the junky things, unless it's that I know myself so well.

I wish you could have seen me trying to poke the end of a slick, hard plastic stud through the button hole on my cuff. No, on second thought, I don't wish. It wasn't a very dignified scene. If my upstairs neighbor had his recording equipment positioned correctly, he might have picked up some vivid verbalizations for future study. I couldn't find the hole. I couldn't poke the tip through it. I couldn't hold onto it. I couldn't pick it up off the carpet. Repeat, repeat, repeat. It was ridiculous. It took me longer to put those crummy studs where my terrific cufflinks should have been than to don the rest of the outfit.

Ugh. Hark, the sound of my gruntledness escaping. For all the time I'm struggling to make two pieces of tailor-shop junk stand in for the only quality jewelry I own, I was thinking: "Some dumpster diver is in for a real treat." I don't mind losing the pewter pectoral cross that snapped when it hit the floor, after the chain it was hanging from broke under its own weight, because it was a piece of crap. I don't miss the tie pin that I couldn't fasten because it was too small to penetrate the combined thickness of my tie (any tie) and my shirt (any shirt). I don't even miss the cufflinks, as such. I just miss having the time and money to replace them in time to matter for this weekend's performances.

So, come to Powell Hall tomorrow night, hear some great music, and look for the guy in the third row wearing plastic studs instead of cufflinks. And if you happen to see a bag lady wearing brushed-brass cufflinks, tell her Robbie F. says "You're welcome."

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